Community, Services & Programs: County History

County History Topics

* St. Joseph County by John Marvin:
* Introduction
* Costly Victory
* Changing Times
* St. Joseph County by John Marvin (Cont.):
* County Government Inaugurated
* Historical Firsts
* Early Background


St. Joseph County

by John Marvin



St. Joseph County, named after a river, is a region of rivers. Here, gather the many waters that give to the famed St. Joseph its size, its power and its beauty. Entering the county from the east, the historic stream is only an over-grown creek. Flowing out of the county to the southwest it is a rushing, picturesque river. On the way it gathers to itself Swan Creek, Bear Creek, Portage River, Rocky River, Prairie River, Fawn River and the White Pigeon River, as well as minor tributaries. Lakes, themselves spring-fed and creek-fed, are among the headwaters of these contributing streams. Lakes in strings, connected by adventure-inviting channels: lakes in clusters; lakes set solitaire; all allure the fisherman, the nature reveler and the seeker after cool quietude. Still and running waters combine in furnishing outing pleasures.

These rivers and lakes of St. Joseph County lured the Native Americans years ago.

Legends passed on by the Native Americans to the pioneers, and by the pioneers to their children tell of desperate battles fought for the possession of these ancient Happy Hunting Grounds.

The last battle was fought in 1801 - so the legends say - just before the coming of the first Yankee settlers from beyond the Alleghenies. At that time, St. Joseph County was at the edge of the vast Michigan forest which stretched from the Indiana plains to the shore of Lake Superior. This borderland was broken with oak openings and with woods-enclosed patches of prairie land.

The combination of woods, lakes, rivers and rich open lands made this an ideal place for game, fish and fowl. Here the Native Americans could hunt deer; fish; and go adventuring in their canoes. Here they could idle amid the luxuriousness of nature while they planted and harvested the crops of maize which grew generously on the fertile soil.

The Pottawatomie long held possession. They lived in peace with their neighbors, the Ottawa's of the Kalamazoo Valley and with the most distant Ottawa's of the Grand River Valley.

Then came the Shawnees from the Wabash Valley. They coveted the pleasant and plentiful land. Under the leadership of Chief Elkhart, they crept through the wilderness and fell suddenly upon the unsuspecting Pottawatomie. In the surprise battle that followed, the Pottawatomie were defeated and driven from their homes.

Next: Costly Victory


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St. Joseph County, MI Statistics

Founded: 1829
County Seat: Centreville

Total - 521 square miles
Water - 23 square miles

Population (2010 Census):
61,295 people
23,244 households
16,275 families