One summer afternoon, Colonel Fowler said to Chief Baw Beese as they looked out over the water, “No longer shall this lake be called by its Indian name. Henceforth, it shall be known as Baw Beese Lake, in honor of the chief who has been a true and loyal friend to the white man – in your honor – and your memory shall be kept alive forever by all citizens of Hillsdale County.”
The tribe of the Pottawatomies was friendly and fierce – though known by the settlers to be more of the former trait than the latter. They roamed through the valleys of the St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, and other streams that flowed into Lake Michigan, camping near Somerset and Lake Baw Beese. Tribes would often travel along the Sauk Trail, which is the U.S. Route 12 today and carries traffic across the state. Formerly, it was a rough, worn trail used by tribes, trappers and traders, and explorers such as Frenchman Robert LaSalle.
In 1827, Hillsdale County’s first settlers arrived, lead by Captain Moses Allen, a veteran of the War of 1812 and one who helped survey Chicago Road – another name for U.S. Route 12. A year later, Benaiah Jones settled five miles from the Allens. Chief Baw Beese and the Pottawatomies helped the settlers gather supplies and food, especially to survive for the harsh winter. Also, once the settlers opened the first county school, Chief Baw Beese sent his son to be one of the pupils.
The settlers and Indians received the 1837 federal mandate that required the Pottawatomies to move west. It wasn’t until troops enforced the law in 1840 that the tribe left — school was dismissed for the day so they could said goodbye.
A diary entry written years later by Moses Allen’s granddaughter says that members of the Pottawatomies bore the body of Chief Baw Beese back to bury him with his ancestors near the lake that was later renamed after him.