Bartleby the Scrivener (vegan27) wrote,
Bartleby the Scrivener

shiawassee trail

In researching the Indian trails of Michigan, the sources I trust the most are the original government surveys of the territory. They were drawn before the white settlers' roads were constructed--and since roads were later built along township lines, they are easy to line up with modern maps. Frustratingly, Indian trails don't always show up on the surveys even though the surveyors were instructed to include them.

The closest Indian trail to Detroit I've found on an early government survey so far--that has survived as a modern street--is Shiawassee Road in Farmington Hills. Below is an animated gif comparing the 1817 survey and a modern map. Downtown Farmington is on the upper left.

This was once part of the Shiawassee Trail, which was one of two paths that led from Detroit to Saginaw. The other was the Saginaw Trail, now more or less preserved as Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Pontiac, and as Dixie Highway between Pontiac and Flint. (I haven't yet traced its exact route between Flint and Saginaw.) North of downtown Farmington, the Shiawassee Trail appears to be completely lost. No modern roads follow the old route.

As the map above shows, the Shiawassee Trail passed through an Indian reservation known as Tonquish's Village, one of the concessions made in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. It covered two square miles, coinciding with sections 30 and 31 of Southfield Township. It is just outside of the animated .gif above, located on the Rouge River.

I once lived for a brief time on Shiawassee Road, on the site of the Tonquish reservation, in fact. For six months I lived at the former location of Great Lakes Buddhist Vihara, which used to be at 26105 Shiawassee Road in Southfield. Not long after I left the temple, they purchased a larger house just a quarter mile away at 21491 Beech Road, still within Tonquish's Village.

The mark of Tonquish, a Potawatomi chief, on the Treaty of Detroit.

When driving among the shopping centers, ranch houses, and parking lots of Southfield, Michigan, it does seem as though every trace of the civilization that came before us has been wiped off the earth. What witness can claim they were ever here? But when I look at a map and see the roads that preserve paths originally worn down by moccasined feet, I think about what the Buddha said upon his enlightenment, when he touched the ground beneath him and said, "The Earth is my witness."
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