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Howard County History

Village on the Wildcat Part Five: A Claim Against the Tribe

(from Footprints, May 2019)
By Gil Porter

Kokomo Early History Learning Center

In 1840 there may have been about 700 Miami Indians in Indiana, and about 200 in what is now Howard County. The largest Indian village in the county, according to the 1846-47 land survey, was at Cassville on the banks of Deer Creek’s South Fork. The surveyor’s record shows this as “an Old Indian Clearing.” Indian “wigwams” on the north bank of the Wildcat are also marked on the 1838 survey plat at today’s 750 West (the New London road). Another village was located south of Greentown, on “a bluff on the north bank of Wildcat Creek.” And there was Kokomo’s village, on the south side of the creek.

This Indian presence indicates “permanence and persistence” and provides a picture of a true “cultural mosaic” in northcentral Indiana. Historian R. David Edmunds, quoted in James Joseph Buss’ "Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes," notes that the Potawatomi and Miami people were "remarkably adaptive" societies that combined "traditional tribal values with many new ideas offered to them by Europeans."
Mahkoonsahkwa’s (Francis Slocum) home southeast of Peru, Indiana, for example, provides further evidence of a settled, self-determining society in the Wabash Valley before the governments changed. A visitor describes “a large spring from which flowed a large stream of water the year around,” and that near her house were “other buildings” where animals were kept as “well as corn and hay to feed.” What’s more, Mahkoonsahkwa and her family “had many Indian ponies, many hogs and some cattle.” Corn was harvested, along with pumpkins, squashes, and beans. They raised chickens and geese. 

Corn and pumpkins were ripening in the field, and the writer describes “a ridge of low hills covered with trees,” and how the early frost had caused the leaves “to turn brown and golden already,” an altogether beautiful scene from the vantage of the Mississinewa River, which “flowed right in front of their door.” The bounty of Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi (the Mississinewa) provided sustenance, as the Miami drew from the water fish, crawfish, and fresh water mussels, and along its banks hunted or trapped deer, opossum, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, rabbit, and beaver. The reserve’s southern area featured ahsenaamišahka (sugarbush) areas; iihkisaminki -- maple sugar – the sap of which was “an important resource the Miami annually extracted during the spring thaw.”

Indeed, Mahkoonsahkwa was quoted as saying that if she had to leave “she would be like an old tree that would die if you removed it to another place.”

Scholarship further shows that the “wide array of habitats” within the Miami reservation allowed the tribe to “practice a range of lifestyles.” Fixed villages with an assortment of home types featured everything from log cabins to wood-framed and brick houses. The May 1839 land survey of the Five Mile Strip described the “Indian Village” on Pipe Creek as containing “10 houses.” Some Miami men were longtime traders themselves; others raised cattle and hogs. The Miami practiced agriculture well before contact with Europeans. Women tended the crops. Small groups hunted along the Wildcat and Pipe creeks. In sum, the reserve supported a “diverse tribal population in multiple local and regional economies for their livelihood.”

David Foster seemed to have an affinity for this society. For five years, his merchandise became so tailored to the tribe that one historian says he carried nothing “the white people wanted.” Moving closer and closer to their territory, he and Elizabeth finally removed the entire family – three girls and three boys, all under the age of 12 by 1844 – from the settler-friendly Seven Mile Strip right into the reserve at the rapids of Wildcat. They were squatters on unceded land. We know little about how this combined culture co-existed for some two years, other than an important document they left that plays a crucial role in our story.

New research reveals Foster’s connection with the Miami included a claim for debts and satisfying this claim may have been part of the sequence of events leading to the start of Richardville County.

Article 3 of the 1840 “Forks of the Wabash” treaty created a commission to examine debt claims before removal; it stipulated that the debt must have been accrued “since” the Nov. 6, 1838, treaty and before the “ratification of this treaty” (which occurred in June 1841). Government records from 1842 show Foster and a John N. Miller were owed $2,130.90, so the debt was either from when Foster was in Burlington (1837-1840) or when he was on the Seven Mile Strip boundary line at what is now County Road 600 West (1840-42).

Let’s look at some dates: Indiana petitions the U.S. Congress for the rest of the reserve in 1838, “Richardville” county is designated in 1839, Foster’s debt dates to around 1840, and the 640-acre Reserve No. 6 “at the rapids of Wildcat” is granted to Lafontaine at the 1840 treaty. Is it possible that Allen Hamilton, as one of the “unofficial” U.S. commissioners at the treaty (see Sidebar: “1840, The ‘Unexpected’ Treaty”), wanted to put that parcel in the hands of Lafontaine with the expectation it would be the prime location for the county seat “once the Indian title is extinguished?” As of this writing, no correspondence has been found between Hamilton and Foster, but we know Foster was “well-acquainted” with Lafontaine. Orchestrating a transfer that ensures clear title for land deemed “very valuable” and that would result in the “prestige and commercial advantages” of a county seat could be seen as a vital part of the reserve’s ultimate transformation. That the Foster family is in place on the Wildcat well ahead of the public land survey may have been fortuitous. But Foster having the property in his possession on Jan. 17, 1844, two days after Richardville County is created by an act of the Indiana legislature, can hardly be called coincidence. Yet it may be Foster had something else in mind, which we will see shortly.

What is certain is the five locating commissioners have arrived in the reserve on Monday, May 13, 1844. Seeking a suitable site for the seat of justice, they were bound by both the Jan. 15, 1844, act creating Richardville County and the Jan. 14, 1824, act regarding “Seats of Justice in New Counties,” which states county seats are to be in a position “central and permanent.” Foster had clear title to property in the middle of the reserve (perchance arranged by Hamilton?), so they really had no choice.

They also weren’t here very long. On Wednesday May 15, just two days after arrival, they had a signed Title Bond (with a consideration of $5,000 from Foster), which specified the exact location of the boundary marker “at the north west corner of said section at a stone marked (D)” and included the dimensional description for 40 acres on the north side of the creek. In exchange for a warranty deed to the property, the locating commissioners would locate the new county’s seat of justice “on lands belonging to said David Foster.”

All that was needed was a name for the township. The first county elections were held 12 days later, and when the newly elected county commissioners acknowledged receipt of the locating commissioners’ report and Foster’s Title Bond at their meeting in August 1844, they immediately renamed the county’s three original districts: “Monroe” in the west, “Green Township” in the east, and for the unincorporated county seat in the center: “Kocomo.”