Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region

Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region

Many of you recognize the Native American tribal names of Miami, Potawatomi and Ottawa. All three tribes were celebrated at Storer grouping the three youngest camper groups on the South Side. Going beyond the names, I wanted to provide a more detailed and slightly more scholarly account of the Native Peoples we learned about while at Camp Storer.

I reached out to Randall Schaetzl, Professor, Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciencesat Michigan State University and he graciously gave me permission to re-publish this article detailing the Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region. I hope you enjoy!

 Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region

The first inhabitants of the Great Lakes basin arrived about 10,000 years ago. They had crossed the land bridge from Asia or perhaps had reached South America across the Pacific Ocean. Six thousand years ago, descendants of the first settlers were using copper from the southern shore of Lake Superior and had established hunting and fishing communities throughout the Great Lakes basin.

One of the ways that the Indians would manipulate copper was with “hammer stones.”  These hammer stone were found near prehistoric copper diggings in the Keweenaw Pennisula.  They are prehistoric tools used 3000-5000 years ago.  The Indian “miners” would build a fire over the copper vein which would heat the rock around the copper. After heating they would pour cold water on it to crack the rock. Then they would pound out the copper with rock hammers and stone chisels. These hammers usually had a handle attached to them.  Some hammers were held with the hands and were not grooved.  When they broke they tossed them aside. Grooves were put in the hammers with smaller stones.  The hammers are found today, underground, anywhere from 6″ to 3′.  It is hard work digging for them. The copper was shaped into spear points, arrow heads, knives, harpoons, and jewelry.

The native people occupied widely scattered villages and grew corn, squash, beans and tobacco, and harvesting wild rice. The state’s indigenous people’s–its first true farmers–supported themselves through a combination of hunting and gathering and simple agricultural techniques. Their modest plots produced corn, beans, peas, squash, and pumpkins. However, the Indians used only a portion of their holdings for crops and so caused few lasting changes in the countryside. They moved once or twice in a generation, when the resources in an area became exhausted (GLERL 1995).  Those not in villages were scattered throughout the beautiful but inhospitable pine forests of the north. Villages were relatively impermanent and, except in two or three very populous areas, widely separated from one another. The crude and primitive means of subsistence that the Indians had at their disposal seriously limited the number that a given area could support. The greatest concentration of population coincided almost perfectly with the area of deciduous forest. Maple and birch were the two most valuable trees: the first for its sugar, the latter for housing material and canoes. Other sources of food supply, such as game, wild apples, plants, and berries, as well as land suitable for agriculture, were more likely to be found in the deciduous than in the coniferous forest lands.

A majority of Indian settlements were along waterways, as in the St. Joseph and Saginaw River valleys–then the two most populous areas. Water provided an easy means of transportation and, in fish, a plentiful supply of food. Some settlements along the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior shores were regularly occupied in summer and abandoned for more sheltered positions in winter.

When Etienne Brule’, the first white man to set foot on Michigan soil, landed at the site of Sault Ste. Marie in 1620 (see image below), the population of Michigan was about 15,000. The southern half of the Lower Peninsula accounted for about 12,000.  Others have estimated that the population of Native Americans in the Great Lakes was between 60,000 and 117,000 in the 16th century, when Europeans began their search for a passage to the Orient through the Great Lakes. Some estimate that 10% of all the Indians north of the Mexico border lived in Michigan, at the time of first contact with Europeans.   Etienne Brule is the first European to see Lake Huron

Native American Indians were the first to use the many resources of the Great Lakes basin. Abundant game, fertile soils and plentiful water enabled the early development of hunting, subsistence agriculture and fishing. The lakes and tributaries provided convenient transportation by canoe, and trade among groups flourished.  By about A.D. 100, Native American inhabitants of the Upper Peninsula (Ojibwes) were using improved fishing techniques and had adopted the use of ceramics. They gradually developed a way of life based on seasonal fishing which the Chippewas/Ojibwes still followed when they met the first European visitors to the area. Scattered fragments of stone tools and pottery mark the location of some of these prehistoric lakeshore encampments.

                                                Source: Unknown

The above picture shows Native American Indians at a camp on Mackinac Island in 1870.   The picture is a bit misleading, however, since most Native Americans in the Great Lakes region lived in hogans or wigwams like the one shown below, not in teepees.

                                                                     Source: Unknown

Today, evidence of these ancient cultures is meager.  Some of the paleo-Indians left burial and other ceremonial mounds behind, like these in SW Lower Michigan.   (Note the gravel pit in the foreground.)

                                               Source:  Pictorial History of Michigan:  The Early Years, George S. May, 1967.

Archeologists often find their projectile points and arrowheads, indicating sites where they hunted or camped for extensive periods of time.  But for the most part, evidence of Native American cultures in Michigan is not great.

                                                        Source:  Pictorial History of Michigan:  The Early Years, George S. May, 1967.

Native Americans lived and traveled primarily along water routes and water bodies.   Thus, as of about 1670, much of the dry inland areas of Michigan were essentially unoccupied (see map below).  Inland Michigan was used almost exclusively for travel, not to live.  It was a place to cross, not to live.

The Woodland Indian Tribes of the Great Lakes area and throughout the eastern and southern part of the United States were farmers. In the fall and winter they hunted and trapped, moving in small family groups to winter hunting camps. Beaver, muskrat, raccoon, deer, elk, bison and black bear were taken for the meat and hides. In the spring, the Indians made maple sugar in large quantities. It was a staple in their diet. They also harvested nuts, berries, wild plums, wild cherries, and pawpaws. Wild rice was gathered around the Great Lakes. Corn, beans, squash, and pumpkin were widely grown in North America, north of Mexico. Besides multi-colored Indian corn the Indians developed varieties of eight and ten-row corn. Beans grown by the Indians included the kidney bean, navy or pea bean, pinto, great northern marrow, and yellow eye bean. The Indians planted corn and beans in the small mounds of soil and often pumpkins, squash, or melons in the space between.   Many other vegetables were grown by the Indians: turnips, cabbage, parsnips, sweet potatoes, yams and “Irish” potatoes, onions and leeks. Watermelon and muskmelon were introduced into North America in the 17th century and were being grown in the interior within a few years.  The nature and extent of Indian agriculture are revealed in the observations of George Will, a soldier in General Anthony Wayne’s campaign against the Indians along the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (Ohio) in the summer of 1794. “Here are vegetables of every kind in abundance,” Will wrote, “And we have marched four or five miles in cornfields down the Oglaize [sic], and there is not less than one thousand acres of corn around the town.”

When the first French explorers pushed into Michigan, early in the 17th century, the country was inhabited by Indians of Algonquin stock. This family embraced a large number of tribes in the northeastern section of the continent, whose language apparently sprang from the same mother tongue. It was Algonquins who greeted Jacques Cartier, as his ships ascended the St. Lawrence. The first British colonists found Algonquin Indians hunting and fishing along the coasts and inlets of Virginia. It was Algonquins who, under the great tree at Kensington, made the covenant of peace with William Penn, and when French Jesuits and fur traders explored the Wabash and the Ohio, they found their valleys tenanted by the same far-extended race. In the 1700’s travelers might have found Algonquins pitching their bark lodges along the beach at Mackinac, spearing fish among the rapids of St. Mary’s River, or skimming the waves of Lake Superior in their canoes.
The Algonquin had resided in Michigan for at least a century before the coming of the whites. Who preceded them, no one knows, although certain archeological finds suggest the bearers of the Hopewell culture, which is now extinct.

                                                                         Source:  Pictorial History of Michigan:  The Early Years, George S. May,   1967.

The chief tribes in the Michigan region in the late 1700’s were the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, occupying the eastern part of the Lower Peninsula and most of the UP; the Ottawa, in the western part of the Lower Peninsula; and the Potawatomi, occupying a strip across the southern part. None of these tribes, apparently, had exclusive possession of the section it occupied. The Saginaw Valley, in the very midst of the Chippewa terrain, was the stronghold of the Sauk. The Mascoutin had a precarious hold on the Grand River Valley, until the Ottawa, having driven them from the Straits of Mackinac, subsequently drove them beyond the borders of the present State. The Miami, in the relatively populous St. Joseph River Valley, shared a similar fate at the hands of the Potawatomi. Other subtribes that once dwelt in the southwestern part of the State were the Eel River, the Piankashaw, and the Wea, while the Menominee, established in the wild-rice country of Wisconsin, included a part of the Upper Peninsula in their domain.

The Algonquin peoples and their descendants were an agricultural people and depended more upon producing vegetables than upon hunting. In Michigan, corn was the staple foodstuff, although wild rice, which was common throughout the State in mud-bottom lakes and sluggish streams, tended to take precedence in the northwestern, especially around Green Bay. Corn was often planted in the midst of the forest–the trees having been killed by girdling, to admit the sunlight–together with squash, tobacco, and kidney beans.
Corn was stored for the winter in cribs–similar to those of the present-day American farmer–and in pits (caches) in the ground. Corn, like the land itself, was the property of the family or clan. So deeply ingrained was this notion of communal ownership of land that, when later the Indians agreed to “sell” it to the whites–oftentimes several thousand acres for a barrel or two of whiskey–they assumed they were simply granting permission for joint use and occupation of the land. It was beyond their comprehension that land could be fenced-off as private property.

To the Europeans, the Indians owed, in addition to spirituous liquors and tuberculosis, the extension of the practice of scalping. Taking the scalp lock of vanquished foes had long been a rite among virtually all North American tribes; but, because it was a difficult operation with crude stone knives, it was, perforce, held within limits. Europeans brought steel knives and offered bounties for scalps especially during the War of 1812, when Chippewa sided with the British. Thus, in much the same way that the Michigan Indians were transformed from an agricultural to a nomadic hunting people by the European demand for furs, they were transformed from a peaceful to a warlike race by the French and English demand for scalps.

The basic political unit of the Indians was the tribe, consisting of people speaking the same dialect, occupying contiguous territory, and having a feeling of relationship with one another. The chief was elected to hold office until he died or the electorate became dissatisfied with his leadership and chose another. Often a son was chosen to succeed his father. Besides the chief, there were other dignitaries, notably the priests, and advisory council of minor chiefs, and sometimes a special war chief.
Within the Indian community it was customary for the women to do the gardening, cooking, and housekeeping; and the men engaged in hunting, fishing, tool making, and, when necessary fighting. Medicine was the exclusive province of the priesthood, who also officiated at burials. These consisted either of interment near the village, without a marker or with houses of bark and wood over the graves, or of interment in mounds, large and small.

The Indians of Michigan were housed in dome-shaped bark- or mat-covered lodges in winter, and in rectangular bark houses in summer. Among the Chippewa, the summer residence was the conical skin or bark-covered tepee, popularly associated with Indians in general. Homes were furnished with wood and bark vessels, some splint basketry, woven bags for storage, reed and cedar-bark mats, and copper tools and utensils; a hole in the roof permitted egress of smoke from the cooking fire. Native pottery was of a primitive order, as was work in wood, stone, and bone.

The men wore leggings, breechcloths, and sleeved shirts–all made of animal skins; while the women wore skirts and jackets of the same material. Moccasins were soft-soled, with drooping flaps. Robes of skin served for additional protection during cold weather and as blankets at night.

Besides mining copper, the natives quarried stone to a certain extent, although a great deal of the stone for arrowheads and spearheads came from other areas, chiefly Ohio. Some was imported from beyond the Rocky Mountains. Michigan cherts and flints are generally drab in color, course-grained , and often marred by fossils, blemishes, and flaws. The richest source of supply was around Saginaw Bay. Heavy stones for axes were plentiful along the banks of streams and lakes. A gray stone, from which pipes were made, is reported to have been quarried in the vicinity of Keweenaw Bay.

The attitudes toward the Indians have changed greatly since the 1800’s.   The text below is taken from an 1880 history text, in which the Indians in south-central Michigan were being characterized:

Of the character of the Indians of this region: “They were hospitable, honest, and friendly, although always reserved until well acquainted; never obtrusive unless under the influence of their most deadly enemy, intoxicating drink. None of these spoke a word of English, and they evinced no desire to learn it….I believe they were as virtuous and guileless a people as I have ever lived among, previous to their great destruction in 1834 by the cholera, and again their almost extermination during the summer of 1837 by the (to them) most dreaded disease, smallpox, which was brought to Chesaning from Saginaw, – they fully believing that one of the Saginaw Indians had been purposely inoculated by a doctor there, the belief arising from the fact that an Indian had been vaccinated by the doctor, probably after his exposure to the disease, and the man died of smallpox. The Indians always dreaded vaccination from fear and suspicion of the operation.

“The Asiatic cholera in 1834 seemed to be all over and was certainly atmospheric, as it attacked Indians along the Shiawassee and other rivers, producing convulsions, cramps, and death after a few hours. This began to break up the Indians at their various villages. The white settlements becoming general, and many persons selling them whisky (then easily purchased at the distilleries for twenty-five cents per gallon), soon told fearfully on them. When smallpox broke out in 1837 they fled to the woods by families, but not until some one of the family broke out with the disease and died. Thus whole villages and bands were decimated, and during the summer and fall many were left without a burial at the camps in the woods, and were devoured by wolves. I visited the village of Che-as-sin-ning – now Chesaning – and saw in the summer-camps several bodies partially covered up, and not a living soul could I find, except one old squaw, who was convalescent. Most of the adults attacked died, but it is a remarkable fact that no white person ever took the disease from them, although in many instances the poor, emaciated creatures visited white families while covered with pustules. Thus passed away those once proud owners of the land, leaving a sickly, depressed, and eventually a begging, debased remnant of a race that a few years before scorned a mean act, and among whom a theft was scarcely ever known. I do not think I possess any morbid sentimentality for Indians. I simply wish to represent them as we found them. What they are now is easily seen by the few wretched specimens around us.”

Parts of the text above have been paraphrased from C.M. Davis’ Readings in the Geography of Michigan (1964) and from: and from HISTORY OF SHIAWASSEE AND CLINTON COUNTIES, MICHIGAN (1880) by D.W. Ensign & Co.
Reprinted with permission by: Randall Schaetzl (2007), Professor
Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences
Michigan State University

Related Story: Native American Influence at Storer



Interesting Links:

Native American Treaties: Their Ongoing Importance to Michigan Resident:

02 Mary Mennel

Download Episode!





The interview is one part reunion and many parts reminiscing. Interviewers usually shouldn’t be fawning, but this is a podcast, not a formal interview :). Considering Mary’s 17 year professional tenure at camp, I was naturally eager to sit down with what I consider a Storer legend. She is much more humble than to easily accept such a distinction or moniker.  I felt that she would be my perfect guest to launch the Stoney Lake Reflections Podcast. Her laugh is as contagious as her enthusiasm for Camp Storer and I appreciate her graciously accepting my invitation to record her thoughts for Stoney Lake Reflections.

Quick Facts

Staff: 1968-1989   – K1973-1983 OE; 1984-89 OE Director

–As camper: 1959-1968

–Positions: Summer Camper, Trip Camper, Volunteer, Junior Counselor, Senior Counselor, Ranch Counselor, Trip Leader, Kitchen Supervisor, Village Director, Horse Barn Manager, North Center Summer Camp Director, OE Staff, OE Center Director, OE Director



  • Representing the child’s point of view
  • Learning, improving and growing at Camp Storer
  • In the company of dogs or ‘A Dog’s Life’
  • Mary’s other ‘pets’ at camp
  • Pioneer Crafts Fair
  • Working with Clark Ewing
  • Working with Greg McKee
  • Explosion of development and creativity – Spolemans arrive






‘Stoney Lake Reflections’ Sing-out
Performed by Singer/Songwriter Cori Strell:
Intsagram: @coristrellmusic

Additional Tracks used:
Music by Hook Sounds
Music composed by Nicolai Heidlas


©2017 Stoney Lake Reflections in Association with GoldenTime Marketing

For Many, Exploration Started at Storer

For Many, Exploration Started at Storer

Whether summer camp or outdoor education, Storer opened up and introduced a whole new world for thousands of campers.  Natural wonders like Stony Lake, pine forests, meadows, swamps, and all natural habitats in between, set the stage for adventure.  New sights and sounds to be encountered, like the songs of the sandhill cranes or a wide-open sky perfect for star gazing.  Adventure awaits everyone on these sacred 1200 acres.  For many Storer was that first foray into nature.  And perhaps, the first introduction to how nature and man are truly interconnected.  Kids don’t usually appreciate this when playing in the back yard, but being exposed to it on a grand scale, the impact is inescapable.

Beyond ecological interdependence, for many, Storer provided an eye opening introduction to people from all around the world.  This set the stage for thinking beyond one’s borders.  In learning about other people’s ideas, beliefs and values, everyone was enriched as a result.  What a rich list of ingrediants for adventure!  Throw in a pinch of learning and you have a recipie for a phenominal experience.

Did you have an International Counselor?  I had a couple, but the first International Counselor I had was from Norway and his name was Yensbo (spelling?).  He was very patient with our motley crew of first graders and how he survived, I do not know.  We felt special because our counselor was from another land, had a unique name, and we got to hoist his flag and give a little speech about his home during our turn at flag-raising.  In fact he gave us each mini paper flags, which was a thoughtful memento.

I have two other memories of Yensbo: My first genuine pillow fight that abruptly stopped after feathers filled the air (7 year old boys + zippy + pillows = impending doom).  The second memory was coming down with a stomach ache (probably from the flu shot I got 24 hours prior to camp- Yes, the Smith’s always waited until the last minute).  Yensbo was initially suspect, probably thinking I was homesick versus a legitimate ache.  I cut off his careful questioning and let it be known, I was not homesick! (In fact, I was afraid I’d have to leave camp!)   So we proceeded to the nurse and I got to ride on his shoulders as this was far more expediant than relying on my short shanks to get to Georgianna Swinford, camp nurse for 17 years, for a look see and some Pepto Bismol.

Now, several years later (several), that desire to continually learn and ‘venture out’ is still alive and well within me and I’m hoping it is for you.  When not able to physically escape the day to day, there are some vices I can’t give up (I’m not talking about Advil).  The largest is my yearning to travel.  When that isn’t possible, luckily I get my adventure fix through reading National Geographic or watching the Nat’l Geo channel.  It’s not quite the same as an immersive experience, one we all enjoyed at Storer, but if venturing out  isn’t practical, I’ll take the living room based diversion nonetheless. (But nothing really beats the fresh air, the elements, and being reminded that there must be other things at work on this little planet of ours).




Below is a great clip celebrating 130 years of National Geographic Magazine.  For so many this is a glimpse into other lands near and far, the exotic, the natural.  I’m glad my glimpse into other worlds and the natural environment started at Storer.

In retrospect, even at Storer, I encouraged kids to read National Geographic.  One of the lessons I employed during skin diving class was the entire group to use their snorkels as kahzoos and hum the National Geographic theme.  Every morning, anyone on the lake could hear the cacophany improve throughout the week (or so I hoped). Not only did this get kids used to having a snorkel in their mouth, and improve breath control, it provided an amusing variation on the famous National Geographic theme song which always rouses the spirit of adventure.  I dare you not to hum along! (As an aside, the composer Elmer Bernstein also composed other catchy tunes like The magnificent Seven. Do you hear the similarities?  Don’t blame me for getting this tune caught in your head for the near term!)



Over the last 130 years, National Geographic has changed the look of its magazine but never wavered from its commitment to explore ‘the world and all that is in it’. In this short video, watch the evolution of this iconic cover while reliving some of the most famous milestones along the way.


What about YOUR Storer Adventures?

What was your favorite adventure at Storer?

Was it on the lake?

Was it in the lake?

On a Horse?

On a Hike?

Hearing the sounds of nature at night?

Seeing the skies above?

Pitching a tent?

Cooking your own dinner?

Catching critters?

Please share!

In sharing this spirit, feel free to check out the links below.  If you purchase anything using the link below, Stoney Lake Reflections gets a little something in return and it doesn’t cost you anything extra!  Thanks to National Geographic for offering this sponsorship! (and thank you if you purchase!).  If nothing else, take a break, browse their site, and lose yourself for awhile!

√ Check out Special Stoney Lake Reflections Deals on National Geographic Subscriptions – Print or Digital deals available!

√ Click this Link for National Geographic Store

Other Fun Stuff:

√ Notable Maps From 100 Years of National Geographic Cartography


Local Archeologist Sheds Light on Stony Lake History

Local Archeologist Sheds Light on Stony Lake History

As we prepare to celebrate YMCA Storer Camps 100th Summer, we are humbled that our fair camp has such a rich history.  100 years seems like a long time and it is, as compared to and individuals human lifespan.  However, in the larger scope, we are reminded that Storer Camps establishment on the banks of Stony Lake in 1918 is a pretty recent event, compared to the overall history of the area, which spans 12,000 years.

Beyond naming the camper groups after the once local tribes of Miami, Ottawa and Potawatomi, did you know there’s a clearer historical connection between the land that camp occupies and these tribes? Did you know that the Stony Lake area is so rich in artifacts? Local Napolean township clerk and amateur Archeologist, Dan Wymer, reconstructs the environment around Camp Storer and Stony Lake to shed light on the history of the area.

“I have personally found hundreds of artifacts on the campsites and hunting grounds surrounding Stony Lake and the extensive wetlands that adjoin the lake. For 38 years I have walked the plowed fields and, when landowners permitted, conducted excavations. “My research indicates that at least 30 different groups of people occupied the Stony Lake area across a time span of 12,000 years.” – Dan Wymer, Amateur Archaelogist, Napolean, MI


Peek Through Time: Researcher has found thousands of American Indian artifacts in Jackson County

By Ken Wyatt | Jackson Citizen Patriot © 2017 MLive Media Group

Anyone familiar with Jackson County history knows about the American Indians who were here when the first settlers arrived.  Whap-ca-zeek and Pee-wy-tum are familiar names, as are those of great chiefs who played key roles in Michigan history—Okemos, Pontiac, Pokagon.

But what of the thousands upon thousands of nomads who inhabited this area long before tribal names such as Potawatomi, Chippewa, Huron, Wyandotte, Ottawa and others were registered in the annals of our history books?
In the historic sense, they were nameless phantoms. They lived, gathered food, mated and died, leaving nothing to mark theirpassage through this area’s ancient history.

Napoleon Township Clerk Dan Wymer, shown here as a teenager in 1965, has collected American Indian artifacts from more than 300 local sites.

But there are those who peel back the layers of time and have found thousands of remnants of that ancient past. Napoleon Township Clerk Dan Wymer was trained as a research scientist at Michigan Technological University in the late 1960s. Aside from a stint with the Army, he spent much of his career in information technology and is retired from General Motors’ EDS. However, his lifelong passion has been prehistoric archaeology in south-central Michigan — especially Jackson County.

Wymer has collected thousands of artifacts from more than 300 local sites.

“One of the first things people ask me is, ‘What tribe made that arrowhead?’ ” he said.
The answer invites a review of Jackson County’s Indian history — not the short history, but the long story.Wymer’s artifact collection contains items from three periods — the Paleo, Archaic and Woodland eras.

The Paleo period, roughly 9,000 to 14,000 years ago, was the first period in which American Indians lived in the “new world.” It was an era of “big-game hunters.” Caribou, mammoths and mastodons were the game, and artifacts include larger, fluted spear points and specialized tools for hunting large animals. The Archaic period followed the close of the Ice Age. It featured a shift from large to smaller game, with more reliance on seeds for food. Spear points from this era tend to be notched or stemmed. Finally, the Woodland period saw more movement toward agriculture, with the cultivation of corn, beans and squash. This was the era of arrowheads and smaller game. Wymer has found artifacts from each of these eras in Jackson County. They include spearheads, arrowheads, pottery fragments, knives, scraping tools, drills, engraving tools, axes, fire-cracked rock and even musket flints from more recent times.

Researcher has found thousands of American Indian artifacts in Jackson County

Wymer’s interest in archaeology dates back to childhood. “I grew up across from Stony Lake and started finding arrowheads at age 11,” he said. “As I became an adult and studied in college, I developed broader interests.My interest broadened more from the picking up of artifacts to the people — their way of life.” In a May 15, 2000, letter to the YMCA’s Camp Storer on Stony Lake, Wymer summarized the significance of the camp and lake: “I have personally found hundreds of artifacts on the campsites and hunting grounds surrounding Stony Lake and the extensive wetlands that adjoin the lake. For 38 years I have walked the plowed fields and, when landowners permitted, conducted excavations. “My research indicates that at least 30 different groups of people occupied the Stony Lake area across a time span of 12,000 years. The rarest sites in Michigan are those of the Paleo Indians — the first people to enter Michigan at the close of the Ice Age. Four of those extremely rare sites dating to around 10,000 B.C. are located at Stony Lake. “… To my knowledge, there’s no other location in Michigan with this many Paleo Indian sites clustered together.” Why is the Stony Lake area so rich in artifacts? Wymer reconstructs the environment to answer that question.

Dan Wymer Today

“The waters of Stony Lake covered a much larger area than today,” he wrote in his Camp Storer letter. “A combination of clearing the forests, artificially straightening creeks and rivers, and dredging ditches for swamp drainage lowered the water tables in this part of Michigan by about six feet in the 1800s.”

Wymer said he believes mammoth, mastodon, giant beaver and caribou were present in large numbers, making the area a magnet for hunters. Though the Stony Lake area has yielded many artifacts, there are many other productive sites in Jackson County. And though artifacts are the evidence of earlier inhabitants, they are not the aim of archaeology, according to Wymer. “Is the purpose to recover arrow points?” he asked. “No, the purpose is to recover data. When you’re excavating a site, you look for the distribution and association of other artifacts, all the elements of the data.”

A family story Dan Wymer’s interest in archaeology is rooted in his own past. His Grandma Marr’s family settled in the Irish Hills in the 1850s, and he tells a story she passed on from her grandparents:
“During one visit in warmer weather, there was a terrible tragedy. A group of Indians that included men, women and children had stopped at the farm asking for food. While they were eating, one of the mothers left her small child on a cradle board leaning against a tree unattended.

“At that time it was common practice to let pigs run loose on farms so they could forage for their own food. While nobody was looking, the pigs ate the Indian baby.

“When the Indians discovered what had happened, they were very upset. There was much shouting in the Indian language with none of the family able to understand what was being said. Her grandparents thought for sure the Indians were going to kill them in anger.

“Instead, the Indians left after a short while without harming anyone.”

“My brother and I both vividly remember listening to that story when we were small. The thought of being eaten alive by a pig waspretty scary.” The big book Dr. Wilbert B. Hinsdale was honored by his University of Michigan colleagues with the title “Father of Michigan Archaeology.” His masterwork, the “Archaeological Atlas of Michigan,” was published in 1931. Its dimensions — 19 by 24 inches — make it too large to be shelved with most books, but it is a prize for research collections in many Michigan libraries, including the Jackson District Library’s Carnegie branch.

For the first time, Hins-dale gathered data on American Indian sites in each county of Michigan, including Jackson County. He might have visited here, but his primary source of information was a network of farmers, guides and others acquainted with the fading record of the American Indian presence in each of the counties. Hinsdale documented at least 23 American Indian villages in Jackson County. He also mapped all known American Indian trails and river portages in the county, plus burial sites. A Jackson County map in Hinsdale’s atlas plots the general location of all of the villages. However, he was known to be devious — not giving specific locations, so as to frustrate amateur scavengers. Among Hinsdale’s sites are one along the Grand River in Jackson, two along the southwest shores of Big Portage Lake, one near Grass Lake, three along the Kalamazoo River just north of Concord, four in Tompkins Township and one near Spring Arbor now known as the “Falling Waters” Indian village. MSU research In the summer of 1968, a Michigan State University team of 13 students headed by Dr. Charles E. Leland, curator of the MSU Museum, conducted what was billed as the “first systematic site survey” of the Portage and Grand rivers. The survey started at Eaton Rapids and ended in Jackson. According to a Citizen Patriot report, the team discovered 12 large American Indian village sites and 25 camp sites. They collected artifacts dating from the 1800s back to about 9,000 B.C.

In the summer of 1973, a second MSU student team, under anthropology professor Joseph L. Chartkoff, returned to one of the large-village sites identified in the earlier project. It was located on the Grand River, on property 1.5 miles south of Berry Road, then owned by Rachel Clark and A.R. Stringham. The 10 students recovered artifacts from the late Archaic and early Woodland periods, about 3,000 to 300 B.C.

These artifacts were found in Rives Township and are evidence of the many American Indians who inhabited Jackson County for thousands of years.

Artifacts and Archaeology

What the artifacts tell us: Arrowheads and spear points are made from cherts — very hard rocks that can be sharpened. Flint is one kind of chert. Researcher Dan Wymer points out there is no local source of cherts in Jackson County. Thus, the arrowheads and other sharpened tools here were made from cherts mined elsewhere, such as Bayport (Saginaw Bay area), Mercer (Coshocton County, Ohio), Wyandotte (Harrison County, Ind.) and Flint Ridge (Licking County, Ohio). The presence of these cherts in Jackson County sheds light on the trade, travel and interaction between early inhabitants and those elsewhere.

Preserving history: What does a serious collector do with thousands of carefully catalogued artifacts collected over decades of archaeological digs? “I’ve begun exploring the possibilities,” Wymer says. “I want to preserve it (his collection) in such a way that it can’t be dispersed and sold, but will be available for archaeologists and others to study.” He is considering a couple of local
institutions — Camp Storer or the Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History.

Learn more: Anyone interested in Jackson County archaeology can find more information at the Michigan Archaeological Society website,

© 2017 MLive Media Group. Original Article


Dan Wymer will be a future guest on the podcast!  We are excited to sit down with him and talk about his childhood passion of Archeology and the many artifacts he has found around the banks of Stony Lake. More to come!

Dan will also be joining in on the 100th Summer Celebration June 30, 2018 speaking to his unique finds and the local history.

Native American Influence at Storer

Native American Influence at Storer

Storer Camps has a long history in celebrating the history and culture of Native Americans, long before it was ‘politically correct’ to do so. Not to say that using ‘Indian’ themes in a Summer camp setting wasn’t wildly popular for a time, (see the YMCA’s own ‘Indian Guides’) but it was Storer’s approach that was the difference between emulating a set of cultures versus caricature.

Looking back at when I was learning about American Indians in elementary school social studies, the month of November was often the only time students learn about Native Americans.  The coursework was inevitably wrapped up tidily with the many myths surrounding the first thanksgiving between the natives and European settlers in 1621 . From this typical curriculum, Indians were viewed at best quaint and at worst, primitive; Always referred to ancient times, a culture from the past. Little mention was made to the atrocities committed against North America’s Native Peoples or where the Indians were in present day culture. Answer: Native Americans were largely relegated to reservations and marginalized with only romantic images presented in popular culture. (View famous ‘Crying Indian’ commercial, infamously played by a second generation Italian American ).


Luckily, Storer approached Native Peoples from a historical, educational point of view whose narrative ran contrary to what was mostly reflected in the elementary school textbooks of youth in the 1970s & 1980s. I cannot recall during any ‘Indian’ (Native American) educational programs at Storer where the Native Americans were typecast in the role of bizarre, perpetual savages. Camp Storer smartly embraced the local history that was so influenced by Native Americans.  For this region of Michigan (and the Great Lakes) the influence of Native American’s is inescapable. As Author Virgil J. Vogel wrote in Indian Names in Michigan “Most of the Indian names borne by Michigan’s cities, counties, lakes, and rivers are those of Indian tribes and individuals. Settlers named places not only for the resident tribes, but also for tribes in the states they had left, and even for tribes in the West that they had never seen.”. Even the state’s name, Michigan, is based on a Native American (Chippewa) word; “meicigama” (meaning “great water,” referring to Lake Superior).

Examples of influence:

Michigan Counties
Missaukee, Newago, Oscoda, Genesee, Muskegon, Sanilac, Lenawee, Huron, Keweenaw, Shiawassee, Ontonagon, Kalamazoo, Ottawa, Otsego, Menominee, Mecosta, Saginaw, Mackinaw, Cheboygan, Osceola, Chippewa, Ogema, Gogebic, Washtenaw.
Allegan, Alpena, Cheboygan, Gobeic, Kalamazoo (Ke-Ken-a-ma-zoo), Keweenaw, Mackinac, Mecosta, Menominee, Ogemaw, Otsego, Porcupine Mountains, Sanilac, Tahquamenon, Ahmeek, Juniata, Manistee,   Menominee, Muskegon, Newago, Okemos, Onekama, Owosso, Petosky, Pontiac, Tawas City, Wyandotte.


During my time as a camper ’79 -’88, I think that Storer’s approach to Native American educational programs were no doubt influenced and buttressed by the Native American activism started in earnest in 1969. At that time, a conglomerate of Native People’s took over Alcatraz Island, a U.S. Federal property, in San Francisco.  The 19-month occupation of Alcatraz “in the name of all American Indians” brought the plight of Native People’s to mainstream attention. Other notable key Native American protests of the day include:

  • 1970 demonstration on Mount Rushmore. 
  • 1972, protesters from the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offices in Washington, D.C. for six days.
  • 1973, about 250 Sioux Indians, led by members of the American Indian Movement, converged on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, launching a 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee.

I’m not saying that Storer always got it right, as there is a fine line between emulation and reductionist romanticism. But overall, Storer’s approach to the subject of Native Americans was well meaning and age-appropriate, grounded by respect for many Native American groups’ shared ideas, beliefs and values.

One of the most popular theme days at camp revolved around the different bands or tribes of Indians. The day was filled with stories, lore, history and games (with educational elements snuck in). Everyone had an Indian name and adopted a cabin symbol, sampled fried bread, made corn necklaces and learned about the importance living harmoniously with nature. For example, we learned how the Indians lived off the land, planting, harvesting and storing key crops like corn.

We were exposed to the challenges of gathering food, tracking and hunting. Furthermore we learned about treaties, the importance of discussion, compromise and responsibility for one’s actions. Who can forget whether the ‘bird lives or dies…it’s in your hands’? Needless to say, the Native American educational programs made an impact on this kid from Maumee. Storer’s handling of the subject matter went beyond some common tropes of the day, as evidenced in the lining of my first camp sleeping bag, which was adorned by cowboys and Indians.

In 1979, I spent my first summer at Camp in the Indian Village. Our Village Director, Bill Riccobono, was our Sachem.  We swam at Indian Point (sometimes called Miami Beach) and we relished the waters from the artesian well.  We even had our own pony barn beyond Earl’s Marsh. The Indian Village, set west of the main dining hall, was made up of 7 cabins: Comanche, Tecumseh, Pawnee, Chippewa, Pontiac, Kiwanis, and Miami (my first cabin). The other villages in camp were the Potawatomi (‘Did you say Potawatomi?’) and Ottawa. Although cabins and villages were renamed through the years, there was always a strong Native American influence at play.

To learn more about the first inhabitants of the region, please see the companion blog: Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region

What are some of your reflections on Native American lore at camp?

Do you remember the day devoted to American Indians? 

What ‘Indian Day’ games or activities do you recall?

Please share your thoughts and use your ‘Indian’ name.




Reading through this blog, you’ll notice that most of the time the term “Native American” is used to describe the first inhabitants of this continent. Sometimes, however, the term “Indian” is used.  While most scholars prefer to use Native American most of the time, sometimes the term “Indian” is more appropriate. To note, Native Americans sometimes use the term “Indian” or “American Indian” to describe themselves and that interchangeability is reflected here.


  • David 'Stoney' Stoneberg

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Storer's 100th CelebrationJune 30, 2018
The big day is here.

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