1855 : Manitou County, Michigan Created; Dissolved 40 Years Later

February 12, 2018 all-day

Image of Manitou County from "Map of the State of Michigan and the Surrounding Country," Exhibiting the Sections and the Latest Surveys. By John Farmer. Published in Detroit in 1855.

Did you ever hear of Manitou County?

You can easily find it on a map – a map of Leelanau County, that is.

And a Charlevoix County map, too, for that matter.

“This county was organized by an act of the Legislature on February 12, 1855, and named Manitou, probably by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft after the Manitou Islands, which formed part of the county,” Roy Dodge wrote in 1970.

Dodge is probably correct about the defunct county’s name derivation and Schoolcraft is credited with naming Leelanau County, as well as suggesting names for other Michigan counties as well.

Other “Schoolcraft counties” include Alpena, Alcona, Iosco, Arenac, Isabella and Tuscola.

The county seat of Manitou County was St. James, on Beaver Island, which is now part of Charlevoix County.

Kasey Wilson of the MSU Map Library provides a good synopsis of how Manitou County came about.

From 1850-1856, James Jesse Strang lived on Beaver Island as a self-appointed king among the Mormon adherents who declared allegiance to him after the death of Joseph Smith.  Strang commanded a loyal following from his congregants but it often brought the Strangite Mormons into conflict with the judiciary in Mackinac.  These disagreements drove the Mormons to seek local and state political office and culminated in the election of Strang as a state legislator.  It was through this office that Strang would seek to change the fortunes of his community and alter the geography of Michigan in the process.

Among the many pieces of legislation that Strang would sponsor in 1853, the most impactful would be the reorganization of Emmet County by absorbing Charlevoix County, Beaver Island and smaller surrounding islands.  This quadrupled the size of Emmet County and placed the county seat at St. James Township on Beaver Island.  The Strangites had achieved political and judicial independence from Mackinac at last.  Following these actions, the island flourished as the Strangites dominated much of the fishing industry and St. James Harbor became the major stop for steamers between Detroit and Wisconsin.  This boom period would not last long, however, as the legislative session of 1855 would see Strang surrounded by mostly new colleagues, unfriendly to his cause.

County Lines of 1854

Unsurprisingly, the representative from Mackinac County, Jacob A.T. Wendell, led the fight against Strang’s efforts in the house.  He was backed by a number of petitions and letters from residents of Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim counties demanding that Beaver Island be removed from Emmet County, effectively isolating the Strangites from the mainland.  Wendell’s efforts were successful and an easy majority passed legislation to have Emmet County contain only mainland townships.  The legislature passed a companion bill organizing the county of Manitue (later spelled Manitou) that allowed the Strangite legal jurisdiction over the Beaver, Fox, and Manitou Islands.

County Lines of 1860

Alas, the hostility between the Mormons and their ‘gentile’ neighbors was too great for even this arrangement to last.  On June 16, 1856, two of Strang’s former followers shot and mortally wounded him in full view of US Naval Officers and sailors docked at St. James Bay.  In the weeks that followed, mobs of angry residents from the mainland forcibly cleared the island of all inhabitants and the ‘kingdom’ fell.

When it existed, affairs in Manitou County appear to have been poorly managed. Upon his leaving office, in 1877, Gov. John J. Bagley made the following statement:

“I submit herewith petitions and correspondence relative to the affairs in the county of Manitou. They show that the laws of the State and the United States are violated with impunity, and that there is no safety or protection to persons or property in portions of this county. No courts have been held for years. The county offices are vacant a large portion of the time, there is no jail, debts cannot be collected by process of law, nor are any of the forms of law complied with. I recommend the county organization be discontinued and the territory be attached to the county of Charlevoix.”

Bagley’s suggestions went unheeded – at least at that time.

But, finally, on April 4, 1895, the Legislature took action with the following act:

“To repeal Special Act No. 92 approved February 12, 1855, titled ‘An Act to organize the county of Manitou‚’ and attach the territory comprising said county to the counties of Charlevoix and Leelanau, and to apportion the property and debts of said county of Manitou.”

This, then, accounts for the lack of inclusion of the Lake Michigan islands in early maps of Leelanau County in county atlases, which were forerunners of the now familiar “plat books” and modern county maps.


Manitou County wikipedia entry

Thomas Baird, “The Mormon Kingdom on Beaver Island“, Publius, September 25, 2006.

For the full article, see “Manitou meant more than islands“, Leelanau News, June 30, 2007.

Sarah Hulett, “How a Mormon king shaped a sleepy island in Lake Michigan“, Michigan Radio, November 4, 2015.

Kasey Wilson, “Mormonism and Michigan’s County Formation“, MSU Map Library Blog, June 29, 2016.

Fitzpatrick, Doyle C.  The King Strang Story.  National Heritage, Lansing Michigan.  1970.

Roger Van Noord, Roger.  King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago.  1988.

Two other Michigan Counties that were created and then dissolved:

In 1875, Isle Royale was set off from Keweenaw County, as a separate county, “Isle Royale County“. In 1897, the county was dissolved, and the island was reincorporated into Keweenaw County.

Omeena County was a northwest Michigan county. It was set off and founded in 1840 from Michilimackinac County. Its seat was Wequetong, an Indian Camp on the west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay. In 1851, it was annexed to present-day Grand Traverse County, Michigan. Later, Wequetong was renamed Traverse City.

1842 Leelenaw Omeena Negissee Wabbassee Okkuddo Shawwano counties Michigan.jpg

1842 map with Omeena County shown.

It is one of 28 extinct Michigan counties. They are: Aishcum, Anamickee, Bleeker, Brown, Cheonoquet, Des Moines, Dubuque, Forest, Iowa, Isle Royale, Kanotin, Kautawaubet, Kaykakee, Keskkauko, Manitou, Meegisee, Michilimackinac, Mikenauk, Neewago, Notipekago, Okkuddo, Omeena, Shawano, Tonedagana, Unwattin, Wabassee, Washington and Wyandot.