If you've lived in the Lansing area long enough, then you know that the town of Okemos was named after Chief John Okemos. His real name has been listed as "Ottawatamie Okemos Kinne-boo", "Pottawatamie Okemos Kinne-boo", and "Ogimaans Kinne-boo" among others. "Ogimaans" was Ojibwe for "little chief" and was anglicized to "Okemos". He added the name "John" himself.

John Okemos was born in Shiawassee County in either the 1750's, 1769, 1770 or even as late as 1788, depending on which bio you trust. He was chief of the Grand River Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians who made their living along the river from Portland to the Red Cedar in what is now called Okemos.

He is first mentioned in 1796, when he took to the warpath. Okemos and 16 other warriors joined forces with the British scouted against the Americans.

One morning a group of American troops approached and were attacked by Okemos and his small band. Okemos was only one of three that survived. Upon returning home, the rest of the tribe believed Okemos was spared by the Great Spirit, so they made him chief in honor of his courageous battle and survival.

In 1814, Chief Okemos surrendered to an officer at Detroit's Fort Wayne. He was pardoned and made leader of a band of Shiawassee Chippewa Indians.

In the 1830's, a smallpox and cholera epidemic took the lives of almost all Chief Okemos' tribe members. He journeyed by himself to an area near Portland and made the area his home.

Chief Okemos passed away on December 4, 1858 near Portland. He was buried near the Grand River down a trail through the woods. He was laid in a wooden coffin – not the normal burial for Native Americans – with many of his personal belongings and clothing.

Many years later, in 1921, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a marker at his burial site, where it remains to this day. It's considered to be one of the most peaceful & serene places in Michigan.

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CHIEF OKEMOS

Information provided by:
geo.msu.edu