Source: Wabash County Historical Society Newsletter (Spring, 1980), pp. 1-3.
SAMUEL MCCLURE -- THE REMINISCENCES OF AN INDIAN TRADER
The following reminiscences are of Samuel McClure, Jr., an early pioneer in Wabash county. Samuel was born November 16, 1807, in Shelby County, Ohio, near Piqua. His parents were Samuel McClure and Mary Stewart who were married about the year 1804. In 1826, Samuel Sr., and his family settled near the present site of Wabash. Later he moved to Grant county, building the second mill in that county. Samuel Sr., died in 1838 and his wife Mary died the following year.
Samuel Jr., one out of a family of ten, lived with his father until about twenty years of age. Deciding to be an Indian trader, he went to live with W.G. and S.W. Ewing in 1828. In the fall of that year, he opened a trading post on the Wabash, two and a half miles above the mouth of the Mississinewa. At this time he learned the Indian language and gained their confidence.
During the winter of 1832, he moved his trading post three miles below Wabash, on his father's farm. The brick house built by his father and used as his trading post is still standing, though in a sad state.
In 1833, Samuel and his brother Robert cut the first State road running through Wabash county. The road ran from the twenty-mile stake, in Wabash county, to the town of Wabash and on to North Manchester. This was done at a cost of $7.58 per mile. January 10, 1833, Samuel married Susannah Furrow, of Fort Laramie, Ohio.
In February of 1834, he moved to Marion where he engaged in trading with the Meshingomesia band. There he remained. In 1881, Thad Butler an editor of the Wabash Plain Dealer interviewed Samuel McClure and here is the results.
"Fifty years ago, near the mouth of the Mississinewa River, about four miles east of Peru, stood the largest village of the Miami tribe of Indians. It was known as the Osash village, and was the residence of Asash the war chief of the tribe. It was here that the grand councils of the tribe were held, attended by the great men of the entire tribe from Fort Wayne to Lafayette, and presided over by John Baptiste Richardville (Pe-she-wah) the National Chief, a well educated half breed Frenchman. It was the "capital" of the Miami Nation, and in 1828, the Ewings of fort Wayne, then the great Indian traders of the Wabash Valley, concluded to open a trading post near this point. They designated as the person to have charge of the post a young man in their employ by the name of Samuel McClure, now an old and well respected citizen of Marion, and probably the only living survivor of the hardy race who entered the wilderness in that early day for the purpose of opening traffic with the Indian.
As may be supposed, Mr. McClure is full of reminiscences, and it was with a view of obtaining an interview with him that the scribe of the PLAIN DEALER last Saturday, visited Marion. Mr. McClure is thorough master of the Miami language, and recalls the names of Indians as readily as other old settlers would those of white acquaintances. He knew the father of chief Me-Shin-go-me-sia, To-cin-you, and says that his ancestors were the great men of the tribe in the beginning of the present century. Me-shin-go-me-sia's grand father, Pe-con-ge-oh, visited Gen. Washington when he was President of the United States, and Oz-an-di-ah, father of Pe-con-ge-oh, was the great National Chief of the Miami's about the time of the revolutionary war. Their great councils were then held near Piqua, Ohio, and their country embraced a large scope of territory. LaGros, after whom the village of LaGro was named, resided at Greenville, Ohio, and was a prominent Indian figure of the last century.
Mr. McClure was a witness of many gatherings of the Indians, and has attended every Indian payment made by the government since 1830. In Council, Me-shin-go-me-sia, after the death of his father, sat at the right hand of Chief Pe-she-wah, and was rated highly, but the man whose good will was most courted, and hatred feared, was Big Majenica. He was a terror to the whites and tyrant among his own people. When his suggestions were not followed, he would suddenly withdraw from the council, and that body were only too glad to again secure his presence by the most abject compliance with his wishes. Al-lo-lah, whose village was just south of Wabash, is described as a good, social and clever Indian, while Osash, the war chief, was a mild mannered man, small of stature, who wore a broad-brimmed hat, and had every appearance of a Quaker. Lafontaine, father of Chief Lafontaine, was a half breed Frenchman, a good writer, and well-educated, as was also Joe Richardville, brother of the Chief, and who had the further accomplishment of fiddle and flute playing. Pol-oz-wah, alias Frank Godfroy succeeded Osash as war chief, and his descendants still live upon the home of their ancestors.
The Indians lived at peace with both the whites and neighboring tribes after Mr. McClure knew them. The Wea or Eel River Band had some trouble after they sold their lands and removed from Tippecanoe county to the Eel River country, regarding their money, and were quite hostile, but committed no overt act. The Miamis and Pottawatomies would sometimes assemble on opposite sides of the river and celebrate some event in Indian history, and such gatherings often ended in a tragedy. The custom was then a life for a life, or a gift to the family. Pe-she-wah was stabbed and killed by a Pottawaomie, and his family refused to compromise until they received the handsome sum of $5000.
The principal commodities purchased of the Indians by Mr. McClure were the skin of bear, raccoon, otter and muskrat. These the trader gathered by trips through the wilderness on horseback, and many were the hardships endured. One March, Mr. McClure froze his feet very badly, having to wade through the river, and narrowly escaped death two or three times. Once, an Indian known as "the hunter" came to the trading post with Richardville. "The hunter" helped himself pretty freely to liquor, and got desperately drunk. It was while in this condition that he attempted to shoot McClure, who, with the aid of Richardville, tied the would be murderer, and held him a prisoner until he once more became sober. "The hunter" was very sorry for his conduct, and ever after kept measurably sober. A drunken Indian once broke into the store and began helping himself to whisky, when McClure knocked him down with a club. The assault very much offended the wife of the Indian, who for some time refused to trade with him, until, to propitiate her, he made her a present of two bunches of worsted yarn, after which she became a very ardent friend and admirer.
Mr. McClure attended Indian burials frequently. He was present at the funeral of Chap-en-do-ce-oh, a brother of Chief Me-shin-go-me-sia. The Chief had been appointed to make a speech at the grave, but was so affected that he nearly broke down, when Wah-pe-se-tah, another brother, sternly reproved him for "playing the woman." The chief then calmly proceeded with the oration. There was no particular marriage ceremony among the Miamis, but after a couple had signified their intention to live together there was an exchange of presents, and the compact was ratified by the approval of the girl's parents. Generally the Indians were true to each other, and death only broke up the family relation. The Miamis had about the same religious ideas as other North American Indians. On of their traditions seemed to confirm the account of the flood, except that instead of the dove notifying the survivors of the receding of the flood, "a crawfish came up and gave them the sign that the waters were going away."
When Mr. McClure traded with the Miamis they numbered between two and three thousand. Now they have dwindled down until they are a mere handful in Indiana, and hardly a full blood among them. He has always had their unlimited confidence, and still holds the good will of their descendants, who consult him on every question of importance affecting them.