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Howard County History

Village on the Wildcat Part Four: Almost to Heaven

(from Footprints, May 2019)
By Gil Porter

Kokomo Early History Learning Center

To get to the Big Miami Reserve in 1844 from the south, the easiest route would have been to use the Michigan Road, which connected Indianapolis with Logansport and passed directly along the west side of the reserve. Built north of the Wabash River on land conveyed by the Potawatomi Indians in the Treaty of 1826 and to the south by federal land grant, it was conceived as a “public highway” from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.
David and Elizabeth Foster used it to get to Burlington from Morgan County, arriving on May 13, 1837. In 1840, they moved to the eastern edge of the Seven Mile Strip. Their home/store sat about a half-mile north of Wildcat Creek on the original boundary line between Ervin and Clay townships (now County Road 600 West). From there, the family moved in 1842 to the north side of the “rapids of Wildcat.” On high ground about a quarter of a mile south of the creek, as their daughter Amanda Foster Welsh later recalled, was Kokomo’s Indian village.

Contemporaneous accounts provide more clues about the people and the land, like a November 1845 “Sketch of the Late Miami Reservation in Indiana” in the Indiana State Sentinel.

After arriving from Indianapolis, the writer notes the lands are not yet surveyed, but settlers are "flocking in" and "making claims in all directions.” Topographically, the land is level and covered with heavy timber, but apparently "too wet for cultivation" in many places. The people are "hardy" and “enterprising,” indicating they "deserve the highest praise for their industry and perseverance." 
Of particular interest were the women the writer encountered. One "young married lady," who had been in the reserve for "two or three years," was every bit as "polished" as other ladies in the state. When asked how she endured the "want of society" that she experienced living remotely, she replied that "she took her gun and ranged the forest for recreation."

She later treated the writer to a dinner of venison, "with other dainties," that made the mouth water. The young woman and her family, the writer reports, "had a delightful situation, near a small stream, with a spring gushing forth near their residence."

Upon reaching Wildcat Creek, our guide was generous with admiration describing the scene. "Along this stream, and for miles on either side, is the finest timbered country I have ever seen in the West, and land which has proved to be almost unsurpassed in fertility." Tall poplars reached “almost to heaven,” some six to eight feet in diameter. The writer estimated they could easily produce "six to eight saw logs twelve feet in length." 

Furthermore, many of the forest "giants" he saw seemed "capable of furnishing lumber for a respectable building from a single tree." He reported seeing "thousands" of these trees "for miles" in the county, interspersed with the finest "sugar orchards." Contemporary Myaamia research shows this magnificence reflected Indian presence, the direct result of generations of cultivation and fire management practiced by the Miami, and other tribes, in the area. 

So this may be what the land looked like and how the people lived – including generations of Miami -- as seen by another select group of visitors when they arrived in the newly named county. These travelers probably also came north from Indianapolis along the Michigan Road. It was springtime, and five locating commissioners had been dispatched by the General Assembly to establish the courts and hold elections, with their mandate “of fixing the permanent seat of justice in the said county of Richardville.” Per the Jan. 15 act, the legislature directed the commissioners to “meet at the house of John Harrison” on the “second Monday in May.” As the record doesn’t indicate otherwise, they arrived in the Seven Mile Strip on May 13, 1844.