Native American sharpshooters Part I: A back story

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Photos courtesy of Ron Robotham


by Cynthia Price and Ron Robotham

Part?I of a series on lost history, with the first set centering on the Native American Sharpshooters of Company K, who were part – and some say the most skilled part – of the First Michigan Sharpshooters serving the Union forces in the Civil War.

Recently, historian Chris Czopek of Lansing gave a presentation on Native American sharpshooters at the Lakeshore Museum Center’s Michigan Heritage Park in Whitehall.

 Ron Robotham, who writes fictional historical novels, has long been fascinated by the history of the Native American populations living in Oceana County, from which some of the sharpshooters were drawn.

His particular fascination is with Cobmoosa, a well-respected tribal  leader (Odawa) who was forced to move north from his original home in what is now Lowell.

According to a 1931 history by a man from Hart, no one knows what Cobmoosa was called as he was growing up, but he received the name of Cu-cub-bah-moo-sa (meaning Great Walker) when, legend has it, he walked to the headwaters of the Grand River and then to the headwaters of the Muskegon River and back down to the mouth in one day and one night.

As Europeans came more and more to settle in Michigan, which became a state in 1837, pressure increased on the native populations to relocate. Originally, relations between the indigenous population and the settlers were cordial, even including intermarriage. But gradually, in the greed for more and more land, the Europeans began to make treaties with the American Indian tribes that resulted in mass relocation.

Cobmoosa was said to be the son of French Canadian Antoine Campau and a woman he married who was purportedly the daughter of an Odawa chief. Cobmoosa was second in command of the Flat River bands of Native Americans.

As the pressure to move grew, Indian leaders agreed to a treaty in 1836 without understanding that it meant they would have to relocate to Kansas. When they realized that, a second group, including Cobmoosa, negotiated a more reasonable relocation to Oceana County, in the treaty of 1855.

Cobmoosa moved to Elbridge Township, joining 1300-1400 other Native Americans from the Grand River Band of Odawa who settled in that township, another in Oceana, and two townships in Mason County.

Known for his eloquence and statesmanlike stature, Cobmoosa was the subject of a poem called “Cobmoosa’s Lament” after his death at the age of 98, written by Alden Jewell of Grand Rapids. It starts out, “My step is the tread of a warrior no more; The days of my pride and my glory are o’er...” He also had a school and a small lake named after him, and the Daughters of the American Revolution of Ionia had a monument made to him, which can be seen on a short day trip north.

Cobmoosa’s is just one of the many stories of the group of Native Americans in Oceana County and, eventually, Muskegon County.