The Names, They Are A ‘Changin

I just love the Native names.  Working with these old records, we often see the names in transition from being Native in the Native language, then Native using English translations, then entirely English.  An example of an “in transition” name would be White Swan.  Initially, of course, White Swan would have been in the native language.  It then became White Swan in English, then eventually, perhaps became the surname White, Swan or Whiteswan.

One example of a transitional name is found in the WWI draft registration records.

Guy Pe Na Sea Mandoka was born 1890 in Union City, Michigan  He registered for the draft in Calhoun Co., Mi. which is the county where Union City is located.

I always wonder about the rest of the story for each person.  In this case, my sister and her family lived in Calhoun County, so I have some sense of the history in the region.  I know that into the 1900s, there were groups of Native people living there.  An Indian cemetery exists near the farm they once owned and the local legend is that the largest tree grows on the old chief’s grave.  I don’t know if it’s true, but the locals certainly believe, Native and white alike.

Union City sits at the convergence of two rivers, the Coldwater and St. Joseph.  This of course would have been the perfect place for an Indian village, providing water, transportation and an opportunity for trade. 

Very little is found in the history books about the Native people in Calhoun County, even though they clearly persisted as a group well into the 1900s. 

James Mooney, in 1928, did us the favor though of telling us who they were, and how many people were among the tribe.  He says that they were Potawatomi and that there we 78 in the Huron Band of the Potawatomi in Calhoun County. 

The Potawatomi were scattered as a tribe by this time.  Many were living in Kansas and Oklahoma where they were reported in the 1910 census.  Others were found elsewhere in Michigan, on Walpole Island, officially in Canada but an island in the Detroit River separating Michigan and Canada, and Wisconsin.  Others were found elsewhere in Canada.

By the 1930 census, there were only 89 reported in the entire state.  As people intermarried, and often moved away, they were less likely to report themselves as Indian and more likely, if possible, to adopt a white status.  It was certainly safer and there were more civil liberties and opportunities available to white people than those of any color.

Today, there are 28 people in Michigan with the Mandoka last name.  Several still live in Calhoun County or surrounding counties.

A little more digging produced even more interesting information.  The history books may not include him, but Find-A-Grave shows us that Native American Huron Potawatomi Chief Sam Mandoka is buried in the “Indian Cemetery,” just down the road from my sister’s farm.  Chief Mandoka was born in the Athens Township, Michigan in 1864.  After the passing of Chief Maguago, Samuel Mandoka was appointed the last Chief of the Huron Potawatomi Tribe. After Mandoka’s death in 1934, tribal leadership was passed onto the Indian Committee associated with the Methodist Church at the Pine Creek Reservation. In 1970, the Huron Potawatomi Tribe was incorporated into the State of Michigan Government and the Tribal Council was established.

Looking further at Find-A-Grave, we find even more information.  Two other chiefs are buried here as well. 

  • Moguago, Chief. John  d. 1863
    Native American Huron Potawatomi Chief. Born in the Athens Township, Michigan, he was the leading founder of the Huron Potawatomi Tribe on the Pine Creek. Reservation. Under his leadership, the tribe gained legal title to their lands and had peaceful relations with white homesteaders. After his passing, his Samuel Mandoka was appointed the last Chief of the Huron Potawatomi Tribe. 
  • Pamptopee, Chief. Phineas   b. 1837  d. 1914
    Chief of the Huron Potawatomi.

This leads us to the Pine Creek Reservation, no mention of which was found in the Calhoun County History I could find online. 

The Turtle Talk blog, though, tells us more.

“The Potawatomi, like many American Indians in Michigan and around the country, were forced from their land by the U.S. government to Oklahoma and Kansas in the early 1800s.

In 1840, six Potawatomi families returned to Michigan and in 1845 purchased what became Pine Creek Reservation and formed the Nottawaseppi Huron Band.

For a time, the reservation thrived, Tribal Operations Manager David ThunderEagle said, but the Great Depression hit the reservation hard. During World War II, many tribe members left to join the military and never returned.”

You can read more at this link.

So, a bit of fascination with a name leads us down a path to find an Indian Cemetery, to identify the tribe of the registrant, and to understand something more of the culture and the history of the people who registered for the draft as Indian in Calhoun Co., Mi.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Michigan, Military, Potawatomi. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Names, They Are A ‘Changin

  1. Nora P says:

    Wonderful story. I am enjoying all of the information you are sharing about Native Americans. This is my favorite so far. You are doing a marvelous job. These stories NEED to be told!

  2. says:

    Wonderful story. I am learning all kinds of new things. Can’t wait for the next edition.

  3. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  4. TB says:

    Fascinating! I have been struggling with the transition of the name “Tebeau”….my great grandmother was born near Cass….your writing and preserving this type of information is so important! Than you!

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