The day this is published, May 13, will mark the 176th anniversary of the arrival of five people sent here “for the purpose of fixing the permanent seat of justice in the said county of Richardville.”
The act to organize the last-named county in the state had been approved by Indiana’s General Assembly early in 1844.
To start the county government, the Indiana legislature dispatched five locating commissioners to “meet at the house of John Harrison” in the county’s west side on the “second Monday in May.” As the record doesn’t indicate otherwise, they arrived there on May 13, 1844.
Two days later, the five commissioners had ventured about eight miles to the east along Wildcat Creek to another cabin teeming with trade goods and white children — three girls and three boys, aged 12 to an infant. Probably a few Miami Indians were visiting as well. When the commissioners signed a title bond with the family’s father and mother for 40 acres of land for the county seat on May 15, 1844, we were on our way.
Richardville County was recycled from the residue of the 1,200-square-mile Big Miami Reserve, which by 1835 was the largest territory in the state not incorporated into an existing county and all that remained of collectively held land for the Miami tribe of Indians. The Miami ceded their collective lands and acceded to their forced removal in a series of treaties from 1795 to 1840.
Article 10 of the 1840 Treaty with the Miami set aside seven sections of land (including one in Howard County) for akima (civil chief) Jean Baptiste Richardville and one 640-acre section – “at the rapids of Wildcat” – to Richardville’s son-in-law and successor as civil chief, Francis Lafontaine.
Neither Richardville nor Lafontaine ever lived on their private reserves in Howard County. In October 1841, akima Lafontaine transferred his title to Allen Hamilton, who operated “the most powerful trading-house” on the Upper Wabash and was involved in practically every sanctioned aspect of Indian removal in Indiana. Hamilton held onto the “Lafontaine Reserve No. 6” for two years and two months before transferring the title on Jan. 17, 1844, to a 36-year-old cabinet-maker from Virginia who two years earlier had tramped through the woods with his 29-year-old wife and six children. Their home was a combination cabin/trading post in a clearing about 100 yards north of the “rapids of Wildcat” right in the heart of the reserve section they now owned. They were David and Elizabeth Foster (and family).
When the five locating commissioners arrived that May seeking a suitable site for the seat of justice, they were bound by both the January 1844 act creating Richardville County and an earlier 1824 act regarding “Seats of Justice in New Counties,” which states county seats should be in a position “central and permanent.” The Fosters had clear title to 640 acres in the middle of the reserve, so the locating commissioners really had no choice.
They also weren’t here very long. On Wednesday, May 15, 1844, just two days after arrival, they had what they needed – a Title Bond (with a consideration of $5,000 from Foster), which specified the exact location of the boundary marker “at the north west corner of said section at a stone marked (D)” and included the dimensional description for 40 acres on the north side of the creek. In exchange for a warranty deed to the property, the locating commissioners would locate the new county’s seat of justice “on lands belonging to said David Foster.” When the title bond was signed, Richardville County was underway.
All that was needed was a name for the unincorporated county-seat township. Methodist church records show that the group of squatters along the Wildcat were already calling themselves “Kokomo” in 1843, one year before the county is organized. Clearly this growing community was simply continuing to use the name of the Miami village whose head man at one time was named Kokomo.
Our own first commissioners made it official at their meeting in August 1844 when they renamed the county’s three original districts: “Monroe” in the west, “Green Township” in the east, and for the unincorporated county seat in the center: “Kocomo (sic).”
And it all started on May 15 with Foster’s Title Bond for the county seat. Happy Birthday, Howard County!
(And a postscript: To learn why the name was changed to Howard, see the Past and Present column “County name change may have been a compromise,” in the March 18, 2020, issue of the Kokomo Perspective.)