When historian James Cooke Mills was recording the history of the Saginaw area, he wrote that Chief Nocachickame was highly respected by both his fellow tribesmen and the white settlers, adding “his honesty and friendship to his white neighbors was proven in numerous instances, yet he often declared that the vices of the Indians were all acquired by contact with the white race.”
Nocachickame pointed out that before the coming of the whites, bringing their alcohol, diseases and vices, the native Indian was honest and brave and would never cheat, lie, steal or do a dishonorable act. He himself was an excellent example of Indian virtues. And although he deeply regretted the white invasion, he realized they were here to stay and determined to get along with them.
Nocachickame was born in 1788 in the Saginaw Valley. His father was Chief of his band of Chippewas and Nocachickame succeeded him. As Chief, he was one of the signers of the Treaty of 1819 which ceded their lands to the United States.
Two copies of the treaty were signed: one went to the War Department in Washington and the other to the Chippewas. Nocachickame’s family held the treaty and one of his descendants, Estelle Squanda and her husband, Methodist minister Reverend John Silas, had a photocopy made and presented it to Hoyt Library. It was fortunate that they did because both of the originals have disappeared.
In 1830 Nocachickame, with chiefs Ogemaw ke ke to, Shawebenose, Wasso, Tonadoganaw, Mozhegashing and whites Henry Connor, Gardner D. Williams, Captain J. F. Marsac, Charles H. Rodd and Benjamin O. Williams made up a committee that went to Washington, D.C. to discuss and implement sale of lands in the Treaty of 1830.
The new European diseases such as measles and cholera were devastating to the Indians who had no natural resistance to them. The smallpox epidemic of 1837 wiped out many of the Chippewa villages of eastern Michigan. Chief Nocachickame lived through it and was elected head Chief of all the surviving bands of Saginaw Chippewas, locating near Cheboyganing Creek and later, at Shebahyonic near Unionville and Sebewaing.
All the bands met at the Sanilac Petroglyphs in Sanilac County for the Midiwiwin Lodge’s annual reunions where marriages were performed, births recorded and their histories were documented. As Head Chief, Nocachickame, with Medicine Man John Squanda, chanted prayers and presided over the Pow Wows.
In 1845, the Chief was approached by two Lutheran missionaries, Rev. Johann J. F. Auch and Rev. August Craemer about educating the Indian children. Although Nocachickame was a firm believer in his people’s ancient religion, he allowed the children to learn to read, write, speak English and even attend Christian services.
On August 15, 1854, the U. S. government granted over 240 acres of swamp land in the Buena Vista Section 2 along the Cheboyganing Creek to Nocachickame where he lived until this death in 1874. He had seven children including his daughter who married Chief David Shoppenagon.
After his death, his land was sold by his heirs. One acre of the land was sold in September 1877 for $50 to the Indiantown School District #4 at the northwest corner of Portsmouth and Becker. The old schoolhouse still stands but is privately owned. The rest of the property was sold to German Catholic settlers who bought the land for farming. Many of the Indians moved to the Oscoda and Grayling areas.
Rose Ederer who has written an interesting book on Indiantown reports that Indiantown residents still speak of Nocachickame with awe and mystery. The Big Chief is a legend and the respected ancestor of today’s Saginaw Chippewa tribal community.
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