To be a Michigan Pioneer

“My brother was ambitious, but poor, and wanted, as many other young men do, to make a strike for himself; and with that desire uppermost in his mind, he made up his mind to go to Michigan territory, get a hold and grow with the country” (Coffinberry 57). The two brothers from the first personal story in chapter five, were not the only people to travel to Michigan looking for a better life. Michigan offered promises of new land, a chance to make something of themselves, the opportunity to provide better for their families. To be perfectly honest, being a pioneer in Michigan sounds awful. Not having any of the luxuries that there are today seems daunting. Sleeping on cold ground, only being able to bring what you could carry, having little money, having to interact with “scary” Indians all sounds terrifying. Reading the stories of the earlier Michigan settlers, doesn’t give the impression that they found it terrifying though. To them it was an exciting opportunity that they were grateful for. At times it was tough and they weren’t oblivious to that like in “Reminiscence of Travel to West Bloomfield” where the writer says “and I have heard my father say he did not know how he was going to get through the winter” (Whitehead 62). Luckily for that family they had a good support of neighbors that all helped each other in tough times. In “Pioneer Days” the family traveling from Ohio to Michigan and then back to Ohio had to sleep on cold ground, and wade through cold water to get to a house about a mile away. Life was hard for these settlers, but they were ambitious and motivated people.

Reading how the pioneers felt about the Indians was very eye-opening. Some were terrified, others accepted them. Some treated them like bees in a “don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you kind of thing.” It was very funny to find out that Indians would just walk into homes, like on New Years Day, “My mother was told the first New Year’s that we were here, that the Indians would come for fried cakes, and sure enough, every New Year’s day they would come, saying “Happy New Year, Happy New Year” (Dewey 63). Of course not everyone felt that way, some of the children were very terrified of the Indians and kind of panicked every time they saw them (Nowlin 65). Having that kind of outlook on the Native Americans created a kind of distance between them. As one writer put it, “If the whites would always be honest, fair and kind with them; if half the money spent in fighting them, were spent in providing for them, and in being just and generous with them; there might be very little trouble with the Indians, and much in might be done to advance them in the road to civilization and happiness” (A.H. 69)

These settlers paved the way for Michigan to become what it is today. These settlers wanted to find new life, new opportunities and for years that is what Michigan has been.


Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water: a Documentary History of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, 2018.

6 thoughts on “To be a Michigan Pioneer

  1. It honestly feel like the Pioneers really feared the Indians. I just don’t understand How they could settle onto the Indians land and make them adjust to different living conditions. I’m pretty sure the Indians welcomed the settlers to their land of Michigan without any hostility. As a guest, the settlers should of been more appreciative to the Indians instead of coming in taking over, then making them seem like strangers. This didn’t go for everyone though, some people accepted the Indians and weren’t judgmental because they looked different. Now as for the pioneers I believe they were true warriors. Surviving the harsh winters, making there way through states to find a home took some dedication.

  2. How the Pioneers felt about the Indians is somewhat like the way our country here in the U. S. is now in the Twentieth Century, for instance on how we fear about the Muslims from what we hear or see on TV. and like many other cultures too. There are many cultures judged in a negative way because of a incident or hear say from others. The Pioneers heard about how evil the Indians were from their ancestry so when they came to Michigan even though they knew they were taking over the land of the Indians there were many that were scared of the Indians even though many helped the Pioneers out and vice versa. As the Pioneers experienced the good of some the Indians on how they helped them, they realized they were not so bad people but to be honest I would be a little scared as for the Pioneer woman was on New Year’s Day on how the Indians would come in uninvited and ask for bread and other goods. I do not blame the Indians for not liking us because of us taking their land, for the example that was in the book of “The Great Water” on two Pioneer men burning the small village on Burt Lake for no reason.

  3. I really liked your point about how the first settlers of Michigan seemed to welcome the idea of settling in this unknown and potentially hostile environment. The dangers of this new land were well known and have certainly not been well for everyone whose attempted to settle here. To these brave settlers however, the potential for a new home and prosperity outweighed the potential dangers and hardships they would face. This sounds very similar to the various immigration events that have taken place across the united States throughout the past few centuries. This land of opportunity truly inspires people to endure hardships for the possibility that they may not only succeed but prosper in the end.

  4. It was kind of a shame to see that the feud between the pioneers and the Indians even stretched to the children, who, as you mentioned, were afraid of the Indians, even during times of celebration of the new year. I get that the Indians would just sort of walk into the houses, but some pioneers, like you said would accept them. Its funny to see how we look back on this now and see that if all pioneers would have just accpeted the Indians, then there would not have been as many feuds and everyone would have been happier, more or less.

  5. Settling in Michigan sounds like an ultimate test of survival in todays world. As you noted, the settlers had to forge their path and live in undesirable conditions. However, they did not no much better for luxuries. If the possibility of settling a new land would become a possibility I wonder even though we have had huge technology advancements, would it still be such a hard venture. It would be a true thrill in my opinion to get that opportunity.

  6. I wonder why the white settlers felt that they needed to bring the Indians civilization. The Indians had lived in Michigan for a very long time before the settlers even considered moving in. I find it interesting that you thought that the settlers faced a daunting challenge in living in Michigan. Most people lived in the same conditions every where else in the country that they would have found in Michigan. There was no electricity, running water, or road systems in nearly all of the United States. Things may have been a little tougher in Michigan since it was completely virgin territory but it was not a very difficult task to adapt to the environment. I think actually the two brothers actually failed and were going back to Ohio when they talked about their time in Michigan. I am sure that there were many who failed in trying to settle Michigan. I am just glad that many different types of people were able to settle our state.

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