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A controversy over land in the Grand River Valley of Michigan reached the United States Attorney General's office in 1837. The quarrel warrants attention not only because the lands had value but because it engaged several groups with competing understandings of their rights to property. Native Americans confronted settlers, who confronted one another. At one level, the dispute pitted two forms of customary rights—one exercised by Indians and the other by squatters—against the demands of capital and the discipline of the state. But on another level, the contest reveals how in the early national period, irregular settlers could look to law, Native people could speak the language of improvement and look to text, and advocates of federal order could invoke imaginary violence.