Indianapolis in 1820 by Alois E. Sinks – showing the point where Washington Street crossed Meridian.
Who was the True Founder of Indianapolis?
Shrouded in Controversy…
And a Mysterious Death…
In almost 200 years, the city of Indianapolis has grown from a single square-mile plat envisioned by noted architect and surveyor, Alexander Ralston, to the 12th-largest city in the United States, encompassing 369 square-miles. But before the state government was moved from Corydon in 1824, this densely forested river valley was relatively serene and unpopulated — except by fat fish and wild turkeys.
It’s generally believed that a man by the name of Jacob Whetzel and is son Cyrus were the first to secure permission from the Delaware Indians to cut a trail from Franklin County to the White River. The land was officially off limits for settling until an 1818 treaty opened it up to would-be settlers, who called the area “New Purchase.”
John McCormick (1791-1825)
Into this wilderness came pioneer John McCormick. He left his residence in Connersville, Indiana, in 1820, leading his family and nine employees along the Whetzel Trace to the confluence of Fall Creek and the White River. The family’s oral history contends that the 12 men of the group raised a cabin (on the east side of the White River, at present day Washington Street) the very same day they arrived: February 26th. The McCormicks staked out their claim as “squatters,” taking their chances on government land, hoping that eventually their homestead would be translated into a legal title at the 1821 land sale.
The McCormick family worked hard in the brutal environment and flourished despite the area’s and era’s primitive circumstances, abundant mosquitoes, and relative lawlessness. John McCormick built and operated a sawmill and also ran the tavern that hosted a very important meeting in June of 1820; a gathering that would decide the location of the new state capital.
The site of the McCormick log cabin is today marked by a plaque, installed on a rock that’s located in White River State Park.
George Pogue (1765-1821)
A “blacksmith in a place with no horses to shoe,” by the name of George Pogue arrived on the scene in March of 1819 (though detractors contend it was 1820). He built a double-size cabin for his wife and family of five. The Pogues also hailed from Connorsville, cutting a trail in line with present day Brookville Road on their way, and finally settling in the spot where today, Pogue’s Run crosses Michigan Street.
In his book, Greater Indianapolis (1910), author and historian Jacob Platt Dunn examined evidence and family oral histories, finding a great many discrepancies in story telling. Dunn concluded that McCormick was likely the first permanent settler in the White River-Fall Creek area, whereas Pogue was probably the first to settle permanently within the boundaries of the “Congressional Donation Lands.”
However, there was no doubt that Pogue was the first founder to die… or so it is believed… because his body was never recovered. Or was it?
The curious tale of George Pogue’s disappearance begins with an Indian by the name of Wyandotte John — an outsider who lived in a hollow sycamore log just outside the settlement. One cold night, Wyandotte John appeared at Pogue’s cabin and invited himself to stay. During dinner, conversation centered around the whereabouts of the recently-stolen Pogue family horses. In those days, a stolen horse was no small matter. One of the most vital resources a pioneering family had was its horse stock. Without horses, travel was slow, plowing was impossible and getting your perishable goods to a far-off market was a hopeless proposition.
When Wyandotte John offered up information about some iron-shod horses he had just seen at an Indian camp near Buck’s Creek, Pogue set out to locate them.
That was the last that George Pogue was ever seen — giving him the dubious double-honor of being the last white man to meet with death [presumably] at the hands of Indians, in central Indiana, and the first recorded murder victim in Indianapolis. Speculation and rumors ran rampant after his disappearance. One of Pogue’s sons claimed to have seen a Delaware Indian wearing George’s clothes not long after he disappeared. Someone else said that the Indians cooked and ate the Pogue family dog that had accompanied George.
Indiana’s oldest cold case…
In May of 2013, a “very old” human jawbone and finger bone were discovered in Garfield Park. Speculation and rumors again ran rampant: Was it a Civil War soldier? Was it remains from a Delaware Indian burial ground? Could it be George Pogue? According to researchers in the Indiana State Archives office, the location where the bones were found corresponds with the place Pogue was headed when he was last seen.
It’s exciting to think that the almost-200-year-old case could finally be solved — but one has to acknowledge that the evidence has been compromised, over the years. Flooding, for example, might have moved bones from a cemetery, down creek. It could be an unmarked Indian grave, or a family member of one of the area’s early farmers. And, there is a just the slight possibility that Pogue may have already been found; a newspaper article from 1905 mentions an unearthed skeleton near that same spot.
What do you think are the chances that jaw belonged to Pogue?