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History's Mysteries: How Weesaw Got Its Name

Among Michigan’s 1240 townships, only six are named for an actual Native American. How did Weesaw Township come to be one of those six, named for a Potawatomi Indian leader who lived nearly 200 years ago, in the first years of the 19th century? To read the story of how our township got its name, click on the link below.


History’s Mysteries: How Weesaw Township Got Its Name


The links below each chapter title open larger versions of the images that help to tell the story of Chief Weesaw and the naming of our township. Note: To view the images in their correct aspect, you may have to click the "rotate" buttons at the top of Firefox and Chrome pages. For Safari, the button will appear at the bottom of the image.

Chapter 2: Weesaw the Warrior?


Osceola, the fierce Seminole Warrior who gave his name to two Michigan townships. Unlike Osceola, Weesaw was not associated with weapons of any kind.


Chapter 3: Weesaw the Man


The artist George Winter, who asked Chief Weesaw if he could paint him.


Beeson’s Corner, in Niles, Michigan, where Weesaw was observed one winter day in 1835. Closeup view.


George Winter’s painting of ten Potawatomi chiefs. In contrast to the Native American image that identifies Weesaw Township, the chiefs in this painting are wearing turbans, not feathers. Turbans were the traditional head dress of the Potawatomi of that time. However, an early description of Weesaw notes that his “headdress had a band of white otter centered with a large silver crest which held eagle feathers in place.” And other Potawatomi chiefs also wore what we think of as the traditional Native American headdress. Here is Potawatomi Chief Strong Arm.


Photograph of two Potawatomi Chiefs.

Chapter 4: The Land of Weesaw


A map of Native American sites in Southwest Michigan. Shaded areas locate Indian sites in Weesaw Township and places in Cass and Berrien counties associated with Chief Weesaw.


George Winter’s painting of a Potawatomi summer camp.


A treaty map of Michigan, illustrating how during the first half of the 19th century the Native American tribes living in Michigan gradually ceded their lands to the US federal government. In return for their land, the Indians were paid in cash, goods, annuities, and promises that were not always kept. The treaties of 1821 and 1828 provided reserves of land for the Potawatomi, but in the treaty of 1833, the Potawatomi gave up all their lands, including the site of Weesaw’s last village. In 1838, following Weesaw’s death, all Potawatomi except Chief Pokagon and his band were removed from Michigan and Indiana in a forced march known as “The Trail of Death.”


Weesaw’s two villages. Both villages lay in reserves granted the Potawatomi by the treaty of 1821. The first village was located in Prairie Ronde, Cass County, the second in Berrien County along the St. Joseph River, downstream from Niles, Michigan.


A modern map of Buchanan and Niles, showing the location of Weesaw’s last village.

Chapter 5: Weesaw’s Passing


George Winter’s painting of Weesaw’s eldest son. Wewissa or Wesaw, also identified in numerous sources as Louis and Louison, was the eldest son of Chief Weesaw, and the probable murderer of his father.


Chapter 6: Weesaw Becomes a Township


Lucius Lyon’s survey map of Weesaw Township (1829). In his relatively brief life, Lucius Lyon (1800-1851) contributed much to the making of the state of Michigan: Deputy Surveyor General for the Michigan Territory, he marked off what would become Michigan’s southern counties and townships. He helped draft Michigan’s constitution, was for a time Indian Commissioner, was the state’s first US senator and later a member of Congress, founded the city of Grand Rapids, and served on the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan.


Southwest portion of an 1836 survey map of the Michigan Territory. Weesaw Township, before it became a township, was part of what was then Niles Township.


Cogswell Kidder Green.


Chapter 7: Information Sources. To explore the historical sources used to tell the story of Weesaw and the creation of the township, click here.

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