from Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Collections Volume
14 (1890) pages 560-562
THE FIRST SETTLEMENT OF IONIA
BY P. H. TAYLOR
28th day of May, 1833, in the forenoon, the first company of pioneers came to a
halt, pitched their tents, and began living in and improving the then new Ionia.
Sometime in the year 1832, Samuel Dexter visited Michigan. Reaching Detroit he
secured the services of an Indian guide, came to Ionia and made his selection of
land, all of section 19, in town 7 north of range 6 west, lying north of Grand
river. From Ionia he went to Grand Rapids; then to White Pigeon, where the
United States land office was located, purchased his land and then returned
home. Pleased with his report of the western wilds, other men of families
determined also to remove to the same section of country. The names of the adult
members of this emigrant party were Samuel Dexter, Erastus Yeomans, Oliver
Arnold, Darius Winsor, Joel Guild and Edward Guild, with their families and four
young men; Dr. W. B. Lincoln, Zenas Winsor, Patrick M. Fox and M. Decker; 63
person in all. This company left German Flats, Herkimer county, N.Y., April 25,
on the boat, "Walk-in-the-Water," of Utica. This boat was propelled by horse
power, or rather towed by horses, the company having five. A small stable was in
the bow of the boat for their accommodation. The cabin was located in the stern,
with the kitchen; the midships being used for dining hall, sleeping place and
storing goods. They reached Buffalo, May 7, where the boat was disposed of. A
vessel called the Atlantic was chartered to take the great bulk of the goods to
Grand Haven. At Detroit this boat received a supply of flour and pork, purchased
of Oliver Newberry, and then proceeded to its destination. There was at that
time at Grand Haven a small block house.
with horses, wagons and a few of the most necessary household goods, took
passage on the steamer Superior, reaching Detroit May 10. On the 12th, having
everything in readiness, the caravan started, a covered wagon to each family. My
impression is there were two horse and four ox teams. When night came, it was
some times necessary to pitch a tent, perhaps a tent for each family. They
reached Pontiac May 14th, Fullers, in Oakland county, on the 15th, and Gage's on
the 16th. They camped in the woods on the 17th, were at Saline on the 18th and
19th, and camped out from the 20th to the 28th. A part of the way it was
necessary to cut their own road. During the last stage of their journey a child
of Samuel Dexter was taken sick, and died while the wagons were moving. The
company came to a halt near or at Muskrat creek, where the babe was buried. The
death and burial of this child was the one marked event of the whole journey.
On May 27th
the company reached Grand river, near Lyons; forded the river and traveled
across the prairie to Generoville, where they again forded and then camped for
the night. On the morning of the 28th they started again, following an Indian
trail on the north side of the river, crossed Prairie creek very near where the
dam now is, and came to their final halt before noon, having been on the road
from Detroit from the 12th to the 28th.
at their destination, the company bought from the Indians several bark wigwams
or shanties, together with the crops they had planted. The corn was already out
of the ground. The wigwams bought by Mr. Dexter were near the present mill site.
One piece of corn was west of Dexter street and on both sides of Main street.
Those bought by Mr. Yeomans and Mr. Arnold, with the cornfield, were on the
ground now used by the agricultural society. The two families of Guild and
Winsor did not remain long at Ionia, but removed to Grand Rapids, where some of
their descendants still live. On arriving at Ionia, Mr. Yeomans wrote the
We'll praise Thy name, O God of grace,
For all Thy mercies shown;
We've been preserved to reach this place,
And find a pleasant home.
In journeying far, from distant lands,
We've been Thy constant care;
Have been supported by Thy hand
To shun each evil snare.
Through dangers great and toil severe,
Thou, Lord, hast led our way;
Thou art our helper evermore,
To guide us day by day.
Help us, O Lord, to raise our song
Of gratitude to Thee;
Great God, to Thee all praise belongs,
From land to land, from sea to sea.
mentioned were summer wigwams, some ten or twelve feet square, the frames made
of small poles and covered with elm or ash bark. There was no room for fires
inside, so cooking had to be done in the open air. Wigwams for winter were
circular, with fires inside. After a day or two it was found necessary to send
for the goods at the Haven. In doing this, a batteau was procured from Louis
Genero. Our Mohawk boatmen, believing they could get along without assistance
from the natives, took their departure. The first day brought them to the
Rapids, and, although advised not to attempt the passage, they went safely over.
Daring the night they floated almost to the Haven. Their return was much harder
work, as their boat carried thirty or forty barrels; but at last the effects
were all safely landed at Ionia. To secure the goods and provisions, a rude
shelter was constructed.
The only land
so far taken up was by Mr. Dexter. The others must first make their selection,
then go to the land office and secure the same. It was growing into fall before
their houses were ready for occupancy. The lumber for finishing was brought from
near the Rapids, and the shingles on the Yeomans' house were made from siding
cut a suitable length. The Indians from the first were friendly, offering fish
and game in exchange for bread, flour or meat. In order to replenish their
provisions the settlers went to Gull prairie, carted their supplies to
Middleville, thence by boat down the Thornapple and up Grand river. When any of
the men were out late at night, guns and horns were brought into use to direct
any stragglers who might lose their way.
this sketch there may be some mistakes; no doubt there are. I received many of
my impressions from the earliest comers, for I was a frequent visitor at the
house of Erastus Yeomans, and on intimate terms with his son. In conclusion I
will say, 'tis passing strange how things have changed since this old hat was