Paradise Spring's Native American History
When Indiana became the 19th state in 1816, we were not very large. One third of the northern portion of our present state was held by the Indians. Ohio had been partitioned off in 1788 with Ft. Washington or Cincinnati as its capital. Illinois land had its boundary lines set in 1809 and Michigan territory by the Great Lakes in 1805. A strip 270 miles long at its extreme edge, to the Ohio River, and an average of 140 miles wide, was left. We were now Indiana Territory with an acreage of 36,350 square miles of which 440 acres was water. Our land was good. Much of it was still covered with virgin hardwood forest. Immigrants surged in, mostly to the south. By and 1815 census there were 63,897 persons, well above the 5,000 free white males required for statehood. The petition was granted and the state was established in 1816. Ninety percent of all whites lived in the seventeen organized counties along the Ohio and White Rivers.
Most of the land had been purchased bit by bit, except for the Clark and French reserves, in a variety of treaties. The first treaty was at Greenville, Ohio on August 3, 1795, and the last one did not occur until June 2, 1872. There were 54 of them in all, and there were still several large reserves held by Indians.
The Indians were growing restless and becoming more and more aware of what was happening. He was fast losing his birthright for a few gaudy trinkets and a small handful of silver.
The following account was written by James M. Ray, Assistant Secretary for the government, and was published in the Indiana History Records of 1945:
The U. S. Commissioners were Lewis Cass of Michigan, James M. Ray of Indiana, Gen. John Tipton from Fort Wayne and an Indian agent. Calvin Marshall of Lawrence County, Indiana had been chosen Secretary, but due to illness, was unable to attend. He was replaced by Ray. The Conner brothers, William of Indiana and Henry of Michigan, served as interpreters. There were several hundred Indians, mainly Pottawatomis from the far north, and a smaller band of Miamis under Chief Richardville, from the Mississinewa area. The Miami were by far the more peaceful tribe and were more accustomed to the white men who had filtered up from the south much to the disapproval of the Indians.
The Commissioners were invited to meet with the Pottawatomis first and to be introduced to their chiefs. At first they would not accept Mr. Ray until one of the Conners explained that his name meant “First Dawn.” After that, the Indians called him Wa-sa-augh and were ready to smoke the peace pipe of which each man present took one puff.
The session actually lasted several weeks. There were two or three public councils with all Indians present and then several smaller private meetings of the Commissioners and Chiefs with the interpreters helping. Chief Richardville, a white man who had been captured and raised by Indians as Little Turtle’s nephew, rarely appeared but was usually the main speaker in the smaller private groups.
There was much jealousy between the tribes as to the land in question and over its relative value. During this time the Indians were fed generously but were given only limited measures of the white man’s whiskey. This, Little Turtle had begged so often for the whites to stop since the red man could not assimilate it. One night after much angry bickering among themselves, the Indians were not satisfied with the firewater rations and demanded more. Several of the more aggressive tribesmen tore off a chimney from the storage cabin, thus reaching the whiskey barrels. Soon they became, as they termed, “heap drunk.” Naturally the drink soon circulated among all the tribesmen.
A goodly number of the Indians armed themselves, shouted and banged on Governor Ray’s cabin door, yelling, “Whisk! Whisk! Wau-sa-augh!” With the help of the interpreters and a few of the more responsible chiefs, difficulty was averted. The more belligerent ones were rolled out in their blankets to sleep it off. Next morning before the more boisterous ones sobered up, the Commissioners had the good sense to have the whiskey barrels rolled outside and emptied into a small stream and the barrels smashed with axes. A few Indians ran alongside, made dams with their hands and tried to continue slacking their thirst. The little stream that morning was attacked for more than the morning wash. However, they were sober enough to keep a wary eye on the man with the axe.
Like conventions today, entertainment was to be had. The Indians put side their sorrows to take part in dances and acrobatic feats, forming circles in the newly fallen leaves. At night the Commissioners supplied candles for the performers.
In one leaping dance, a prominent brave, brightly painted as most of them were, whirled with a loud shout onto the path, keeping time with music of a rough drum. He beat time as he passed around in a circle. Instantly he was followed by several brightly dressed girls who thus singled him out as their favorite. Soon they were followed by other braves who joined in the laughing, shouting dance, always leaving space between for their sweethearts to join in. The audience, too, was hilarious, giving loud shouts when the girls chose their own special favorites. Some of the braves had a long string of girlfriends while other had only a few. There was, of course, much jeering from the crowd when one had to dance by alone of with only one or two girls following. The leader would vary the dance steps somewhat and there was much good humor far into the night.
On another occasion, leading chiefs and horribly painted braves engaged in a war dance around a tree. During a rest break, some warriors came out shouting and yelling of the scalps they had taken and brandishing their tomahawks while boasting of their power. Finally with a yell, one threw his tomahawk into the tree trunk. Several took turns while the audience clapped and yelled to show their approval. Some few were received with jeers and groans.
The occasion generally ended with a beggar dance. Here, one fellow who was stark naked, burst in with a loud yell. He was covered liberally with mud from head to foot. The thick Wabash River muck dropped off in great clots as he danced. After a circle or two amid the laughter of the crowd, he yelled once more and sped away.
Rev. Mr. McCoy had a good-sized group of his students present from the Indian school. These earned youth were from the Little Baptist Station up north on the St. Joseph River. They were much jeered at by the wild and rough members present. But they were trying to gain a good, well-planned settlement for their tribes.
After days, the terms were finally agreed upon and announced to the general assembly. There were several concessions on both sides, but in general most agreed upon the terms as stated. Mr. Ray was asked to make three copies; one for the Commissioners and government, and one each for each of the two main tribal groups. These copies were considered carefully and then signed on the following night. Governor Ray politely asked Governor Cass of Michigan and the visiting Commissioner to sign first.
The men were tired and exhausted from the long strain, so it was after 1:00 a.m. before all of the chiefs had signed. Just as all had quieted down, a light tap was heard on the back door and Chief Richardville slipped in to sign also. Governor Cass rebuked him as being cowardly and for failing to advocate the treaty in open council. Now he wanted to creep in to share in the reservation allotment. He merely smiled and replied that the Governor did not know these people as well as he did. As a matter of fact, he had been out rounding up the several disgruntled chiefs and getting them to sign. Thus he was doing the Commissioners a favor, for without their signatures, the treaty was invalid. Chief Richardville was a sincere friend and Governor Cass was man enough to apologize later.
The treaty facts went to the government but Governor Ray’s recollections of the period October 16th to 23rd, 1826, and its many interesting events, were published in the “Indianapolis News”, preserving for us all a first-hand eye witness account of the dramatic and colorful time surrounding this epoch-making event with all its pathos and tears. One culture gained the land and the other lost its birthright.