In the year 1833, the Dexter colony arrived on the 28th of May at what is now the City of Ionia. Samuel Dexter, the leader of the party, had scouted the Grand River Valley the year before and had purchased land both at Ionia and Grand Rapids. A small group of Ojibway Indians were living on the Dexter property.
The Indians had planned to leave as soon as the colony arrived, but as the people from New York did not come until late in the spring, the Indians had already planted the cleared fields to corn, melons and squash, and did not want to leave at that time. This problem was solved when Mr. Dexter paid the Indians the sum of twenty-five dollars for the crops. It was a fortunate opportunity for the settlers as the produce from them was a big help in getting the colony through the first hard winter.
The head man of the Ionia Indians was Cub-Baa-Moo-Sa. The name was shortened to Cobmoosa by the white people. Cobmoosa was also a sub-chief of the Flat River Indians whose main settlement was at Lowell The old histories of Ionia County are at variance in their accounts about Cobmoosa's ancestry. One of them claiming that a French voyageur named Antoine Campau came to the future site of Grand Rapids in the year 1765, married the daughter of a local chief, and that Cobmoosa was a son born to them in 1768.
Another history says that he was a Negro, captured as a baby in an Indian raid on a Virginia plantation and brought to Michigan as a curiosity. In any event, he was raised as an Indian, and when he reached the age for his initiation to manhood ceremonies, he spent many days fasting in order to induce a vision that would give him a name and some indication of the type of man that he would become.
When the time came for him to tell of his vision he said that he had seen himself walking from his home to the headwaters of the Muskegon River, then down the river to Lake Michigan, then south to the mouth of the Grand River, then back to his home at Lowell, all in a single day and night. He was then given the name Cub-Baa-Moo-Sa, which in the Ojibway language meant great walker.
Cobmoosa was one of the Ojibway chiefs who went to Washington with Rix Robinson (the Ada trader) and signed the treaty that gave the United States title to all of the Indian lands north of the Grand River. In exchange for the removal of the Ojibways to Indian Territory, they were to be given $620,000 in cash, 6,500 pounds of tobacco, 100 barrels of salt and 100 barrels of fish. This treaty was never honored because the Indians did not want to move to Indian Territory, many miles from their woodland homes. In 1855, a treaty was signed in Detroit between G.A. Pennypacker, Indian Agent, and fifty-four chiefs and headmen, Cobmoosa among them, that gave the Indians land in Oceana County to amount to 80 acres for each family, 40 acres for each single person, and $530,400 in cash. Each chief was to receive $500, each headman $100. Several white men, supposedly friends of the Indians, were to receive a large donation and the rest was to be divided among the tribes. Sadly, the Indian traders had all the cash within one year.
In all, about 1,400 Indians were removed to their new homes in Oceana County over a period of several years. Cobmoosa did not move until 1862; by this time he was old and failing in mind. He died in 1865, and was buried in the old pagan cemetery at Elbridge, Michigan. One old history states that he remained a pagan all his life and had six wives by whom he had eleven sons and daughters (Gibbs 34).