Shavehead Lake has a long history that includes camping, camp grounds and cabin rentals. At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century there was a resort (as it was called then) of a few small cabins and store on the west arm of the lake called the “Shavehead Lake Resort.” For years families would come to Shavehead to relax and enjoy its beauty by renting one of the cabins. A second area on the north end (on the west arm of the lake) was the Fireside Camp. It encompassed the area where several newer homes have been recently built and the beach and A-frame conference center area that are now part of Camp Friendenswald. As late as the 1970’s, families enjoyed camping this area of the lake. In fact you can still see the old bath house in the trees on the west side of Peninsula Drive across from the Turtle Hill area. But the only remaining camp property (and one that most may know little about its history) is the Mennonite camp called Camp Friedenswald meaning “Peaceful Woods.” Camp Friedenswald was founded in 1949 in the tradition of the Mennonite Anabaptist heritage and is supported by Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. The camp specializes in providing programming such as summer camps, winter retreats, adult retreats and outdoor education as well as facility rentals for both large and small groups. In 1949, the original forty acres were purchased on Shavehead Lake to begin the camp. That same year 12 cabins were constructed along with 2 bath houses. A dining was yet to be built so campers ate their meals under a tarp attached to cabin 7 but had to lift their feet to let the water run downhill when it rained. From those meager beginnings a wonderful camp has grown into what we see today…but it was a long process. In 1953 a Dining hall was built with a kitchen and offices. Later (1957) a 10 unit staff house was built to house workers with a Chapel to follow in 1959. Also in 1959 a building, known as Tubby’s Store, was purchased on the corner of Union Road and Peninsula Drive. It provided space for the Camp Director and for winter campers…thus opening the camp to year round camping. That parcel was eventually sold, but the owner donated the land back to the camp after a fire consumed the building. The 1960’s and 70’ brought growth and expansion as new land was acquired along Union Road, additional housing constructed on the main campus and with the expansion of the dining hall, laundry and maintenance areas. It was also during this time that the Fireside Camp property on Peninsula Drive was acquired along with another woodland area (Eby’s Woods) that has since been declared by the Nature Conservancy as one of the top 10 old growth red oak forests in Michigan. In spite of economic uncertainties during the1980’s, the camp continued to experience times of rebuilding, consolidating and some additional growth. A number of new programs were begun, additional facelifts to buildings completed, 15 acres acquired around the Shavehead hollow and a new entry completed. The new Tamarak Lodge overlooking the Tamarak forest (across the fen) was constructed. It was also during this time (1989) after years of negotiating that the camp also acquired the undeveloped area around the Northeast corner (of the east arm) of the lake from Ed Lowe…the founder of Kitty Litter. We all now enjoy this natural space when we anchor our boats to swim in that area of the lake or walk the trails the camp has around the fen and through its woods. Over the last 20 years additional lands have been donated or acquired along both sides of Peninsula Drive bringing the camp additional opportunities for programming and future growth. Today Camp Friedenswald has over 340 acres of forest, which includes a red oak preserve, marsh, fresh-water fen and meadow. Friedenswald hosts year-round weekend and weekday church retreats, family reunions, youth groups, conferences and banquets and can accommodate up to 250 people. It is truly a remarkable history written over the last 65 years through many the investment and care of many dedicated people. It is a wonderful neighbor and provides a stable natural habitat on a large portion of the lake for all to enjoy. You can read about this and more at the Camp Friedenswald website. www.friedenswald.org
Any history of our area would be incomplete if mention was not made of the unique role played by Underground Railroad in Cass County (and particularly Vandalia/Shavehead Lake). The Underground Railroad was a network of
'stations' (homes, carriage houses and barns) owned by Quaker abolitionists, as well as free black men and women and other sympathizers. Freedom seekers traveled at night to avoid being seen and were given refuge at these safe locations during daylight hours. The journey to Canada was long and difficult. They traveled on foot and were often hidden
in wagons beneath bags of grain or hidden under the fake floorboards to keep from being detected. It is claimed that over 1500 freedom seekers passed through Cass County during this era on their way through Schoolcraft, Battle Creek, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Detroit and finally Windsor, Canada. There was so much UGRR activity in the area around
Vandalia that it was known in Washington D.C. as "that hotbed of abolitionism". Between 1842 and 1847 there
also developed a colony of fugitives who resided in small cabins of 5-10 acre plots of land provided
by local Quakers. In exchange for clearing the land, freedom seekers could plant gardens, earn money and participate in local community activities. James E. Bonine, who built the Bonine House and Carriage House (pictured on page 6) on M-60
and Calvin Center Road, was one of the Quaker farmers who set aside land for a period of 5-10 years.
Great Kentucky Raid
In August of 1847 a group of thirteen Kentucky slave catchers arrived in Cass County. They broke into smaller parties
and proceeded to various Quaker farms capturing nine former slaves. Word of the kidnapping spread quickly and a
crowd of upwards of 300 Quakers, free blacks and other abolitionist townspeople gathered to stop the Kentuckians.
A confrontation ensued at Odell's Mill in Vandalia. As weapons were brandished the Quakers present were credited
with calming the situation before it escalated to further violence. Because they were severely outnumbered and believing the law at that time (Fugitive Slave Act of 1793) was on their side, the Kentuckians agreed to go to Cassopolis, post bond for their own freedom but still stand trial. (Legend is that one of the Kentucky wagons is at the bottom of
Shavehead). There was a three day delay in the trial proceedings while the Kentuckians gathered the necessary documents
to prove ownership of the captives. When the trial commenced, Quakers, free blacks and fugitives filed charges
against the Kentuckians. The Commissioner found for the freedom seekers, saying the Kentuckians didn't have the correct
paperwork. The freed captives, along with thirty-four other fugitives, immediately left for Canada on the UGRR.
If you are interested in learning more visit the "Village of Vandalia Underground Railroad Days" July 12-13. In addition to the exhibits, tours are given of area homes and sites involved.
**Much of this article was taken from Underground Railroad Society of Cass County Web site
It began with the discovery in 1929 of large bones in a marl pit in the Chapel Hill Church area north of Union Michigan. These bones (including a 3 foot eleven inch femur) eventually proved to be from a mastodon that measured 10 feet 6 inches at the shoulder and a length of over 13 feet. They were found buried under almost 9 feet of undisturbed marl which is almost pure calcium carbonate, formed from the shells of fresh-water invertebrates and by direct precipitation from the water. The undisturbed condition of the marl beds showed the cadaver had been deposited before the marl was formed. Thus the skeletal remains dated to the beginning of the formation of a large body of water left as a large glacier receded north. This area apparently was termed “Lake Mogodore” by a then area resident named John Eby. The name “Mogodore” had earlier been applied to the narrow valley with a stream that winds southward from Shavehead Lake through and including several lakes to the south. The borders of Lake Mogodore are identified by a welldefined offshore terrace, often consisting of Marl, and in some places by low, wave-cut cliffs. The terrace stands between 35 and 40 feet above the present level of Shavehead Lake and at about the same height above Carter Lake. At Birch Lake, however, the terrace is only about 6 feet above lake level. At its greatest extent Lake Mogodore had a total length of about 6&1/2 miles and a maximum width of about 1 mile. It was irregular in shape and contained several islands. The present drainage starts with Birch Lake (to our north) which is the highest in the Mogodore Basin. It discharges southward into the western arm of Shavehead Lake. The outlet from Shavehead takes a south-easterly course and is joined by the drainage of Carter Lake at the head of the Mogodore Valley. The stream then continues south and east into Long Lake and eventually into the St. Joseph River. According to a Michigan State biologist, today this valley is resident to certain flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. The diagram below gives you an idea of the area covered by the glacial lake which was discovered in the 1920’s because a mastodon skeleton provided evidence that it had been covered by freshwater shells over thousands of years ago. You can view the wonders of this small valley by canoe or kayak through the marsh lands at the southwestern end of Shavehead Lake or by taking the beautiful and relaxing drive on Carter lake road and Birch Lake road south to US 12.
(Article excerpted from study by Case, Scott, Badenoch and White)
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