Local History and Genealogy

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Indians and Steuben County

The Indians and Steuben County
By Hon. Stephen A. Powers

I quote from a letter written by my uncle, Stephen Powers, to his mother, July 12, 1837:

    "On May 23rd, Winn and Calvin  and I with our families started from Ontario county N.Y., with our ox teams.  Winn and I arrived in the state if Indiana July 3rd, and we reached brother Clark's place July 8, 1837.  Clark had a double shanty nearly done and we all moved in with him.  We were seven weeks lacking two days on the way and Calvin has not arrived yet.
    In my uncle's family at that time was his little daughter, Dolly Jane, who is now Jane Stayner, and is the only survivor of the Powers family that settled in York Township over 75 years ago.
    My Uncle Steve soon moved two miles west, on the Maumee road (US 20), where he located in a log cabin.  Just south of them was an Indian village of which my cousin Jane has told me some incidents.  
    Here lived forty Indians presided over by a chief.  In the thick of the woods they had a large low log wigwam, built up on three sides of logs, chinked with moss and covered in bark.  The east side was open except as they hung up blankets and hides as curtains.  In winter they cooked inside this wig-wam and in summer outside.  They piled up leaves and covered them with bear and wolf skins for beds.  When the weather was unfit to live outside, all of these Indians lived in this big wig-wam.
    There were friendly to the whites.
    The old chief had a little papoose of which all were proud.  He would bring it to my uncle's house to the delight of the whole family.  It was not strong: was taken sick and died.  Then these Indians exhibited their grief by physical demonstrations and loud lamentations.  My uncle's folks went over to assist them in the time of their bereavement, which they seemed to appreciate.  After a day of mourning and moaning, they wrapped the papoose in a cloth and then placed it in it's mother's arms.  With the chief at the head and the mother following with the little papoose, in a single file, all went down the trail through the great forest to the southwest and came back the way they went, without the little baby, and they never told where they buried the child, but it was supposed they laid it to rest in a mound just north of Pleasant Lake.
   They always wanted to swap, pailful for pailful.  One day they came to Aunt Mary Ann's to swap a pail of strained honey for a pail of ears of corn, which for some reason Aunt would not do.  This angered the squaws, so they hunted up Uncle Steve; cut some big whips and gave  them to him with which to whip his squaw.  The next day they came and pointed fingers at my aunt and laughed like fiends, and said: "Smokeman whip squaw." After this they were friendly.  Then the old chief came over and wanted three bullets and three charges of powder, which aunt gave him, and in an hour he brought her a big wild turkey, and to still show his desire to make up for the disrespect of the squaws, he came again and called for three charges of powder and three bullets, which she gave him. He soon brought her the hind quarters of a deer, and said: "Take hide Fort Wayne--bring papoose beads" and this he did.
    In 1840 the government officers and soldiers rounded up 500 Indians in a bunch near Powers settlement in York Township. They came along their familiar trails, from their wig-wams, from their native they came, leaving the graves of their forefather's unmarked; their history unrecorded and their eloquence unsung. The squaw's came out of the deep woods to the meeting place, carrying the burdens.  Their papooses, strapped to sheets of basswood bark, were fastened upon their backs.  They would stand these precious loads against the great forest trees while they patiently waited the final order which was to part them from their familiar haunts and hunting grounds, forever. 
    Samuel Brooks says it was a sad scene.  The braves came with many ponies, which attracted the boyhood curiosity of young Brooks and impressed the event upon his memory.
    It was the old story; they were steadily driven away from their ancient homes, until now we can find only a sorry remnant of a once mighty people.

Steuben Republican - January 15, 1913