Despite being in middle-of-nowhere Michigan, the city of Hillsdale and Hillsdale College have a claim to unique people who shaped history in their own ways. Hillsdale stu­dents call the ‘Dale home for at least four years. They should be familiar with a few of the indi­viduals who shaped their com­munity.

Lake Baw Beese is named after this Native American chief of the same name.

Baw Beese

Most stu­dents like to spend the few warm days of the year at Baw Beese Lake, swimming, kayaking, or pic­nicking on the shore. Few stu­dents are aware of the lake’s name sake, Baw Beese, a Potawatomi chief who lived from about 1790 – 1850. Baw Beese led a band of 150 men who kept a sort of base camp on the shore of the lake which would later be named by European set­tlers after the chief.

According to the Hillsdale County website, early set­tlers said Baw Beese and his men gave them aid, including food, in the midst of the trying winters. He also was said to have seen himself as a landlord, some­times charging rent from set­tlers for the land and water from the lake.

A statue of Baw Beese’s daughter Winona stands in Mrs. Stock’s Park. According to an MLive article, Winona was married off to a man from a rival tribe. Her husband, however, was an abusive alco­holic and a gambler. One day, she stabbed him through the heart. By Native American law, his family had the right to have her killed in like manner.

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Infamous criminal Sile Doty was imprisoned in Hillsdale. (Wiki­media Commons)

Sile Doty

A nearby cave only about 10 miles away is rumored to have housed a stolen horse for a lifelong thief.

Sile Doty, born in 1800, grew up stealing horse­shoes and pen knives for fun. He even­tually became a bank robber and also com­mitted the occa­sional home bur­glary. He Killed a man in Steuben County, Indiana, about 40 miles from Hillsdale, according to a Col­legian article.

In 1846, he was placed in jail after stealing buffalo robes, but he even­tually escaped and fled to Mexico. During the Mexican-American war, he stole from local Mex­icans and American sol­diers alike. After a robbing a peddler, Doty was again thrown in jail, this time in Hillsdale. In his auto­bi­og­raphy, which was pub­lished posthu­mously, he said he admired the town and that the cit­izens were “kindred spirits.”

In one passage of his auto­bi­og­raphy, Doty writes that he stole a horse from a local barn and hid it in a cave in the southern part of the county for three days. The cave believed to be the one Doty men­tions is located in the Lost Nations Game Area, and it is said you might still encounter Doty’s ghost to this day.

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1869 alumni Will Car­leton first worked as a jour­nalist in Hillsdale. (Wiki­media Commons)
  1. Will Car­leton

In our liberal arts edu­cation, we share the study of great lit­er­ature with former Hillsdale stu­dents. One such student, Will Car­leton, went on to become a poet of the rural life.

For the occasion of his grad­u­ation from Hillsdale in 1869, Car­leton wrote his poem “Rifts in the Cloud.” At the cer­emony, he recalled the pres­ident throwing him a bouquet of flowers, knocking him over.

At the age of 25, while working as an editor of the Detroit Weekly Tribune, Car­leton wrote a story about divorce, “Betsy and I Are Out,” which was first pub­lished in the Toledo Blade. After pub­lished his “Over the Hill to the Poor-House” in 1872, Car­leton enjoyed fame as a poet, and he wrote and lec­tured nationally for the rest of his life.

After Hillsdale stu­dents sur­vived this year’s polar vortex, they likely can look back and relate to the words of Carleton’s poem “Autumn Days,” in which he writes: “Shiv­ering, quiv­ering, tearful days,/Fretfully and sadly weeping;/Dreading still, with anxious gaze,/Icy fetters round thee creeping.”

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Arter received a Bachelor of Divinity from Hillsdale College. (Wiki­media Commons)

Jared Arter

Hillsdale College has a long tra­dition of defending human rights: The school sent a host of stu­dents to fight for the Union in the Civil War, and it was a hotbed for abo­li­tionist pol­itics. Jared Maurice Arter was born a slave in West Vir­ginia. While his father died when Arter was seven, his family was even­tually freed in 1863 by the Eman­ci­pation Procla­mation, and, upon gaining their freedom, Arter’s mother moved them to Wash­ington, D.C.

Arter grad­uated from Hillsdale College in 1886 with a Bachelor of Divinity. At his com­mencement, according to a Col­legian article, Arter encouraged African-Amer­icans to “push off from the dark back­ground and inhos­pitable shores of the past toward a future of nobler manhood; that industry shall dis­place indo­lence; prov­i­dence, improv­i­dence; intel­li­gence, igno­rance; virtue, vice.”

He became an ordained Christian min­ister in 1887 and began working at Curtis Free Baptist Church. In 1921, he was the pastor of Curtis Free Will Baptist Church in Harpers Ferry, West Vir­ginia, near where he had lived as a slave.

The next year, his auto­bi­og­raphy, “Echoes from a Pioneer Life,” was pub­lished, in which he chron­icles his life growing up as a slave through his work as a min­ister and also an edu­cator at Storer College. In the book, he records a sermon given to a girls’ school in 1918, and he encouraged his audience: “Life is pro­gressive. This is true of all life. It is espe­cially true of the Christian life. Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. The Christian life is spir­itual, the highest type of life. The best and greatest things grow slowly.”