Chief Tonquish Burial Site

Near the intersection of Wayne Road and Fountain in Westland


This State of Michigan historic marker commemorates the final bloody skirmish between Native Americans and European immigrants in southeast Michigan.  Both French and English settlers who came to what is now Michigan recognized that Native Americans were the occupants of the land, even though most of them were rather nomadic and did not seem to be making use of land the way Europeans did.   To use a broad generalization, the French typically had much less contentious relationships with Native Americans than the English, perhaps for several reasons.

First, many of the French military and settlers knew that there was great profit to be made from the sale of valuable furs in Paris.  The Native Americans quickly established a trading relationship in which they obtained French manufactured products for furs which were later sold for haute couture.  Second, the French who came to America were primarily men.  Apparently, it was common for them to cohabit or even marry Native American women. This creative a Metis population with a French-Native American culture.  Indeed, the current Canadian government recognizes the Metis as an aboriginal group. Third, a significant fraction of the French arrivals were priests who were dedicated to converting the Indians to Catholicism and French civilization.   Finally, French governmental officials often sponsored summer meetings during which gifts were provided to the Native Americans.  Presumably this was done to keep the peace and promote continued trade.

Of course, not all relationships between the French and the Native Americans were peaceful.  Antoine Cadillac could not sail across Lake Ontario on his long trek from Québec to Detroit because the Seneca had not made peace with the French.  His party would have been attacked and, perhaps decimated, if they had traveled through a Seneca area.  And in the Detroit area, there was once a major battle of the French against the Fox tribe.  That is, shortly after arriving in Detroit in 1701, the French made peace with the Huron, Pottawatomie and Ottawa tribes in the area, but not with the Fox.

In the summer of 1710, the English knew that the French fort at Detroit, Pontchatrain, was minimally staff.  They encouraged their allies, the Fox and the Macoutims tribes, to assemble near Detroit so as to threaten the French.  Presumably, if there were an opportunity, they would overrun the fort at Detroit.  The French commander at Detroit, Jacques-Charles Renaud DuBussion, suspected that the Fox were being deceptively friendly and anticipated a British inspired attack.

The Fox, however, were not popular with other tribes who sought an opportunity to settle scores with them.  DuBusson summoned tribes to assist his small force. Because of his call for assistance, Chief Saguina of the Ottawa and Chief Mskisabe of the Pottawatomie amassed warriors who came to Detroit to assist the French.  In addition, warriors from the Sac, Illinois, Osage and Missouri tribes came to Detroit.  The Fox realized that their chances for a victory were dimming so they retreated about eight miles north to Presque Isle at the base of Lake St. Clair in present-day Grosse Pointe.  What happened next is unclear.  Some accounts say that the French and their allies attacked and killed about one thousand Fox.  Other account claim that the Fox realized their predicament, surrendered and, while preparing to leave, were slaughtered.  DuBuisson, in his own defense, asserted that he tried to stop the bloodshed, but he did not have control over his Native American allies.  It was the costliest military activity in the territory that is now Michigan.

The British has strained relations with Native American tribes.  Shortly after taking over Detroit in 1761 the announced that they would not provide annual gifts as the French did.  Apparently, they also sought to make Native Americans cede claims to land they coveted.  By 1863, Chief Pontiac organized Native Americans who lived west of the Alleghanies into a united attack upon all the British forts in the region. Chief Pontiac laid siege to Detroit in the summer of that year.  The siege was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Native Americans withdrew at the start of winter, but many British soldiers died in the Battle of Bloody Run, the largest battle carried out in the city of Detroit thus far.

The British and then the Americans generally tried to negotiate for land with the tribes.  For modest payments, the Native Americans often gave up their land claims.  Native American pay no tuition at state universities in Michigan because of a land deal Father Gabriel Richard negotiated in which he promised the territory would educate Native Americans.

During the War of 1812, the American assumed, with good reasons, that the British were encouraging Native Americans to side with the British.  The story is a complicated one, but Chief Tecumseh did lead warriors who cooperated with the British up to and through the Battle of the Themes which was the definitive land battle in the Detroit theater.

After the War of 1812 ended, the federal government sought to establish peace with the Native Americans in the southern Michigan area.  In the summer of 1815, General, and future president, William Henry Harrison, who led ground forces for the United States in the Detroit area during the War of 1812, met with representatives of the Delaware, Ojibway, Ottawa, Miami, Seneca, Shawnee and Wyandot at what is now Fort Wayne on West Jefferson.  Eventually a treaty was signed in which the tribes renounced any allegiance to the British, promised to peacefully put themselves under the protection of the United State government and reiterated their acceptance of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville (Ohio).  This was an agreement in which the Native Americans ceded their claim to much of Ohio and some neighboring area.  It is safe to say that the Native American threat to European settlers diminished somewhat after this treaty was ratified by Congress in December 1815.  In the following decades numerous treaties were signed in Michigan in which various tribes ceded their land claims except for specially reserved areas.  There are now _____ Native American reservations in Michigan.

Nevertheless, there were skirmishes between settlers and Native Americans.  Tonquish was chief of a Potawatomi group who made use of lands in what is now western Wayne County.  When settlers took up residence there in the early Nineteenth Century, there were skirmishes.  At one point in 1891, the Europeans were pursuing the Potawatomi when they came upon Tonquish who was trying to save the life of his son who had been injured.  He was killed in the incident.  This took place at a point where a creek entered the Rouge River.  That creek is named in his honor. This was the last such event in southeastern Michigan.

Census 1860 was the first to enumerate Native Americans in Michigan.  There were 4.916 at that date.  By 1900, the number had dwindled to 813.  However, the Census Bureau 2016 Survey estimated 51,161 who reported Native American as their only race and another 85,000 who reported that Native American was one of their multiple races.   It is very likely that the Native American population of the state is larger now than when Chief Tonquish perished on the banks of the Rouge.

Use in 2017: Historical marker
Photograph:  Ren Farley; September, 2018
Description prepared: November 2018

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