David Shoppenagon lived successfully in two worlds: the world of the Chippewa tribe into which he was born and never really left and the world of the white men he befriended.
He was given the title of Chief and certainly he came from a proud family. His grandfather had aided the British in the French and Indian Wars and Shoppenagon proudly wore the two crescent-shaped silver medals he had been awarded. Those medals are now in the collection of the Saginaw Historical Museum. Interestingly enough, portraits of George Washington show him wearing similar medals.
Shoppenagon, affectionately known as Shop to his friends, was born along the Tittabawassee River in the Green Point area, sometime in the early 1800s. No one knows the exact date. One account says that he was a boy when the first steamboat came up the Saginaw River. That would have been the Governor Marcy, a sixteen-ton boat that made it down the river in 1836 to what is now the Court Street Bridge area.
In his early days, Shoppenagon lived off the land, hunting, fishing and gathering berries. He believed that it wasn’t natural for an Indian to live under a roof and attributed his good health to the fact that he was a grown man before he ever had a roof over his head. He was married and had five children, Tom, Cora, Nancy, Hattie and Mary.
In his middle years, Shop became a Methodist. Realizing—maybe by personal experience—the devastation caused by alcohol among the Native Americans, he became a teetotaler and preached against the evils of drink.
A man of presence and dignity, Shoppenagon was once asked to intercede when members of the Sioux tribe in Minnesota planned an uprising. At first the Sioux threatened to kill him but Shop was able to convince them that they were hopelessly outnumbered and averted a bloody massacre.
Shop and his family moved to Grayling, Michigan, in 1876. Reuben S. Babbitt of the Conservation Department of Grayling wrote, “Shop and a son had gone to Grayling in the fall of 1875 to hunt deer. There were no roads nor horse teams. They had to pack into the Manistee (on foot). (But) Passenger pigeons were nesting on the west side of the river…and that made him more than anxious to come here to live.”
In Grayling, Shop got to know T. W. Hanson, a lumber merchant. Hanson found that Shop was an expert when it came to wood. He wrote that whenever they were sawing maple, Shop would go down to the log pond, spot a certain log he wanted, follow it up into the mill and stand by the sawyer who would cut it to order for him. Shop used the maple to carve canoe paddles, and Hanson said, “Anyone owning one of his paddles would never part with it. It had a swing of its own.”
Hanson and Shoppenagon also had a business relationship. Hanson’s lumber company carried a “Shoppenagon” brand of cork pine that had a world-wide reputation for quality and softness of texture. Their maple flooring was called the “Chief” brand. The products carried the profile of the Chief. Shop also attended meetings and conventions with Hanson where his Indian dances and stories fascinated potential customers.
Shop’s familiarity with the woods and waters led him to be a popular and sought-after hunting and fishing guide for some of Saginaw’s wealthiest men. Besides his skill as a guide, his seemingly endless supply of stories around the campfire were eagerly anticipated. Deep friendships grew from these encounters and Shop was an honored guest in their Saginaw homes.
Buzz Morley remembered his visits. His mother could never convince Shop to sleep in a bed: he always slept on the floor before the fireplace in their library. Shop was especially close to Buzz’s great-uncle, Lorenzo Burrows. For many years, they went on fishing trips together in the Grayling area—just the two of them, camping out and cooking their own meals over a small fire. On their last trip together, they were both past 80 and camped beside the Manistee.
When the city of Saginaw celebrated its Sesquicentennial in 1907, Shop was Grand Marshall of the biggest parade. At his request, Charles Bauer, who had known the Chief for years, took him up the river in his launch to Green Point. Shop pointed to the spot where he was born and where he thought his father and mother were buried. Bauer reported that “Shoppenagon drank from the river at that point and cried like a child.”
Chief Shoppenagon died on Christmas Day, 1911. He was said to have been 103. Some disputed that figure but it was certain that he had lived a long, full life.
Grayling’s downtown hotel is named Chief Shoppenagon’s.
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