The People of Michigan


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Life in Michigan in early 19th century was difficult. There were great opportunities, so many thousands of people flocked to the state after they found that it was not swamp land. They opened the state through the use of water and train. The roads in the 19th century were nearly as bad as what we have today. All of the stories talked about how many times travel was impossible because of the muddy roads. “When we first came here, the roads were pretty good, but sometimes in the Spring and Fall it would be impossible to get through except on horseback, the mud was so deep. If they attempted to go through with a carriage or stage, they would sometimes have to stop and take the rails from the fences, or take logs which had been cut, and put them in the roads in order to get through (page 64, The Great Water).”

Money was scarce and produce was very low. C. Dibble writes “Hard times. Hard times is a complaint of most everyone we see. We are in hopes of better times. We shall have heavy taxes for many year. Our tax this year was $6.88.” The people found themselves living among the Native American Indians. The Indians in and around the Detroit and Saginaw areas were friendly and without malice. A.H. wrote in 1860, “The tribes are not so distinct and separate as formerly. The number of Indians in the state has not diminished much for several years; but the real Indian is slowly and steadily fading away (Page 68, The Great Water).” He also wrote “If half the money spent in fighting them, were spent in providing for them, much might be done to advance them in the road to civilization and happiness (Page 69, The Great Water).”

The appeal to many of these settlers was the chance to improve their lot in life. Free land and the chance to be land-owners in the state was very seductive. There were many different industries that the settlers could choose to make their fortune. Farming, mining, and logging were the three main industries in Michigan. Many came to Michigan to make their fortune as farmers, loggers, and miners. These miners, farmers, and loggers would make their fortunes in Michigan and then travel to more temperate climate. This was the beginning of the snow bird migration that we see even today. The ability to make large amounts of money in cash crops, lumbar, and precious metals, like copper and iron ore, was a huge draw for many. The Indians were frequently given the short end of the stick in order for the settlers to make their fortunes.

These settlers were very hardy and felt that their culture were superior to the Native Americans. No one had any problem with legislating the Indians out of existence. “Chief Government Negotiator Robert Stuart, a former aid to John Jacob Astor, later boasted that he had done in the Indians by excluding the usual allowances of goods and services, educational benefits, and assistance towards ultimate assimilation into white society (page 75, Michigan: a History of the Great Lakes).”

This poor treatment of the Indians continued throughout the history of Michigan. Many millions of dollars of profit were taken with disregard to the plate of the Indians. The immigrants and settlers were convinced that their way of life were superior to those of the Native Americans. They were not interested in learning about the Indian ways. The burning down of the Indian village in 1900 was one example of the atrocities perpetrated on the Michigan natives. Michigan was settled by many different foreign cultures such as, the Germans in the East, the Dutch in the West, and the French and British throughout the rest of the state.

4 thoughts on “The People of Michigan

  1. I can’t imagine living in the Nineteenth Century. Try to travel like the Pioneers did through rough muddy roads, or waiting for the Lake or swamp to freeze over so you could try to make it to your destination and not freeze to death or waiting till spring to cross over the lake like the Pioneers did to get to that house they seen across the lake. Knowing the Indians had control of the land as a Pioneer I would be scared that the Indians would retaliate. The Indians overall were nice and helpful to the Pioneers by helping them with some travel and goods. They learned from each other on how different resources as land helped with growing of wheat and corn benefit each other as in money and to to survive.

  2. I often forget how much our daily lives have improved since the early pioneers in Michigan as well as the rest of the region. These early settlers had to deal with constant strife just to get through each day: during this time, even traversing the simple dirt roads could mean disaster if the right conditions were present. We often seem to take for granted even the most basic necessities such as working bathrooms, various forms of transportation, and even shelter. I do think that it is important to learn about these early times in history to truly appreciate the improvements that we have made over the years.

  3. Learning about how hard it was for the settlers has given me a renewed respect and appreciation for the life that I have been given. I also feel that I did not agree with how they chose to interact with the Native Americans.

  4. The treatment of the natives is something that most people are aware of throughout the history of the United States. Its still shocking how the natives were treated and basically ran off from their land that they have lived on for years. I understand I most likely wouldn’t find myself in Michigan if those events did not occur. However, it is interesting to think about what the state of Michigan might be like if the natives were not taken over by the early settlers.

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