Benack, Flat Belly Once Walked These Lands

Part 2
by Jo Ann Merkle Vrabel, Feature Writer

In 1832, there was a very wealthy and gruff Pottawatomi chief named Benack. He had two reservations. One as a reserve located southeast of Clunette,at the northwest corner of the intersection of County Roads 500 North and 300 West. His other lands lay between Kosciusko and Marshall counties.

Benack lived in a log house near Clunette. He was a large muscular Indian and fond of whiskey. Noted for his bitterness toward the whites, Benack used to scare youngsters who lived near Clunette when he boasted that he collected tongues of white men; he already had 99 tongues; and he was going to have an even 100 before he died, according to L. W. Royse in the History of Kosciusko County Indiana Volume I.

Benack was rich and he owned land on the west end of Big Turkey Prairie which is located in Prairie and Plain townships. When the other Kosciusko county Pottawatomies were forced to go west, he refused to go and remained in retirement until his death in the early 1850's according to Reub Williams in an article "Indians and their Burying grounds," from the Aug. 5, 1880 edition of the Northern Indianian.

In the early 1850's Benack's daughter Mary Ann inherited some sections of land on the south side of Big Turkey Prairie. When quite young she was married to a trapper named McCarter. They didn't get along so she gave him a section of land to leave her, which he did. She later married an Indian named Peashwa. The Benack lands were finally sold and Mary Ann and Peashwa moved to a reservation near South Bend Indiana.

Potawatomi Chief Checose, sometimes spelled Checase, was a shrewd land dealer with the whites, according to Royse. In 1832, Checose was leader of the Indians living on four sections of land located on the banks of the Tippecanoe River, northwest of Warsaw, which is now North Lake Street in Warsaw. Before 1832, Checose's band lived on four sections of soil now occupied by residents of Winona Lake including the north, east and south shores of Winona Lake and the land extending east, according to Vincent H. Gaddis and Jasper A. Huffman in The Story of Winona Lake, published by the Rodeheaver Co., Winona Lake, 1960, pages 16 & 17.

Ancient Burial Ground
Near Checose's Winona Lake village, there is an "ancient Indian burial ground" where Winona Lake is joined to the Tippecanoe River by Eagle-Walnut Creek, on the shores of the creek approximately one-half mile from the river, according to Gaddis and Huffman.

Another Pottawatomi Chief named Mota, whose face was disfigured by the loss of a part of his nose, ruled a reservation of four sections of land approximately one mile due east of Atwood and south on the banks of the Tippecanoe River.

Little is known about the Pottawatomi chief Topash whose band of Indians lived on Trimble Creek in Harrison Township. Topash was an old man by the year 1848 and he had two sons, Dominique and Joanita. In 1848, the whites expelled Topash and his sons, from their homes in Kosciusko County along with approximately 100 other Pottawatomies who were still here. The Topashes went to Michigan and one of the sons was later imprisoned in the Michigan City State Prison for stealing a horse, says Williams.

Another Pottawatomi chieftain who apparently lived here was Kinkash. He ruled a village located on the Tippecanoe River, between County Road 150 West and State Road 15, north of Warsaw, in Plain Township. His band lived on the Monoquet reservation, according to a map hanging in the Warsaw Public Library entitled "Indians of the State of Indiana" published by Hearne Bros., Detroit, Mich. Kinkash's name is also listed in the Government Survey Book 1828, Department of the Interior, General Land Office book, page 11, 1835, located in the Kosciusko County recorder's office.

Another Pottawatomi leader who governed a village here was Checkawkose. According to the "Indians of the State of Indiana" map, Checkawkose's settlement was located on the south side of the Tippecanoe River, approximately in Harrison Township, on the Kosciusko-Marshall County border.

Flat-Belly Greatest
Kosciusko County's great Miami chief in the 1830's was Flat-Belly. He claimed a total of 36 sections of land located in both Kosciusko and Noble counties. Nineteen of these sections were in Tippecanoe and Turkey Creek townships of this county including lands around the approximate eastern one-half of Lake Wawasee.

Flat-belly lived in a one-story brick house given to him by the United States government in exchange for land. When built, the house cost $600, according to Marion Wallace Coplen in the History of Kosciusko County Indiana to 1875.

Flat-belly's house was located in the southeast corner of his village which is now called Indian Village in Noble County. When he died, the house was torn down by the white settlers and the bricks from his house were used for chimneys, says Waldo Adams, first vice-president of the Kosciusko County Historical Society.

"Most of the early settlers here hated the Indians awfully. They didn't want to hear the sound or even smell the smell of an Indian around here. So they tore down any sign of the Indians that they could. That's why there are so few Indian relics here today. About the only thing left of the Kosciusko County Indians is made of stone that couldn't be destroyed," says Adams.

Flat-belly, also named Papakeechie, was a large, strong Indian of a dark copper color. He weighed approximately 300 pounds and was 60 years old in the 1830's, according to J. F. Everhart in the Combination Atlas Map of Kosciusko County Indiana. He was one of the most politically powerful chiefs of the Miami nation in 1834.

Chief Wawasee
The other Miami chieftain was Waw-wa-esse, or Wawasee, often contracted into Wawbee. In the mid-1830's, Wawasee's village was situated near the southeast corner of Lake Wabee, approximately two and one-half miles southeast of Milford including the eastern shores of Lake Wabee.

Chief Wawasee was a minor leader but a brother of Flat-belly. Like his brother, Wawasee was big and strong. This chief dressed up for special occasions by wearing a large silver ring that hung from the cartilage of his note. He sometimes substituted a fish bone for the ring, according to James W. Armstrong in The History of Leesburg and Plain Township Indiana published by the Leesburg Journal.

The Eel River Indians lived in the southern part of Kosciusko County along Eel River. They were a friendly tribe of Miamis who built summer camps further north, but still within the boundaries of the southern part of this county.

Therefore, arrowheads and stone relics found in the county's southern townships were either made by the Miami Indians, sometime between approximately 1750 and 1848, or were made by pre-historic Indians of the Early Archaic Period, who lived between 4000 and 5000 B.C., according to Dean Ryan of Milford. Ryan has searched southern Kosciusko County. The southern townships in the county are Franklin, Monroe, Seward, Lake, Jackson and Clay.

Ryan says that 90 per cent of the arrowheads found in Indian campsites within an approximate two-mile radius of Claypool, in Clay Township were made by the early archaic Indians. The other 10 per cent of the relics found near Claypool were probably made by the Miami Indians.

Free land was a great attraction for young persons who wanted to establish a home and there was a land rush for Kosciusko County soil immediately after the Pottawatomi tribes were cajoled into giving up their lands by the treaty of 1832. Would-be settlers waited on the Elkhart-Kosciusko county border, near the eastern end of Goshen to run for their stakes, according to Adams.

Manifest destiny was a common belief among the early settlers of this county. Manifest destiny is the fallacious idea that "this land was made for us white people and not for you red people," states Adams.

The Indians of this county only lived on reservations a few years, approximately from 1832 to 1838 or 1840. In 1832 the Pottawatomi chiefs gave their Kosciusko County lands to the white settlers and agreed to live on small reservations on October 26 at a treaty meeting conducted north of Rochester, on Old State Road 31 on the Tippecanoe River.

And between 1834 and 1836 most of the Pottawatomi chiefs of Kosciusko County had given up even their reservations and villages. In December 1, 1834 Mota and his band of Indians yielded their tiny reservation-homeland and promised to move west of the Mississippi. The government paid the old chief and his Indians a total $600, according to Otto Winger in The Pottawatomi Indians

In 1836 the towns and reservations of the Powerful Pottawatomi chiefs Monoquet and Musquawbuck were surrendered and the Indians agreed to move to Kansas by September, 1838.

Monoquet's tribe was paid $1.25 per acre for the reservation which consisted of four sections of land lying between Leesburg and Warsaw. The Monoquet village was located in the reserve, three miles north of Warsaw where State Road. 15 crosses the Tippecanoe River. Musquawbuck's village was near the site of the present village of Oswego, says Winger.

Between 1826 and 1834 the Miami chiefs here also ceded most of their lands to the whites. One of the last of the Miami treaties was in October 1834, at the forks of the Wabash. The Potawatomies and Miamis were forced to sign these treaties. White bootleggers supplied the Indians with booze to get drunk while the government men spurred the Indians to sign, says Adams.

Stashing the Indians on reservations did not work. The Indians hunted for food and the reservations were too small to supply enough game to feed members of the tribes. So the Indians and their children were hungry and began to steal in order to survive.

The Kosciusko county Indians did not want to leave. At the time of old Chief Musquawbuck's death in 1836, he was already "broken-hearted because of the prospective move," according to Winger.

The Indians of this county were not exiled from here in one large group. Rather, they were escorted to Kansas in small groups of approximately 50 persons each. And the men who led the groups of Kosciusko county Indians to the new Kansas reservations were usually white fur traders who bid for government contracts to oversee the sad departures, Adams says.

Though the Kosciusko county Indians were exported to Kansas in small groups over a period of years from 1837 through the 1840's, the Marshall county Pottawatomies of Menominee's tribe were even more unfortunate. This large tribe of Pottawatomies was expelled from Indiana in a long horrible Trail of Death march to Kansas.

In July 1837 approximately 100 Pottawatomi Indians assembled at Kewanna village in Fulton County and a government man named George Proffit took them west, according to Royse. The leader of these Marshall County Pottawatomies was Menominee, a religious Catholic chief whose headquarters were a Christian mission and Menominee Chapel located near Twin Lakes, approximately five miles southwest of Plymouth. Menominee refused to sign a treaty that said his tribe would have to leave Indiana and march west, according to Winger.

So General John Tipton, an Indianapolis politician and Indian agent for Indiana organized a group of soldiers and ordered them to surprise and capture Menominee and the men, women and children of his large tribe. Many of Menominee's tribesmen were in the chapel in prayer when the soldiers gave notice of their arrival with a volley of shot and then made them prisoners, says Winger.

Menominee stood at bay with a dagger in his hand but the soldiers threw a lasso over his head and tied his feet and hands. Then they threw the chief into a wagon and hauled him from his home and work. He went into captivity and joined the Trail of Death march with approximately 859 other Marshall County Pottawatomies of the Menominee tribe. What became of Menominee, no one knows, states Winger.

The Trail of Death march of these Marshall County Indians began September 4, 1838. Sixty wagons carried women, babies, children and sick persons. Most of the Pottawatomi men had to walk. Before they left on the morning of September 4th, Tipton's soldiers set fire to all huts and cabins so the Indians would not be tempted to return. By the second day of the march, 51 persons were unable to continue the journey because they needed transportation and they were sick, says Winger.

At almost every camping place one or more Indians was left in a nameless grave. Through Logansport and down the Wabash the sad procession continued with no medical supplies and little food. Not only was the physical suffering terrible, but the mental anguish was more. To be driven from the homes of their ancestors and to be on the march hundreds of miles to a land they knew not was all human strength could endure, writes Winger.

In 15 days, on September 19th, 1838, Tipton left the march and turned the Pottawatomies over to other white men who continued the journey westward, across Illinois, across the Mississippi, across Missouri and on to Kansas, their final destination. The march took 60 days. It was winter time when the Indians arrived in Kansas and they were without proper food and shelter, according to Winger.

By 1840, many Pottawatomi and Miami Indians had been expelled from Kosciusko county. But there were still some Indians here. So, in 1840 a man named General Brady and his troops forced remaining Pottawatomies out of Kosciusko County and took them to Kansas. All went by land, on horseback, according to Royse. "When they arrived at their crossing on the Mississippi where they were to cross to the borders of Kansas, the hearts of some of the chiefs drew eastward instead of westward and ... some of the Pottawatomies were endeavoring to escape," writes Royse. So the white soldiers took away the Indian leader horses and those men in charge of the expedition crossed the Indians on barges to the border of Kansas, says Royse.

Several homesick Indians returned to Kosciusko county after they were transplanted in the west, according to Adams. Bill Musquawbuck came back home once but was returned to his reservation in Pottawatomi county, Kansas, and later became a chief there. Bill Musquawbuck was the youngest son of chief Musquawbuck whose Indian village was located at Oswego in the 1830's. Bill was educated by the Kosciusko county whites and had many white friends here, according to Royse.

Flat-belly and Wawasee also escaped from Kansas and came back to their lands near Syracuse and Milford, respectively. But government men were hunting the runaways and the Indian brothers fled to Michigan where all tracks of them were lost, states Adams. The last Indians of Kosciusko County were removed to Indian territory in 1848.

In August, 1880, Reub Williams wrote a newspaper account of that final exodus: "...although I was quite small, I well remember their (the last Kosciusko county Indians) passage through Warsaw with their ponies; their guns; dogs, squaws and papooses, making as motley a crowd as one might not expect to see more than once in a lifetime. There were a few who still remained. Old Benack refused to go...Topash with the two boys...Dominique and Joanita, removed to Michigan. But little has ever been learned from those who removed to the Indian Territory..."

Warsaw Times Union July 1-7 Spotlight

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