Baw Beese (c. 1790–c. 1850) was a Potawatomi Indian chief in the area of Hillsdale, Michigan until November 1840. At this time he and his band were forcibly removed to a reservation in Miami County, Kansas by the U.S. Government under authority of the Indian Removal Act signed into law by Andrew Jackson in 1830. The Indian Removal Act made the voluntary Indian emigrations outlined in the Treaty of Fort Meigs of 1817 and the Treaty of Chicago of 1821 mandatory and militarily enforced.
At the time of the Treaty of Chicago, Baw Beese led a band of Indians estimated at over 150 members. The Baw Beese band of natives had their maize fields, hunting, fishing, and meeting grounds within Hillsdale County, Michigan. Other chiefs of the Baw Beese family lived in surrounding counties in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.
As a chief, Baw Beese was reported as holding to a strict code of justice. The execution of his daughter Winona, for having murdered her husband Negnaska, was not prevented despite his status. Winona's husband had pledged his rifle to Mr Aaron B. Goodwin of Fremont, Indiana for the use of a keg. The Indians had the keg filled at Nichols' store in Jamestown, but Mr Nichols ended up taking everything they had. The brave sold his squaw's pony, to raise money to retrieve the rifle. Winona owned the pony outright, either as a gift from her father or having bought it with her own money. She killed Negnaska in anger for selling what was hers. Winona was held by the tribe for a few hours, until her husband's nearest relative arrived to execute her in the like manner she had killed— with a stab to the heart.
Mr John D. Barnard and Mr Sheldon Havens encountered the Indians after the execution, and helped move the body of Winona and her husband to a nearby resting place. The bodies were not buried until after the white men were out of sight. This precaution was in vain, however, because the bodies were taken from the graves by Dr. B.F. Sheldon for dissecting only a few days later.
The story of Baw Beese and Winona has developed into local legend. In some versions, the chief himself must execute his child. Often it is mentioned that a girl's skeleton was found on the banks of the Baw Beese Lake with a cross bearing her name, or other identification.
According to the Illustrated history and biographical record of Lenawee County, ... Knapp, John I., 1825-1903 noted on page 362 under the bio of David A. Price who trade with Baw Beese, the chief came to Adrian in the spring of 1864 and died in Adrian Mi. on July 12, 1889.
The final days of Baw Beese are disputed. According to one account, he died in exile in the pine forests near Georgian Bay, Canada having left the reservation. Other accounts report his death by Sioux or natural death at a very old age on the Kansas reservation.
Baw Beese never signed a treaty with the United States, although he did abide by the Treaty of Detroit of 1807. The line between present day Lenawee and Hillsdale counties was the boundary between the settlers and natives. Because of that treaty, he welcomed the white settlers to Hillsdale County but treated them as tenants.
The 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs ceded the southern half of Hillsdale County including the primary gathering locations of the Baw Beese family at Bird Lake and Squawfield, however, Baw Beese does not appear to have participated in this treaty. Neither did any of the other chiefs with whom Baw Beese associated.
The closest name one finds to Baw Beese on a treaty with the Potawatomies is Paw-pee on an 1834 document. There is little reason to believe this is Baw Beese. Baw Beese is often associated with the chiefs Me-te-au, Ne-au-to-beer-shaw called "Leather Nose", and Wap-ka-zeek, names not listed on this document.
- Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale, MI
- Chief Baw Beese Chapter of the North Country Trail