Statue overlooking the bay in Petoskey.
Some of his descendants knew him as Neyas Bedosegay, while others called him Petosegay, Biidassige, or Peto-osega (Rising Sun). The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. knows him as Chief Pe-to-de-gah. Whatever the case, today we think of Chief Ignatius Petoskey as the founder of the city on Little Traverse Bay that bears his name.
The son of Antoine Carre (Neaatooshing), a French fur trader, he was born along the northern banks of the Kalamazoo River. According to popular lore his father held him up to the rising sun and said “his name shall be Petosegay and he shall become an important person”.
He grew up in the lodge of his father roughly seven miles northwest of Harbor Springs, nearby the site of the town of Middle Village. At the age of 21, Petosegay married the daughter of Pokozeegun, an Ottawa chieftain from the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. He and his new bride, Kewaykabawikwa, planted apple trees to celebrate their marriage and, at the time of his death, they could still be seen by local residents.
Later on, after moving his family to the southern shore of Little Traverse Bay, he and his elder sons soon acquired much of the land of what is now Petoskey, Michigan and became a prominent merchant and landowner.
By the time the Little brothers arrived in 1873 to establish a post office, “Grandfather” Petosegay was living in a big house up the hill from the river and was a man of influence and respect. The Littles had to choose a community name for the new post office and settled on Petoskey in honor of the chief. He graciously accepted the mangling of his name by those who meant well.
Chief Petoskey died at the age of 98 on June 15, 1885, leaving behind many descendants in the form of great-great nephews and nieces who still live in the area today.
In 2005 the city of Petoskey established a statue of the chief looking out on the bay that he saw for the first time some 230 years ago. The statue has an imposing, superhero quality to it, and its bronze face remains as bright as the “Sunbeams of Promise,” which is yet another translation of the chief’s name. His name was also given to Petoskey State Park, Camp Petosega, and the Petoskey stone, found in abundance on his former lands.
“On the trail of Chief Petosegay”, Northern Express, September 26, 2011.
Jeremy McBain, “Ignatius Petoskey Sculpture Unveiled“, Petoskey News-Review, July 11, 2005.