by Jo Ann Merkle Vrabel, Feature Writer
Indian Jim Musquawbuck's bones lie under the Leesburg cemetery toolshed. There's a lone Indian grave in Leedy's woods, near county roads 100 North and 300 East. And ghosts of Indians past, stalk Kosciusko County through Indian history, legends and tales.
The first Indians who lived in Kosciusko County were Miamis. They moved here in approximately 1750 and built villages along the Tippecanoe River.
Between 1765 and 1795 some Potawatomi Indians came to this county too, according to J. F. Everhart, in the Combined Atlas Map of Kosciusko County, Ind. 1879, published by Kingman Bros., "Aboriginal History", page 13.
By the late 1700's, the Potawatomies were a stronger band of Indians than the Miamis. So the Kosciusko County Potawatomies seized the Miami Indian villages that were located along the Tippecanoe River, near the present sites of Warsaw, Atwood, Leesburg, Oswego and Clunette.
Potawatomies Took Over
At this time, the Potawatomies also took over some Miami villages in Wabash County, located along the Wabash river, according to Marion Wallace Coplen in the History of Kosciusko County Indiana to 1875, submitted to the Department of History, Indiana University, November 1944, for fulfillment of degree of Masters of Arts in the Department of History requirements, page 20.
Bone Prairie, located on Armstrong Rd. between Leesburg and Oswego, may have been the site of a great battle between the Miamis and Potawatomies sometime between 1795 and 1800, says Coplen. Bone Prairie was a small field of flat earth which is now part of the land owned by Donald and Juanita Boggs, Hershel and Helen Albert and Bert J. Anderson.
According to a Miami Indian legend, a fierce day-long war occurred at this little prairie when the Potawatomies and Miamis fought in hand-to-hand combat. In 1832, when the early white settlers came to live in Kosciusko County, they named this field Bone Prairie because when the first saw it the ground was covered with human bones. The bones not only overlaid the earth's surface, but were plowed up in large numbers when the early farmers tilled the soil. Indian casualties suffered in the legendary Miami-Potawatomi battle could account for the presence of all the bones, according to L. W. Royse, in the History of Kosciusko County Indiana Vol. 1 page. 51.
There are some puzzling stories about Bone Prairie. According to the Indian battle legend, the Miamis did not leave their dead on the field, but gathered their warriors' remains and went home in the night, according to Waldo Adams, of Leesburg, 1st VP of the Kosciusko County Historical Society. If the battle legend is true, only the skeletons of the Potawatomies could have possibly been left.
A second story accounting for all the bones on Bone Prairie is that a smallpox epidemic ravaged the Musquawbuck tribe, a group of Potawatomi Indians who lived near the prairie, north east of the present site of Oswego. Many Musquawbucks died directly from the disease and others became delirious with smallpox fever and plunged into the Tippecanoe Lake and River and drowned. "The few who escaped the pestilence fled in horror, leaving the stricken to die and the dead to waste away to skeletons," states Royse.
Another explanation for the bones at Bone Prairie is offered by Donald Boggs, of Rt. 1, Leesburg. He says the bones seen by the first settlers may not have been Indian bones. He believes the bones may have been from a herd of buffalo which froze to death during a severe deep snow in the winter of 1760.
Though no human bones have been reported found in Bone Prairie since those early settlers came in 1832 unexplained dark spots of earth speckle the field, according to Boggs who farms a portion of what used to be the prairie. Approximately eight or 10 inches below the plowed ground, there are circles or ovals of dark, sticky dirt between three and four feet in diameter. Two or three spots occur per acre of ground and there is one large square of the same gummy soil that measures approximately eight feet by eight feet.
Boggs says the mysterious dark ovals and large square appear to be made of soil with a high ash content and he believes the ovals may have been Indian firepots and the square may have been the site of a council fire. Another theory is the spots were made when tree stumps decayed. Boggs says he has never found a metal or stone Indian artifact in that field.
In 1973 Boggs gave a test sample of the sticky soil to an employee of the Indiana Department of Conservation who was stationed at the Tri-County Game Preserve near Syracuse. The employee later told Boggs the soil tests were not conclusive and the best way to interpret the soil of Bone Prairie is by using the Carbon 14 test. The employee said this carbon test is very expensive and the conservation department was not willing to use the method to test the Prairie ground, according to Boggs. So what made the ovals and square in Bone Prairie remains a mystery.
Kosciusko County was one of the last regions to be settled by the Indians of the past three centuries because it was so wet and dappled with humid swamps and lakes. But there was plenty of wild game here during the Indian occupation of this county from approximately 1750 to 1832. Deer, turkey, quail and duck dwelled in these lands. And large numbers of wolves stalked the woods, meadows and wet prairies, according to Coplen.
Approximately two-thirds of Kosciusko County was originally filled with many different kinds of trees including burr oak, beech, walnut, sassafras, dogwood, tamarack, willow, hazelnut, paw-paw, elder and huckleberry. The other one-third of this county was equally divided between wet and dry prairies, says Coplen.
The dry prairies were located in the middle of the county. They were the first place white fur traders located when they came here in 1920. The three main dry prairies were Big Turkey Prairie, or Big Prairie; Bone Prairie; and Little Turkey Prairie, or Little Prairie, says Coplen.
Big Turkey Prairie was located in parts of Prairie and Plain townships and enveloped what is now Clunette and stretched west and slightly north toward Leesburg. It was oval-shaped and roughly three miles long and two and one-fourth miles wide.
Little Turkey Prairie was located in the southern half of Van Buren Township and included a tiny northern tip in Plain Township. With a shape resembling an elongated oval, it was roughly two and three-fourth miles long and one-fourth mile wide.
In 1832, the first white settlements for farming were established in Kosciusko County. By this time there were villages of both Pottawatomies and Miamis with a total population of 500 Indians, according to Royse.
However, during the past four or five years more than six Miami Indian summer campsites have been discovered in the southern part of Kosciusko County. Though the campsites have not been positively authenticated, Indian relics have been unearthed at each of the six sites which are located on dry, sandy places near water, according to Adams.
500 More Indians
These new finds are causing local students of county history to speculate there were 500 more Indians here in 1932 than is traditionally believed.
The Kosciusko County Indians of 1832 were not the same as they had been in earlier days. They had been forced to sign treaties and to renig most of their hunting grounds. Though the Miamis here subscribed to their own Indian religion, the Pottawatomies were Catholic. Their chiefs were getting old; most of the Indian leaders were between 52 and 67 years old, according to Royse.
In 1832 the Kosciusko county Indians and their cultures were suffering. Only one-tenth as many Indians were living here as there had been in the late 1700's. Alcoholism, disease and hunger plagued them. The Indians were introduced to alcohol by bootleggers who followed the English fur traders into Indiana. Every time there was a large meeting between the Indians and whites to negotiate a treaty, the bootleggers came and brought whiskey to sell.
By approximately 1795, at the time of the treaty of Greenville, the Indians were well-acquainted with alcohol. The Indians were fascinated with whiskey because it could relieve pain. Before the whites came, the Indians had no pain killers; no aspirin, no alcohol, says Adams. But by 1832, Benack, a Pottawatomi chief in Kosciusko county, was purchasing whiskey by the gallons, according to early records in the general store located near Clunette in the 1820's and 30's.
White Man's Disease
Diseases of the white men also weakened the Indians here. Traders and bootleggers, and after 1832 the settler-farmers, carried tuberculosis, smallpox and venereal disease. And these illnesses spread among the Indians, who had no immunities to them.
One of the saddest conditions of the Kosciusko county Indians of 1832 was that they were forced to live on reservations. Often the Indians went hungry on these reservations because they depended on hunting game for food and the reserves were too small to supply enough wild animals to eat. So, the Indians were forced to go off the reservation and steal.
Bounding the Pottawatomi and Miami bread-winners on the reservations and giving them government pensions encouraged the Indian men to do nothing and to feel useless and worthless, says Adams. In 1832, approximately 500 Indians lived in the northern part of this county and at least eight chiefs were known by the early settlers. Of these eight known chieftains, six were Pottawatomies and two were Miamis.
The Pottawatomi chiefs were Monoquet, Musquawbuck, Benack, Checose, Mota and Topash. The Miami chiefs were Flat-belly and his brother Wawasee.
The most powerful Indian leaders in 1832 were: Monoquet, whose village consisted of approximately 150 persons; Musquawbuck, who ruled 125; Flat-belly, whose village population was approximately 75; and Wawasee who headed 75 Indians. Chiefs Moto, Checose, Topash and Benack ruled small villages of Indians with a total population of 75, according to Royse. These population figures are not certain. Also in the 1830s there were minor chiefs who led bands of Indians whose reservations boundaries were not definite or stationary, according to Coplen.
Chief Monoquet was a stern man and approximately 57 years old in 1832. His forehead was high and square; his eyes were small and bright; and he was a dark color. He had an aquiline nose, which was uncommon for an Indian to have, and his tenor voice was clear and sharp. He was approximately five feet seven inches tall, according to James W. Armstrong, in the History of Leesburg and Plain Township, Indiana, published by the Leesburg Journal, Leesburg Ind. page 8.
A brief encounter with Monoquet is described in the 1879 county atlas. Metcalf Beck, a Leesburg merchant in 1835 and a local historian, wrote a story about meeting the chief: "He (Monoquet) touched his forehead with the index finger of his right hand and thus addressed me: 'Nin Mon-o-quet,' then brought the hand down with a clap on his thigh and said 'cheep' (the Indians could pronounce no word ending with the sound of the letter "f"). It was a warm Sunday morning in the fall of 1835; his dress was a ruffled shirt of blue calico reaching midway down his thigh, and his feet were clad in moccasins. Our conversation was brief, for neither knew more than seven or eight words of the language of the other. We soon said all we could, then shook hands and parted; each made a bow to the other, and said 'ba-sho-nick', which in English meant 'goodbye.'
Monoquet ruled a tribe of Pottawatomi Indians who were forced to live on a four-section sized reservation located midway between Leesburg and Warsaw with approximately two-thirds of the reservation lying on the west side of State Rd. 15 North and one-third of the reservation lying on the east side of State Rd. 15 North.
Tiny Portion Allotted
One section of land is 640 acres and there are 534 sections in Kosciusko County. So Monoquet's tribe lived on 2,560 acres of this county's 341,760 acres.
Monoquet's village was located on a bluff, north of the Tippecanoe River and west of Leesburg Rd., where the road crosses the river bridge, on the site of the former town of Monoquet, according to Armstrong. This Pottawatomi settlement contained approximately 15 bark-covered wigwams that were scattered over two or three acres of land on the north bank of the river. The village was longest from east to west and there were no regular streets; "the wigwams were set at random, like the forest trees among which they were placed," says Beck in the county atlas.
Monoquet was a politically prominent chief among the Pottawatomies and he had won the reputation for being a good warrior when he fought under Tecumseh at the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Though some of the Indian chieftains became reconciled to the white takeover of Kosciusko county, Monoquet never did, according to Otho Winger in The Pottawatomi Indians published by the Elgin Press, Elgin, Ill., page 68. And by 1836, he was a morose and sullen man of 61 years, and he was much given to drink and quarrels.
Monoquet's death took place a few days after a night of carousel in which a young and pretty Indian squaw took part. The squaw was from Michigan but visiting at Monoquet's village. It was in the spring of 1836 (thought some say 1837) that Monoquet died of tuberculosis which was a common Indian disease in 1835.
His death was so sudden that his tribesmen became suspicious of the attractive Michigan squaw who purportedly attended Monoquet's revelry. The Indians thought the squaw may have poisoned or bewitched their chief. When she heard of their suspicions, the Indian girl was alarmed and started to go home on foot and alone.
Two Pottawatomi braves pursued her and brained her with a tomahawk, according to Royse. The spot where the Indian princess met her death can still be seen here. It is the dip in the field located along State Road 15, north of Warsaw, at the south edge of Leesburg, directly across the road from the present Polk and Sons Inc.
Monoquet was given the customary Indian interment for chiefs, according to Armstrong. The chieftains followers performed some death ceremonies and carried his body one-half mile south of Monoquets village, then southwest and laid the leaders remains in a small field on the south side of the Tippecanoe River. Today this spot is on State Rd. 15, north of Warsaw, by the Tippecanoe River bridge says Winger.
Sat Body Upright
In this small meadow they sat Monoquets body upright against a tree and built a fence of horizontal poles six feet long, four feet wide and four feet high. At one end of the fence was the dead chief sitting, face toward the south with his blanket across his shoulders, says Armstrong. Monoquets horse and dog were killed and placed beside him. The sorrowing Indians brought hunting arms and succotash and other food to the dead chief, according to Winger. For months afterward Monoquet sat in his resting place undisturbed. Jim Monoquet, the chiefs son, was dubbed new leader after his fathers death.
A custom of the Indians who lived in Kosciusko county was to leave their dead adults sitting on top of the ground for four or five years, then bury the bones. (When babies died, squaws wove willow cradle-baskets, placed their little ones in them and fastened the cradles among the upper branches of trees.)
There are at least three versions of what happened to Monoquets remains. Winger says the white settlers in Kosciusko County would not allow Monoquets body to deteriorate on top the ground and they set fire to his little pole burial fence.
Coplen says Monoquets body remained in the pole fence until the Indians went west in 1838. He adds Monoquets tribesmen commented they did not want to leave Kosciusko County as long as their chiefs body retained its position. So someone who had preempted the Indian land stole into the resting place and strewed Monoquets bones about the vicinity. "In later years a half dozen physicians claimed they had the skull of the old chief, while another man said he had nailed it over his chicken coop to keep away the foxes and owls," writes Coplen.
Another legend claims the Indians buried Monoquets bones not far from the present site of Monoquet Meadows, in the southern part of Plain Township, section 30, on the farm of either Fay O. Rosbrugh, Warren Rosbrugh or Esther Rosbrugh.
Another chief named Musquawbuck ruled a tribe of Pottawatomi Indians living on a reservation of four sections of land, located roughly one mile east of Leesburg. This reservation included land that is now the site of Oswego and the Armstrong Road was once an Indian trail that ran directly into the Musquawbuck reserve.
Musquawbuck's village was located on the south bank of the Tippecanoe River, northwest of the Oswego store and his reservation included Bone Prairie. This mild-mannered chief was a very handsome man, according to the Kosciusko County atlas of 1879. Descriptions of Musquawbuck say he was the most imposing figure of all the chiefs in Kosciusko County. He "was the finest specimen of physical manhood." His forehead was high and broad. He was large, erect and square-built and "in every respect well-proportioned."" He weighed 180 pounds. At age 65 years, he died from a fall from his horse in 1836, according to Winger.
Musquawbuck's family was not the usual dark copper color of Indians; they were lighter and resembled the mulattoes of the South. The chief's sons included Macose and Mazette, who were twins; John; and Bill, who was the youngest.
In 1836, Bill Musquawbuck was approximately 25 years old and extremely fond of white company. He spoke fair English and attended the old one-room Warner School, now an historical site located in North Webster beside the M & M Restaurant.
When the Indians were forced to leave Kosciusko County in 1838, '"Bill left with great reluctance, having to part with white friends in addition to the natural regret of leaving his native land and home," states the 1879 county atlas.
Chief Musquawbuck's third son, John, was killed one night near Leesburg. John was returning to his village at Oswego and Bone Prairie when he began quarreling with some of his drinking companions. One of the companions killed him at the foot of Harper's Hill which is located on the spot where the brick farmhouse stands on the C. W. Holderman farm, where Harper Road meets County Road 700 North, approximately three-tenths of a mile east of Martin's Leesburg Mill, on the east edge of Leesburg. The next day some white Leesburg citizens buried John and today his bones sleep beneath the north east corner of the tool house in Leesburg cemetery, according to Armstrong.
Warsaw Times Union Spotlight June 24-30, 1974
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