Newton county is the youngest of the ninety-two counties in the state of Indiana. It has much in its history to prove of local interest to those who may come after us, and which would he entirely lost to the world if not made a matter of record during the lives of those who were conversant with the facts which go to make up this history.
It lies almost in the northwest corner of the state, the line dividing the states of Indiana and Illinois forming its western boundary, with only one county. Lake county, between it and the northern limit of the state.
Directly to the south lies Benton county, the banner corn county of Indiana, and a continuation of the rich black belt of central Illinois.
To the east is Jasper county, of which the county-seat, Rensselaer, was one of the early settlements of northern Indiana and is now a most attractive little city.
Perhaps never before, within the span of one human life, have such marvelous changes taken place along a new and unpromising frontier, as some of us older settlers have witnessed here in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.
I was a resident of Chicago during the summer of 1849. It was then a pretentious country town. Only a few years before that, the region surrounding it had been an unbroken wilderness. Now it is one of the great commercial capitals of the world, with a population exceeding two millions [sic] and a trade so stupendous that the figures are beyond comprehension.
Where, less than a century ago, the only roads were the narrow trails of the Indian, now in every direction long railroad trains are distributing the commerce of the world, and the work of material development seems to have just begun.
For instance, in the northern portion of Lake county, where, three years ago, was a vast expanse of sand ridges and sloughs, today is in operation the largest steel industry in the world, around which has grown up the city of Gary with its paved streets, concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water and drainage systems, and a population of some twenty thousand and increasing rapidly.
Going back eighty-four years — in July 1827, what is now the city of Chicago was a settlement of six or seven American families, a number of half-breeds, and a few vagabond Indians. At that time the Winnebago Indians were gathering in the neighborhood of Green Bay, threatening to attack and destroy the few white settlements established along the lakes. Gurdon S. Hubbard was a resident of Chicago and the owner of trading posts, established along the Iroquois river where the towns of Middleport and Bunkum were afterward located, and also of a trading post on the Kankakee river in Newton county, afterward known as Blue Grass, near the present site of the town of Thayer.
At that time Mr. Hubbard had an Indian wife by the name of Watseka, from whom the now thriving city of Iroquois county, Illinois, derived its name.
Realizing their danger, the settlers at Chicago appealed to Mr. Hubbard to hurry to Danville, Illinois, and secure volunteers to assist them in defending their homes.
He started from Chicago one morning and the same night reached the trading post near Bunkum, on the Iroquois river, about two miles from the Indiana state line. Procuring a fresh horse, he, rode on to Danville, Vermilion county.
At that time all inhabitants of the county, capable of bearing arms, were enrolled under the militia law of the state, and organized as a battalion. The officers of the battalion notified their men to meet at a designated point, and on a call for volunteers fifty men offered their services and were accepted. Archibald Morgan was chosen as captain. Many of the men were without horses, and the neighbors who did not go loaned their horses to the volunteers. After being mustered in they disbanded with orders to prepare five days’ rations and report at Danville the following day. Starting from Danville they passed the cabin of Seymour Treat, three miles north of Danville, which was the last habitation until they reached Hubbard’s trading post on the north bank of the Iroquois river about a mile above the point where the town of Bunkum was afterward located. From this point there was no other habitation, except Indian wigwams, until they reached Fort Dearborn. It was a prairie wilderness all the way, except for a little timber near Sugar creek and at the Iroquois river.
On arriving at the Hubbard post a lot of Indians, some of them half naked, were lying and lounging about the river bank. When it was proposed to swim the horses over, the men objected, fearing the Indians might do some mischief, such as opening fire on them while they were in midstream, but Mr. Hubbard assured them these were friendly Indians. Later, they learned they were Pottawattamies, and friendly to the whites.
In regard to their arms it is said they were very deficient. They had gathered up squirrel rifles, old flintlock muskets, in fact anything like a gun that they could lay hands on. Some had no guns whatever and were afterward supplied by Mr. Hubbard. He also furnished them with flour and salt pork. They remained at Hubbard’s post all night, the next morning again moving forward, swimming Beaver creek and crossing the Kankakee river at the rapids, the present site of the city of Momence. Pushing on, they reached Yellow Heads that day. Next morning they set out again, crossing a branch of the Calumet, west of Blue Island. All the way from Danville they followed an Indian trail, known as Hubbard’s Trail. There was no sign of road and, but for the knowledge which Mr. Hubbard had of the country, they could not have found their way, as the entire country was crossed and recrossed by Indian trails. It had been raining some days before they left home and it rained almost all the time they were on the route.
They reached Chicago about four o’clock on the evening of the fourth day after leaving Danville, in the midst of a very severe rainstorm accompanied by thunder and vicious lightning. The people of Chicago were glad indeed to receive them, as they had been expecting an attack every hour since Hubbard had left them. They had organized a company of forty or fifty men, composed mostly of Canadian half-breeds, with a few Americans, under the command of Captain Beaubien. They kept guard day and night for some ten days, when a man came in from Green Bay bringing word that General Cass had concluded a treaty with the Winnebagoes((Treaty of August 11, 1827)), consequently the danger was over. The citizens were overjoyed at the news and in their gladness turned out one barrel of gin, one barrel of brandy and one barrel of whisky. Knocking in the heads of the barrels, everybody was invited to take a few drinks, and it is said everybody did drink. Captain Morgan, with his company of volunteers, started on the return trip, camping out at night and reaching home the evening of the third day.
The citizens of Chicago had every reason to fear the Indians, inasmuch as the original settlement had been practically wiped out by what is known in history as the Fort Dearborn massacre, on the spot now marked by a beautiful stone memorial.
In 1804 Fort Chicago was established on the south bank of the river, about the spot where State street joins the river and on the same ground where Fort Dearborn was erected in 1817. About the time of the establishment of Fort Chicago, the American Fur Company established a station under the protection of the fort. For the first eight years there was little of interest to be noted. In 1812, however, the war broke out with England, and the consequences were peculiarly disastrous to all the western settlements exposed to the hostility of neighboring tribes of Indians.
Chicago being then an extreme frontier post, and the country around it full of hostile Indians, on the 9th day of August, 1812, Captain Heald, the officer in command at the time, received an order to abandon the fort and proceed with the troops to Fort Wayne. The evacuation of the fort took place on the 15th day of August, 1812, six days after the order had been received from General Hull. About nine o’clock on the morning of that day the party, composed of fifty-four regulars, twelve militia and several families, left the fort under the escort of Captain Wells. Their route lay south along the beach of the lake and after proceeding about a mile and a half they were fired upon by the Indians, and in fifteen minutes almost the entire party was killed or wounded. The survivors were made prisoners and marched back to the Indian encampment near the fort, where some of the wounded prisoners were murdered in the most shocking manner by the squaws, the small number surviving being distributed among the different members of the tribe. The day following this action, the Indians burned the fort and dispersed.
The fort was rebuilt in 1817, when it took the name of Fort Dearborn. It was occupied, except at short intervals, by a garrison, until 1837, when the Indians having generally left the country, it was finally evacuated.
The preceding paragraphs are merely preliminary to the history of Newton county. They will indicate, by contrast, the wonderful changes that have overtaken us within two or three generations. While the changes within the boundaries of Newton county are not so revolutionary or startling as those that have made Chicago one of the seven wonders of the world, they are sufficiently remarkable to be of interest to all who reside within its borders.
Originally the Pottawattamie tribe of Indians had exclusive control over this part of the country, their territory extending from the Rock river in the west to the Scioto river in the east, and from the lakes on the north to the Ohio river on the south, now embraced in the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Later, owing to the fact that other Indian tribes were being pressed westward by the encroachment of the whites, they were confined very largely to northern Indiana and Illinois. They were a bold and warlike race of people and for many years maintained a hostile attitude toward the white pioneer. They joined with the French against the Iroquois and the English; and afterward joined with the English against the Americans, only yielding to the inevitable in the general pacification which closed the war of 1812. From this time they were faithful friends of the Americans and are entitled to very much credit in assisting to defeat the Winnebagoes’ outbreak in 1827, and also the one under Black Hawk in 1832.
The state of Indiana, and especially the northwestern part, was their last place of abode east of the Mississippi, and although they assumed an attitude of tribal freedom, they accepted the position of ward toward the national government.
The section of the state of which Newton county now forms a part was held by the Indians long after the whites had begun to dominate central and southern Indiana. Here they trapped and hunted, and, indeed, this portion of our country at that time was a perfect Indian paradise, abounding in fish and wild game, together with all kinds of fur-bearing animals which they sold to the white traders or exchanged for supplies.
The encroachment of the whites increased so rapidly that it became necessary for the government to remove the Indians to a new home in what was then our far western territory. The Pottawattamies owned extensive tracts of land on the Wabash and its western tributaries and also in northwestern Indiana, but the titles gradually passed from them, notwithstanding government restrictions placed upon their disposal of lands. There were several partial removals of the Pottawattamies, the final and principal one taking place during the summer of 1838, under the charge of General Tipton. Doctor Fitch, then of Logansport, acted under appointment by the government as medical director. This large emigration, numbering about one thousand of all ages, started reluctantly toward the setting sun. It is said they formed a mournful spectacle, these children of the forest, slowly retiring from the homes of their childhood and the graves of their ancestors. They knew they were bidding a last farewell to the hills, to the valleys and the streams of their childhood, the hunting grounds of their youth, and the stern and bloody battlefields of their ripened manhood — all these they were leaving behind to be desecrated by the plowshare of the white man. Every few miles one of the throng would strike out from the procession, into the woods, and retrace his steps back to the old encampments, declaring he would die there sooner than be banished from the country, and it was several years before these stragglers could be induced to join their brethren west of the Mississippi. This body, on their western journey, passed within a few miles of Lafayette and on through Danville, Illinois, where they halted for several days, being in want of food. They were without tents or other shelter and many of the women carried young babes in their arms. All were compelled to travel on foot. Thus the mournful procession passed across the state of Illinois, toward their future home in the west, one hundred and fifty of their number dying on the way. They finally reached their new home on the Missouri.
Source: Ade, John. Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., c1911.