While our site is still young and growing, we hope you will check back often and see what is new!
The Elkhart County Genealogical Society holds its meetings on the third Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Beardsley, Elkhart. Please use the east entrance to the Church. Light refreshments will be served.
Our September 20, 2018 meeting will be a webinar on "Why are Irish records so weird?"
SAILOR MEMORIAL LIBRARY
Our genealogical library is in the Corson Reading Room at the Elkhart County Historical Museum at 304 W. Vistula Street in Bristol , Indiana 46507.
Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Please look under the LIBRARY RECORDS heading for a list of some of our holdings.
If you are planning a trip to visit our library please contact us in advance with surname and the information you are seeking so we can have resources ready for your arrival at email@example.com
If you can not visit us during our regular hours, contact us to make special arrangements. Please see more information under the "Research Request" tab.
The Elkhart County Genealogical Society (ECGS) spearheaded a new microfilm research center at Rush Memorial. Using money generated from book sales over the past 13 years, and with financial input from the Elkhart County Historical Society (ECHS) and Elkhart County Government, a new, state of the art, microfilm scanner was purchased and put into use.
The microfilm scanner is located in the Corson Library of the Elkhart County Museum (Rush Memorial Center). The reader has the ability to copy information from the microfilm to an attached computer. From the computer, you can then save your information on a CD or flash drive, or even e-mail the information to your home computer. You may also bring your own laptop and take advantage of the wireless service when researching in the genealogical and historical society libraries.
ECGS has over 300 microfilms of CRIMP (County Records of Indiana Microfilm Project) records. These consist of old records (marriages, probate, wills, etc.) from the Elkhart County Courthouse. These microfilms are unique as there are only three complete copies. These copies are located in the ECGS library, Indiana State Library, and the Mormon Library in Utah. It is anticipated that more early microfilm records from the Elkhart County Courthouse will be available in the future.
ECGS also has marriage records from 1830 to 1942 on film. These early records contained limited information: names of bride and groom, date of marriage, and officiant. From 1882-1906, a Register of Returns was kept with additional information including parents' names and witnesses. These are on a separate "Companion" film. In 1907, a more complete marriage application was required to get a license. These applications include addresses, occupations, divorces, etc.
ECGS have the General Index books on film for Book # 6, 1918 , #7 1927 , and #8 February 1951 .
ECHS has over 400 microfilms of early newspapers from Elkhart County. They also have all the census for Elkhart County (1830 - 1930).
The staff of ECGS will be willing to look up information from these films for those who live out of town and are unable to visit the center. Please see More information under our "Research Request" tab.
If you are in the area, please stop in and visit the microfilm center, library and museum. It would be a great way to start or continue your family research.
HISTORY OF ELKHART COUNTY
by Wilden Snyder (1959)
"The first actual settlers of Elkhart county; the first ripple upon the shore of this then wilderness of the advancing tide of population were a few families who pitched their tents in the neighborhood of the mouth of the Elkhart river in 1827," writes an old historian. "Those old settlers, the Potawatomi Indians, then held the whole region in undisturbed dominion, kindled the fires of their wigwams, chased the bounding deer through the unbroken prairie, danced their war dance and yelled in hideous delight over the agonies of the victims of their cruel rites."
From 1827 to 1830, quite a number of settlers located in various parts of the new country. They sought out the prairies with which the region abounded. On Elkhart prairie, Two mile plain and Pleasant plain, log cabins were erected and the pioneers began life of hardships which resulted in the opening up of a wonderfully productive region.
An act was passed at the session of the legislature, held during the winter of 1819-30, organizing the counties of St. Joseph and Elkhart, to which was attached, for county purposes, the territory now comprised in the counties of Lake, Porter, Laporte, Lagrange, Stueben and Kosciusko. The first election, after the passage of the act was held in June, 1830, for the purpose of electing county officers. As a result of this election, seventy-five votes being recorded, the following officers where chosen: Thomas Thomas, clerk; Eli Penwell, sheriff; William Latta and Peter Diddy, associate judges; J. W. Violette, recorder; James Mather, John Jackson and Armenious Penwell, justices of the peace. These justices performed the duties afterwards invested in the board of county commissioners. The legislature had fixed the place of holding court and the transaction of county business at the home of Chester Sage on the north bank of the St. Joseph river, just where the Main street bridge in Elkhart crosses the stream. It was on June 28 that the board of justices met at the home of Mr. Sage, were sworn in and proceeded to the transaction of business. The first official act was to divide the county into two municipal townships as follows: "All that part of the county northwest of a line beginning at the western part of the county, between townships 36 and 37 and running thence east to the line between sections 6 and 7, thence north to the state line, to be called Concord township; and all that part of the county south and east of said lines above, to be called Elkhart township. At the same session of the board, appointments were made of officials, James Frair, county treasurer; James Beck, constable for Elkhart townships; Howell Huntsman, constable for Concord townships; Asel Sparklin, inspector of elections and Benjamin Gilbreath, inspector of elections for Concord township. The sheriff was also appointed county collector. After being divested of its original greatness, Elkhart county as it stands today, includes an area of 462 square miles and is subdivided into sixteen townships. Nine of these are six miles square and the balance smaller.
This county had been annexed to Allen county, for judicial purposes, by the legislature of 1829-30, and the first session of the county court was also held at the home of Chester Sage in November, 1830.
Then came the location of the county seat which is treated in an exhaustive manner in another section of this work. The board of commissioners, created under the legislative act, held its first meeting September 5, 1831, at the house of the clerk. Edward Downing and George McCollum presented their credentials as members of the board. The full amount of revenue collected during the first year of the county's existence was $198, and the disbursements amounted to $183.43. In 1833 the report of the county treasurer shows amount received, $426. 10 1/2 and amount expended $789.12 1/2 making a large deficiency for the first year of the county's existence. The officials of the new county seemed determined to develop the country as fast as possible and their early meetings were given up to the work of authorizing new highways and establishing school districts. Later on new townships were organized and the work of settling up the county went merrily on.
Instead of commercial exchanges and organizations for promotion purposes that are in vogue these days, the county took the matter in charge and public monies were used for the purpose of stimulating settlers in activity in the development of the region. It is recorded that Elkhart county in 1837, received from the surplus fund the sum of $5,831. This was intended to aid industry and was to be loaned to the settlers, on good security at 8 percent interest in sums not exceeding $400 or less than $100.
According to the U. S. Census reports, the population of Elkhart county from 1830 to 1900 is as follows: 1830, 935; 1840, 6,600; 1850, 12,690; 1860, 20, 986; 1870, 26,026; 1880, 33,454; 1890, 39,201; 1900, 45,052. The increase in population during the past ten years is 5,851, making percent of gain 14.9. The presidential vote in 1832 was 189; 1840, 1,236; 1860, 4,436; 1880, 7,132; 1900, 11,487.
Those that had the honor of representing the district in the state legislature between the years of 1830-40 were; Samuel Hanna, George Crawford, David H. Colerick, John b. Chapman, E. M. Chamberlain and Col. John Jackson.
Ten years after the organization of the county the amount due for the county taxes was $2,789.19. The number of polls, 1,116. The value of land, $429,433; personal property, $114,972; town lot, $96,221; total amount, $640.226. The number of acres of land, 77, 401.
1898-True value of lands and improvements, $8,398,670; lots and improvements, $5,593,160. personal property, $4,227,905; telephone, etc. $81,940; railroads, $2,933.965; total value of taxables, $21,135.650. Total taxes, $334,060.78. Real estate transfers, $1,983,340.
The amount due for the county taxes in 1958 was $689,548.38. The number of polls, 16,291. The value of land $12,506,980 and the valuation of improvement on land is $25,613,910. Personal property is $61,661,930 and town lots $9,849,920 with the valuation of improvements on town lots set at $47,411,400. the total number of lots if 43, 239.
Products of the county in 1840; Wheat, 44,504 bushels; corn, 98,862 bushels; oats, 45,787 bushels; hay, 2,002 tons; maple sugar, 73,697 lbs. In 1850 the following totals are given; Wheat, 174,716 bushels; corn, 370,973 bushels; oats, 184,940; hay, 8,287 tons; maple sugar, 155,971 lbs.
According to the report of the Indiana Bureau of Statistics for 1898, Elkhart county stands third in the state as an agricultural county. The total products of the county for that year are as follows; Acres of wheat, 52,574; corn, 36,226; oats, 14,553; rye, 2,731; timothy hay, 15, 631; clover hay, 13,318; potatoes, bushels, 88,558. Fruit trees, apple, 86,111; peach, 22,333; pear, 10,344; plum, 8,529; cherry, 16,626; quince, 3,461; grapevines, 46,444; drain tile rods, 205,700; timber acres, 11,073; ready for cultivation, 154,017. acres of sorghum, 118 gallons, 4,248. Acres of strawberries, 204; raspberries, 325; melons, etc. 1,077. Gallons of maple syrup, 2,184; pounds of honey, 3,845. Sheep, 16,239; lambs, 9,079; wool, 76,123 lbs.; milk, 2,047,411, gallons; butter, 677,443; poultry, 19,529; eggs, 378,967 dozen.
According to the 1954 Census of Agriculture the total products for the county are as follows: Acres of wheat, 22,801; corn, 56,948; oats, 25,051; rye, 932; timothy hay, 14; clover hay, 584; potatoes, 23,856 bushels. Gruit trees, apple, 43,264; peach, 25,959; pear, 1,172; plum, 409; cherry, 80,989; grapes, 33,990. Acres of strawberries, 11; raspberries, 62; melons, 80. Sheep and lambs, 16,824; wool, 38,418 lbs.; milk, 95,815036 lbs.; butter, 625 lbs. and eggs, 2,186, 246 dozen.
There are 143.44 miles of railroad in the county with 50.14 miles of side tracks, represented by seven companies. The railroads cover all sections of the county and there is not a better shipping region in the state.
Education has advanced with the agricultural and industrial growth of the county and the citizens are proud of their schools. Modern methods of education are in vogue in the cities and villages throughout the county and the school buildings are of the best. Outside the cities there are 123 school buildings scattered throughout the county, which demonstrate the importance the present generation places upon education and proper training of the young.
The Early Period
by Wilden Snyder
Bathed in the afternoon sun of an Indian summer day in the fall of 1828, the first settlers of this region secured their primal view of the beautiful Elkhart prairie. Gorgeous in its autumnal colorings it made a picture long to be remembered set in a framework of virgin forest with the leaves of the strong oaks, straight beeches and graceful maples receiving their first touches from nature's paint brush. The pioneers of those early days thought that no more beautiful spot existed in this broad land of ours and that is why, a few years later, when the first plat of the village of Goshen was recorded, it being located on the edge of this prairie, it was named after the Goshen of Ancient Egypt, the land that flowed with milk and honey. The modern Goshen during the seventy years of existence in the midst of the fertile valley of the Elkhart, had made wonderful progress, and the land has been more productive than those hardy pioneers had dreamed possible.
But few white men had traveled the valley of the Elkhart prior to the advent of these first settlers, but those soldiers and trappers whose fortunes had led them through this region during the early days of the nineteenth century were impressed with the beauties of Elkhart Prairie, and several of them came back in later years to make their homes upon the broad acres and their descendants still cling to the region.
In the year 1823, Rev. Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary passed this way on his route from Fort Wayne to the Cary Mission at Niles, Michigan. In his "History of Baptist Indian Missions," published in 1840, he gives a graphic description of the journey.
Leaving Fort Wayne on April 22, 1823, six weeks were consumed in the trip; "At Elkhart river we halted and made a periogue or large canoe, out of a single tree, intending to transport some of our loading down that river and the St. Joseph to our place. The road along which we had thus far come was at this time considered, even by the government express from the military post at Chicago, to be impassible. but the want at our station, of such property as we carried with us had impelled us to make extraordinary efforts to get thus far." After the canoe was completed the party ferried their wagon and sheep across the river and the horse and cattle were compelled to swim. When the middle of the stream was reached, the current proved too swift and the improvised boat capsized; the entire party seeing their precious belongings consigned to the waters plunged into the cold stream and succeeded in rescuing the major portion of the supplies. After most unendurable hardships they reached their destination.
This territory, prior to the coming of the settlers, was the home of the Miami and Potawatomi and they roamed at will over the beautiful lands of the Elkhart and St. Joseph. The extreme northern lines of the territory now comprised in the state of Indiana, came into the possession of the government during the war of 1812, after General Harrison and Col. Jackson had relieved the garrison at Fort Wayne and defeated the British and the Indian allies. Retreating to the northward the defeated red coats came upon a road that led to the Indian villages of Assissippi, Obsbenobe and Elkhart, and Gen. Harrison at once organized three flying columns and started in pursuit. The St. Joseph country was covered by two of these columns under the command of Cols. Wells and Jackson and on September 11, 1812, the village of Obsbenobe was destroyed by fire. the village stood near the present site of the village of Benton, a few miles to the southeast of Goshen. Three years later the great Indian fighter, Gen. Anthony Wayne swept over this portion of the country in pursuit of the redskins and destroyed a number of their villages. In that victorious command, serving as a private, was Col. John Jackson, who afterwards became known as the "prairie chieftain," and who was notably identified with the first settlement of Goshen. When his eyes rested on the grandeur of Elkhart prairie he resolved to make his home upon its broad expanse. but it was not until 1829 that fortune favored him and he again found himself gazing upon the captivating spot. He located his claim at the head of the prairie and the following winter brought his family on from the southern part of the state. At this time Mathew Boyd, Elias Riggs and Wm. Simpson were located upon the plain.
A few trappers and traders had come into the region in the period between 1815 and 1828 but no attempt at settlement was made until the later year. At the mouth of Christiana creek Lewis Davis located and a little farther up the stream was Noffsinger. Rosseau, a French trader is supposed to have located on Elkhart prairie five miles to the southeast of Goshen in 1815.
Touching the southern confines of the city, the Elkhart prairie stretches away to the southward a distance of less than five miles and its breadth is about two and one half miles. From a distance it had the appearance of a body of water and during the spring and fall it was covered with a profusion of beautiful wild flowers, small fruits of all kinds also abounded. This little garden of Eden was bordered with the monarchs of the forest, maple, beach, walnut, white oak, black oak and hickory trees, while there was a dense undergrowth of hazel bushes skirted by the sparkling waters of the Elkhart river. It is not strange that the early settlers felt that they had at last reached the promised land. A dense white oak grove covered the present site of Goshen. The prairie was named from the Elkhart river, that skirts its southern and western lines and the river derived its name from the island at the mouth, where it flows into the St. Joseph, which was said by the Indians to resemble an elk's heart. Elk's horns have been found in many places along the banks of the river and a large pair at one time graced the front of the old Elkhart Inn, run by Landlord Billy Wilkenson.
Across the bottom lands of the Elkhart river skirting the eastern side of the prairie and passing through the present site of Goshen, ran the old Indian trail from Fort Wayne to St. Joseph. Along this route the mail carrier made occasional trips and the time of his coming was always a pleasant anticipation to those hardy pioneers who had braved so many dangers in the opening up of this new country. On the edge of the prairie some of those living today can remember the remains of the Indian corn fields, and many Indian relics have been unearthed within the past few years.
It was in the fall of 1828 that Elias Riggs and William Simpson settled upon what is known as Col. Jackson's claim on Elkhart prairie in Jackson township. When Col. Jackson arrived, over the frozen roads, in the spring of 1829, he purchased the claim from these two settlers and they moved across the line in what is now the southeast corner of Elkhart townships and were, in all probability, the first settlers in the township wherein Goshen is located. During 1829 there was quite an influx of pioneers. In March, John B. Cripe and family reached here, followed by Balser Hess and family in April, and by Solomon Hockery, during the early summer. Major Violette, accompanied by William Chance, arrived on the prairie in the spring of 1829 and together they put in a crop. Writing in 1870, Dr. E. W. Ellis thus spoke of those early pioneers: "Most of the early settlers of Ekhart prairie have passed to their final resting places in the invisible land. Among those we recollect of thirty-five years ago were Col. John Jackson, still hale and hearty at the age of 83; Mark B. Thompson, his nearest neighbor; Elias Riggs, an old man even then, Hiram Morehouse, the second husband of Mrs. Wendell; the widow Irwin, her nearest neighbor; William Wilkenson, mine host of the Elkhart Inn; Samuel Stutsman, who always came to town barefoot; James Frier, who owned the most acres on the prairie and died in California; Christopher Meyers, Elias Purl; Oliver Crane, who coming from the vicinity of Goshen, N.Y., gave name to the town and was the first county agent for the sale of lots in the new county seat; Christian Shoup, the sturdy old Jackson Democrat, who if alive, would still vote for 'Old Hickory;' the Cripes, a remnant of whom are still with us; Rev. Balser Hess, and a numerous family of lusty boys; Major John W. Violette, the first recorder of Elkhart county, and his sons; Azel Sparklin, a worthy local preacher of the Methodist Church; Judge James Latta, one of the first associate judges, who aided in the holding of the first court in the county and Mr. Weybright." Mrs. Wogoman, John Carpenter, John Irwin, Beck Bishop, Pippenger, Pierman, Blair, Meddell, James Cook and others came into this section during the first years and the descendants of a number of them still live in the community.
The Indians were numerous in those days but they never molested the settlers, though at times they would get ugly. No outbreaks ever occurred in this vicinity and the settlers lived on in peace, with the exception of a period of a few weeks in 1832 when an alarm was sounded that the Indians were on the warpath and the pioneers prepared to meet them with determined resistance. The war cloud blew away in a short time however, and the community continued to thrive. The Indian frequently came and camped around the settlers begging corn and squashes and giving venison in return. They were notorious thieves and would steal anything that their hands touched, so a sharp watch was kept on their movements when in the neighborhood. Wild turkeys and deer were plentiful and were all the meat that the settlers could obtain. Deer were hunted by firelight on the river. The howl of the wolves was a dismal sound to hear in the night and the flocks were annoyed at intervals by these terrors of the forest.
An early settler thus described the first view of an Indian camp that he had upon arriving at Boyd's Landing: "The Indians and squaws with their papooses, having had a plentiful supply of whiskey, were dancing around the fires in high glee. It was toward evening and the snow was on the ground nearly two feet deep. I saw them scrape away the snow near the logs and build fires against them and then, spreading their blankets, they would sleep with their papooses during the night." Aside from the wild game, the food during those days lacked variety. Bran bread and hominy were the principal articles of diet. The corn was placed on a large block that had been scooped out and a spring pounder was used to crush the cereal. The work upon this block was very tedious but the meal prepared by the faithful housewife was always palatable. Another method of preparing the corn was to grate it through an old tin bucket that had been perforated with holes for the purpose.
The First Post office
"Elkhart Plain," the first post office between Fort Wayne and Carey Mission, was established in 1829 and Col. John Jackson installed as the first postmaster. the welcome sound of Old Hall's horn would cause the settlers, from various portions of the prairie, to gather at the home of Col. Jackson to learn the news from the outside world. Hall was the post rider for many years. Col. Jackson, writing of this circumstances fifty years ago said: "The mail was carried from Fort Wayne in Carey Mission every four weeks. The people determined to have mail opened here--a meeting was called--a petition drawn up to that effect--all signed it requesting that the post office be established, called Elkhart Plain--I was nominated postmaster. It was sent to Fort Wayne to be mailed to the general post office. In due time the commission, bond and all necessary blanks came. The bond was to be signed by two sufficient sureties to be certified as such by the one administering the oath of office. Here was a dilemma I did not know how to get over. there was but one man there that I was acquainted with from Ohio, that was James Blair--he would sign the bond but we had no judicial officer to administer the oath and certify that the bond was good for the penalty. I did not know what to do. At length William c. Ewing of Fort Wayne, on his way to South Bend, called on us to stay over night. I had formed some acquaintance with him in passing back and forth from Ohio. I told him the circumstances and he voluntarily offered to sign the bond. the nearest justice of the Peace was at White Pigeon, Mich., I got James Blair's signature and went over and found the old squire. He said he had heard of Ewing as a fur trader among the Indians and supposed that he was good. He signed the certificate and administered to me the oath of office. I sent the paper to Fort Wayne by the mail carrier and he shortly after brought me the key and blank forms and I entered the duties of postmaster."
During the winter of 1829-30 a bill was passed in the legislature appointing a commission to locate and establish a seat of Justice for Elkhart county. The commissioners were Hugh Hannah, John Bishop, Samuel Fleming, Joseph Bennett and W. G. Ewing. Upon July 15, 1830, this commission reported to the Board of Justices that they had selected as a location for the county seat the southwest quarter section 24, town 34, north of range 8, east. This spot is about six miles northwest of Goshen on the north bank of the Elkhart river, near the point where Mr. DeCamp constructed his first dam. This selection did not cause general satisfaction and at the next session of the legislature another commission was appointed and from their action the present city of Goshen sprung.
During the session of 1830-31 the legislature passed an act authorizing a review for the location of the county seat of Elkhart County. In 1824 by an act of Congress, new counties were given the privilege of pre-empting 160 acres of land upon which to locate a county seat, providing that suitable land could be found unoccupied. The commission composed of David Miller, Anthony E. Davis and L. G. Thompson met in executive session and examined several sites that had been proposed. After lengthy deliberations the site on which Goshen stands was selected and the following report made to the Board of Justices, who met in special session on March 23, 1831:
The undersigned commissioners who were appointed by an act of the General Assembly of
State aforesaid, entitled an act to relocate the county seat of justice for said county agreeable
to an act entitled an act for fixing the seats of justice for all counties hereinafter to be laid off.
Report that they met at the house of Thomas Thomas in said county of Elkhart, on the third
Monday being the twenty-first day of March, 1831, and after being duly sworn according to
law proceeded to examine the different sites for a town in which to establish the seat of justice
for said county of Elkhart; and after having made full and satisfactory examination as aforesaid,
as well as the former site selected by others, they are of the opinion that the present site should
be vacated, and having selected the south fraction of the northeast quarter and the north fraction
of the southeast quarter of section line, in township thirty-six north, of range six east of the
second principal meridian line the Fort Wayne land office district; Provided the two fractions
does not exceed the maximum quantity of one hundred and sixty acres to which the county has
right of pre-emption by an act of Congress, 24th of May, 1824, by locating the county seat
thereof on the same; and, further, should such fractions exceed the quantity of acres above
described, then in that case, we select the first above described, fraction and recommend the
purchase of the other by the County Commissioners, and the undersigned have further selected
as the name of Goshen as a suitable name for said town as aforesaid, all of which is respectfully
submitted to your Honorable Board.
ANTHONY L. DAVIS
L. G. THOMPSON
March 23, 1831
The name of Goshen was suggested by Oliver Crane, who afterwards conducted the sale of lots in the new town and his suggestion was adopted by the commission.
The Building of Elkhart
The city of Elkhart was incorporated through a majority vote of 162 on the twenty-ninth day of June, 1858. Although this is one of the most significant dates in the history of Elkhart, it is only a milestone. The rich culture of our area and the strong foundations which others built, pointed to the success of our city.
The Land and the Indians
The first people living hear the confluence of the Elkhart and St. Joseph rivers, were Indians. The Potawatomi Indians came into Southern Michigan and Northern Indiana from Wisconsin. They migrated slowly south pursuing the native Indiana in front of them and becoming squatters. They pushed the friendly Miami Indians south and occupied their lands.
The Potawatomi were not without friends. They were members of the tri-powered Indiana confederation called, "The Three Fires." These were the Potawatomis, the Chippewas and the Ottawas. This loose confederation of the three nations seemed to be the results of the ill fated Pontiac Conspiracy of 1763 to drive the British from the area.
The Potawatomi were in many conflicts for the land. They fought with the French against the British in the French and Indian Wars for the rich fur trade through this area. After they French lost their colony, New France, to the British, the Potawatomi continued to stand with their old Indian allies of the war--the Chippewas and Ottawas--when Pontiac planned to drive the British from the territory alone.
But when the United States and the forces of the British from Canada became locked in the War of 1812, the Potawatomi formed an allegiance with the British Empire against the white tide of American settlers coming from the East.
These Indians were not civilized, quiet lovers of the great out-of-doors as they are sometimes pictured today, but semi-savage, treacherous, and easily excited by calls of war. An example of the effect of the excited savagery of these Indians can be shown by their savage actions on ort Dearborn, later to become Chicago.
The men, women and children surrounded at Fort Dearborn, short of supplies and totally cut off from civilization, decided to surrender to the British and their Indian allies. They believed the British would hold their Indian allies in check. Such was not the case. The Indians in their own barbaric ways, massacred everyone they could.
This was neither the first incident on the frontier nor would it be the last for the moving settlers. Although the incidents continued west, the plow was ready to dominate the area of Elkhart with only one more Indian scare.
The time was 1832. The place was, what is now, Elkhart's Island Park. The rumor--Indian uprising by the Potawatomi.
The settlers at the joining of the rivers, which was later to become Elkhart, heard the rumor of the Indians in Illinois rising against the settlers. This news was was not taken lightly because they remembered the past history of the unpredictable nature of the red savage.
Hasty preparations were made to defend the area in case of an uprising. Men of the village and farms were formed into groups for the defense of the community. Plans were drawn up for the construction of a fort on the island at the joining of the St. Joseph and Elkhart rivers. The reasons for the selection of the island were the ease of its defense and central location for the surrounding settlers.
The threat, the fear, the emotionality of the rumor ran rampant, but soon ran their course without incident.
The Potawatomi were now being influenced by several factors which were weakening the Indian nation at its base. The strong, proud Indians were without strong central leadership. This weakening of the Potawatomi was probably the outstanding reason for their disappearance from our area. They had become adapted to some of the ways of settlers, which made them dependent on the white men. They were pushed back by the pressing tide of the settlers with their strongest weapon at hand--the plow.
Some white Europeans came across the scene and vanished. The French trappers poled their long boats past the island. The British with their empire flag, built forts and dominated the countryside with force and alliances.
The Potawatomi lived through each period, but they were only a part of a passing scene. A solid foundation for the future could not be built on furs, forts, alliances, and wilderness. Only permanent settlers with a desire to build, build, and build, could conquer the land at the joining of the rivers.
The first steps had already been taken. The American settlers were already pushing at the fringes of the land of "The Three Fires." The Potawatomi Indians with their principal villages of Parc-Aux-Vaches, (The Cow Pens), at Bertrand and the village of Five Medals on the Elkhart Prairie were soon to disappear.
In August of 1821, the government of the United States called a general meeting of the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa chiefs at Chicago, Illinois. The reason for this meeting was the purchase of more Indian lands in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. The Indians gathered from all sections of the confederation, dressed in their native costumes with medals jingling. Semi-savage calls of greetings rang out as the tribes neared their destination.
The Chicago meeting lasted long with many bargaining and pleading speeches from both parties. Some Indians prolonged the meeting because the supplies and costs of the meeting were paid by the host, the United States government. Others were arguing a losing battle. They were trying to keep the land of the "Three Fires" in their own hands against the ever-moving line of cabins which bordered their lands and threatened to flood over the prairie into their villages. These intelligent leaders tried, but to no avail, to save the lands of their people.
In answer to Lewis Cass, the United States Commissioner, Metea, on of the Potawatomi chiefs, said:
"My Father, - - Our country was given to us by the Great Spirit, who gave it to us to hunt upon, and to make our cornfields upon, to live upon, and to make our beds upon when we die. And He would never forgive us, should we now bargain it away. When you first spoke to us for land, at St. Mary's we said we had a little, and agreed to sell you a piece of it, but we told you we could spare no more. Now, you ask us again. You are never satisfied!
"My Father, I am an Indian, the same in looks that you found my forefathers, when you first came into our country. I live upon the soil they lived upon. I live the same kind of life, share the same hardships, and at least shall lie down with them. They had nothing to leave us but their lands. Shall we now sell them?"
The die was cast even before the council meeting. On August 29, 1821 before 3,000 Indians, the treaty was signed. This was the Chicago Treaty of 1821.
The Chippewas, Ottawas, and the Potawatomi deeded to the government of the United States a mile band of territory across Northern Indiana, which included the land on which our city would be built. From this land certain tracts were set aside for important Indians and chiefs, instrumental in make the Chicago Treaty.
On this treaty and in its agreement we find the name of one of the most important Potawatomi in our area. His name appears on several documents in several forms. Sometimes he was call Perig, other times Peerish, Peaneish, Pe-an-ish, Pierish, or as we know him, Pierre Moran.
His origin is obscure, but according to one outstanding authority, the man known as Pierre Moran was French and Indian. His father was a Grenchman named Constand Moran, as his mother was a Kickapoo squaw. Into this marriage was born two children, Pierre Moran, and a girl named Pe-say-quot, who married Zacharia Ciot. Pierre Moran was born about the time of the American Revolution and died in 1840.
From actions related about this man, one would judge that he was an intelligent man blessed with the shrewd art of diplomacy and shrewd business tactics. He was born into one of the lesser tribes, the Kickapoo, and through a series of moves he became a chief in the "Three Fires Confederation" as a Potawatomi. At the Fort Dearborn, (Chicago) meetings, he secured choice sections of our area for himself and his children, These sections set aside by the Chicago Treaty could only be transferred or sold with the consent of the President of the United States.
His was apprize selection of Section Five of Elkhart County, the future site of the City of Elkhart. Here, at the confluence of the two streams, was the crossroads of traffic and water highway for settlement. This section held the future of the area. He also secured for his children and others, the following sections near Section Five:
Section 4 to the children of Pierre Moran
Section 6 to the children of Pierre Moran
Section 9 to Pierre Le Clerc
Section 7 North 1/2 to William Knaggs
Section 8 North 1/2 to Antoine Roland
Section 10 North 1/2 to Jean B. Le Clere
Section 25 North 1/2 East of the Elkhart River to Benac.
Pierre Moran lived on his land in Section Five for a short time, the moved away, but the actions of the Indian still mark the land. Pierre Moran has been described by those who have seen him, and who have seen his name on documents. They have seen also his vanishing people, but to this man is given the symbolization of a vanquished vanishing people on the Elkhart passing frontier.
And so they came......the settlers.
The Indians had for many years moved about from village to village bringing messages of peace from one tribe to another, or perhaps a declaration of open conflict between tribes, or moved out on a hunting party. This movement from one village to another left its mark in the sod of the prairie and the undergrowth of the virgin timber. Deep paths cut into the soil running like a thin brown ribbon from one major settlement to another. Thousands of feet covered with soft deer skin marked a trail for their own destruction.
From Fort Wayne to the present location of Goshen and from this point to the prairie, the ribbon continued to the island at the joining of the St. Joseph and the Elkhart rivers. Over this trail passed the soldiers of the United States Army to Fort Dearborn which was later to become Chicago. Their wagons, horses and foot soldiers widened the trail for the settlers who would undoubtedly follow by marking the way, following the line of least resistance, clearing, cutting, leaving the countryside open for the settlers.
The frontier was secure and the land of Section Five was being appraised by envious eyes.
During the 1820's others had crossed the land where the city would be built. They left testimony of its future by their descriptions of the area. Such phrases as "beautiful prospects" and "ford" appeared along with "on the trail" showing that the land of Elkhart had a strong future. They did not stop but only paused to look and occasionally name a stream or note land marks as they blazed trails into another wilderness.
One of these men was the Reverend Isaac McCoy, who named Christiana Creek in honor of his wife, Christiana Polk McCoy. He did not stay, but moved on following the line of darkness, the vanishing frontier.
From the arrival of Richard Godfrey in 1827, the dispute over the title of the land began. In the year of 1827, Godfrey secured a questionable title from Pierre Moran for Section Five. The cost was $300 or only $1.00 per acre for the land. No money was given the Indians, only an old Dearborn wagon worth approximately $112 with the balance to be paid in the future.
Into Section Five moved white squatters who saw the importance of the land at the confluence of the rivers. In 1828, three men came. They were George Crawford, Jesse Rush, and Andrew Noffsinger. Each built on the banks of the river near the Indian trails along the line of pioneer advance.
Mrs. Godfrey recorded this deed but according to the Chicago Treaty of 1821 he had to secure the signature of the President of the United States before the deed was a legal document. He was unable to secure this signature. This, coupled with his refusal to pay the balance as stated on his registered deed, made his claim to the land of little value and less legal consequence.
Crawford and a Mr. Davis built a grist mill and added improvements to the land for which Godfrey was unwilling to pay them. They did not realize the weaknesses of the Godfrey deed. This is shown by the correspondence of Mr. Crawford.
Godfrey did not retain his shaky control of Section Five, for the deed was purchased by Zepheniah Platt in 1844.
The Section had potential for a great future, and as the people were on their way west, the need for leadership was great. This vacancy was soon to be filled by a man who had all the qualifications of leadership and vision. This man would stand above the present and build a city.
Dr. Havilah Beardsley was born at New Fairfield, Connecticut, on April 1, 1795. When he was still a child, his father followed the tide of settlers west to the new lands. He brought his family to Ohio and settled permanently.
After graduation from Transylvania, Dr. Beardsley began his practice at Leesburg, Ohio. For him this was only a pause before his most important task, founding a city.
After a few short years in Leesburg, Dr. Beardsley moved west, following the Indian trails. He came to the junction of the Elkhart and St. Joseph rivers in 1830 as he traveled west to Chicago. His impression of Section Five must have been firm and strong because he returned. The soil, the rivers, and the ford at the end of the island were to be important in the life of Dr. Havilah Beardsley.
Although Godfrey held a registered deed. Mr. Beardsley approached Pierre Moran on his return to the land. He secured from the Potawatomi chief a deed with the knowledge of the Indian Commissioner. Unlike the unsuccessful attempt of Mr. Godfrey, Dr. Beardsley was able to purchase the land for $800 and also secure the signature of the President as set forth in the Treaty of Chicago.
His action precipitated a verbal battle and near legal action because of the previous deed and sale by Pierre Moran to Mr. Godfrey. Dr. Beardsley must have given quite some weight to this registered deed, for he purchased it from the Platt family for $3,000.
In 1836 Dr. Beardsley began with his plans for the town. At this time he hired George Crawford, a government surveyor and relative, to survey his land and plat the new town of Elkhart.
First he built a grist mill to give the settlers and the few remaining Indians meal. The stones for this mill were native stones shaped and formed for its use at the site of the new town. Although the mill suppled corn meal, it was improved to grind wheat into white flour. This was the first mill of this type in the entire area.
This improvement was followed by another first. Although the river was shallow enough to make possible a crossing near the island, there was need for a ferry across the river. Dr.Beardsley added a rope ferry across the St. Joseph river in 1832 just below the mouth of Christiana Creek. He also added a saw mill to cut and trim the local timber to fill the building needs of the town. This was to be followed later by a wool mill and an oil mill.
The town grew as it must. New settlers arrived, and seeing the advantages of the new settlement, remained, built their homes and raised their families. Most of them came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the New England States. They came by the way of the trail from Fort Wayne.
During his period of growth the Father of Elkhart continued to add, improve, and change his holding for the betterment of the community which he founded.