Brothers of Three Fires
The Portage, Rocky, and St. Joseph rivers converge at a scenic location where
Indians have gathered for centuries. First settled in 1828, the town of Three
Rivers Michigan was platted at this confluence in 1836. In this region were
the principal Indian tribes which were known as the Brothers of the Three
My sister Terri lives outside of Three Rivers with her husband Scott and two
children Kyle and Audrey. During the September Labor Day holidays, my girlfriend
Wanda and I drove there to visit and do some sightseeing. We came across a
boulder with a bronze tablet in Scidmore Park on the south bank of the St.
Joseph river. The plaque reads "Site of Legendary Battle between the Shawnee
and Federated Indian tribes in 1802. Erected by Abiel Fellows Chapter D.A.R.
Oct. 1925." (See accompanying photo of plaque.) The park was established
and named in 1921 in honor of Dr. A.W. Scidmore who bequeathed the land to
the city of Three Rivers.
I had never heard of this battle or the federated Indian Tribes. A battle taking
place in 1802 was to early for the War of 1812, and too late for the Black
Hawk Wars. What is the federated Indian Tribes? Was it something analogous
to the Seven Tribes of the Iroquois?
Through many hours of correspondence with individuals throughout the country
and looking over reference material, this story has emerged. I first emailed
many individuals in the related Michigan area. Most did not know of any battle
which may have taken place in the area. The Glen Black Lab located at Indiana
University has a web site with an enormous amount of information available
on the Potawatomi tribe which inhabited the upper Indiana an lower Michigan
area. Yet no available information existed about any battle. I then emailed
the Potawatomi Indians web page point of contact. Again no information existed.
They were not even been aware of a battle which may of taken place in the area
at that time.
Finally after two months of waiting from a request of the Daughters of the
American Revolution National Society in Washington DC, a reply came that I
thought would shed some light on the topic. No such luck. They had no records
from the regional societies, but they had forwarded my letter. Even though
they commented that many regional societies had closed, many remain open. The
local society which erected the monument still exists.
After another month I finally received a reply in January of 1998 from the
Regent of Abiel Fellow Chapter of the Daughter of the American Revolution.
In this letter, I was told of the plaque and a brief legend of the battle which
took place. 'The decisive battle between Chief Elkhart's Shawnees and the three
confederate tribes of Michigan was fought around 1802 in two stages. The first
half of the struggle for possession of the land occurred in the area now known
as Scidmore Park. The last part of the battle was along the Portage and culminated
where the power house now stands on its bank. Chief Elkhart occupied the Wabash
valley in Indiana was aggressive and attempted to move into southwestern Michigan.
The invasion was repelled by Chief Pokagon and his Pottowatomies, in a conflict
centered in St. Joseph County. Chief Pokagon centered his forces north of Three
Rivers, and Chief Elkhart's Shawnees had gained possession of the White Pigeon
Prairie. Chief Elkhart attacked Chief Pokagon around April 1st close to the
confluence of the three rivers.' The federated Indian tribes, I have determined,
are in fact the Brothers of The Three Fires, being the Ojibwa, the Ottawa,
and the Potawatomi. There are three major tribal groups in Michigan today:
the Chippewa (Ojibwe), the Ottawa, and the Potawatomi. They comprise what is
called the Three Fires Council. Although these three tribes have similar cultures
and share the same territory, there are still some differences.
Ottawa are found in the northern reaches of the Great Lakes; in Michigan they
occupy the western half of the Lower Peninsula. The Ottawa people were seasonal
wanderers of the land and sailors of the Great Lakes gathering wild rice, netting
fish, trapping both large and small game, and hunting large game such as moose,
deer, and caribou.
Ottawa people continue to be great traders and craftsmen. One hallmark of Ottawa
life is the birch bark canoe. When the French came, the Ottawa people adapted
well to the fur-trading economy and managed to avoid major military entanglements
with the European colonial powers competing with each other for North American
land and resource dominance. They did, however, fight with the Iroquois throughout
the early 1600's.
At the point of European contact, the Potawatomi tribe inhabited the southwest
corner of what is now Michigan in the areas of Kalamazoo and the St. Joseph
River and adjacent parts of Indiana. They moved there deliberately from more
northern regions to take advantage of the milder southern climate. Although
they shared many traits with the Chippewa and the Ottawa, they lived a more
The addition of horticulture to the Potawatomi cultural pattern allowed them
to establish a more stable food supply and eventually a level of political
unity which was unusual for Great Lakes tribes at that time. Not only did they
grow the American staples of corn, beans, and squash, the Potawatomi were famed
for their medicinal herbal gardens. Besides enjoying the advantages of farming,
the retention of the canoe and a fondness for trading helped the Potawatomi
become a strong tribe through the early 1800's when many of them were forcibly
removed to Kansas and Oklahoma by the U.S. military.
The Chippewa, also known as the Ojibwe, are the second largest tribal group
in the United States with bands in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North
Dakota, as well as Ontario. In Michigan, the Chippewas occupied the eastern
half of the Lower Peninsula and most of the Upper Peninsula except the northern
shore of Lake Michigan. Besides using the resources of the Great Lakes, the
Chippewa also intensively used the resources of inland lakes, rivers, and streams.
The Chippewa were nomadic like the Potawatomi and the Ottawa, moving their
villages to follow the fish or game. They also were highly skilled at treating
illnesses by using the medicinal plants from the territories with which they
were so familiar. Like the Ottawa, the Chippewa engaged in fur trading with
the French and English and had some involvement in European colonial conflicts.
The treaty of August 29, 1821 concluded at Chicago resulted in the cession
to the United States of a large tract of land in the southwestern portion of
the state of Michigan designated No. 117 on Royce's map of the state. From
this cession, the Indian's reserved for their own use the following tracts;
(1) one tract at Mang-ach-qua village, on the river Peble, of 6 miles square;
(2) one tract at MIch-ke-saw-be of 6 miles square; (3) one tract at the village
of Na-to-wa-se-pe of 4 miles square; (4) one tract at the village of Prairie
Ronde of 3 miles square; (5) one tract at the village of Mastch-e-be-narh-she-wish,
at he head of the Kalamazoo river. While these tracts were subsequently ceded
to the United States in 1827 and 1833, they do serve to indicate the areas
in which the Indian villages were concentrated as well as their tribal affiliation.
The areas set aside as reserves were located in the central and southern portions
of the region. The most northern-most centered around the village of Matchebenashshewish
on the Kalamazoo river near the present town of that name. Others were to the
south on the St. Joseph river and its tributaries. All of the villages listed
above are of Potawatomi affiliation.
The distribution of the villages and their tribal affiliation indicates that
the region to the north of the Kalamazoo river was occupied primarily by the
Ottawa and Chippewa while the region to the south was Potawatomi country. Nogee
or Nongee, which is not identified by Hinsdale, is probably of Chippewa affiliation.
Kewagoosheum may also be of Chippewa affiliation, though this is not certain.
While no major battle recorded in history took place in Three Rivers close
to the St. Joseph river, there was an extensive amount of history which took
place in the region. Life and death, the constant struggle which took place
all through time, not just when recorded history initiated. The plaque is a
reminder to all of the people who inhabited the area long before the fur trappers
||W. B. Hinsdale ,The Archaeological Atlas of Michigan
||W. B. Hinsdale, Primitive Man of Michigan Lake
Superior Press 1983
||Denise Frederick, St. Joseph County, MI Town
||David Staddon, Past and Present
||Director American Indian Programs, Central Michigan
||Helen Hornbeck Tanner , Atlas of Great Lakes
||University of Oklahoma Press 1986
||Daughters of the American Revolution
Sunday, December 21, 1997
© 1997 Jeff Anderson