Chief Kokomo - Part II
Article by Historian, Carl Leiter
His Grave. -- We have no record of Chief Kokomo's death. No recollections of the event have survived, and the town's first newspaper did not arrive to record the story until October 30, 1850. Only a handful of settlers lived in the Reserve to preserve the event, and it is small wonder the death of Chief Kokomo was not remembered. He was gone by the time David Foster negotiated with the locating commissioners for designating the heart of the Lafountain Reserve as the county seat. Best estimates would place Chief Kokomo's death in 1840 to 1842, for he was known to Judge Thomas A. Long, a gunsmith who arrived in "the Reserve" in the spring of 1840 and moved his family here the following spring.
There were no cemeteries in the vicinity before the town was platted except the Indians' burial ground, and that was well-known to the first residents as the plot of land on the north bank of Wildcat Creek between Washington and Union streets. That's where one would expect to find Chief Kokomo laid to rest. But was he?
Thomas Faulkner, an early settler who lived east of what is now Apperson Way, donated a tract of land on the north bank of Wildcat Creek as a cemetery for the settlers. The first graves there were of young children who died in the early 1840s, and the site has long since been designated Pioneer Cemetery since a majority of the town's first residents were buried there. Yet, on that site a monument has been erected proclaiming: "This Stone Marks the Burial Place of Kokomo, War Chief of the Miami Indians." This seems to fly in the face of logic for those who have made a study of the city's early history.
This photograph shows the plaque proclaiming the site as the burial place of Chief Kokomo, mounted on the south side of a cenotaph in memory of the past:
The answer to the puzzle is simple if we accept a story circulated sometime late in World War I by a local citizen, then an aged lady. She recalled when Keats' Sawmill was built in 1848 in Kokomo. It was constructed on the north side of Wildcat Creek in the middle of what is now Buckeye Street, just south of Superior Street. The railroad was in 1848 several years in the town's future. While excavating for the mill's foundation, workers encountered Indian graves, at least three of them, not a surprise, for the site was in the center of what was known to be the Indian burial grounds.
Digging into Indian graves was not an unusual thing in those days, and it would have caused little concern or comment, except that one of the Indian skeletons was remarkably long. So unusually tall was this particular skeleton that the town's first doctor, Corydon Richmond, was called over to give his medical opinion. Almost at once he concluded they were looking at Chief Kokomo's skeleton, for these were the bones of an individual who was close to seven feet tall. Everyone who ever met Chief Kokomo agreed he was quite tall.
And so it was that Chief Kokomo's bones were removed to Faulkner's Cemetery. All the Indian bones found at the sawmill site were placed together in a pine box in what was called a "bundle" burial, and they were reburied in what was then the northewast corner of the town's cemetery, now known as Pioneer Cemetery. Over the next twenty years the City of Kokomo grew rapidly and the small cemetery was sorely taxed to handle the burials sent its way. This was officially Kokomo's city cemetery until in the 1870s.
The following photograph shows the plaque honoring the early pioneers of the community from the time Kokomo was platted to the mid 1870s when Crown Point became the City's primary burial ground:
A more vexing problem that distressed the townspeople was the site of Pioneer Cemetery. It lay behind what is now Kautz Field, southeast of present-day Memorial Gym. Wildcat Creek made a loop northward at that point, and in seasons of high water the currents washed away the bank in the horshoe bend adjacent to the cemetery.
So bad did the situation become by the early 1870s that some graves were washed out and the townspeople were alarmed for the health of the community and the lack of respect being shown for the dead. Crown Point Cemetery was platted as the city's new burial ground, and residents were advised to remove their loved ones from the old grounds. Many did, but many of those buried there had no family remaining to carry out the official requests of the city council. The old cemetery became a ghoulish region, full of opened graves and overgrown, all but abandoned for many years. Many of the stone, those discarded as well as those still marking graves, were stacked at the river bank or were thrown into the riverbed. Not until Wildcat was dredged and straightened in the 1920s was the site reclaimed where the old creek bed once had been.
Photograph shows the lowland between Pioneer Cemetery and Kautz Field and Wildcat Creek in the background. Before the city dredged and straightened Wildcat Creek through the city in the 1920s, Wildcat made a horshoe bend here in the foreground where it gradually began washing out graves at the edge of the cemetery:
With the topography drastically changed, the land was graded and filled in and eventually Kautz Field encroached on a part of the plat once considered a part of Faulkner's Cemetery. Only a small area, that in the northeast corner of the original burial ground, remains to be called Pioneer Cemetery, and a cenotaph in memory of Chief Kokomo and the town's first settlers was erected on the site near where Chief Kokomo's bones were reburied 150 years ago.
So it is that Pioneer Cemetery, a link to our past, remains the site of Chief Kokomo's remains, reburied there less than ten years after his death. His first gravesite was somewhere in the middle of the railroad right-of-way of Buckeye Street, between Wildcat Creek and Superior Street. That was the center of the old Indian burial grounds.
This photograph shows the location of Pioneer Cemetery's cenotaph at the south end of Purdum Street, a half block south of Superior Street, a short distance east of Memorial Gym in Kokomo. This cenotaph is not a gravestone, but a memorial to the town's first settlers and to the remains of the Indian for whom David Foster named his town when it was platted, whose bones were reburied here in 1848 when inadvertently exhumed from their original burial site: