HISTORY INDEX>The Great Sauk Trail

The Sauk Trail and Hillsdale County

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Prior to the White settlers arriving, there were numerous foot trails that were blazed through the thick forested land we now call Hillsdale County, they were used by the Indians very often as they were never camped in one spot for long periods. The one most recognized trail was memorialized when the Government decided to convert The rugged Indian route into a modern road.
Meandering from town to town along the southern edge of Michigan is "The Great Sauk Trail." The Sauk Indians blazed the trail to provide a route from Fort Detroit and "Checagou" (land of wild onions)what is now known as Chicago, and including Fort St. Joseph at Niles, Michigan. Later, the Potawatomi Indians drove the Sauk Indians out of southern Michigan.

The trail passes through Ypsilanti, Irish Hills, Clinton, Cambridge Junction (Walker Tavern there since 1846)Moscow, Jonesville, Coldwater, Niles, New Buffalo and angling on through the City of Chicago. Even today in Niles a sign proclaims the name "Pa-wat-ing" meaning "Great Crossing" where the trail crossed the St.Joseph River..

Pioneer settlers took the trail after landing by boat at Detroit , but many chose to avoid the Irish Hills area by going from Clinton to Tecumseh and then by,(which was later known as, ) the Monroe Turnpike to Cambridge Junction where they rejoined the Sauk Trail, reason being, Too many steep hills, sink holes, renegade Indians and highwaymen in the Irish Hills area.

In later years the trail was widened and graveled and was named officially as The Detroit-Chicago Turnpike, or to most, simply "the pike". It was the shortest route between these two cities and passed by Bundy Hill, then the highest point in southern Michigan.

In the 1920`s the wagon trail was paved and convict labor from the State Prison in Jackson did much of the work on the road from "Dead Man`s Curve" near Allen Lake to and beyond Cement City in Lenewee County.
Why Dead Man`s Curve? Seven native Indian skeletons were dug up there and later displayed and reburied at The Walker Tavern at Cambridge Junction with ceremony.
Early on the road was a State road and was designated M-23, later the road became a federal highway, U.S.112, later changed to U.S.12 after the Interstate system was instituted by the Eisenhouer administration.

It is still a scenic route across southern Michigan - but remember The Sauk Indians first blazed the trail.

more on Michigan Indian Trails [CLICK]
Early plank road construction [CLICK]

Excerpts from an account by Maxwell A. Kerr,for Jackson Cit.Pat.
by Russell R. McGee
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