Archeologist to dig out facts on Chief Pontiac

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 13, 2012

ORCHARD LAKE — A Michigan archeologist will sift fact from fiction regarding a famous American Indian chief at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian, April 18.

David Brose will share the latest research and evidence about Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa Indian whose name has been attached to a city and a defunct auto brand.

Brose, a research associate with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor’s museum of anthropology, said rumors have connected Pontiac to the greater West Bloomfield area. He said Pontiac is an important historical figure who organized Indian resistance against the British in the 1760s and participated in a failed siege on Fort Detroit 1763-64.

“Pontiac ended up having to capitulate and sign a peace treaty,” Brose said. “As the siege failed, the city did not fall. The fort did not fall.”

Despite his failure to oust the British, legends about Chief Pontiac grew in the following decades. For instance, Pontiac Trail was named after the chief in the 1790s, Brose said.

Some people believe that the chief might have been born or buried on Apple Island, the large island that sits in Orchard Lake. However, Brose said current historical and archeological evidence doesn’t support those theories.

Instead, Brose said Pontiac more likely was born in the Saginaw Bay or Traverse Bay area, and he later left Michigan after his reputation fell among the local Indians. The chief reportedly died near the French town of St. Louis after getting into a fight with a Peoria or Kaskaskia Indian. He was then reportedly buried near the Mississippi River.

But Brose said Pontiac still might have visited Apple Island at some point in his life.

“The Indians scattered out in lakes just to the north of Detroit,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that Apple Island wasn’t one of those locations.”

Brose said he has spent around four years, off and on, investigating Apple Island to learn more about the site’s history. During his lecture, he plans to talk about the progress being made toward putting Apple Island on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society President Buzz Brown said the legends of Pontiac and Apple Island were perpetuated in the late 1800s, and some local restaurants in the 1920s used to hawk the legends of Pontiac on their placements. “It was kind of good for business and good for attracting tourists,” he said.

Brown added that a recent dig on one of Apple Island’s mounds found that it was not a burial site as rumored. “It was all natural, and there was nothing man made,” Brown said.

Brose’s lecture is a prelude to the Historical Society’s annual public tours of Apple Island, which will occur this year May 19-20.

Archaeologist David Brose will lecture on Chief Pontiac from 7-9 p.m. April 18 at Orchard Lake Community Church, Presbyterian, 5171 Commerce Road, in Orchard Lake. The Friends of Apple Island will host the event. General admission is $5, but Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society members and Time Travelers members can attend for free. To learn more, visit www.gwbhs.com or call (248) 757-2451.