Keeping history and local legend alive

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By Staff
Mention the Old Sauk Trail (today's U.S.-12) and visions of Michigan's first residents come to mind.
The land was rough and Native Americans first walked the path from Detroit to Chicago.
The trail is significant to the history of Southwestern Michigan and especially for those towns which were eventually erected in its path.
One man is keeping alive one legend he first heard as a boy, when he was a student at Eagle Lake Elementary School in Edwardsburg.
"I truly believe that Eagle Lake played the most important role in the development of who I am today. Some 40 years later, I still remember the hopeful smiles on the faces of my classmates and the dreams we held," he said.
Rob Sisson is now grown and the mayor of Sturgis. I had a pleasant lunch with him at Legends in Edwardsburg recently, when he introduced me to The Legend of Chief White Pigeon and the book he wrote of the same name.
He once thought Chief Wahbememe, known to us as Chief White Pigeon, was merely a legend, not a real man.
"It was most surprising he was real and appearing in history books," Sisson said.
Sisson investigated the legend and got to know the man. Now, his book will introduce the Chief to school children and adults alike.
The tale of which Sisson writes, explains why a settlement took on the name of the Chief.
Niles, as the City of Four Flags, was once under the rule of the French and the British. European countries gave the Indians gifts trying to get them to support their fight against the Americans.
Sisson tells about Michigan's early history along with explaining about the different tribes occupying the state, including the one we are most familiar with – the Potawatomi, or The Fire Keepers.
Chief Wahbememe looked for peace. When he learned at a tribal council Americans would be attacked by other tribes, he ran past Coldwater, Sturgis and other settlements, 120 miles to warn the settlement.
Arriving in time, the Chief collapsed and died. He was buried along the Old Sauk Trail and the village became known as White Pigeon.
Sisson's great-grandfather was the postmaster of White Pigeon.
Michigan children, and Sisson's own twin 10-year-old sons, can follow the story with the colored illustrations done by Julie Davidson, a Sturgis High School graduate who is studying at the University of Michigan.
The cover of the book is the actual clan mark made by Chief White Pigeon on the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.
The book which took four years for Sisson to complete, was printed in 30 days.
Some of the proceeds of the $12 book Sisson is donating toward Camp Fort Hill and Camp Amigo, outdoor education camps.
Sisson still visits Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, where he was an altar boy and comes to the shows at Lunkers, both on U.S.-12 in Edwardsburg.
A former banker, Sisson now works at home as membership and development director for the Republicans for Environmental Protection.
His name will become more familiar when he runs for Rick Shaffer's seat – 59th District State House of Representative in the 2008 election.
Marcia Steffens is the editor of the Cassopolis Vigilant and the Edwardsburg Argus and associate editor of the Niles Daily Star. She can be reached at