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Legal Milestone List

  The Great Ferris Fire
  Berrien County Courthouse
  Elloitt-Larsen Civil Rights Act
  Milliken v. Bradley
  Elk, Oil, and the Environment
  Whisper to Rallying Cry
  Poletown & Eminent Domain
  Prentiss M. Brown
  Otis Milton Smith
  Freedom Road
  President Gerald R. Ford
  Mary Coleman
  Committee of One
  Milo Radulovich
  Striking Racial Covenants
  Murphy's Dissent
  Conveying Michigan
  Ending Jim Crow
  Pond's Defense
  Mount Clemens Pottery
  Emelia Schaub
  Rose of Aberlone
  Protecting the Impaired
  Laughing Whitefish
  The Uninvited Ear
  The King's Grant
  Improving Justice
  One Person—One Vote
  Eva Belles' Vote
  Constitutional Convention
  Ten Hours or No Sawdust
  Access to Public Water
  Augustus Woodward
  Sojourner Truth
  Justice William Fletcher
  Roosevelt-Newett Trial
  Cooley Law Office
  Baseball Reserve Clause
  Ossian Sweet Trial


16. Laughing Whitefish

The Michigan Supreme Court in 1889 recognized the legal validity of Native American tribal laws and customs. Dedicated and placed at Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee on August 25, 1992.

Complete Text on Milestone Marker

Laughing Whitefish

Marji-Gesick, a Chippewa chief, was hired in 1845 to locate a valuable iron ore deposit about three miles from here. He was paid with a certificate of interest entitling him to stock in the company. That action led to a landmark Michigan Supreme Court decision acknowledging that tribal laws and customs govern the legal affairs of Native American families.

After Marji-Gesick's death, his daughter, Charlotte Kawbawgam, found the certificate. When the Jackson Iron Company refused to recognize her ownership interest, she took the company to court.

The Michigan Supreme Court considered the company's claim that Charlotte Kawbawgam should not be recognized as Marji-Gesick's lawful heir because she had been born to one of the three women to whom her father had been married simultaneously. Polygamy was prohibited under Michigan law, but permitted under tribal laws and customs.

The Court concluded that since the marriage was valid under Chippewa law, it must be recognized by Michigan's courts. Charlotte Kawbawgam was declared Marji-Gesick's lawful heir, inheriting his ownership interest in the Jackson Iron Company.

The story of Marji-Gesick, Charlotte Kawbawgam, and the Jackson Iron Company was immortalized in Laughing Whitefish, a book authored by former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker under his pen name, Robert Traver.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Marquette County Bar Association, 1992.

   
 

 

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