Early History of Wells County

The Wabash River passes through Wells County on its nearly 500-mile journey through the State of Indiana. Bands of Miami Indians made their camps at favored locations along the river and followed the river's 21 miles through the county when traveling.

When the first settlers arrived in 1829, they found a large camp scarcely a mile upstream from the future location of Bluffton, the county's seat of government. The trail along the river was named the Quaker Trace. Another Indian trail crossing the county led westward from the Wabash River to the Salamonie and Mississinnewa Rivers, both tributaries of the Wabash. Portions of these trails became pioneer roads.

The southernmost tip of an Indian reservation created by treaty with the Miami Indians in 1818, was located just north of the present location of the Horeb Cemetery on State Road 224 in Rockcreek Township. The reservation at one time included a small portion of Rockcreek and Jefferson Townships and nearly all of Union Township in Wells County, as well as territory in Allen and Huntington Counties.

Early settlers reportedly had little trouble with the Indians other than their begging for and stealing food. One story told of a man who, being chased by an Indian, stopped at a cabin, asking to be hidden and stay the night. He was hidden under a bed. The Indian pursuing him also stopped at the same cabin and indicated he too would spend the night. The Indian slept on the bed with the man remaining hidden underneath! After the Indian left the following morning, the man appeared and departed in a different direction. Artifacts from the Miamis have been found as well as many artifacts from prehistoric tribes.

In 1829, Dr. Joseph Knox with his wife and their two sons-in-law, VanTrees and Warner, with their wives, settled in Wells County, across the Wabash River from the present town of Murray. At that time, they were the only settlers between Huntington, Indiana and Fort Recovery, Ohio. They were followed by Alan and Isaac Norcross in 1831 who settled near the Wabash river, below the present site of Bluffton. These first pioneers fled in 1832, panic stricken by rumors of the Blackhawk (Indian) War. Alan Norcross later returned to his farm, but Jacob and Henry Miller, who arrived in 1832, became the first permanent settlers in Wells County. A general wave of immigration began the next year, and in 1835, Henry Miller's daughter Elizabeth was the first white child born in the county. The Miller land was located on the west side of the Wabash river at Murray, Indiana. A marker is located at the site.

Even before Dr. Knox came in 1829, government survey teams had been here in 1822 and 1823, as well as throughout Indiana, to survey the land. These surveys were accomplished by teams of men who actually came and surveyed around each congressional township, then set the north and south section lines and finally set the east and west section lines. During their survey, field notes included information about the land as they traversed the section lines. The information recorded the species of trees, soil type, if tillable or swamp, and if rolling or level. They were instructed to adjust the human, and geographic errors due to the earth's curvature, by making offsets in the boundaries. These adjustments account for jogs in the county roads today. Later in the 1830's the survey teams were instructed to make the adjustments by shorting the acreage in the last section surveyed. This practice explains shortages in acreage of quarter sections on the west tier and north line of the townships surveyed later. Their field notes described the land generally as flat, heavily timbered, and in some areas as wetlands. Other areas were recorded as tillable. It was on the basis of these maps and field notes that people in the east purchased the land and moved into the soon to be Wells County. Never before in history had man ever attempted to measure, explore, and record facts about so large a tract of land as the Northwest Territory, to prepare it for orderly settlement.

The first land patents, signed by the President were issued in 1831, to Dr. Joseph Knox. His land was along the Wabash, near the present site of the town of Murray (first called "Lancaster," then later "New Lancaster"). Many government land patents were issued in the period 1835-1838 indicating a large influx of settlers during that period.

The Indian reservation (see The Indians and Wells County, above) was not surveyed until 1838. In this survey, a 640 acre tract was designated as section 38 with the land patent title issued to an un-named Indian (perhaps a chief). The records show when he disposed of the land, he and his wife signed with an"X".

Many of the early settlers had never seen the land they claimed. They merely made claim from the survey maps and the notes the surveyors had made on the condition of the area as they saw it.

Not all land purchased from the government was for personal use. Abraham Studabaker, of Darke County, Ohio, as early as 1833, entered tracts for resale. He and his sons and nephews claimed large tracts from Murray to Geneva, Indiana, along the Wabash River; some portions still remain in the Studabaker family descendants today. Abraham himself never resided in Wells County, and it was said had not visited the area. He sent his son, John, from Darke County, Ohio, in 1838 to set up a trading post at Bluffton. John's brother, Peter, joined him here in 1847. Both John and Peter had large families. Many present day Wells County residents are descendants of these Studabakers.

On February 2, 1837, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill creating Wells County. The county was named for Captain William H. Wells who was born in Kentucky, near the Indiana border about 1770. He was kidnapped by a roving band of Indians when he was 12 years old. They took him to the headquarters of the Miami tribe near Fort Wayne, where he was adopted by Chief Little Turtle. His first wife was the chief's sister and his second wife Little Turtle's daughter, "Sweet Breeze." Living the life of an Indian brave, he fought in the bloody wars against the white settlers. None of these battles occured in Wells County.

Later Wells became aware of, and conscience stricken, when he realized he was fighting his own people. Following the defeat of General St. Clair in 1791, he revealed his feelings to Chief Little Turtle. Tradition in the Wells family was that Chief Little Turtle was in agreement that Wells should return and join the white people, believing this action might help to bring peace between the Indian Nation and the United States. Wells became a captain under General Anthony Wayne in 1793. When peace did come in 1795, Wells assisted in the negotiations. He learned to read and write and was an Indian agent in Fort Wayne until the War of 1812 with Great Britain. He was killed at the massacre of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) on August 15, 1815, while attempting to defend the women and children at the fort.

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