Chief Sagano Saves Bay City

Well, I’m working on a book on the history of Bay City, Michigan.  I find the research and writing process fun and satisfying, on top of it being just good practice.  I’ve been making some good progress and I thought I would throw out a little sample of my first draft for anyone who might be interested.  This piece covers a little-known event that marks the end of significant Chippewa presence in the Bay City area.  It also details the heroic deeds of Chief Sagano of the Chippewa in protecting his friend George Hotchkiss and the other families in Bay City.  Enjoy.

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Bay City in 1862 was experiencing the calm before the storm.  In the next couple of years Bay Cit’s population would skyrocket as Henry Sage and John McGraw brought two massive saw mills (referred to as “monsters” by many) to the town.  In 1862 the village was growing slowly but was still largely surrounded by wilderness.  The local Indians, a Chippewa band, camped out on the west side of the Saginaw River on a broad clearing, directly across from the Bay City’s downtown district, mostly a collection of log cabins and stores.

This local band was led by a man named Sagano who had befriended the Bay Cityans.  One night in the peaceful wilderness another group of Indians entered Sagano’s camp and wanted to launch a sneak attack on the unsuspecting Bay Cityans across the river.  Sagano wisely stalled the newcomers while his wife rowed across the river to warn their friends George Hotchkiss and his son Everitt.  Sagano’s wife said “Quick, let me in.  I must not be seen by anyone else.  I have slipped away to warn you.”[1] George Hotchkiss responded swiftly, alerting the community while sending a rider to Detroit to find an Indian agent.

Center House, originally located across from the Chippewa camp

The man they found would prove to be a man of action.  Dewitt C. Leach arrived as soon as possible from Detroit and marched straight into the Indian camp, declaring that he had arrived with warriors who were hiding across the river in Bay City.  Speaking boldly and confidently, he exiled the Indians from the Bay City area and they were stunned into obeying.  Bay City editor and historian Les Arndt noted that:

“Chief Sagano later lauded Leach’s wisdom.  For awhile there was concern by the settlers that the renegades might discover they had been tricked and would return knowing there were no soldiers protecting the Bay City settlers.  But nothing else was ever heard from them.”[2]

Chief Sagano had acted smartly and managed to delay the Indian massacre, and it is a shame that he is not acknowledged as a hero of Bay City history.  Leach also had acted heroically and some recognition should be granted to these two men for saving Bay City from being entirely wiped out those tenuous days.  There were sufficient hostile Indians to overrun the entire settlement of Bay City, which numbered anywhere from 500 people up to the low thousands, depending on the source.

This incident marked the close of Indian presence in the area and also marked the close of Bay City’s wilderness era.  In the next three years Bay City would receive a massive influx of citizens, an industrial boom and a transportation revolution.


[1] Arndt, Leslie E.  By These Waters: A Bicentennial Year Souvenir.  Bay City Times, Bay City MI: 1976, 20.

[2] Ibid., 21.

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