Indian chief cemetery mystery solved

OBAMA? NO, OGEMA—Ogema is the “mystery body’s” name. Indian Chief, his game, and his marker lie barely visible on the first tier of Rockford’s Pioneer Cemetery.

The”mystery body” answer came from the Rockford Area Historical Museum, Pederson Funeral Home’s Dave Pederson and from Rockford’s’ Christine Marcus Stone. Questions of “Who and why?” are the norm as the Rockford Lions Club and the Rockford Garden Club bring this forgotten cemetery back to life. Hidden under brush and undergrowth are long-forgotten, broken and illegible headstones that once meant “the world” to their children and spouses.

Stone was the instigator of the reburial of the Grand River Indian Tribe’s Chief Ogema. His skeleton was unearthed in 1974 during the construction of a home on Prospect Hill at the corner of Ramsdell and Ten Mile Road. Turned over to the police, the remains found their way into Pederson’s care after Michigan State University had determined they were of a Native American. Somehow the plans to rebury the chief came to the attention of Stone and she, a Navajo descendent, asked that his spirit be put to rest properly with traditional Native American burial rites.

In the dark of the morning on April 30, 1975, Stone, Ross Morgan, a Mohawk, and John Bosin of the Kiowa people gathered in the basement of Pederson Funeral Home and wrapped Chief Ogema in a traditional Native American blanket along with their traditional “medicine.” Dave Pendelton and Father Cusak joined the trio in starting the ceremonial fire and watched as the traditional sunrise burial ceremony took place. Stone remembers her surprise at the large gathering of families and children who rose early on that frosty April morning to be part of this traditional rite. Prominent among the throng were Rockford legend Clarence Blakeslee and Homer Burch, who had both played a major part in the retrieval, burial and placement of the stone honoring Chief Ogema.

In the ‘60s, the Daughters of the American Revolution determined that there were 119 graves in the cemetery starting with 1849 and ending in 1926. However, Pederson recalls that, up to about 25 years ago, he had handled the re-interment of three or four more similar Native American remains.

So, the questions continue as the work continues to make the cemetery presentable. Perhaps, the biggest question is: “When finished, what do we want it to be?” It’s the community’s treasure. What do you want it to be? Call (616) 874-9615 with your suggestion.

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