Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three Rivers' history mural (1)

The first section of the mural shows a Native American man looking west across the undeveloped river. Although no particular people is represented - the figure is only symbolic - the first French Traders and US settlers found that the Pottawatomi had beaten them to the area by 100 years or more. The Pottawatomi were farmers and traders, driven to the area from their original homeland near Detroit by the Iroquois in disputes over valuable fur hunting areas. Other disputes were recorded from oral histories, including the Great Battle for which there is a marker in the park.

The Pottawatomi are the "fire keepers" of the Anishinabe Three Fires Confederacy. The nearby Pottawatomi town of Nottawasepi, now called Mendon, was as large as many US cities in the west at that time. They were settled farmers and were Christian from the 1600s. Many Pottawatomi tried to hang on to their land through filing lawsuits and other legal and political maneuvers, but most lost their land in the tragic "Indian Removal" period spearheaded by still-controversial president Andrew Jackson. Today, most Pottawatomi live in the west, but a few "bands" (family groups) that refused removal - or escaped and returned - remain. One local group purchased a large tract of land about an hour east of Three Rivers, and remain there. There are many interesting - and bloodcurdling - stories about the collision of the US settler and Pottawatomie cultures, but they are a little hard to find. Local historian Sue Stillman in the 1930s wrote in her history of Three Rivers some of the stories, when it was still fairly close to living memory.

Before the Pottawatomie, other peoples lived here, but the archeology record is sketchy (and much of it was plowed under.) The Miami peoples were known to live here, and before them, peoples of the Mississippian Mound Culture. Along undeveloped stretches of river the "wild rice", a staple grain, that they planted may still be found in large tracts. In more settled areas, the emigrant farmers pulled it out, seeing it as blocking navigation - and not knowing what it was.

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