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History Lives Here Text

(During study of a possiblearcheology site near old Singapore, State Archeologist John R. Halsey,unearthed an old paper written in the winter of 1937 by then graduate studentGeorge I. Quimby describing Indian artifacts found in downtown Saugatuck.)

 

All HISTORIC BURIAL SITE AT SAUGATUCK, MICHIGAN

 

Chile excavating for thefoundations of the city hall at Saugatuck, Michigan, an extensive burial site(historic) was discovered. This site is on the sandy river flat not far fromthe present course of the Kalamazoo River - about 500 feet.According to the Town Marshall,at least thirty skeletons were disturbed in the building operations. Some ofthis material is now displayed in the second floor of the town hall, amongwhich are the following objects.

1. One large complex single-barredsilver cross with the touchmark JK in a square cartouche.

2. Sic silver armbands, some ofwhich have engraved upon the face an American eagle (United States Arms).

3. Six medium-sized to largecircular silver gorgets, some of which have animals engraved upon their faces.Not having been sufficiently cleaned, touchmarks, if present, were notdiscernible.

4. Two crescent-shaped silvergorgets, not marked. One has engraved upon it the United States eagle.

5. Two silver bracelets. One bearsa touchmark consisting of the script letters "WC" in a complexcurvilinear cartouche. The other is stamped with the script letters NR in acomplex curvilinear cartouche.

6. Two circular ornate brooches,mark if air not visible due to patination.

7. One silver headband, unmarked..

8. Fragments of pewter utensils

9. Six copper kettles in poorcondition.

10. Two white-clay trade pipes

11. One white porcelain pipe witha metal top.

12. One carved wood pipe with acrude copper lining. Possibly this is of native manufacture.

13. One small ovate glass mirror.

14. One pair of braes rimmedspectacles.

15. One iron strike-a-light.

16. One iron knife with a woodhandle.

17. Four or more iron axes ofvarious types. None, however, are so-called tomahawks.

18. Several teaspoons andtablespoons, possibly silver.

19. Numerous fragments of birchbark, well-preserved.

20. Numerous bundles of featherstied with woven cloth stripe.

21. Numerous miniature roundbrooches, some of which are still fastened to cloth.

22. Fragments of cloth, both light(such as silk and cotton) and heavy (such as wool broadcloth).

23. Several fragments of deep blueStaffordshire type china.

24. Two skulls, both of which are roundheadedand very likely would fit into the cephalic index range of all previouslydescribed and measured skulls definitely ascribed to the historic period in Michigan.

 

The presence of the baited Stateseagle engraved upon some of the silver ornaments and the seeming lack of Montreal or other British touchmarks, suggests that thesilver was manufactured in and distributed by traders or agents of the United States. Sinceprevious studies, although Incomplete, have indicated that the British hada monopoly upon the Indian trade and Indian allegiance from about 1780 to ,HIS,it is possible that this site, with its abundance of United States silver, isof a later date. This thesis is in part substantiated by the presence of thewell-preserved fragments of birchbark and the feathers. The Staffordshire typechina was probably manufactured after 1795 . Future identification ofthe several touchmarks will, perhaps, settle the question.

In a later book, Indian Cultureand European Trade Goods (The Universityof Wisconsin Press: Madison, Wisconsin)1966, Quimby elaborated slightly. He noted that the cemetery had beendiscovered in 1929 "within the town limits of Saugatuck."

 

Between 30 and 50 burials wereencountered during excavation work for the construction of a new communityhall. About I S of the skeletons were reported to have been in a flexed orpartly flexed position. Others apparently were extended, but unfortunately therecord is incomplete. In 1937, I examined a collection of materials found inthe graves and still in possession of the city of Saugatuck.

 

He revised his analysis of itemnumber one,

 

... the large single-barred silvercross with the touchmark "JK" in a square cartouche, probably made byJohn Kinzie who engaged in the manufacture of silver ornaments from 1780 to 1812 and is better known as an early resident of Chicago... The Kinzie mark onsilver suggests a date around 1812 or later for the old Indian cemetery inSaugatuck. the Indians who occupied the Saugatuck area at this time were generallyOttawa, although there may have been mixedsettlements of Potawatomi and Ottawa.

 

Interestingly J. H. Kinzie ofChicago is listed in an 1838 letter written by Saugatuck founder William G.Butler as "one of the proprietors of land on the oxbow or warehousefraction which is expected to be connected by a ship canal." The projectedcanal would have cut a path along the present road to Ox-Bow providing a moredirect access to Lake Michigan from downtownSaugatuck.

 

George Irving Quimby was born May 4, 1913, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both of hisparents were greatly intrigued by history, especially that of local Indians.Quimby graduated from Central High School in the spring of 1932 and started collegeat the University of Michigan later thatyear.

He afterwards attended the Universityof Chicago's graduate program inanthropology and was a student in Chicagowhen he visited Saugatuck and inspected the artifacts, writing a paper for aclass with C. E. Guthe. Before completing the graduate program he left to go toLouisiana andwork under Jim Ford. While in Louisianahe met art student Helen Ziehm. The couple was married in the fall of 1940.

Quimby returned to Michiganand became the director of the Muskegon Museum. Two years laterhe accepted a position as the chair of the anthropology department at the Field Museumof Natural History in Chicagowhere he remained for the next 13 years. In 1965 he became professor ofanthropology at the University of Washington, leaving three years afterwards to becomedirector of the Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum. He died in 2003.

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The bones which were found in the burial grounds weregathered together and reinterred beneath a small mound of earth near thesouthwest intersection of Butlerand Culver Streets across from the Village Hall. Nearby a stone "to thememory of the old Indian burying ground..." was dedicated with ceremony atthe 1930 celebration of the centennial of Saugatuck. Johnson Fox, then just aboy, remembers being the one who actually spoke the words of dedication dressedin an Indian outfit made by his mother. The burial mound was leveled duringstreet widening in the 1970s, and for a few years only the curved sidewalkwhich had gone around the mound showed its former position. Eventually eventhat was removed, although the memorial rock remains.

The artifacts on the second floor of the Saugatuck VillageHall were on display for several years. but, according to oldtimers, since themuseum was totally unsupervised, many were stolen. The rest were eventually,according to the newspapers, given to the brother-in-law of one of the townofficials who was a collector of such things.

The question which still needs to be answered is exactlyWHEN the artifacts were unearthed. The Saugatuck Village Hall was built in1880-1881 and some histories note that old burials were found at the time. Thedates which Quimby gives would put the discovery of the artifacts much later,the late 1920s or to 1930. It could be that during the remodeling of theVillage Hall in the 1920s a basement was added, or enlarged, and the burialswere found then. But 30 to 50 burials would have been a major find, and takenup a considerable amount of space.

If anyone has old newspaper articles, or even a familytradition please call the historical society 857-7901 or Kit Lane 857-2781.