Indian Treaty of 1826 - Tipton's Quest
Article by Historian, Carl Leiter
AGENT JOHN TIPTON'S QUEST. -- By the early 1820s the federal government had acquired Indian land south of the Wabash River except for the 760,000 acres in the Big Miami Reserve, but settlement was slow due to a lack of adequate transportation routes. In fact, there were no towns on the Wabash between Fort Wayne and Terre Haute until 1825 when a river boatman named Grigsby recognized the site of Lafayette as an excellent site for flatboat navigation and platted a town there. Even then residents of envious neighboring towns jeered and called it "Lay Flat" or "Laugh At" when it grew so slowly. The need for better roads, navigable rivers and canals was evident to everyone.
Turnpikes, canals and improved river navigation became an obsession among Hoosiers by the time the National Road and Erie Canal opened, and political parties of the time vied for voters' attention by promising more and better "internal improvements." Hoosier leaders immediately began agitating for Indian land for right-of-ways through north-central Indiana together with tracts of land large enough to sell and finance the construction costs. The most frequently mentioned projects in the Upper Wabash were a road connecting Lake Michigan with the Ohio River and a canal connecting Lake Erie and the eastern seaboard with the Mississippi system and Gulf of Mexico. These were called the "Michigan Road" and the "Wabash Erie Canal." Only the federal government could handle the problem, and James B. Ray, Governor of Indiana from 1825 to 1831, appealed to Congress and President Van Buren's administration, proposing an Indian treaty with the Miamis and Pottawatomies. He asked that his own name be included among the Indian Commissioners and was so-named, leading to a loss of popularity with many Hoosier voters since the Constitution of 1816 prohibited a state official from holding more than one salaried office at the same time. The other two Indian commisioners were Governor Lewis Cass, Territorial Governor of Michigan at the time; and John Tipton, Indian Agent who lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Both Cass and Tipton were experienced in Indian affairs, but Tipton was given the assignment of taking the lead in selecting a site for the Treaty Grounds, and for arranging details for advertising, official notifications of tribal leaders, hiring guards, ordering supplies, building quarters for housing and making all other arrangements necessary for negotiations that were expected to last more than a month. This was not all that complicated, for all that. By 1826 Indian treaties followed well-established patterns and the three commissioners were practical and experienced politicians.
As the events unfolded leading up to the Mississinewa Treaty, for such was its official name, it became evident John Tipton was the man for the job. Born in Tennessee in 1786, he was only 40 at the time of the treaty negotiations, but had already had a full and active life on the frontier. Cherokee Indians had killed his father when he was 7, and he was 20 when he came with his mother and her family to Indiana. He became Justice of the Peace in Harrison County at age 24 and a few months later was elected a captain of his Rifle Company following the Battle of Tippecanoe in November, 1811.
His rise in the Army was rapid. Commissioned a major of the 5th Reg't. of the Indiana Militia in May, 1812, he went through the positions of Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier General and eventually Major General by 1822 at 35 years of age. During that time he had held various jobs locating county seats, a site for our state capital and marking the Indiana - Illinois boundary. But it was his role as Indian Agent to the tribes of northern Indiana in 1823 that made him invaluable in arranging the Indian Treaty of 1826, as he was acquainted with various tribal leaders and they knew and respected John Tipton from experience.
As for Tipton's personal life, as noted earlier, he was born in 1786 and at age 20 married Martha Shields, but it was an unhappy marriage and they were divorced ten years later. In 1825 Tipton married Matilda Spencer, daughter of Tipton's captain Spier Spencer who was killed in the Battle of Tippecanoe and for whom Spencer County is named. John and Matilda had a happy marriage and had four children: George, Harriet, Elisabeth (who died in infancy), and John, Jr. Matilda and John died only weeks apart in the spring of 1839 when she was 31, while he was a U.S. Senator from Indiana residing in Logansport, a city he co-founded back in 1828. Tipton was 53 when he died.