Where we drew the line
Could Chicago have been in Indiana?
Jonathan Jennings, Indiana’s first elected governor, was responsible for naming commissioners to resolve the demands of government. The man who would eventually come to Allen County as Indian Agent, John Tipton, was a popular choice for several such assignments. Just four years after statehood was achieved, Tipton was named to a 10-member commission to select and locate a site for a state capital. Ultimately the commission chose Indianapolis over Strawtown.
On April 3, 1821, Jennings again tapped John Tipton for commission duty. Now it was to locate the boundary line between Indiana and the new state of Illinois, which was established in 1818. Surveying meant plodding through unbroken country in the days before satellite technology. M.W. Pershing, author of “Life of General John Tipton,” published an interesting supposition: “But for an error made by the surveyor, who failed to establish a true meridian, the great city of Chicago would today be in the State of Indiana, instead of in the State of Illinois.” Had the surveyor not made an error, would Chicago today be placed within Indiana as a city? Pershing concluded the surveyor’s notes held a stronger influence over Tipton’s insistence, and Chicago stayed with Illinois.
The notion that Chicago might be in Indiana may have another interpretation. Historian Will Ball’s account, taken from “The Tipton Papers,” delineates the field notes made during the boundary surveys. In 1834, Micajah T. Williams resurveyed the 1821 completed boundary line project and found no changes necessary.
In a moment of conjecture, Ball wrote that later as a member of the U.S. Senate, Tipton agitated for a harbor at the mouth of Trail Creek and not at the mouth of the Chicago River, both empyting into Lake Michigan. Ball contends, “If (Tipton’s) proposal had carried, Chicago today would be in Indiana where Michigan City now stands.”
Another explanation can be found in “Indiana Boundaries,” edited by Dorothy Riker. Illinois, upon receiving the survey, objected to the report since it did not fix any starting point at the site of Vincennes. Stating he was aware of their concern, Tipton confirmed he had given Illinois an advantage since he was “fearful he might injure his political standing by stating the fact in the Report and the Field Book, refused to make any other return.” On Feb. 17, 1823, confirmation of both the Illinois and Indiana Assemblies approved the line.
In 1823, John Tipton by appointment of President Monroe was made Indian Agent and assigned to Fort Wayne. Tipton has even been credited with suggesting the name for Allen County to honor Col. John Allen of the Kentucky Militia, who lost his life at the Battle of River Raisin in Michigan. Indian Agent Tipton was then assigned another important task. At the 1826 Treaty of Paradise Springs, now present-day Wabash, Indiana, the president appointed Tipton, Lewis Cass and Gov. John B. Ray to negotiate with the Miami and Potawatomi.
In 1828, Tipton relocated the agency to Logansport, where Indian tribes received annuity payments resulting from treaties. He argued the tribes would be better served if the agency moved away from the white traders at Fort Wayne.
After the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed, and the day came in 1838 for the Potawatomi to relocate to the lands set aside west of the Mississippi, tribe members resented having to move. It became such a serious resistance that Gov. Wallace sent in soldiers to persuade the Indians to begin their move west. The governor called on Tipton to carry out the unfortunate mission, and the oppressed, dejected and humiliated Indians were forced to leave their beloved homeland.
John Tipton was a man of many experiences packed into a relatively few years. He died in 1839 at the age of 53 and is buried in Logansport’s Mount Hope Cemetery.
First appeared in the October 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.