Although the author is unknown, it was presumed that these stories were written down by Marion Tyler as he received them orally from Ira Smith. This first chapter, taken from a "Standard Blue Book" found in my great-great uncle's trunk, describes Ira and his brother's journey to Grand Prairie and their experiences with the Indians living there. The words in brackets have been added by the editor.
Condition of Things Here in 1829-1830
I got Say[ing]s of Ira Smith
We have recently obtained some interesting reminisces of early days in this township from Mr. Ira Smith of Cooper [Township, Kalamazoo, MI]. Mr. Smith was one of the first settlers on Grand Prairie, and was in this place before any house was built except the trading post down the river and possible the log hut which Titus Bronson is said to have erected to make good his [claim] to the property in Kalamazoo in 1829.
It is interesting to know that a man now lives who live[d] here when this city was an entire wilderness is still alive and an able bodied, active citizen of the county – one who has seen every step of our city’s progress, yet if Mr. S’s story is correct, he is entitle[d] to the honor of the first settler.
Ira Smith and his brother Allen, left Ohio in the fall of 1829, for the territory of Michigan, the beginning to be much talk of. Allen had a wife and children, but Ira was unmarried. The journey was made with a yoke of oxen through the wilds of the cottonwood swamp and the black swamp of Ohio, into the openings of Michigan. They finally reach[ed] White Pigeon where these was a small settlement. Leaving their wagon, oxen, and Mr. Allen Smith’s family at that place, they pushed on northward, following a faint wagon track to Prairie Ronde, on the north and west part of which they found Bazel Harrison, Gullford, Whipple, Insley, Shaver, and two or three others, the very first settlement in the county. The Smiths did not stop, but taking the trail northward arrived at night fall at Grand Prairie. At a point, which in now known as Drake’s farm, they found a large Indian village. Mr. Smith says that as many as 300 Indians had gathered there for a dance. The Smiths approached the soiree aboriginique when one of the red men met them and spoke the word whiskey? “Got none!” “Marchee heonkomon!” and they marched. They went over to the northeast part of the prairie, near where now stands the Wyman house, and encamped for the night, the first white persons who had ever slept upon that prairie. A great fire was built to keep away the wolves which appeared in numbers and howled through the night. But the tired travelers paid little heed and slept well.
The next day they explored the country and selected places to settle. Ira choosing the Wyman place and Allen selecting the which was afterwards known as the Kingsley place, then came down to this valley. What a sight was presented to them as they look from the brow of the hill out upon the beautiful plain, then wild and free, and beautiful as a dream in its primeval dress in the gorgeous tints of late autumn! But to the practical mind of these stalwart pioneers the one thing that absorbed the attention was big marsh – the great meadow which spread out before them with here and there lakes of water in the midst of it. They selected a place where they could secure hay for the cattle for they had determined to locate at once on the prairie, Not a house of any kind could be seen in the place except the Indian’s trading post down the river, the smoke from which could[be seen] as they came down the hill from the prairie. The place where they found the best grass was about 40 rods north of the present Hawley house.
The Smiths returned to White Pigeon, told Mr. Drake of what they had seen. He joined them, came to the prairie, and made his location, and the three together cut some 15 tons of hay. They returned to White Pigeon, brought their families and all with them to the prairie, and prepared for the winter, building two shanties.
At the time the Smiths and Mr. Drake settled upon the prairie there was a large Indian village of thirty or more lodges on the farm Mr. D took up. It was one of the three villages at that time in the county the other being on Gull Prairie east of the corners, and the third on Prairie Ronde. This agrees with the statement of the earliest surveyors. The chief’s name was “Ring-Nose” and he was friendly to the new comers as were all the Indians.
The winter followed the settlement Grand Prairie was a severe one, and the Indians towards the close of it had exhausted their store of food except game. “Often they would come to our house, in which they were always made welcome, and we would share with them and give them food [to] carry away for we had provided plentifully in the fall. One day, towards the close of the winter, three Indians came [to] our house (I live with my brother, Allen) and asks for flour. Our barrel was very nearly empty, and we showed it to them and nearly exhausted pork barrel as well. They looked at them and then at each other, and with a grunt, 'Tiyi!' they went away in a few days they returned with venison and a quantity of honey which they gave us, refusing to accept anything for them. We never refused the Indians anything we had, and always found them appreciative recipients, and gratefully returned favors. They never stole from us. They seemed in the earlier days thoroughly open, frank, honest, and trustworthy, and great helpers, always friendly except when inflamed with whiskey, which was seldom, till the settlement had grown to quite a colony.”
We shall continue these sketches from time to time.