All of us living around Shavehead Lake enjoy its beauty, but some know little of its namesake...Chief Shavehead. As a history buff, I have enjoyed researching the history of the area that has become my home. It is a rich history that includes Native American tribal life, French explorers, pioneer settlers, the Underground Railroad, gangster hideouts, agriculture, grapes, hunting and recreation.
Our lake bears an unusual name that is reflective of an unusual Potawatomi Indian Chief. Chief Shavehead was a Potawatomi leader who lived in Cass County Michigan during the late 1700s and the early 1800s. He was the only Cass County Chief who refused to sign any of the peace treaties negotiated between the Midwestern Indian tribes and the U.S. Government. During his lifetime his people at one time roamed the one million acres of prime forested land that spanned from Detroit, around the tip of Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, and land in Northern Indiana and Northern Illinois. Shavehead and his band of 75-100 maintained several camps and settlements in Cass County including Mottville, the Baldwin (Shavehead) Prairie area and Shavehead Lake (Turtle Hill at Camp Friedenswald and Shavehead Lake Peninsula.
Chief Shavehead received his name because he shaved the front part of his head and maintained a long braid of hair from the back of his head (which was a Potawatomi custom). His real identity has been debated for generations, but at least one early pioneer believed he was the son of Tekonsha meaning "reindeer or little caribou".
During Shavehead's life there were three distinct bands of Potawatomi in this area. The Weesaw band in the Schoolcraft, MI area, the Pokagon band in western Cass County and part of Berrien County and the southwestern Cass County group including Pokagon band (Diamond Lake) and Shavehead (Shavehead Lake to the St. Joseph River at Mottville).
Chief Shavehead had a reputation as a fierce warrior and was feared by both the Native Americans and settlers alike. He is believed to have taken part in the Battle of Fort Dearborn in Chicago during the War of 1812. He particularly disliked the incursions into his area of the pioneer settlers and led raids on homes, small settlements and mail stage coaches on the Chicago Road (now US 12). He is rumored to have owned a string on which he hung 99 tongues.
It is known that under Shavehead's direction, the Potawatomi's set up a camp on the St. Joseph River near Mottville and exacted payment from ferry boats crossing the Potawatomi territory. It is also known that the penalty for those trying to avoid payment was severe.
As the 1800s progressed a series of treaties were enacted that led to the eventual removal of Native American tribes from their lands. During this time over 1 million acres were sold to the U.S. Government for 3 cents per acre. Shavehead refused to sign any of the treaties. However the resulting influx of settlers put great pressure on game (and other non agricultural food sources) leading to a lack of food for the remaining Indian tribes. This led to the eventual assumption by the remaining Potawatomis of a more agrarian lifestyle.
Over the years alcoholism and drunkenness became a problem for Chief Shavehead leading to his eventual demise. Sever rumors exist regarding his death none of which can be substantiated. One popular tale is that he was killed by a local hunter who he had befriended and was buried somewhere in the forests of Cass County. One thing is for sure... Chief Shavehead was a proud Potawatomi Chief / Warrior who (along with his people) inhabited the shores and fished the same lakes we all have come to love.
+++Excerpts of this article are taken from an article by Jeannie Watson on Cass County and from "Shavehead" in "Potawatomi Indian Chiefs and Leaders".http://accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/pottawatomie/pottaw