Father Marquette was doubtless the first European ever to visit this section of the country. In 1673 he passed up the Illinois and Kankakee rivers and across the portage to the "St. Joseph of the Lakes", and tradition tells us that he reached the river and first gazed upon its beauties at a point about two miles from where the city of South Bend now stands. The mouth of the St. Joseph river was discovered by La Salle in 1679. At that time and for a century and a half afterward, the Miami and Pottawatomie tribes of Indians were the principal occupants of the country, and interspersed among them were French traders who adopted many of the habits and customs of the aborigines. It thus becomes impossible to determine to whom really belongs the honor of being the first white settler of what is now known as St. Joseph county. It is also doubtless the fact that during the century and a half following the visit of Father Marquette and LaSalle, that many Catholic priests, in the fulfillment of their work, labored among the Indians in this vicinity. In the neighborhood of Niles, Michigan, about three miles from the county and State line, are yet to be seen the ruins of an old mission, the one doubtless referred to by Father Hennepin, a quotation from whose narrative is given elsewhere.
In 1820 Pierre F. Navarre, in the employ of the American Fur Company, came here, and in the vicinity of the present city of South Bend married a squaw of the Pottawatomie tribe of Indians, and here made a permanent home, raising a family of some half dozen children, who are now scattered throughout the West, one of whom became a preacher of the Mormon faith. Pierre F. Navarre was a man about six feet in height, slimly built, dark complexion, with a very intelligent countenance. He was as well educated as the majority of frontiersmen, and gave his children as good an education as the country afforded at that early day. No one ever impeached his honesty, and he was always regarded as an upright man. Shortly after the Pottawatomie Indians were removed to their reservation in the West, Navarre followed them, remaining but a short time, and then returning to South Bend, where he died at the residence of one of his daughters, on the 27th day of December, 1864.
The second white man to effect a settlement was Alexis Coquillard, who, in the employ of the American Fur Company, established an agency here in 1823, and with his wife, made it his home the following year. Mr. Coquillard at this time was a young man of fine personal appearance, energetic, and the right kind of a man to build up a new place. To him, more than any other one man, is due the excellent start made by the county, and especially the city of South Bend. Coquillard was of French parentage and born in Detroit. He spent much of his time among the Indians, and being a man of large frame and powerful muscle, weighing about two hundred and fifty pounds, he was held in high esteem, and was greatly feared by them. Many incidents are yet remembered by the early settlers of the remarkable influence wielded by him over these people. They talked, at one time, of electing him chief and his trading post on the banks of the St. Joseph river was a favorite resort for all the tribes in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. (For a sketch of the life of Coquillard, the reader's attention is directed to the chapter entitled "Some of the Illustrious Dead of St. Joseph County.")
Lathrop M. Taylor came next, in September, 1827. He was likewise an Indian trader and agent for a Fort Wayne firm. He was elected the first Clerk and Recorder, and has held various important positions in the business and civil concerns of the county for a half century. He was appointed the first postmaster, June 1829, and held the office for about ten years, being removed in 1839 on account of his failure to indorse the administration then in power.
Lewis San Comb, Job Brookfield, Timothy Smith and family, settled near the trading posts of Coquillard and Taylor, in 1827, and William Brookfield, about two miles down the river, in what is now German township. It was on the farm of William Brookfield that the village of St. Joseph was laid out, and where the county seat was first located by the Commissioners appointed for the purpose.
In 1828 came Samuel L. Cottrell, and settled at the trading post. Mr. Cottrell afterward became quite influential in the affairs of the county, serving as Sheriff for several terms, besides holding other important offices. During the same year came Henry Painter and Eli Smith, who settled in or near South Bend, while William and Timothy Moat settled in what is now known as Penn township, and Jacob Cripe, Daniel Eiler, and Samuel Cannon took up their residence in Clay township.
In 1829 Benjamin Potter, John Hague, Mr. McCombs and others settled in Clay Township; John Smith, David and Aaron Miller, in German; and William Holt and S.I.H. Ireland in Penn.
In 1830 emigrants began to pour into the county in large numbers, among whom were Messrs. Rush, Druliner, Vail, Garwood, Nickerson, Egbert, White, Boyd, Rupel, Antrim, Whitmer, Bird, Rudduck, Haller, Ritter, Cripe, Longley, Millings, Peckover, Palmer, Rose, Skinner, Cottrell, West, Smith, Enstler, Harris, Bell, Miller, Ringle, Baldwin and others, the names of many whom will be found in the histories of the various townships.
The original inhabitants of that tract of country which now constitutes the county of St. Joseph as well as the entire St. Joseph Valley, were various tribes of Indians more particularly the Miamis and Pottawatomies, the first named being in possession when the Catholics established their missions here in the latter part of the seventeenth century. The principal station of the mission, for the instruction of the Miamis, was established on the borders of the St. Joseph river, then known as the "river of the Miamis", but which was changed by the missionaries somewhat later to "the St. Joseph of Lake Michigan".
The Missionary Hennepin gives the following account of the building of the first French post within the territory of the Miamis. "Just at the mouth of the river Miami there was an eminence with a kind of platform naturally fortified. It was pretty high and steep, of a triangular form, defended on two sides by the river, and on the other by a deep ditch, which the fall of the water had made. We fell the trees that were on the top of the hill, and having cleared the same from bushes for about two musket shot, we began to build a redoubt of about 80 feet long and 40 feet broad, with great square pieces of timber laid one up another, and prepared a great number of stakes of about 25 feet long, to drive into the ground, to make our fort the more inaccessible on the river side. We employed the whole month of November (1679) about that work, which was very hard, though we had no other food but the bear's flesh our savage (Indian) killed. These beasts are very common in that place, because of the great quantity of grapes that they find there; but their flesh being too fat and luscious, our men began to be weary of it, and desired leave to go a hunting to kill some wild goats. M. LaSalle denied them that liberty, which caused some murmurs among them, and it was but unwillingly that they continued their work. This, together with the approach of winter and the apprehension M. LaSalle had that his vessel (the Griffin) was lost, made him very melancholy, though he concealed it as much as he could. We had made a cabin wherein we performed divine service every Sunday, and Father Gabriel and I, who preached alternately, took care to take such texts as were suitable to our present circumstances, and fit to inspire us with courage, concord and brotherly love. The fort was at last perfected and called Fort Miamis."
In the year 1711, the Missionary Chardon, who, it is said, "was full of zeal, and had a rare talent for acquiring languages", had his station on the St. Joseph river, about 60 miles above its mouth. In l721, about half a century after the year in which Allouez and Dablon traversed the country lying on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, Charlevoix, a distinguished missionary from France, visited a small fort, or trading post, on the St. Joseph river, where there was a missionary station; In a letter dated "River St. Joseph Aug. 16, 1721", Charlevoix says: "It was eight days yesterday since I arrived at this post, where we have a mission, and where there is a commandant with a small garrison. The commandant's house, which is but a very sorry one, is called the fort, from its being surrounded with an indifferent palisado, which is pretty near the case in all the rest. We have here two villages of Indians, one of the Miamis and the other of the Pottawatomies, both of them mostly Christians; but as they have been for a long time without any pastor, the missionary who has been lately sent to them will have no small difficulty in bringing them back to the exercise of their religion. The river St. Joseph comes from the southeast and discharges itself into Lake Michigan, the eastern shore of which is a hundred leagues in length, and which you are obliged to sail along before you come to the entry of this river. You afterward sail up 20 leagues in it before you reach the fort, which navigation requires great precaution. Several Indians of the two nations (Miamis and Pottawatomies) settled upon this river are just returned from the English colonies, whither they have been to sell their furs, and whence they have brought back, in return, a great quantity of spirituous liquors. The distribution of it is made in the usual manner; that is to say, a certain number of persons have, daily, delivered to each of them a quantity sufficient to get drunk with; so that the whole has been drunk up in eight days. They began to drink in the villages as soon as the sun was down; and every night the fields echoed with the most hideous howling."
As has already been stated, this vicinity was then the home of the Miami and Pottawatomie tribes of Indians, many of whom, especially of the latter tribe, soon became converts to the Christian religion as proclaimed by the self-sacrificing priests who cheerfully bore the cross into the wilderness. Through the influence of these God fearing men, the latter tribe of Indians became fast friends of the whites. Though surrounded by other hostile tribes, and every influence brought to bear upon them to compel them to unite in an insurrection, they never wavered. In 1792, while other tribes, in small war parties, continued to lurk about the white settlements on the borders of the Ohio river, way-laying the paths, capturing horses and cattle, killing some of the settlers, and carrying others into captivity, the Pottawatomies remained true. In response to an invitation to visit the capital of the country, Lagesse, the principal chief of the tribe, sent an address in which he said: "We are very glad to hear from you, but sorry we cannot comply with your request. The situation of affairs in this country prevents us. We are every day threatened by the other Indians, that if we do not take a part with them against the Americans they will destroy our villages. This alone, my father, makes it necessary for all the chiefs to remain at home. My father: You tell us you are ignorant why the red people makes war on your white people. We are as ignorant of it as you are; for ever since the beginning of the war, we have lain still in our villages, although we have repeatedly been invited to go to war; but, my father, the confidence we have in you has prevented us from making war against you, and we hold you by the hand with a stronger grip than ever. My father: Keep up your Spirits more than ever; for you have this year more red people to fight than you have had yet. If I could give you a hand I would do it; but I cannot, and I am glad if me and my people have a quiet life this summer. If I had been disposed to believe all the reports I have heard, I would have made your messengers prisoners; for we are told they are spies and that you have an army coming against us; but I am deaf to every thing that comes from the Miamis. Every day we receive messengers from those people, but we have been deaf to them and will remain so."
Various treaties having been made with Governor Cass, then Governor of Michigan, and others, and their lands having been purchased at various times and places, they were removed in 1840 -'43, per order of the general Government, into Iowa, under the conduct of Alexis Coquillard.
The Pottawatomies were a kind and peaceful people when not excited by liquor. Many of the old settlers of the county regretted their departure from the country, and the Indians seemed equally reluctant to go. In many instances they came to the cabins of the whites to bid them good-bye, while flowing tears showed the depth of their feelings on leaving the hunting grounds and graves of their fathers.
A writer in the South Bend Tribune in 1878 has this to say of the first inhabitants of this country: "Over a century ago the red men of the forest were the sole occupants of the northwestern part of our country. A number of different tribes were thus scattered over that portion which now forms the States of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. As they occasionally visited each other during favorable seasons, when those who lived in Michigan desired to see their friends in Illinois, they would go down the St. Joseph river in their canoes, being joined by others along the route who wished to accompany them, and proceed on their way to a point on the river now known as Pinhook, from a peculiar bend around a long, narrow peninsula of pin-like form, being about two miles below the present city of South Bend, where they would land; and putting their luggage, traps and other things into their canoes, one large Indian would shoulder the bow and another the stern of their canoes, and in this way carry them across the high, rolling prairie, calling it Portage Prairie on account of the porterage across it. Some of them would take the trail to the headwaters of the Kankakee river, while others would cross over to Terre Coupee (signifying "land cut off"), where the land was cut off by the water for many miles around, forming a large, shallow lake. There they would build temporary huts and wait for the rest of the party to come up, in the meantime amusing themselves by rowing across and around the lake, fishing, trapping and hunting most of the time, until they were ready to start again. When they would cross the water in their canoes to the Grapevine creek, which was the outlet to this shallow lake; then down the Grapevine to the Kankakee river, and down the Kankakee, hunting, fishing and trapping on the way to the Illinois country, where they would spend some weeks visiting, enjoying themselves well, smoking their pipes of peace, and in due time, return by the same route, and in much the same manner, to their homes in Michigan. These were happy days with them, being the true owners of all the forests and fields, natives to the manor born. The buffalo, the deer and the antelope, as well as the wild fowls and fish, all belonged to them for their sustenance and support. The wild beasts roamed over these lands unmolested, with the exception of an occasionally well-directed arrow from the red man's bow, killing one or two for his present need, carefully leaving the rest to increase and multiply for his future wants. These red men could roam over woodland and field without limit; the soil being all their own, no one had a right to molest them in their enjoyments. Their principal occupations were hunting, fishing, trapping, raising a little common tobacco, smoking their pipes of peace, and visiting one another."
Along the Kankakee river for quite a distance on either side is marsh land, but the marshes are becoming gradually dried each year, and one of the most extensive peat-beds in the State has been discovered here. It is upward of sixty miles in length and about three miles in width, lying on both sides of the Kankakee, and is from ten to fifteen feet in depth. This will in time become invaluable as fuel, and will also furnish an inexhaustible fountain for the manufacture of gas. On the north and south of Mishawaka are marsh lands which furnish an inexhaustible supply of bog ore, which was extensively used for some years.
On this river are some very fitie water-powers, flie best being at South Bend, where it is used to run a large number of manufactories of various kinds. The river is about 250 miles in length and is the most beautiful and picturesque stream in the State.
The Kankakee river takes its rise about one mile west of the city of South Bend, on section 9, township 37 north of range 2 east. Taking a southwesterly course it passes through sections 16, 20, 19 and 30 of the same town and range where it takes its rise, thence through sections 25, 26, 35, 34, 33, township 37 north of range 1 east sections 4, 5, 6, 7, township 36 north of range 1 east, and sections 12 and 13, township 36 north of range 1 west into La Porte county, whence it passes on to the Illinois river, into which it empties.
The first regularly located road was made in 1830 under the supervision of Judge Polk, of Logansport, Indiana by order of the State and is known as the Michigan road. This road was run from Madison, Indiana, on the Ohio river to the mouth of Trail creek, where has since been located Michigan City, on Lake Michigan. The road first struck this county in township 35 north, of range 2 east, and taking a northerly course, was run to South Bend, and thence west, leaving the county on section 34, township 38 north, of range 1 west, where since has been located the town of New Carlisle. The reason the road was run to the present city of South Bend, instead of going in a direct course to its terminus was to avoid the Kankakee marsh.
Go to Chapter IV, "Pioneer Life"
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