Early Settlement of Kosciusko County

[pen-name of Isaiah J. Morris]

Chapter 7
The first session of the Board of Commissioners of the county was held at the house of Levi Lee, in the town of Leesburg, on the 29th day of June, 1836. The first official act of the Court was to divide the county into three Commissioners' Districts. The boundary of the first, or North District, was as follows:  Commencing at the northeast corner of the county, thence west with the county-line twenty-one miles to the northwest corner of the county; thence south with the county-line seven miles; thence east twenty-one miles; thence north to the place of beginning. This District was represented on the Board by Wm. Felkner, who was qualified to serve for two years. The second, or Middle District, was bounded on the north by the south line of District No. 1, and running south from the northwest corner of Section No. 10, Township 33, North of Range 4 East; thence east to the county-line; thence north to the first District line. This District was represented on the Board by David Rippey, who was qualified to serve three years. The third, or Southern District, contained all south of the Middle District, and was represented by Wm. Kelly for one year. This division of the county into Commissioners' Districts has not, so far as has been ascertained, been changed, and remains to the present day.

The second official act was to divide the county into civil townships, as follows: The first township included the east half of congressional township thirty-four range thirty-four, and all of thirty-four in townships five, six and seven, and was named Turkey Creek, and contained all the territory now composing Turkey Creek, Van Buren, Jefferson and Scott townships. The second township embraced all of congressional township thirty-three, in ranges seven, six, five, and east half of four, and was named Plain, and now contains Tippecanoe, Plain, Prairie and Etna townships. The third township contained all the balance of the county, including the nine sections in T. 30, R. 5 stricken off and added to Fulton County by the legislature during the session of 1845-6, and at the instance of Ludlow Nye, and perhaps a few others who resided in Wayne county, Ohio. It was named Wayne township. Its territory was fully equal to half the county, and included all that part now composing the townships of Washington, Wayne, Harrison, Franklin, Seward, Clay, Jackson, Monroe and Lake. The first township election in Wayne township for the election of two Justices of the Peace was held at the house of James Comstock, who lived and kept a country store on what is known as the Comstock farm, several miles south of Warsaw, and John Knowles was duly appointed Inspector. The election was held in Wayne as well as in the other two townships, on the 23rd day of July, 1836. After appointed overseers of the poor, and fence viewers, in the several townships, viz: In Turkey Creek, Samuel Crosson and Charles Ervin, overseers, and John Cramer and John Inks, viewers; in Plain, Samuel Stookey and Jacob Kirkendall, overseers, and James Mason and William Lightfoot, viewers; in Wayne, Charles Sleeper and Matthew D. Springer, overseers, and Ludlow Nye and James Robinson, viewers, the Board established and ordained a seal to be known and recognized as the official seal of the Board of Commissioners of Kosciusko county. The Board was exceedingly modest, completely ignoring all display of extravagance, and with an eye to economy and utility, unanimously adopted as the signet of their authority on their official papers the old original American ten cent piece, and their daily proceedings for seven or eight years bear the imprint of the seal thus adopted. Whether the same coin was used in every instance, cannot be determined. What effect it would have, in a legal point of view, if the same identical coin was used, must be left for the Courts to decide; but it may safely be presumed that it would afford a bone that lawyers would love to pick at, judging from what may be seen and heard any day during Court.

Henry Felkner and G. W. A. Royse were appointed County Assessors, John Blain, Treasurer, and Christopher Lightfoot, Surveyor. On the 3d of August the Board held a second session, at which they appointed Peter L. Runyan, Sr., Commissioner of the three per cent fund, Matthew D. Springer, County Agent, and John Shelley, Collector, to collect the State and county revenue. The Assessors, Messrs Felkner and Royse, made their return, from which it appears there were two hundred and eighty nine polls, and the personal property subject to taxation was valued at $169,843.27, upon which a tax for county purposes of seventy-five cents on the one hundred dollars valuation was levied, but which was reconsidered on the following day, and fifty cents levied in its stead. The balance of this session was taken up with matters appertaining to the county-seat to which reference was made last week.

All that has heretofore been written applies more specifically to the settlement of the north part of the county, and the county-seat. A duty is due the southern portion of the county, and a sketch of its settlement will not be out of place. Among the first settlers of the southern portion of the county were James Abbott, who was present at Gen. Wayne's treaty with the Indians in 1794 known as "the treaty of Greenville," and who died about three years ago. He came west and settled on what is now known as the Sam. Haven's farm, in the fall of 1835. Elam Robbins, Abner McCourtney, Samuel Abbott, John Hale, Jesse Kiler, Joel Hidy, Samuel Eby, the Lipps, Widups, Barnharts, Circles, several of the Ulreys, Metzkars, and Cripes, came in the same, or following year all settling in Jackson township. Samuel Eby was one of the first justices of Jackson township, which was organized in March, 1838. He lived on the south bank of Eel river, where he laid out the town of Westminster, which failed, as a town, on account of the death of its proprietor in the fall of 1838. Richard Helvy was the first settler between the Wabash river and the Elkhart, and Peter Ogan, who lived where Manchester now stands, was the second. Helvy came in 1823, and Ogan about four months after. Christian Correll, was among the first, if not the first, settler in Clay township. Jacob Rhodes, Beigh, Snepp, the Butterbaughs, Leffles, Vanguilders, Tibbits, Andersons, Hills, Samuel Daniels, A. J. Gunter, Bodkins, Gripe, the Blues, Garvins, and others, settled in the rich timber lands on the southern tier. The incidents and scenes of the southern portion of the county during the early settlements differed to a great extent from the north. To open up a farm in that densely-wooded region was a heavy undertaking, and required time and labor, from which many shrunk back with trembling, and passed to the barrens and openings as presenting greater inducements. From this cause that region was slow in settling, as compared to the north. Another, and even more serious detriment to its settlement, was the fact that much of the north was taken up by pre-emption, and the greater part of the south half of the county was entered by persons or companies, on speculation, and was known as speculator's land. The Gilchrists, Barnetts, Ewings, Geo. Barry, Leonard Cutler, Enos T. Throop, and other parties, entered large bodies of land in Jackson, Clay and Franklin townships, in this county, while their purchases covered large tracts in Fulton, Wabash, Huntington, in fact, in all the counties whose lands came into market in 1835. This movement on the part of these speculators was a decided drawback to the early settlement of the district wherever such land was found; because it was the very choicest tracts that were gobbled up by the greedy speculator. It was not unusual, and the officers of the land-office were openly charged with collusion with the speculators in the swindle, that whenever a man, after selecting his land, and went to the land-office to enter it, if he did get to the office in time, before it closed for the day, to enter his land, of course he must wait until morning. During the night, the speculator's agent, who was always dressed in a seedy-looking suit, and acted a country farmer, would approach the new-comer, and enter into conversation with him, act the agreeable, do the nice thing, and never let go until he had "confidenced" him out of the numbers of the land he intended to enter. In the morning, when the offices were opened and our friend stepped in to enter his land, behold it was gone entered just yesterday sorry, but could not help it. Nothing was left for our friend but to return to the woods and look up a new tract to enter. This was practiced wherever and whenever it could be done; but occasionally the biter would get bit by one smarter than he. A man by the name of Kitt selected a tract and went to the office, but was too late for that day, and had to wait until morning. The seedy man confidenced him out of his numbers and entered his lands before he was up in the morning, Kitt said nothing, but went in search of another tract, which he found, and much to his satisfaction, found several quarters that were covered with tamarack swamps and small lakes, the numbers of which he carefully noted down, and returned to the land office, where he was met by the seedy man, who was exceedingly glad to see him, and was very anxious to know if he had found any land that suited him. Kitt replied that he had, and was glad he had not been able to get the tract he first came to enter, as had found a far preferable tract such a splendid piece so attractive, that he intended to enter several quarters of the most beautiful spot he had ever seen. The seedy man secured the numbers of this magnificent tract, and the next morning Kitt went to the office, secured the land he desired--the numbers of which he prudently withheld from his seedy friend and then inquired concerning the numbers which he had given him. He was informed that they had been entered the day before. When Kitt was ready to depart for home, he called for the seedy man, and reminded him how he had acted in swindling him out of the land he had came to enter, and to repay him in his own coin, he had given him the numbers of five quarters of land that was all tamarack swamp, and not worth ten cents; and as they were now even, he would bid him good day. Mr. Seedy found his match after paying a cool thousand for the experience. The speculators held their land with a firm grip until the five years; during which they were not taxable; and when the time expired, and taxes commenced to accumulate, their lands were put upon the market at a price ranging from three to five dollars per acre. Land did not command as high a price from 1839 to 1843, as it did in 1837-38, and it was a number of years before the speculators' lands were all occupied by actual settlers; in fact, several tracts in the west part of Whitley county yet remain unsold.

In the organization of Wabash county, its northern boundary commencing at the northwest corner of section five, township twenty-nine north, and range eight east; thence due west on the line dividing townships twenty-nine and thirty, to the northeast corner of Miami county; and when Kosciusko county was organized, its southern boundary line run from the southeast corner in section thirteen, in township thirty north, and range seven east; thence due west in the center of township thirty, and ranges seven, six, five, and half of four; thence north. This left what was called, and what is known among the old settlers, as the three mile strip, or the south half of three and a half townships outside of both counties, and belonging to neither. The situation of the citizens on that territory was somewhat peculiar before they were permanently assigned to a legal habitation. This unorganized territory, and the large extent of territory embraced within the limits of Kosciusko county, gave rise to serious thoughts on the part of some of forming a new county out of the unappropriated territory and a portion of the south part of the county. This subject was first spoken of in a very quiet way by those interested, and managed with considerable address and shrewdness. This subject will form part of the next chapter of our sketches.

Northern Indianian April 9, 1874

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