|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
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
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
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
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.