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History Lives Here Text



For the early days of Saugatuck burial sites of Native Americanresidents have been inadvertently exhumed from time to time. William G. Butler,in correspondence with his father, noted the location of one of their sacredburial sites, the spot where the Saugatuck village hall now stands, and thelands south and west of that point to the Kalamazoo River.


In 1869 while a fence was being constructed around Stephen Morrison'shome, at Culver and Butlerstreets, bones were found. Years later when the village hall was having abasement excavated under it, bones were found which were displayed in the hallfor many years.


Burial sites found in any other location around town were considered tobe quite uncommon. The local paper was quick to make mention of the discoveryof one of these rare sites was described in the Commercial Record of December 1, 1893:


While excavating at the corner of Mason and Water Streets last Thursdayworkmen unearthed the skeleton of a man only a foot or two below the surface,and the peculiar position it occupied gave rise to much curiosity and comment.The body had evidently been buried in a doubled up manner, as the head, feetand hands were close together, as though it had been carried by two persons anddropped in a hole. The bones were but slightly decayed, and the body must havebeen buried upwards of twenty years. Whether the bones were that of a white oran Indian cannot be told, but the opinions of those that have seen the skull isthat is that it is of the former. The point of land that elbows into Kalamazoo Lake is full of bones of dead Indians,and they are frequently disinterred, but never so far from the bend as wherethe recent find was made.


What made this find most unusual, other than location, was the mannerof burial which led speculators to conclude it was not the grave of a"noble" red man, but of some other unfortunate. Some insight intothis rare manner of burial is found in an account given by James McCormick, adoptedson of early Allegan County settler, HullSherwood. In an 1873 Allegan Journal hetells the story of an Indian burial near Saugatuck. The time of the tale is theearly 1830's.


There was a chief among them [the Indians which frequented the PineCreek settlement near Otsego] named "Ring Nose," so called on accountof his wearing a ring in his nose. He was a tall Indian, a great hunter, andsomewhat eminent as a talker. I once heard him make an address at the funeralof an Indian near Saugatuck, where the Indians had a burial place. The addresswas to the dead Indians, who was placed in a sitting posture in a shallowgrave, with his weapons and his others things. The brave was covered with brushpoles and dirt. .."


The manner of burial above described: shallow grave, seated position,very aptly describes the type of grave found on that December day in Saugatuck.The brush and poles placed around the body would have decomposed rapidlyallowing the bones to settled under the weight of the soil, giving the appearanceof having been folded up, i.e., the hands and skull by the feet.


As to the uniqueness of the gravesite, three or four years ago, duringstreet work near the Village Square, a skull was found that was assumed to beof Native American origin.


No doubt many more of these sites will be found in the years to come.


-- Bill Kemperman