Native Americans and Apple Island

Apple Island is a particular geographical feature unique to the Greater West Bloomfield area. Spanning 37 acres, it is the one of the largest islands on an inland lake in Michigan. The area was named for the apple trees growing on the island and in the surrounding orchards.

Apple Island (GWBHS.org)

Early Native Americans settled on and around Apple Island for many of the same reasons as later white settlers. The region provided a wealth of food, water, and transportation via waterways. The Huron, Rouge, and Clinton watersheds converge in West Bloomfield, giving Native Americans in the region a safe, convenient, and accessible assembly location. Apple Island also served as a strategic gathering place that was easily defendable from other tribes thanks to the vast expanse of open water in the surrounding Orchard Lake.

Apple Island may have been settled as long as 2,000 years ago by American Indians and inhabited though the early 1800s. It is unknown if the island was used as a permanent settlement or a seasonal outpost. It is clear, however, that many different tribes have taken refuge in the area though the specific bands remain unknown for certain. There is also evidence of corn cultivation on the island.

Chief Pontiac

As white settlers encroached on the area in the early 1800s, they noticed the two American Indian settlements, one on Apple Island and the other on Orchard Lake’s southern shore. Native Americans surrendered the land to the settlers through the Treaty of Detroit in 1807.

Though there is little evidence to support it, local legend holds that Ottawa Chief Pontiac planned his rebellion on Apple Island and is said to be buried there. Ottawa Chief Okemos, however, once made this recorded, historical statement: “I was born in Michigan, near Pontiac, on an island in a lake […] I was 30 years old when I left the place I was born.” Okemos’ claim suggests he spent most of his life on and around Apple Island, because no other location fits his description.

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