First Pioneer

chief okemos

Chief John Okemos

Okemos was first settled by a man named Sanford Marsh on May 13, 1833. Following the white settlement of the area beginning in 1839, Okemos and its residents conducted an active trading business through the 1840s. In 1840, Freeman Bray plotted out land and founded the city which he named Hamilton, at the suggestion of a man named J.H. Kilbourne. Some people believed that it was named after the city of Hamilton, in Canada, but it was really named after President Alexander Hamilton. According to the recollection of Mr. and Mrs. Bray and J. H. Kilbourne, the village was plotted out in 1841 but it was not officially put on record until May 29, 1851. The name of the city was changed in 1859 to Okemos after John Okemos. Okemos was a Native American chief of the Saginaw Chippewa in the Ojibwa nation. Okemos was also the leader of other Ojibwa tribes throughout Michigan and some Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. Okemos and his people were active and influential in a trading business with whites in the settlement of Hamilton in the 1840’s. Chief Okemos died in 1858 and the city of Hamilton was renamed Okemos in 1859, in his honor.


This plaque located in Downtown Okemos, remembers the life of Chief Okemos and acts as a memorial in his honor.