Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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Native Americans

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Source: NMHS Newsletter August 1987

By Orpha Weimer
“No!  I won’t sign!” declared Aunt Cass, who was being badgered by various nephews and cousins.
“Aren’t we as good as them blasted Injuns?  The government is giving them all free, forty acres of land out there in Oklahoma and some of it’s got oil wells.”
“You don’t deserve it!  You wanted to be white, now stay that way!”  Aunt Cass was adamant and sign she never did.
I’ve often heard my mother, born in 1855, and her Uncle David laugh at this family story.  That is why Dallas Johnson Vandergrift of Wabash, and I, never got an oil well.  Neither did the others on the Johnson, Bard, Brown and Shaffer family tree.  You see, my ever-so-great Aunt Cass was the oldest of the Shaffer line and the only one who could swear to the speck of Cherokee blood in our family lineage.  She had come to Indiana as a tiny baby over the “Middle” or “Catawba Trail” up from the Carolinas.  My mother was a child, remembers seeing her.  She was short, dark and had a decided mind of her own.
The occasion was the aftermath of the sorrowful “Trail of Tears”, when the Cherokee and other southern Indians were moved west.  The rather remorseful national government was trying to make amends.  There were numerous treaties and fifty-four removals in all, a common method of disposing of the Indian problems.  It was also a signpost of the white man’s greediness and the red man’s broken heart.  Perhaps the latest and worst handled was the Pottawatomi removal in 1835, historically known as the March of Death or Trail of Courage.  Whatever the name, it was a very dark blot on Indiana history.
From time primeval, the land of our western continent had belonged to the red man.  It was not owned individually but held by tribes in a sort of “squatters rights” authority.  They could not understand the European method of land tenure.  At first they welcomed the white men as gods and friends but were quickly disillusioned.  The Indian fought back to save his heritage and birthright, but technology and superior weaponry gave the white race too great an advantage.  He saw the land was good and was determined to have it but, because the Indian resisted so violently, he actually spelled his own doom.
There were great and noble characters on each side that tried to sue for peace but were not listened to.  Justice and human compassion for the most part never entered in.  They had matched cruelty for cruelty until they reached a point of no return.  Annihilation seemed the only way.
There were far seeing and sagacious red men.  Pontiac, the Ottawan chieftan, and Tecumseh of the Shawnee tribe, were competent chiefs, great orators, thinkers and organizers, but they were let down by their own people.  Chief Menominee of the Pottawatomi and minor chiefs like LeGros and Logan of the Miamis, knew their people were being cheated and sold out too cheaply but could not cope.  One of the most brilliant and crafty of tacticians was Little Turtle of the Miamis, aided by his able nephew, Pechewa or Richardville, often named the Redskinned Napoleon.  Little Turtle, once an adversary who defeated Anthony Wayne but who later negotiated with him at the Treaty of Greenville, Ohio in 1794, sided with the Americans in their troubles with the English and implored the Miamis to do likewise.  Wayne and Little Turtle judged, accepted and learned to admire each other.  Both kept their word, both worked for a fair adjustment and accepted the inevitable for peace.  The leadership of these two men did much to mold our present day.
The Indians were not a united governmental entity but held nomadic tribal allegiances so that the white man had to hold tribal councils in dealing with them.  This took much time, often leading to accusations of unfair treatment.  The process of treaty making went on throughout the entire nineteenth century.
Indiana as a state is much like a crazy-top patchwork quilt.  We have been added to and subtracted from many times.  We have been known by many names and, since we grew like Topsy in the middle of the great westward land movement, we have had many pieces or ethnic units – a little France, Switzerland, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, etc.  Perhaps one of the most dramatic and colorful pieces of our historic episodes was the Treaty Council of Paradise Springs in 1826.
Indiana is like a crazy top also in its land acquisition.  It was about 160 years after Columbus before a white man set foot in Indiana.  The first was probably LaSalle, a Frenchman who came down the “Oubache” River from Canada in 1679, thus claiming the land for France.  The Indians then gave land to the French traders.  The French and English struggle for territorial possession did not stop the American pioneer infiltration.  These hardy folk often stopped at Kas’-kas-ki-a (1712) and We-aw’-ta-non, Lafayette (1720) or Vincennes (1727)
Tired of French-English bickering, the state of Virginia sent George Rogers Clark and a small troop of men in 1778 to lay claim to the land for the United States.  Later a grateful government gave Clark and his men land rights to Clark’s reserve or grant.  After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, 1795, the Indians gave up a wide strip of land near our present Ohio Border.  Territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison, after the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1712-1818, was able to purchase for a few baubles, the large south central tract known as the New Purchase.  This left only about 1/3 of the land in the possession of two strong tribes, the Miamis and Pottawatomis, and allowed for the establishment of a new and centralized State House.
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.  But it was not the Indian nature to mourn.  He lifted his head, carried his hurt in his heart and went on.  This is well exemplified in the story of Paradise Springs.
The government had called for a conference and even the Indian leaders urged them to attend, taking their little skin bags for the white man’s silver with them, saving as much as they could for their children’s children.
For years the Indian had been pushed around, infringed upon, denied citizenship, vilified, spat upon, shot at, and often forced to see his family murdered, all because the white man coveted his land.  He had no sympathetic nation to back him up, while the white man knew he would not be punished for his wrongdoing.  Of course the Indian had tried to fight back but by now he could not.  He was called a blank-blank Indian, no better than a beast.  Robbed and distrusted, he grew sullen and vengeful.  They came to the Wabash Valley although they still owned about 1/3 of the land in northern Indiana.
It took considerable effort and time to set up a conference of this size.  Cabins had to be built for the U. S. Commissioners and for storehouses.  Ground had to be prepared for the Indian camps and places to feed them.  But all was in readiness by October 16, 1826.
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.