This village which now(1906) has a population of less than fifty was once a prosperous frontier town with a population of nearly one thousand. It is now situated in the township of Niles, but from the time of the organization of Bertrand township to 1850 it belonged to the latter, and its early history is properly connected with Bertrand township. Its location was on the bank of the St. Joseph river four miles south of the present city of Niles.
Prior to the organization of the village it was known by the French name of "Parc aux vaches" or "cow pasture." In 1833, David G. Garnsey, who laid out a portion of the Chicago and Detroit road, conceived the idea of establishing a village at this point. It was on the line of the old Indian trail running between Chicago and Detroit, which was early used by the mail and military service of the government, and subsequently as the main line of the old Chicago road.
In 1833 a joint stock association called the Bertrand village association was formed, of which the following named persons were stockholders: John M. Barbour, David G. Garnsey, Dr. Ingalls and Ira Converse of the state of New York; Joseph H. Williams of Vincennes, Indiana, and Joseph Bertrand, the Indian trader, located at this point. In 1833, Alonzo Bennett, a surveyor and prominent old settler , made the survey and laid out the village on a grand scale for those days. The plat embraced nearly a mile square, containing about one hundred and forty blocks and one thousand and two hundred lots. Mrs. Madeline Bertrand, the Indian wife of Joseph Bertrand, held the Indian title, and her conset, as well as that of President Jackson, was obtained for the establishment of the village. The western boundary of the town terminated on the bank of the St. Joseph river. The streets running north and south were named after presidents of the United States and prominent national characters. A rush of settlers into the new village commenced and in 1836 it contained seven dry goods stores, three hotels, three groceries and a warehouse. The buildings, however, were nearly all cheap and poorly constructed. The most imposing structure was a large four story hotel, known as the "Steamboat Hotel," erected by Joshua Howell, the grandfather of Marshall Howell, a Jeading attorney of southwestern Michigan, now residing at Cassopolis. In a few years afterward, this building was taken down and floated on a raft to Berrien Springs, where it was re-erected into a building which was occupied for a long time by Dr. Philip Kephart as a drug store and subsequently as a hotel called the Oronoko.This structure was bummed down a few months since.
The village lots were offered for sale in 1836, but instead of selling them to the highest bidder, the association bid them in and held them at exhorbitant prices. This policy on the part of the founders, proved to be the beginning of the downfall of the place. Settlers were drawn to Niles by the more liberal spirit of her people, and the ruin was complete when the Michigan Central Railroad was projected through Niles. John M. Barbour was a man of unusual ability, and the head of the organization. He removed to New York in a few years and became a prominent judge in that state. While here, however, he established an unenviable reputation as a grasping speculator. After the close of navigation one year, he purchased all the salt along the river and held it until he raised the price to $12 a barrel.
The place was named after the old Indian trader, Joseph Bertrand, a Frenchman from Canada, who located at this point about the year 1780, and to whom reference has been made in a previous chapter.
The oldest continuous resident of the village was probably Darwin C. Higbee, known as "Squire Higbee." He settled in the village of Bertrand in 1833 and lived there till his death in his ninetieth year, in 1902. He was postmaster of that village for over fifty years, and for many years a justice of the peace. His widow now lives at Bertrand.
The first church edifice erected in Berrien county, after the Indian missions had practically disappeared, was built in 1831, in Bertrand township. It was built of logs near the village of the Indian Chief Pokagon. The pastor in charge at this time was Father Badin, a French Catholic priest, In 1837 this church was supplanted by a new brick church edifice erected in the village of Bertrand by the Catholics. This building is still standing, although the building has not been used for many years. A Catholic cemetery was established on the same grounds with the church and was used by the Catholics of the vicinity till about fifteen years ago, when new cemetery grounds were laid out in Niles.
This ancient church and burial grounds are located in a handsome grove of magnificent oak trees, upon a bluff commanding a most charming view of the St. Joseph river. The cemetery and interior of the church are both in a dilapidated condition, the walls, however, of the latter being intact. The oldest inscription in the cemetery which is intelligible is that upon the grave stone of Madeline Bertrand, who died in 1845, and who was the wife of J oseph Bertrand.
In 1884, Father Sorin, who had founded the college of Notre Dame in 1843, near South Bend, established a convent at Bertrand for Sisters of the Holy Cross. Their first home was a small frame building, rented of Mr, Bertrand. Their first work included the teaching of a few children of the neighborhood, the care of several orpharts, and the laundry work of the students of Notre Dame. In 1845 a new building was constructed and in a few years the community developed into a school known as St. Mary's Academy. Mrs. Stineman, now living at Niles, attended this school about 1853. At that time it was flourishing and attended by a large number of pupils from the surrounding country .This academy continued till 1855, when the buildings occupied by the sisters were removed from St. Mary's at Bertrand, to the new St. Mary's, near the college of Notre Dame, and the sisters, twenty-five in number, were transferred to the latter institution. Thus it will be seen that St. Mary's, now famous as a great educational center of female instruction among the Catholics, had its beginning in the humble St. Mary's Academy of Bertrand. It was at Bertrand that Mother Angela, who was the Mother Superior of the present St.Mary's for over thirty years,began her successfull career in educational work.
After a liberal education both in this country and in France, she took charge of St. Mary's Academy at Bertrand early in 1854. Marie Eliza Gillespie, for such was the baptismal name of Mother Angela, was born of Scotch-Irish lineage, in Pennsylvania in 1824, and was an own cousin of James Gillespie Blaine, with whom in early life she had been a school mate. She was a woman of charming personality, of brilliant attainments, and is said to have strongly resembled her gifted cousin in certain magnetic and mental traits of character.
Bertrand village was for many years the "Gretna Green" of Berrien county. It is situated only about a mile from the state line, and parties living in Indiana, desiring to be married without a license which was required in Indiana, hastened in large numbers to a justice of the peace at Bertrand to tie the nuptial knot. One justice of the peace, "Squire Rice," derived no inconsiderable income from this class of business for several years. A license law in Michigan put an end at length to this profitable industry at Bertrand.
The township is bounded on the north by the townships of Buchanan and Niles, on the east by the St. Joseph river, on the south by the state of Indiana, and on the west by Galien. The township originally extended to the Cass county line on the east, but in 1850 that portion which lies east of the St. Joseph river was set off to the township of Niles.
A considerable portion of the land consists of prairie and burr oak openings. The prairie is known as Portage prairie. A narrow belt of timber cuts into one portion of the prairie and the smaller portion has sometimes been called "Little Portage." The prairie lands embrace about three thousand acres. Both the prairie and burr oak lands are very rich and productive. The land lying on the St. Joseph river, for a short distance is rough and hilly, but the surface of nearly all the township is level or but slightly rolling. The amount of poor land is very small. For many years Bertrand was the banner township in the state in the production of wheat. In 1878, the production was one hundred and twenty-five thousand bushels. The township is about ten miles long from east to west, and three and three- fifth miles wide north and south. It embraces two ranges.
It was organized in March, 1836, by act of the legislature, and then embraced Galien township. The first township election was held at Union Hall in the village of Bertrand in April, 1836. At this election, Frederic Howe was elected supervisor,. James H. Montgomery, town clerk, Joshua Howell, John De Armond and Alanson Hamilton, justices of the peace.
By the Carey mission treaty of 1828,. already alluded to, all but about five sections of land in Bertrand township were assigned to the Pottawatomies, embracing some of the choicest lands in Michigan. The reservation also embraced all of the present township of Niles, lying south and west of the St. Joseph river, and eight or ten sections in Buchanan, in all containing about forty-nine sections. Upon this valuable tract of land were collected all the villages of the Pottawatomies of the St. Joseph valley,. when the early settlers arrived, except a few who came prior to 1828. These villages were quite numerous in Bertrand, and some of these have already been described. These lands were not open for sale to settlers till after the treaty of Chicago in 1833.
The first settlement in the township appears to have been made by Nathan Hatfield. Mr. Hatfield came from Wayne county, Indiana, to the Carey mission in 1828 and located Upon Portage prairie in section twenty, range seventeen, on the state line. The larger part of his farm was in Indiana but he built his house on the Michigan side, and in 1829 went back to his old home and brought back his family to his new residence. The Indian village of Pokagon was located near his farm, He died many years ago.
Milton Hatfield, a former supervisor and ,prominent farmer of Niles township, who is now residing in the city of Niles, is a son of Nathan Hatfield.
The next settlement made in the township was made in 1831 by Benjamin M. Redding, a native of Virginia, who, however, at an early day had settled in Ohio. He located in section seven on the site of the present village of Dayton, outside of the Indian Reservation, and built a log residence and saw mill. He moved into his residence with his family in 1832.
The saw mill was located on the edge of the "Galien Woods" and for some years did a large business. Other settlers located afterwards at this point, and the place was known as "Redding's Mill" till 1848 when the name was changed to Dayton. In 1837, Mr. Redding moved to Niles and resided there most of the time till his death in 1877. He was eighty-six years old at the time of his death. .
The first Protestant Church in the township was organized at his house in 1833. It was a Methodist Society of which he was chosen leader. He had a family of twelve children, only one of whom survived him, James H. Redding, who died several years since. The widow of James, Mrs. Jane Redding, died recently at her farm near Dayton, at an advanced age.
David Vanderhof and Charles Wells, natives of New York, moved together into the township in 1834. Mr. Vanderhof settled on section seven, and for two or three years kept a store on his farm. He died in 1875, aged over ninety years, leaving two children living in this county, Thomas, a resident of Bertrand, and Mrs. J. W. Post, of Buchanan. Thomas died many years ago. Mrs. Post died recently at an advanced age.
Charles Wells and his family, consisting of a wife and seven children, settled on section seven, range seventeen, and subsequently on section thirteen. The sons of Charles Wells, Francis and Joseph, became prominent land owners in the township both of them died several years ago. The widow of Francis is still living. Isaac Wells. another son of Charles Wells, has resided for many years at Dowagiac.
One settler was permitted to locate inside the "reservation" before the Indians ceded it to the government. This was Samuel Street, who was permitted to select a home in section nine, range seventeen, by Pokagon, as compensation for labor performed for the Indians. He was a member of the state house of representatives in 1851: and a supervisor of the township. He died in 1861.
John De Armond, from Ohio, settled near Dayton in 1834. He kept a small store and carried on an extensive trade with the Indians until their removal. His goods were brought from Cincinnati. Ten days were occupied in making the trip and ten days in returning. He died many years since. One child, Mrs. Elizabeth Haines of Walkerton, Indiana, is now living. Mr. De Armond was supervisor in 1841.
Frederic Howe, a native of Massachusetts, but a resident of New York, in 1834,. started on a tour with a horse and buggy, intending to locate in the state of Illinois. In passing into Bertrand township he became so much pleased with the country that he shortly after located on a farm in section eleven, range eighteen. He brought his family, consisting of a wife and eleven. children, and settled on the place in 1835. A rude cabin had been put up by a previous squatter. The fire place of this cabin was made of split logs, the chimney of split stakes plastered on the inside with clay, the roof of split shingles, or "shakes" four feet in length and the floor of split basswood logs. fastened down by wooden pins.
Mr. Howe was the first supervisor of the township. He acquired about two hundred and forty acres of land, but in his later years moved into the village of Buchanan, where be died in 1864. His wife died in 1869.
One child is now living, Charles. F. Howe, who was supervisor of the township for six terms and who now resides at Buchanan.
In March, 1835, Alanson Hamilton, from New York, located in section seventeen, Range eighteen. Later he lived on section six. He was elected a justice of the peace at the first township election and held the office for fourteen years. He died in 1874. His only child living is Nathaniel A. Hamilton, who moved into Buchanan in early life, and is now the oldest continuous resident of that village. He is in his eighty-sixth year, and is still quite active and vigorous. He is referred to in connection with the sketch of Buchanan.
Samuel Redden settled in Bertrand village in 1835, and moved to the west part of Bertrand township in 1838.
Two sons are now living in the county, Samuel W., who has been a prominent merchant at Buchanan where he resides, and John, a heavy land owner in the western part of Bertrand township.
Benjamin Franklin, a native of New York, settled in the township in 1835. A Son Freeman has been a supervisor, and is still living in the township.
William Batson came to the township in 1836.
In 1836, Enos Holmes came from New York and purchased one hundred and thirty- five acres, part of which lay in Bertrand township and part in Buchanan, but the larger part lay in section four, Bertrand township. He shortly after returned to New York, but in 1846 again moved to Michigan and located on the farm which he purchased. He died in 1869. A son, Enos Holmes, is living in Bertrand township and is a large land owner . Another son, John G. Holmes, was editor of the Berrien County Record for many years, but removed west a few years since.
In 1838 Isaac Filurote located at Dayton and established a blacksmith shop, but shortly afterwards removed to Hamilton, Indiana.
A son, George L. Faurote, is vice-president of the Niles City Bank and actively connected with its business at its office.
Isaac Faurote is now living at Niles with his son.
Among the exciting events of the early history of the township was the detection of a gang of counterfeiters, who made their headquarters for business in the township, although their homes were generally elsewhere. The favorite resort of this gang was a lonely wooded island in Topinabee lake, afterward called by the old settlers "Bogus Island." An extensive system of counterfeiting had been carried on at this point for some time before detection. The leader of the gang, Dr. Harrison, a prominent physician of Buchanan, was finally arrested, tried and convicted for counterfeiting in the federal courts, with others, and the business was then broken up.
About the year 1844 the emigration into Bertrand of a peculiar and distinct class of settlers commenced. It was that of the so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch," who subsequently made up a considerable portion of the population of the township. Many of this class of settlers when they came to Bertrand were unable to talk intelligible English although their ancestors had settled in Pennsylvania at least a century before.
The history of this class of people is peculiarly interesting. It consisted of various sects of Protestant Germans who emigrated to this country from their native land in the latter part of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century, and mainly poured into the Quaker province. The first emigration consisted of Mennonites, who resembled the Quakers strongly in their religious belief and customs, and who were known as German Quakers. Then followed the Dunkers, known here as Dunkards or German Baptists. Subsequently a large stream of immigration poured in from the Palatinate, consisting of Lutherans. At the close of the Revolution one-third of the population of Pennsylvania was German or of German descent.
These people mostly went into the valley of the Susquehanna and made settlements of their own, mingled and intermarried with the English race but little, and developed a peculiar dialect which was High German with an odd admixture of English. This peculiar language was not only spoken, but printed and taught in the schools. The "'Pennsylvania Dutch" adhered to their language and habits with such tenasity that the state was not able to substitute English schools or overthrow the force of old habits till about sixty years ago.
They were generally honest and thrifty farmers and good citizens. Among this class of settlers in Bertrand the Roughs were the most numerous. John R. Rough came first. He was a native of Juniata county, Pennsylvania, and emigrated in 1844 to Bertrand township where he purchased a farm upon which he lived till his death. At the time of his death he was ninety-five years old, .
David Rough, a native also of Juniata county, Pennsylvania, emigrated to Bertrand township in 1849 and located in sections twelve and thirteen. He became quite wealthy and at the time of his death in 1876, owned nearly twelve hundred acres.
Three children are now living, William R. and Solomon of Buchanan, and Eliza, wife of Amos C. House.
William and Solomon were for many years engaged extensively in the manufacture of wagons at Buchanan. William was at one time president of the village.
Jacob Rough, a brother of David, also came from Pennsylvania, and settled in Bertrand township in 1849.
His son, George W ., was treasurer of the county for two terms, from 1879 to 1883, and has also been supervisor of his township. These families were followed by other members of the Rough families in Pennsylvania by Amos House, Peter Womer, Isaac Long, Stephen Amy, Daniel Bressler, the Houseworths, the Cauffmanns, A. Leiter, and others.
Three brothers, Charles, Cyrus E. and Mahlon Gillette, settled in the township at an early day, the two former locating in section tour and the latter in section ten. They became prominent farthers of the community. A son of Charles, Joel was supervisor of the township for three terms, county register from 1893 to 1897 and representative to the state legislature from 1901 to 1905. He resides at present in the city of Niles.
In 1842, four brothers, Stephen, Lewis, Hiram and Charles Baker came to Bertrand and located at what is known as "Bakertown" a mile southwest of Buchanan. Here they built a saw mill and a carding mill which they operated for some time. All of them lived to advanced ages. Charles, the last survivor died a few months since at South Bend.
One of the oldest settlers of Bertrand township now living is Samuel Messenger. He was a native of Pennsylvania. In 1844, he came with his widowed mother to Berrien county, where they located on Portage Prairie. Here Mr. Messenger acquired a valuable farm of about two hundred acres, and became a prosperous and influential farmer. He is now living in the city of Niles.
James Badger, a prominent settler of Bertrand township, came from New York in 1844 and purchased a farm on Portage Prairie, although he did not locate on it till 1845. He was subsequently president of the Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Association and the Berrien County Agricultural Society, and held various local offices. He died in 1888. Two children now live in the" county, Chester Badger, one of the present county superintendents of the poor, and Mrs. Fannie Knox.
Among prominent and early settlers who located in the township may be mentioned David A. Best, Daniel Bressler, Patrick Cunan, Archibald Dunbar, John Dye, Oliver Dalrymple, Eli and Enoch Egbert, Michael Herkimer, John Keller, Isaac Long, Amos House, James L. Parent, C. G. Pope, George Potter, Isaiah Rhodes, Moses Shook, G. C. and J. B. Stryker, Michael Swobe, N. Wilson, Peter Womer and William Haslett.
Michael Herkimer came with his father, George R. Herkimer, to Bertrand township from New York, at an early day. He was a prominent man in the community. His son, George R. Herkimer, is a prominent physician of Dowagiac and at present the Democratic candidate for congress in the fourth congressional district.
William Haslett was supervisor of the township for fourteen terms, eleven of which were continuous.
The following named persons have been supervisors of the township of Bertrand during the years designated :
Fred A. Howe 1836-1839
John Barbour 1840
John De Armond.. 1841
JoS. G. Ames : 1842
Lewis Bryant 1843
Samuel Street 1844
Abram Ogden 1845
F. A. Howe 1846-1847
Luther R. Palmer. 1848-1849
Enos Holmes. : ...1850-1851
Herman Baker. 1852-1853
Daniel Terrierre 1854
William Haslett 1855-1856
Daniel Terrierre 1857
William Haslett 1858-1868
Jacob Young 1869
William Haslett 1870
Freeman Franklin. 1871-1873
C. F. Howe 1874
W. D. Badger 1875-1876
Peter Womer 1877
J. H. Young 1878
C. F. Howe 1879-1881
J. H. Gillette 1882
Freeman Franklin. 1883
C. F. Howe 1884-1885
Freeman Franklin. 1886
J. H. Gillette 1887-1888
Peter Womer 1889-1891
C. H. Wells 1892
G. W. Rough 1893-1894-
Peter Womer 1895-1896
A. F. Howe 1897-190Z
C. W. Matthews 1903-1906
( present incumbent. )