The Big Miami Reserve


Article by Historian, Carl Leiter


THE BIG MIAMI RESERVE. -- Howard County land was totally within the region once known as the Big Miami Reserve. This tribal reservation was set aside in 1818 at St. Mary's, Ohio, in the same treaty by which the Miami Indians gave up their claim to the New Purchase area south of the Wabash River.


The Miami Reserve contained some 760,000 acres and was the largest Indian reservation ever to exist within the State of Indiana. By treaty provisions, this reserve extended along the Wabash River from the mouth of the Salamonie River to the mouth of Eel River North in Wabash and Cass counties. This placed the eastern and western terminals at Lagro and Logansport, and the distance was precisely 34.54 miles.


Lines were then struck a smiliar distance south of those two points, and a southern line joining these east and west boundary lines passed near the present site of Tipton, Indiana. The Big Miami Reserve contained all of present-day Howard County, and portions of seven surrounding counties: Wabash, Miami, Cass, Clinton, Tipton, Madison and Grant. [See Map # 1 below].


Big Miami Reserve Map


In July, 1819, deputy surveyors Joseph S. Allen and Henry P. Benton were instructed to survey the Big Miami Reserve. The survey party left Fort Recovery, Ohio, in the fall of 1819, and made its way into the Big Miami Reserve by following the meanders of the Mississinewa River to the Wabash River, encountering Miami Indian towns on the way. The largest of these in north central Indiana was located at the confluence of the Mississinewa and Wabash rivers and was named "Missinewa Town" on the Surveyors' plat of the region. [See Map # 2 of "Missinewa Town" below].


Missinewa Town


Surveyors Allen and Benton then back-tracked upstream past present-day Jalapa where they estimated the eastern boundary should run. From here they ran a temporary line due north and located the northeast corner of the Big Miami Reserve at the confluence of the Salamonie and Wabash rivers, site of present- day Lagro, Indiana. From here they followed the south bank of the Wabash downstream to the mouth of the Mississinewa River, the site they had recently visited. This site is opposite and near present-day Peru, Indiana. At this place they set a post 9 inches in diameter, and gave locations of two sycamore trees as "witnesses."


According to the surveyors' records, "Here the Indians held another council on the 6th of November, 1819, which was much against me. My provisions were much wasted here, as we had to accompany their chiefs to the town, where the Indians made free with my bread. On the 7th they added another chief to my party, which I had to support with bread and meat." With some difficulty, the party departed and resumed the survey of the north boundary, following the meanderings of the Wabash downstream over the next three weeks before they arrived at the mouth of the Eel River. The City of Logansport was later founded near this site.


Here they set a Wild Cherry post 9 inches in diameter at this northwest corner of the Big Miami Reserve, and carved the year "1819" near the top, and on a nearby Beech tree carved the distance they had come down the Wabash from the mouth of the Salamonie, "34 1/2 M." They also marked the Beech tree with the letters M.K.T. to identify the tract being surveyed. Two additional trees were named as "markers," a Sugar and a White Oak. By this time it was November 9, 1819, and the Indians now detained the surveyors another two days. Surveyors Allen and Benton realized they were running far behind schedule.


Running the west boundary of the Big Miami Reserve began on November 11th, and work proceeded at a faster pace, covering the same distance, 34.54 miles, as the surveyors had determined the distance of the north boundary had been. In surveyors' terminology, the distance was 34 miles and 43.20 chains. A chain is equal to four rods, or 66 feet. A mile in surveyors' measurements is 80 chains, and each chain equals 100 links, a link being precisely 7.92 inches.


At about eleven miles south of Logansport near Deer Creek the surveyors again encountered a party of dissatisfied Indians, but managed to proceed over six miles further when they had to cross a larger than ordinary stream, not identified on their maps. It was found to be two chains wide, more than 130 feet across. Without ceremony, they named the stream the "River St. John's," not realizing it was Howard County's major stream, Wildcat Creek. At 28 and 1/2 miles south of Logansport, they crossed an Indian trail they identified on their map as "Road from Stone Eater's Town to Mississinewa." Present-day Frankfort is about seven miles southwest of this point at the Big Miami Reserve, but Stone Eater's Village was southwest of Frankfort, near Thorntown.


The survey party continued southward on the west boundary of the Big Miami Reserve another six miles, and reached their prescribed distance of 34.54 miles, a site a few miles north of present-day Kirklin, Indiana. In the words of the surveyors, "We set the southwest corner of the reserve; a wild chery post 9 inches in diameter, with the date of the year '1819' cut on top." On a beech tree nearby he cut "S. W. cor. 34 1/2 m. reserve, F. M. N."


From the southwest corner, the survey party set out east at North 79 degrees 51 minutes East to allow for the angle of the northern boundary of the reserve. They passed the site of Tipton, and at 34 miles and 43.2 chains reached the southeat corner of the Big Miami Reserve. Here they set a White Oak post 10 inches in diamter and five feet high. They marked the top with '1819' and on a beech tree nearby carved "S. E. cor. of 34 1/2 M. R. S. I. A. 1819." Another beech tree nearby was marked "M.R. 34 1/2 M. M. K. T. 1819." A white oak and a hickory tree stood nearby.


The surveying party then proceeded northward, intending to run their line to the Wabash River at Lagro, the point of departure, but had reached only 14 miles and 36.5 chains, less than half the distance. This point was just west of Marion, Indiana, and about eight miles south of LaFontaine in southern Wabash County. The surveyors' Field Notes report at this time, "Here the Indians, in an imperious manner told me I was going wrong, and said I should go no farther that way, saying that I was going to go to their town and if I would not go 10 miles east of the town they would not let me go on."


The Indians complained that the surveyors were not following the provisions of the St. Mary's Treaty, as the east boundary was not located far enough east to include a Salt Spring they were supposed to receive. The best maps of the time were quite inaccurate and Surveyor Allen realized he could not fulfill his assignment and include a salt spring he now knew was about 40 miles east of where they stood. He could see by the Indians' looks and behavior that his party was not safe, so they stopped, and returned to Fort Recovery, Ohio, arriving there November 29, 1819.


On March 18, 1820, the surveyors had returned to the place where they'd stopped over three months before, and finished running the east boundary to the Wabash on March 20, 1820. At the time of the survey of the Big Miami Reserve in 1819-1820, the area was an unbroken wilderness, and there was not a white settlement between Terre Haute and Fort Wayne on the Wabash River. [See Map # 3 below]


Big Miami Reserve 1819-1820


 Local historian Carl Leiter writes about the early days of Indiana and Howard County:



Indian Treaty of 1826



Chief Kokomo




Carl Leiter's Collection



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