The Seamans of Drummond Island

Drummond Island was seeded with Seamans by a grandson of Caleb Seaman in 1853. This island, located at the juncture of three of the Great Lakes, became home for a long line of descendants of Daniel Murray Seaman, an early adherent to the Mormon religion.

A hundred years later, John T. Nevill wrote a series of articles about the Seaman family of Drummond Island and these were published in a local newspaper, The Evening News. An index to the entire series of 17 articles from 1953 is here.

Installment Eight - Thursday, July 30, 1953

The Seaman Story - No. 8

Indians Had an Influence On Early White Days on Drummond

Drummond Settlement - Like almost any other area of these United States, Drummond Island, which observers its one hundredth year as a township this year, knew the stealthy footstep, the rhythmic drumming, and the weird chanting of the Indian for unknown hundreds of years before white men ever paddled canoes ashore along its rock-strewn fringes.

But, by the middle of the nineteenth century - by the time the Seaman family settled here in 1853 - two centuries of contact with the white man had wrought great changes in the once proud tribesmen. Two hundred years of association had taught the red man most of the white man's vices - but few of his virtues.

Moreover, a series of comparatively one-sided "treaties" had not only relieved the Indian of billions of dollars in land, but had reduced him to a state of abject and confused poverty. And Drummond Island, as everywhere, had its quota of these simple, nature-worshipping people.

Three decades before the Seamans came - when red-coated Britishers paraded on the flat stones before old Fort Drummond's fifteen or more, two-storied, whitewashed log buildings - a colony of Indians lived in crude dwellings clustered at the head of Old Fort Bay. Many others lived elsewhere on and about this 133 square mile island - along the friendlier, more peaceful north shore, along the Potagannissing River, which helps to drain the island, and gave its name to a beautiful bay, deep within the wooded interior, an on the smaller islands to the north and south.

Indian Names

Just as Drummond itself once had been called Pontanagipy, these people once had borne meaningful Indian names. But the white man had changed that, too. Unable to spell most products of the Indian tongue, white men contracted the names, and spelled them phonetically - or simply gave them other names, and spelled them any way they pleased. Some early whites, of course, married Indian maidens and gave them English, Scotch, or French surnames.

When the Seamans came to this island one hundred years ago, the island contained a large family of Ozah-Ah-Meeks, which white men spelled Ozomik, and let it go at that. It meant little or nothing to the whites to be told that the name, Ozah-Ah-Meeks, meant "Yellow Beaver", and this name had been solemnly conferred upon some proud chieftain of the past. There still are a sizable number of "Ozomiks" residing on the island and in the Sault.

Another prominent Indian family already bearing an old-time French name was the Cadottes. At the time - and during later years - other Indian characters still well remembered on this island include old Buzwah, the centenarian, who knew the soldiers of old Fort Drummond; Peter Saint, the medicine man; Aleck Ke-wa-ge-zhick, better known as "Big-Alec"; John Showan, who like to hold "king dances" at his home; Billie Bullie, whose wife, Lizzie Bullie, died of "too much kids", and "Big Charlotte" whose long arms and huge hands hung to her knees, and who wore No. 12 shoe-packs.

Among those with French blood in their veins, besides the Cadottes, were Alex LeSage, and old John LaPointe, whose brother froze to death one winter while trying to cross the ice between Drummond and Canada. It was one of the LaSage girls - Rose LaSage - who married J. Wells Church, son of Sugar Island's Philetus Church. And it was George Church, J. Wells' son, who married Clarabelle Seaman, daughter of "Uncle Sam'l" Seaman.

Daniel Murray and Betsy Seaman, forerunners of all the Seamans on Drummond today, found the Indian families living here and there about the island - some of them in groups, or settlements, some of them singly.

From the French of two hundred years before, and from the more recent English who had controlled St. Joseph Island, Michilimackinac, and Drummond, they had learned some of the white man's ways. They traded pelts, and fish, and bear meat for useful tools such as guns, and traps, and knives, and axes, and iron kettles.

Smoked Fish

They taught white men how to build crude, but serviceable temporary shelters - and learned from the white how to construct a more substantial, more permanent abode. They tended small gardens and net fished in the summer, and speared lake trout weighing up to twenty pounds through the ice in the winter. When fresh-caught fish was not needd to appease a current hunger, or couldn't be traded for some useful gimmick, the Indians knew how to preserve them for future use by smoking or salting.

On the warmer days of early spring, while sap flowed in the maples, they went into the "sugar bush", carrying "cosseaus" made of birch bark or perhaps small containers acquired from white neighbors, and obtained hundreds of gallons of precious sap, which they boiled to produce syrup and sugar. Drummond Island still contains a few weather-worn remains of the early "sugar camps" where fire-watchers alternately watched and dozed while flames licked at an iron pot holding boiling sap.

For some time after the Seamans came, this island continued to have its handful of "jossakeeds", the Indian medicine men, who went through a weird hocus-pocus to "cure" the illnesses of his fellow Indians. Moreover, many of their tribal superstitions and fanciful legends remain to this day.

When white man's law settled upon the island, and imposed the white man's idea of public health and medical practices, the "jossakeeds" went out of business. But the stories of their strange performances are still to be heard - and many of those yarns have been passed down from the mouth of "Uncle Sam'l" Seaman himself. "Uncle Sam'l", an irrepressible story-teller, loved to gather a few young ones around him and launch into a detailed and very graphic account of how the jossakeeds cured ailing Indians.

Indian Cures

He claimed to have witnessed such "cures" himself; to have seen the medicine man's crude lodges shake, or "dance", as he put it; and he always embellished his yarns with details which kept his youthful audience bug-eyed. A number of the youngsters whose eyes widened as "Uncle Sam'l" related his thrilling account are still to be found on Drummond. They are grown men and women today - some almost as old as Sam Seaman was at the time - but none of them has ever forgotten the experience.

All up and down the twisting, island-choked river leading to the newly-opened lock at the Sault, interesting developments were taking place, too. By 1861 - thirty-nine years after the steamer "Superior" had first churned the river's water, and eight years after the steamer "Illinois" had carried up workmen to build the lock - numerous other little steamboats were becoming increasingly busy carrying merchandise and passengers through the river to and from the Big-Sea Water beyond the Sault Rapids.

The "Illinois"

The "Superior" had long since gone to an honorable "graveyard of ships". But the "Illinois" still was around, and according to the diary scrupulously kept by J. Wells Church, the "Illinois" herself was among the old-time vessels which frequently passed through DeTour Passage - and occasionally stopped to "wood up" at one of the fueling spots which had come into being along the river.

The "Illinois", by then, had earned an historic distinction; she had not only carried Charles Harvey's workmen up to build the Sault lock, but she had been the first up-bound vessel to "lock through" on opening day, June 18, 1855. Her skipper on that occasion was Capt. Jack Wilson, who lost his life in September, 1860, as master of the ill-fated "Lady Elgin".

Two other well remembered steamboats of that day frequently passing up and down the St. Mary's were the "Iron City" and the "Meteor", both of which were excursion boats advertising "good brass and string bands". The "Iron City" in 1861 was commanded by Capt. George Perry McKay, one of the Lakes' most noted sailormen, who was born aboard a lake boat, and who had been a boy aboard the schooner "Algonquin", commanded by his father, when that vessel became first to be portaged around the Sault Rapids into Lake Superior.

Capt. McKay later commanded such vessels as the "General Taylor", the "Peerless", and the "Mineral Rock", and he skippered the ill-starred "Pewabic" when she collided with the "Meteor" in Thunder Bay on a day in 1865 - and sank, carrying 125 human beings with her!

The "Mineral Rock", incidentally, was another old-timer frequently mentioned in the diary of J. Wells Church. She boasted a tuneful steam-whistle, resembling a calliope, and her blasts would frighten the wits out of uninformed persons along the St. Mary's who heard them for the first time. Still another pioneer vessel familiar with the St. Mary's channels was the "City of Cleveland", built in the 'forties, which had the first steam-whistle heard on the Lakes.

Still others were the Ward boats. "Planet", "Gazelle", and "Sea Bird", as well as the "Northern Light" and the "Eclipse".

This was just the beginning of the river - represented the market sioned when talk was heard about building locks at the Sault. These boats - plus many others, and plus many busy little tugs which for many years would continue to tow wind-driven vessels up and down the river - represented the market envisioned by "Grandma" Seaman when, during the cold months preceding the "sugar bush" period, she hired Indians to help her boys cut fuel wood.

John T. Nevill
Drummond Settlement
The Evening News
July 30, 1953