- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

MISHICOT, Wis. (AP) - Think of Jim Sustman as a small-town Sherlock Holmes.

After moving into the Mishicot village in 2002, he has spent the past decade unearthing the mystery behind the Mishicot name. His interest in the town’s history started when he began volunteering at the Mishicot Historical Museum and Research Center.

“I never dreamed where that job would take me,” he told HTR Media (https://htrne.ws/1pIe8fM).

While many other historians listed Chief Mishicott as Ottawa, Sustman found a lack of evidence to prove it. He called four different tribal headquarters before discovering the chief belonged to a small tribe of Potawatomi called the Hannahville.

The story begins with Andrew Vieau who had a strong personal connection to the Potawatomi people and encouraged others to name their settlements after Indian chiefs. In 1844, Vieau purchased 80 acres of land for Chief Mishicott and his people. That same year, Daniel Smith, a lumberman from upstate New York, established a mill nearby.

While there is no documentation that Smith and Chief Mishicott met, Sustman is sure they did. Smith had a reputation for being friendly with Native Americans; he offered his home to them in several instances and named Vieau’s village after the chief.

The Chicago Treaty of 1833, which granted the government all land west of Lake Michigan to Lake Winnebago, removed Indians from what later became Wisconsin. Pressured by the government, the Potawatomi reluctantly signed the agreement but remained on the land until 1862, when the sheriff of Kewaunee drove them out for failing to pay taxes. However, a copy of the deed is displayed in the museum and Sustman conjectures this political move was unfair.

“They probably didn’t know what taxes were, so it would make sense that they wouldn’t pay,” Sustman said.

The cultural discrimination continued when Mishicott and many of his people drifted to Menomonee County in upper Michigan. White settlers handed out soiled bandages and many contracted chickenpox; only 11 families survived after moving north. A Methodist minister and his wife, Hannah, helped them establish a settlement, which the tribe named Hannahville after the minister’s wife.

After understanding this general timeline, Sustman moved on to his next question: where the chief’s grave was located. A phone call to the tribe put him in contact with Earl Meshigaud, Mishicott’s great-grandson.

“This was the beginning of a very meaningful relationship and led to numerous visits to the Hannahville area,” he said.

Sustman recently discovered what happened to the second “t” in Chief Mishicott’s name. The Native American culture is mostly oral, so when the government forced children into schools, a spelling had to be developed.

“The teachers didn’t speak our language and we didn’t understand English, so that’s what they went with,” said Meshigaud, who serves as the cultural director at the Potawatomi Heritage Center in Wilson, Mich.

Sometimes Sustman’s sleuthing leads him to even more unanswered questions. This was the case when he learned that the Manitowoc County Board changed the village’s name to Saxonburg in 1853 because of an influx of German immigrants from the Saxony region. The board changed it back to Mishicot five months later, though Sustman is still investigating who initiated the change and who advocated for the name to change back.

“History shows a lot of misunderstanding,” Sustman said, explaining how small acts of kindness can be easily forgotten. There is evidence that the town board provided money to care for Mrs. Mishicot after her husband had left. The town also bought a $17 coffin for her, which, at that time, was a large amount.

In an effort to continue the positive interaction between the Mishicot people and the town, Sustman sponsors an annual bus trip to Hannahville where participants can eat Native American food, visit the chief’s grave and meet Meshigaud.

“I’m interested in seeing this tradition continue between Hannahville and the Mishicot village and school,” Sustman said. “There’s many Wisconsin cities and schools named after Indian chiefs, but I don’t know if they’ve re-established a relationship with their tribe like we did.”

This year’s trip is scheduled for June 21.

“I feel honored that they come up here and their village is named after my ancestors,” said Meshigaud.

Sustman took some time off from his research four years ago after a series of strokes. Though he continued the yearly trek to Hannahville, he formed a committee of museum volunteers to sustain the research during his absence.

“But I came back in January and I’ve been working on it almost every day since then,” he said.

___

Information from: HTR Media, https://www.htrnews.com


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