Negonce was born in 1835 and lived along the Flat River banks in the area we call Lowell. She represents not just a girl, but a whole village of Odawa people. The Odawa were here first and called themselves Anishinaabe or First People. They did business with the fur traders, welcomed American settlers, and lived side by side with them until 1857. They were then forced to leave their homes here for a reservation as agreed to in the Treaty of Detroit in 1855. Certain Odawa were chosen to choose the land for their reservation. They chose Crystal and Elbridge townships in Oceana County and Eden and Custer Townships in Mason County.
Born in a wigwam on the east side of the Flat River, Negonce and her cousin Che-an-go were some of the first friends of John Samuel Hooker. They were grandchildren of Cobmoosa.
Negonce was known within both the Odawa and American settler communities for her needlework and beadwork. She embroidered with silk ribbon and hedgehog quills on clothing, baskets and brooches.
As a child John Hooker, lived in Saranac and was a neighbor and friend to the Odawa, learning their language, customs, and lifecycles. In 1846, at the age of sixteen, he moved to ‘Flat River’ with his parents, Cyprian S. and Delaney Hooker, and helped build the first frame house, first dam and first gristmill in what later was named ‘Lowell’. John soon owned Marsac’s trading post at the junction of the Flat and Grand Rivers. This was the last fur trading post in Lowell. He transitioned the post to a store on Main Street after the Odawa left in 1857, but he still sold Negonce’s handmade wares and employed her along with others to prepare hides. In the Odawa villages it was the women who prepared the hides. Negonce did not leave Lowell for the reservation with her people at that time.
Prior to 1857, along with his trading post, John Hooker was also considered an itinerant trader, braving the bitter cold of winter to travel to the winter hunting/trapping ground of each Odawa family unit. They had scattered out along the Flat River and lakes to the north. Hooker kept a directory of the Odawa, and the government came to rely on him for a census of the Odawa when treaty payment time came each year. The allotment of treaty money for lands north of Grand River, ceded to the government by the Odawa was based upon his report.
In 1905, when the new four-storefront building was built on the north side of Main Street, between Lafayette and Monroe, Hooker saw the opportunity to honor his childhood friend and employee. He suggested that it be named “Negonce.” Today the name and memory is written in stone and brick at the top of that building to be remembered always. When we remember Negonce we remember her people, Lowell’s first people.