Earliest Survey of the Prairie

by George Nye, 1917
Data found in book of field notes of Government Survey at Surveyor's Office

By a treaty October 27, 1832 with the Pottawattomie Indians on the Tippecanoe River, near the present site of Rochester the lands now comprising Kosciusko and some adjoining counties were ceded to the United States by the redmen. This treaty, signed by Andrew Jackson, and ratified by Congress, was made public the following February and was the signal for the first settlers to settle on the lands except on certain areas which by this treaty were set aside for the Indians. Before the land could be filed upon, government surveyors had to divide it into townships and sections so each parcel could be described. Kosciusko County, then called Turkey Creek township of Elkhart county, lying north west of Eel River. The part south of this had been surveyed in 1828.

Coming down from the north, squatters came onto the big prairie and had cabins erected and some fields of Indian corn under cultivation before the first surveyors arrived. In the fall of 1833, came Sylvester Sibley and R. Clark running township boundaries and placing quarter-posts and section corners thereon. Subdivisions in each township was then done with respect to the south and east boundary lines. Using marks as guiding points the township could be divided into thirty-six sections. Sibley, as was the custom, worked under contract with Micajah T. Williams, surveyor-general for Ohio, Indiana, and the Territory of Michigan with headquarters at Cincinnati. The region through Kosciusko was known as the Fort Wayne district.

In early September, 1833 Sibley was running south on the east line of section one. He records in his field notes at a distance of 62.33 chains south of the NE corner of section one (1 Gunter's chain is 66 feet, 80 to a mile) "Tippecanoe Lake, dry high shore bearing SE to NW, Tippecanoe River runs through this lake." He found the corner in the lake (now Violet's corner) opposite Cripple Gates) and writes "land high and rolling, good soil, timber mostly destroyed by fire, oak, lynn, beech, ash, etc. Vines, sassafras and briers." Sibley finished the boundary survey October 8, 1833 finding plenty of marsh and some uplands well timbered with good forest trees, an abundance of rolling barrens, some brushy places and on the south boundary of section thirty-one, "a prodigious growth of grass."

During the following June, 1834 came a party of four to run the section lines. This company was composed of Reuben J. Dawson, surveyor, David Messler and Isaac Tibbot, chainmen, and William Knight, marker and axman. They had been at work on the subdivision of townships in this area over to the west and north, since early spring. They began, as usual, one mile west of the southeast corner which Sibley established, then went north a mile, then east a mile on a random line, checking in on the boundary stake which they never expected to strike exactly, then correcting, they would go west on a true line, then north again, then east and so on until the east tier of sections were run. Then they would take the next tier the same way and the next until they would finish at the northwest corner of the township. In two weeks time, Plain township was reported finished June 27, 1834, just six days after John Hendricks and the party closed the survey in the township south. Dawson and party went on east and north leaving the Mus-que-buck and Menoquit (sic) and Kinkash reserves to be subdivided by one Jeremiah Smith and party, the first in October, 1836 and the latter in July, 1837.

It was customary for the early surveyors to make mention of all natural features such as brooks, rivers, marshes, prairies, fields of timber and lakes, and to record the location of dwellings they met and the name of the occupant. The classified the land as first, second or third rate.

In Plain township Dawson found much first class land around where Leesburg now is, but off to the south he lists the land as second and third class. Over in Prairie he found a great deal of marsh especially in sections nine and twenty-eight and for three miles north and north-west of Hoffman's Lake. Just west of Leesburg they found the land being called Turkey Prairie and east on the Beatty farm they applied the local name Bone Prairie, an old name, due, as historians tell us, to the fact that years ago an Indian fight took place there leaving the ground strewn with bones for years afterwards. For the most part they found the township heavily timbered with good trees. These they used for witness trees to refer their corners to and trees on the line were blazed. Early settlers were sometimes guided by "blazed trails". If no trees were available, a mound was raised and the corner located with respect to this.

Going north along the section line on the east edge of Leesburg, Dawson notes at a distance 56.8 chains "a trail NW" at 72.3 chains "a road NE" and sets his corner post to 4,5,8 and 9 "from which a Burr Oak 14 inches in diameter bears N 75 1/2W 37 links and a R. Oak 36 inches in diameter bears S 40 1/2 E 127 links. Land 2nd rate W. & R. Oak, Hickory, --- Hazel etc." Going east on the section line north of town he says at a distance of 59.55 chains "Road from Goshen to Logansport". Going north up the Milford road or east line of Section 5, he records at a distance of 10.08 chains "enter field and prairie" and at 40 chains "set quafrter post and raised a mound, land first rate, in prairie level; woodland 2nd rate W. Oak and Hazel". (This corner is now the H.Gawthrope southeast corner. -Nye) No record is made of any homes on the present site of Leesburg.

A few of the more remarkable features which these early transit men noticed may be of interest. A terrible storm had swept through east of the present Grimm school southeast of Hepton leaving a windfall a half mile wide and a mile long, nearly as large as one found in Jackson township. South of the present Waveland Beach east of Wawasee they found a fine chalebeate mineral spring, one of several others they found in various places. A sycamore tree six feet in diameter drew their attention, just west a quarter mile from the present town of Atwood, and a mile west of Harrison Center, Dawson was particularly pleased with a large walnut grove. Wild rice was found growing extensively in the Pole Run marsh east of Atwood. Several sugar camps found in places showed that even the earliest settlers or possibly the Indians had a sweet tooth and were interested in boiling down the sap.

In all the survey of the county no mention is made of any dwellings south of the Tippecanoe River. One historian has said there were none there at the time save for the dwellingn of one Peter Ogan on Eel River near the present site of Manchester, and says further that the rist settlers south of the Tippecanoe , Peter Warner, William Kelly & John Knowles, went there int he fall of 1834. Be this as it may, the only dwellings, Dawson found in the summer of 1834 were on the prairie, for no one had as yet filed on this land. The original tract book shows filing for Kosciusko land was made at the land office in Laporte on March 28, 1835 by Johnathan M ________ Levi Lee filed in June for all the land on which Leesburg is built and among other preemptioners are found Aaron Powell, Thomas Harper, John Ervin, Hiram Summy, John B. Chapman, and the Bishops, Harlans, Thomases, Garvins and Millers, all in 1835, at Laporte, a village which claimed only fifteen houses the year before.

On the plats made from the notes of Dawson are shown the dwellings he found, each dwelling being signified simply by five lines. If smoke is shown coming form the chimney, it indicates that the house was found occupied, otherwise it was abandoned. Indian wigwams were shown by small triangles, important trees were sometimes pictured.

On the winding trail close where the savage passed, on the road, then little more than a bridle path, and by the lakes these early homes were foiund. On a trail leading out of the present site of Leesburg to the east and north lived Thomas Harper in a cabin just north of the Holderman brick. On east of this trail lived Mr. Weymire on the present c. O. Gawthrope farm. This trail ended in the prairie but seemed to lead to the Flatbelly Reserve. On the farm recently owned by the late Mrs. Catey just north of town was a cleared field of some ten acres, perhaps tilled by Mr. Harper. On the Brubaker farm northwest of town was a house, no name taken, and west a half mile in the northeast corner of section seven, now the Estep farm, was the home of Mr. Powell, and due west of Mr. Powell's on the Milton Guy farm was the home of Mr. Stookey or as Dawson records going west on a random line between section six and seven at a distance of 62.5 chains "south 1 chain is the dwelling of Mr. Stookey". On the Scoles farm about 10 chains west of the line, too far for Dawson to call, was a house but no name taken. Near the center of section five on the Gawthrop farm was another. Mr. Cliers was found living on the present Beniah Rosbrugh farm and on the Zimmerman and Anglin farms southwest of town was a twenty-five acre field which he may have had under cultivation. These are all the house recorded in Plain township and unfortunately several names were not secured.

On the Mus-que-buck Reserve the village was found between the main corner of Oswego and the river to the northwest. The town is shown as a dwelling surrounded with wigwams. Whether Mus-que-buck had a dwelling, we may not know, but Flat Belly in the south east corner of his reserve in Whitley county is said to have lived in a substantial brick house built for him by the Government. From the Oswego village, trails led in all directions, one to Fort Wayne, then a town of a thousand or so, another toward the south near the west shore of Lake William (now Chapman) heading for Eel River and the Wea Plains on the Wabash. A third struck out northwest for Elkhart and South Bend, the former being a place 2 years old and the latter a trading post founded 1824 by Alexis Coquilland, a French trader. Following the high ground north of Tippecanoe was a more worn trail to Menoquit'svillage. This trail passed through the farms now owned by Sam Byer, S. M. Hearn and George Robinson. Some of the trails found were continuous, others were mere hunters' trails or paths leading to berry marshes or fishing grounds. Those that have not merged into main traveled roads today are lost in the plowed fields of the modern farmer where an occasional arrow dart in the uptourned sud is the sole reminder of these bygone days.

Just east of Clunette on the I. T. Smith farm was an Indian village near the edge of Turkey Prairie. Mota's village was south on the present Oliver and Miller places just east of Highland Cemetery east of Atwood. Another was found on the land now owned by Matthew Cline south of Wabee's Lake. The largest one west was on the north bank of the Tippecanoe in the adjoining county a mile or so above Tippecanoe Town. Menoquit's town was north of the river where some springs furnished an abundance of pure water, this site being above the center of his reservation.

Two main roads ran though the county, one north through the west part of Leesgburg called the Goshen road and another runing east and west north of and paralleling approximately the present road through Clunette. This was called the Goshen-Logansport road. In Etna this road turned south west on section 12, on the Burkett farm, near the same place as it does today. In early days it went directly from section 12 southwest through the site of Etna Green and keeping west of a large marsh. From here the road went to Rochester, a village a year old and on to Logansport, then a town six years old at the mouth of the Eel River, known as a trading post and milling place. Logansport was named after a nephew of the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh and was in those days the largest town along the Wabash above Lafayette. It was on both the Michigan road, a thoroughfare abominable to early travellers, and the Wabash and Erie Canal, two internal improvements then being built by the State.

On Turkey Prairie, Dawson ran across a man whom he no doubt had seen before. This individual was Edward McCartney who came to Logansport for a Fort Wayne firm, to trade with the Indians. McCartney married two Indian maidens and mingled promiscuously with the Pottawattomies. In violation of the law he sold whiskey to the redmen and had to leave Logansport. When the tribes came north into Kosciusko he came too and located on the edge of Turkey Prairie on the farm now owned by Marshall Wallace. Dawson going north between sections thirteen and fourteen at a distance of 51.40 chains says "east about 10 chains is the dwelling of Edward McCartney." McCartney became a citizen and acted as interpreter at the Indian treaty on the Tippecanoe in 1832.

On the north end of the F. Zimmerman farm, Dawson found a Mr. McCleary living, now two miles east of Clunette. From the McCartney and McCleary houses, section thirteen trails led to the Checase reserve some three miles to the south. A field owned by J. Bishop, no home shown, was located at the present T in the road at the Albert Hall farm, and another corn field lay so that the section corners at the old Webster school house, came near the center of it. One mile north of the present Clunette crossroads lived Mr. Powell on the field to the south-east, still owned by Warren Powell. This corner known as Powell's corner is perhaps a corner that has had a right to go under one name as long, if not longer than any in Kosciusko county. This completes the roll call of old timers in Prairie Township according to the surveyor's field notes of 1834.

The road, (a mere bridle path) which many settlers used in coming south ran through from Goshen, a town three years old, boasting of two mills for grinding corn, south to the present site of Milford. From there it struck a little south east and then back south west until it came back onto the section line near the present Gregg's crossing. Then it followed the line south until a short distance above the site of Leesburg where it turned south west and passing through the west part of town it followed in a general way the present road into Menoquit's reserve. It is also shown leaving this reserve to the south nearly on the line of the present Warsaw road. It was along this north stretch of road and around Wa-we-as-see or Dewart Lake that the early settlers of VanBuren Township were found.

The first dwelling Dawson found on this road north of Leesburg was the home of Mr. Gawthrope on the farm still owned by Egbert Gawthrope. the next was the dwelling of Mrs. Sarah Devault and her five children on the present Robert Chilicote farm. both of these dwellings stood approximately where the present houses are. Next the road passed a ten acre clearing on which Mr. Samuel Street had his home, the place now being owned either by Mr. Sargeant or Mr. Baker. Here the road turned a little to the east and passed to the east of the dwelling of Mr. Wright on the present Toms farm. East of the northwest corner of section 28, the old road passed the home of Mr. McCory and just opposite his home was the Wilkinson's dwelling surrounded by a sixty acre field. Northwest of here a mile the road passed a house on the Zimmerman farm but no name was secured. From here on for a mile there were no houses. Curving a little to the northwest it came into the southeast corner of section eight where it passed the home of Judge Aaron Melich Perine, who in 1836 founded Milford. Judge Perine owned all of the present site of Milford and lived in the south east part of the town near Turkey Creek. He was a prominent citizen and four of the town's streets are named after his children. Going on north the road meandered east around the unconquerable sink hole and went on from Turkey Creek Township of Elkhart county, as Kosciusko was then, into Mongoquanong township of Elkhart, a township having such mammoth proportions that it included all of the present Elkhart, LaGrange, Steuben counties and the north parts of Noble and DeKalb.

From the Wilkinson farm a trail led off to the southeast past the home of Mr. Beal where the John Hoover farm now is and just a quarter-mile northeast of here was Mr. Norris's home where Emma Dubbs now owns. From Norris's dwelling the trail led north to the Indian village on Matthew Cline's farm Along the west side of Lingle Lake, then called Wa-we-as-see, Mr. Lingle had an eighty acre cleared tract. His home was near the north end on the land now owned by Mr. Buhrt. About a mile south lived Mr. Crowel near the southwest corner of the lake where the Crowel school house stands, and over to the west lived Mr. Nine on land now belonging to Mary Auer and Axie Mock. From Lingle's home, trails ran to the various reservations and to Davis' mill on Turkey Creek about which, the mill site, Syracuse was later built. From this it becomes evident that Van Buren township was more "densely" settled than any of the others at this time, and at this point the roll call of dwellings found by these early engineers is complete, however had they come a few months later they would have found other dwellings, including a store conducted by W. B. and J. R. Blain on bone Prairie, the first in the county, which histories say was later moved to the present site of Leesburg and became the nucleus about which this town, the first pioneer settlement in the county, and for years the chief trading point and largest town in Kosciusko. This in brief is a story of eighty-three years ago.

Long since have most of these pioneers passed to a world beyond. In unknown graves where the sighing winds move silently o're the grassy turf, where the rippling waters of brooklet and lake hum the requiem mass for the dead, our oldtime pioneers and surveyors have long since sunk from the sight of the outer world. Fleet footed across the prairie, over river, past winding trail and unbroken road, through brush of briar and elder vine, merging now onto the clearing, now through lowlands bordering thickets of the neighboring wood moved these advanced standard bearers of the white man's code. The modest voice of Nature was theirs, the blending songs of myriad birds toned by nature's mildest notes bore their sacred souls aloft of all the hardships of their task. They saw, like we, the purple sunset through yonder grove, illuminated with scarlet and fringed with gold, far distant across the undulating plains of fading space. Theirs was the lonely camp where never white man had spent the night, where the distant echoes from the Indian dance, the hollow sound of barking dog, the rise and fall of cricket's cry, the tree-toad chirping forth his note, all harmonizing with the silvery beams of passing moon soothed the ruffled minds to that silent sleep which knows not the unconquerable forest, the swollen stream, or hurried sweep of thunderstorm. Trees they blazed have fallen in many storms, some the white man's ax has given to the flame; the paths they wore the plowshare now upturns and all the country round speaks much of change; but beauteous to behold old Nature's art in wideness is the same as spoke to them of barrens thick with oaks, of groves where Indian dwelt, of marsh where berry grew, enchanted all in beauty of prairie, lake, river and broadening plain. May the peace and comfort of changed lives well-lived dwell with them now and forever more.

Unpublished manuscript, dated 1917