White Pigeon History

Theexcerpts written out below are from a small booklet entitled,
"St. Joseph County Historical Review and Business Guide"
written and compiled in 1932 by Roy D. F. Sowers, Historian.

Who the first settlers of White Pigeon were no one knows. The Indians and missionaries camped here long before the first records of the county, which go back to 1826. The Indian Chief, White Pigeon, was very friendly to the early travelers and white settlers, later laying down his life for the people of this settlement. That is why his memory is perpetuated by this village to this day. White Pigeon was the 3rd town in the state to be settled. It was known all through the New England states before they had heard about the small Fort Dearborn (Chicago). About 1000 acres around White Pigeon was "oak openings," right along the Chicago Trail. The Indians had kept the grass and weeds burned off each year.

John WINCHELL and Arba HEALD were prospecting in southern Michigan when they came upon the site of White Pigeon in 1826. They immediately went to Monroe, Michigan, and filed their claims. Leonard CUTLER arrived soon after the above two men and this trio were the first settlers of White Pigeon.

John WINCHELL was a native of the New England states, as was his wife. They had nine children and arrived in the spring of 1827. He was the first Justice-of-Peace in the county, first post-master of Millville as the first post office was called, had the first contract for the carrying of mail between Coldwater and Niles. He was a man of unimpeachable character. His log cabin on the north side of the Chicago Trail and blacksmith shop on the south side were the first buildings.

Leonard CUTLER was a native of Vermont, as was his wife. They went to Canada in 1811 but, returned to the States at the beginning of the war of 1812 and he served his country. When the war closed he moved into Jennings County, Indiana, coming to White Pigeon with his family in May, 1827. He had several children. The incident is told that he was severely stricken with the "fever" while he and his boys were on the road to White Pigeon. The boys finally asked him where he wished to be buried in case he did not recover. He informed them he was on his way to White Pigeon and wished to be buried there if anything happened, regardless of where he died, but that he would not die. He did not. When he arrived at White Pigeon the Pottawatomie Indians gave him some native herb medicine and he recovered. A little later he did the same thing for a German named KIMBALL, and was rewarded by a loan sufficient to buy 800 acres of land on the prairie. Mr. CUTLER left the community in 1831 after selling his land at a good price.

WINCHELL and CUTLER plowed and planted the first farms. They sowed corn, potatoes and buckwheat, sowing wheat in the fall. CUTLER planted the first orchards.

Dr. David PAGE, the first physician of the county, and Reed PAGE, his brother, were young unmarried men, with Joseph OLDS they located on the prairie in 1827. Ashael SAVERY came to the prairie in the same year. It was Mr. SAVERY who built the east wing of the famous "Old Diggins" Tavern. It was the pioneer hotel built of logs and the stopping place for many notables of the day. It was here the electors assembled and started the new government of the county in the fall of 1829. When the first caucus was held in the county it was held here and Elias TAYLOR was recommended to Gov. CASS as a fit person to take care of the court and look after the sheriff's office. John W. ANDERSON was similarly recommended for register of probate and of deeds. John STURGIS and William MEEKS were nominated for county judges. The first town meeting was held here. In 1830 the owner added a fine frame structure to his log building which later became the main part of the Tavern. Here it was that the first county court convened' with Hon. William WOODBRIDGE and Henry CHIPMAN presiding as judges. SAVERY owned the first stage coach on the Chicago road in 1831, driving it himself and building the bridges to get through from Tecumseh to Niles.

In 1837, Rev. Charles NEWBERRY established a branch of Michigan University in the "Old Diggins" Tavern until the completion of the building for that purpose. This building has since been removed but the old foundation may still be seen just north of the White Star Filling Station on west Chicago Road. The state appropriations were finally suspended in 1846 and the branch closed. Gov. BAGLEY received his education at this branch of U. of M. It was opened as a private institution by Rev. C. M. TEMPLE, in 1855 but was closed in 1858.

In 1831, five prominent men of the community incorporated the White Pigeon Academy but it did not last long. The building was used for court and religious services and finally became a stable.

The village was platted out in May 1830, the "Old Diggins" Tavern being the only building within the village. Robert CLARKE, Jr., the government surveyor doing the platting. CLARK lived here and upon his death was buried in the local cemetery. Niles P. SMITH was the first merchant and Neal McGAFFEY, the first lawyer. Neal's father was Otis McGAFFEY. The village grew fast and we find the following names prominent with its growth: James KNAPP, Levi BECKWITH, Sr. family, Luther NEWTON, pioneer manufacturer, Peter LUINGER later of Klinger Lake, Billy NAGGS an Indian trader and interpreter. Samuel PRATT built the first frame house. Dr. Hubbel LOOMIS was the first probate judge. Rev. William JONES the Presbyterian minister and KELLOGG brothers the leading merchants. In 1831 Dr. Isaac 0. ADAMS and family arrived with John S. BARRY, who afterwards became governor of the state.

The first school was built on White Pigeon prairie at a village, now extinct, called Newville. It was east of White Pigeon. Albert ALLEN , afterwards post-master of both Newville and White Pigeon, was the school teacher. The village of Newville was established by the PHELPS brothers. The first religious services were held at Newville.

Some more of the early settlers were DUNCAN and David CLARK, Hart L. and Alanson STEWART, Orrin THOMPSON, Lewis B. JUDSON and J. W. COFFINBERRY. Merchants of the early days were: BULL & KELLOGG, Elias S. SWAN, BARRY & WILLARD, CLARK & WILLIAMS, ADAMS & WHITAKER, BEISEL & JUDSON, BOWMAN, G. W. BEISEL.

White Pigeon had several blacksmith shops, three manufacturers of fanning mills, wagon shop, shoe-maker, jeweler, tailor, flour mill and saw-mill. The first sugar-beet factory in Michigan was located here. One blacksmith was also a "bell maker."

The old cemetery was laid out in 1830. The burial of a child of one of the CLARK brothers was the first grave. Later a child of Dr. LOOMIS was buried here. The first railroad built was the Michigan Southern and Lake Shore, Later a branch was run to Constantine and Three Rivers. The first road was the national military road better known as the old Chicago Trail: It now is the Main street of this village. Several churches and lodges were formed.

Many nationally known people stopped at the White Pigeon Taverns, including Daniel WEBSTER, Gov. CASS, Gov. BAGLEY and Gov. BARRY. Hundreds of Indians stopped here and camped, as they were going from Chicago to Detroit to collect their payments for land.

Perhaps there are some who do not know the story of Chief WHITE PIGEON or "WAHBEMEME." The chief was very friendly to the first white settlers here. Called to Detroit by an Indian war council he learned that they were going on the war path. Starting from Detroit they were going to slay all the settlers along the old Chicago Trail. Learning of this and remembering his friends at White Pigeon and their many acts of kindness to him and his people, the Pottawatomies, he ran without rest, fording rivers and crossing swamps, to warn his friends in time to prevent their massacre. The physical strain was too much for even the strong husky Indian and he dropped dead after giving his message. The Indians ever after made a hero of him. One day a man built a cabin over his grave, against the warnings of the Indians. The cabin was burned down shortly afterwards. Today the spot is marked by a monument erected by the Alba women's club of White Pigeon. It was unveiled by Chief WHITE PIGEON 's great-great grandson, Willie WHITE PIGEON , on August 11, 1909, with a great celebration.

 

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