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Zoom book release for Kawbawgam biography

This is the cover of award-winning local author Tyler R. Tichelaar’s new book on Ojibwa Chief Charles Kawbawgam. It’s a full-length biography titled, “Kawbawgam: The Chief, the Legend, The Man.” (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Local Ojibwa Chief Charles Kawbawgam, was rumored to have lived in three centuries from 1799-1902. Kawbawgam is well known for having lived at Presque Isle Park in Marquette and being buried there, as well as for his friendship with Peter White and for his wife, Charlotte’s famous lawsuit against the Jackson Mining Company, commemorated in the novel “Laughing Whitefish” by John Voelker (Robert Traver).

Though Kawbawgam became something of a local celebrity in his lifetime and is remembered as an important character in our past, many details about his life have been overlooked and a lot of misinformation has been printed about him, including during his own lifetime.

Fixing that gap, award-winning local author Tyler R. Tichelaar is about to release his 21st book, a full-length biography “Kawbawgam: The Chief, the Legend, The Man.”

Based on painstaking research that included use of Marquette Regional History Center documents and artifacts, the book explores not only the legend of Kawbawgam’s longevity but also his family origins among a prominent clan of the Ojibwa. The largely unknown years of Kawbawgam’s childhood and early adulthood are discussed, including his living at the Sault and in Canada, and his role in Marquette’s founding.

Kawbawgam’s fascinating family is at the heart of the story, including two uncles who fought for the British in the War of 1812, a sister who married a US Congressman, a brother who lost his nose in a card game fight, a brother-in-law who visited the President of the United States as an interpreter, and another brother-in-law who committed Marquette’s first murder.

Tichelaar also places Kawbawgam in the context of his time, including the Ojibwa ceding parts of the Upper Peninsula to the United States government, their lamenting their sacred burial places being destroyed to build the Sault canal and locks, and continual fears of their removal. Tichelaar shows how Kawbawgam learned to walk a fine line to keep peace between the Ojibwa and white Americans, including befriending prominent white citizens in Marquette.

This research gets to the heart of a serious challenge for Marquette County local history. In past generations, local Native American history was not always carefully chronicled as carefully as we now wish it had been. Native American individuals were more often caricatured than considered as full participants in our community. Our sense of history is poorer for this tendency of past historians to overlook the real contributions and outlooks of Native American individuals.

The new book points out some of the deficiencies in the existing historical record, including noting misidentification of Native American people in historical photographs. There is much more research to be done into Marquette County’s Native American past, and this book will help future researchers understand gaps in our knowledge and the resources they may use to address them. We are grateful that serious attention is now being paid to this important part of our history.

“I think people will be amazed,” said Tichelaar, “by Kawbawgam’s story. He is always mentioned in local history, but his influence and prominent role in Upper Michigan’s history has been largely ignored. He was just as significant in Marquette’s founding as Harlow, White, or Graveraet. By telling this story, I hope to correct the historical record, making more people aware of the Ojibwa’s contributions and sacrifices, often through coercion. Kawbawgam’s story reflects a forgotten side to U.P. history that needs to be told and reassessed, especially in this time of greater racial awareness and revisionist history.”

A one-hour zoom presentation and slideshow about the book will be presented through the Marquette Regional History Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 6:30 p.m. There is a $5 donation to the Marquette Regional History Center to join the event.

Register ahead of time or during the online program at marquettehistory.org/things-to-do or scan the QR code. Online registrants will automatically be entered into a drawing for an original painting of Kawbawgam, by Dan Cook. Following the presentation, Tichelaar will have a book signing at the history center on Saturday, Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to allow the public to purchase books and get them signed while maintaining social distancing.

No registration necessary for the Nov. 21 book signing, come anytime 10 a.m.to 1 p.m. For more info visit marquettehistory.org or call 906.226.3571

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