Uncovering the Native American trails of southeast Michigan

Tuesday marked the 179th anniversary of Michigan's statehood, but such milestones seem insignificant when pondering the millennia over which indigenous peoples have traversed the Great Lakes region.

With the coming of white settlers and the imposition of their imagined boundaries on the land, however, much of the history of Michigan's natives has been tragically erased--but not all. Remnants of trails that guided native peoples through the region since time immemorial persist to this day, even if they aren't so obvious as they once were.

"Detroit was a hub in a continent-wide network of footpaths worn into the earth centuries before Cadillac or Columbus," writes Paul Szewczyk, creator of Detroit Urbanism, a new blog he describes as a "site is for people who feel compelled to understand why the human-built environment in which we live our lives in and around Detroit is the way it is." Szewcyzk formerly ran the delightful Corktown History Blog.

In a post entitled "Retracing Detroit's Native American Trails," Szewcyzk compares historic maps drawn by early surveyors of southeast Michigan with present day ones, finding direct correlations between the location of ancient trails and some contemporary roadways. For instance, Shiawassee Street in downtown Farmington clearly aligns with the meandering Shiawassee Trail first surveyed by Samuel Carpenter in 1817. Several other examples or native trails-turned-roads, including Moravian Road in Macomb County, Dixie Highway in northern Oakland County, and Lafayette Avenue in Pontiac, are detailed in the post.

"Our map was not a blank canvas when Cadillac landed in 1701," Szewcyzk writes. "Sometimes we assume that the tribes pushed out of southeast Michigan left without a trace, even as we drive along the pathways they built, unaware of their origin. The land was worked and shaped by those who had preceded us since time immemorial, and the Earth bears witness to this fact."

Interested in discovering more about Native American trails and other forces that shaped our pattern of settlement in our region? Continue to follow Detroit Urbanism.
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