Native American Trails

Map of Native American Trails in Midland County

The river fork at Edenville was an important location during prehistoric times when Native Americans had settlements, trade networks, and travel routes throughout the region.

Aside from using rivers for transportation, there was a major north-south walking trail route through the state. Starting from the Detroit area, the Dixie Highway traces the route of the Saginaw Trail north to the Saginaw River. After crossing the Saginaw River, this trail followed the east side of the Tittabawassee River. North of the Saginaw River, this trail is known as the Grand Traverse Trail.

The mouth of the Tobacco River – where Edenville is located today – was a major junction in this path as the trail divided: one branch fording the river and then following the Tobacco northwest, eventually continuing to Houghton and Higgins Lakes in Roscommon County. The east fork of the Saginaw Trail continued up the Tittabawassee through Gladwin County and on north to Cheboygan. The two forks of the trail eventually rejoined at the Mackinac Straights.

One valuable resource along this trail during Native American times, just as today, was salt.  There were salt deposits and springs located along the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers including one major salt spring on the Chippewa just west of Meridian Road and one on the Tittabawassee at the fork with the Chippewa (the location of Midland’s Tridge parks today).

Trails were used as trade routes: groups of people would travel these paths carrying prehistoric trade goods such as salt, native copper, flint, conch shell, columellae beads, obsidian, jasper, and tobacco. During historical times trade goods included even greater variety such as iron knives, axes, glass beads, brass pots, lead, powder, guns, and furs.

Hunting, gathering, fishing, and berry picking were also uses for the trails. Hunting and gathering parties would venture from home villages out to areas that were known as rich resources for the foods they needed. Major trails were available for use by all, but etiquette rules honoring regional territories were observed. Strangers were expected to report their presence to guards as well as leave offerings of hides from any animals that may have been killed for sustenance.

 

Author: Catherine Sias

Originally Posted May 29, 2017

Sources:

Hinsdale, W.B. The First People of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan: George Wahr, Publisher, 1930.

Moll, Harold W. and Norman. “Old Indian Trails Now Just a Memory.” Undated article from a Midland area newspaper.

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