Saturday, November 19, 2022

Lost Porter County: Crisman Cemetery

Several burial grounds in Porter County were abandoned early in the county's history. Graves in these cemeteries were either disinterred and placed elsewhere or the burials and their markers were simply obliterated over time if not removed from the site. In some cases, such as the Clifford Cemetery west of Valparaiso, burials were both disinterred and obliterated.

One early county burial ground that no longer exists is Crisman Cemetery located in Portage Township. Fortunately, enough fragmented pieces of evidence exist to trace what factors may have led to the abandonment of this burial ground and to identify its most probable location.

With respect to burial information in Porter County, the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society's cemetery indices provide a wealth of information. The Society's index of Portage Township cemeteries, published in 1995, includes this statement concerning Crisman Cemetery:
Benjamin & Elizabeth (Baughman) Crisman arrived in Porter Co. in 1850. Their family consisted of Solomon, Isaac, Addison, Oliver, Henry, Milton, Haney, Wesley, Eliza, Jane. While excavating for a service station at the SE corner of US 20 in section 1, stones were found. One stone had I. & J. Crisman and another had Wilbur - Martha children of I & J Crisman. Isaac Crisman was born June 3, 1839 and married Jane White on December 12, 1870.
The genealogical society's information was probably gleaned from the following article published in the July 11, 1962, issue of The Vidette-Messenger:
Grave Question
PORTAGE -- Descendants of Portage pioneers, Isaac and Jane Crisman, are currently mulling over a monumental question involving recently unearthed family gravestones.

The three stones -- a family monument and two headstones – were found by workmen at the southeast corner of U.S. 20 and Crisman road during excavations for a new filling station.

Big question to descendants Mrs. Celia (Crisman) Nealon and her sister, Mrs. Max Wheat, was the locale of the family cemetery.

Both Portage women are of the opinion that the family plot was located north of the spot where the stone were found, in an area north of the former Soule restaurant.

Erected By Pioneers
They feel it is impossible to believe that heavily travelled U.S. 20 could now be running through and desecrating the Crisman family graveyard. "If so," they asked, "how was the law evaded involving desecration of graveyards?"

The monument apparently was erected by pioneers Isaac and Jane Crisman, grandparents of Mrs. Nealon and Mrs. Wheat, in memory of two children, Wilbur and Marta, who died in 1876 of scarlet fever at ages of five and three.

Both the monument and headstones are of unpolished marble and in excellent state of preservation. The headstones bore the names of Wilbur and Marta on top.

Mrs. Nealon, who resides north of the highway on Crisman road, said she and her husband found other tombstone markers of the two children when they acquired their present property 20 years ago. She belives [sic] there was a township graveyard extending north or south of U.S. 20 along Crisman road, which may have become neglected and overgrown with weeds and brush prior to construction of the highway in the middle 1920's.

She said she intends to do some research and checking of records at the courthouse in Valparaiso.

Meanwhile, excavators at the filling station site may turn up more evidence of the possible existence of a graveyard.

Isaac Crisman, son of Ben Crisman, who migrated to the Portage area, was reported to have been the township's first trustee and its first postmaster.

Isaac and Jane resided at 355 Crisman road, south of U.S. 20, now occupied by Glenn Hankinson.
About one week after this story
was published, the following column appeared in the July 19 issue of The Vidette-Messenger:
Explanation Offered Crisman Grave Mystery
PORTAGE -- Any possibilities of the existence of the pioneer Crisman family cemetery at the southeast corner of U. S. 20 and Crisman road in Portage, were dissipated in a report from Mrs. Celia (Crisman) Nealon today.

The question of the family cemetery being located at the intersection arose after workmen two weeks ago unearthed three family gravestones during excavation for filling station at the corner.

Mrs. Maude Blair, 500 Old Porter road, who knows her early Portage history well, aided Mrs. Nealon and her sister, Mrs. Max Wheat, in clearing up the mystery Wednesday.

Mrs. Blair took Mrs. Nealon to a spot north of U. S. 20. directly south of the present Portage Township School administration building and "positively" identified the section where the township cemetery was located, Mrs. Nealon stated.

It is Mrs. Blair's opinion that members of the pioneer Crisman family are still interred there, even though there are no visible stones or markers. The cemetery is located on a high bank overgrown with trees and thick brush.

The mystery of how the three recently unearthed stones, in Wilbur and Marta, son and daughter of I. and J. Crisman, became buried at Crisman road and U. S. 20, still remains unsolved, Mrs. Nealon said today.
Examination of the factual elements mentioned in these companion articles shows that Celia (Crisman) Nealon believed that the Crisman Cemetery was a township cemetery. It is important to note that the term "township cemetery" has a long established legal meaning in Indiana; today, Indiana Code Title 23, Article 14, Chapter 68 provides the legal authority for the care of cemeteries by township trustees.

The establishment of township cemeteries were rather common during the early history of Indiana. Typically, the family of one of the first individuals to die in a township would bury their family member on or very near the grounds of their homestead. As other individuals passed away in the surrounding area, they would also be interred at this newly established burial ground.

News item and photographs concerning unearthed
tombstones from the Crisman family cemetery
Source: The Vidette-Messenger, July 11, 1962.

The family owning the burial ground property would very often deed it to the township or county to ensure its perpetual maintenance through the expenditure of township funds. If Crisman Cemetery was an official township cemetery, then the probability that the cemetery land was deeded to Portage Township would be high. We can assume, however, that Crisman Cemetery was never a township cemetery since no recorded deed exists; Delia Nealon's statement about Crisman Cemetery being a township cemetery was purely speculative and can be easily disproven by deed records.

Next, it was thought by Nealon, Wheat, and Blair that the Crisman Cemetery was situated north of U.S. Route 20 along the east side Crisman Road and not at the southeast corner of the intersection of U.S. Route 20 and Crisman Road. Celia Nealon remarked that when she and her husband purchased their property north of U.S. Route 20 around 1942 that they had found on it "other tombstone markers of the two children." Similarly, Maude Blair "'positively' identified" the location of the burial ground, which was north of U.S. Route 20 "on a high bank overgrown with trees and thick brush." A 1948 plat map shows that the location identified by Blair was adjacent to property co-owned at that time by Nealon and Wheat.

The second article concludes with the sentence: "The mystery of how the three recently unearthed stones, in Wilbur and Marta, son and daughter of I. and J. Crisman, became buried at [the southeast intersection of] Crisman road and U. S. 20, still remains unsolved...."

Perhaps the location of the excavated tombstones is not a mystery. It is possible that the tombstones found their way to their discovered location during the construction of U.S. Route 20 in 1930. This particular area is relatively low and somewhat marshy ground and required the installation of a properly engineered drainage system and elevated road bed when U.S. Route 20 was built. The "high bank" where the burial ground was believed to have been situated would have offered a readily available and low cost opportunity for road builders to obtain fill when establishing the road's grade. Thus, heavy earthmoving equipment may have transferred soil, along with the tombstones, from the high bank southward to the location where excavation was taking place in 1962.

A short news item in the July 30, 1962, issue of The Vidette-Messenger somewhat confirms the soil displacement theory mentioning that Axel Tranberg of Portage "is supposed to have seen the edges of coffins as the highway department dug down for U.S. 20 near the Crisman Road intersection. Oldtimers in the area contend the cemetery was located north of the highway and east of Crisman Road."

Published historical information suggests that maybe this obliterated burial ground should not be referred to as Crisman Cemetery, but rather it should be called the Hunter Cemetery or Field Cemetery. The following short news item appeared in the October 19, 1882, issue of the Porter County Vidette published in Valparaiso:
Joy's Run.
Fields [sic; Field], who owns the Geo. Hunter farm, refuses to allow any more graves to be dug in the grave yard on his farm and gives notice to have those removed already there. As there is no deed for the lot, his wish will probably he [sic; be] complied with.

News item stating that Oscar Field refuses any additional burials on his farm.
Source: Porter County Vidette, October 19, 1882.

Over the next following four weeks in the October 26 and November 2, 9, and 16, 1882, issues of the Porter County Vidette, a formal public notice was published by Oscar Field demanding that bodies be removed from his property.

Notice published by Oscar Field demanding the vacation of
bodies in the burying ground located on his property.
Source: Porter County Vidette, October 26, 1882.

Approximately six years prior to the publication of the Oscar Field's demand for the removal of bodies from his property, a news item appeared in the Porter County Vidette's December 7, 1876, issue announcing the death of one of Ike Crisman's children due to scarlet fever and another being at the "point of death;" these two children would have been Wilbur and Martha Crisman whose tombstones were shown in a photograph with the July 11, 1962, article published by The Vidette-Messenger.

Death notice for child of Ike Crisman.
Source: Porter County Vidette, December 7, 1876.

Collectively, factual information strongly suggests that the Crisman Cemetery was located in the north one-half of the southeast quarter of Section 1; the 1876 plat map of Portage Township indicates that this land was owned by George W. Hunter.

Portion of Portage Township plat map showing location
of George W. Hunter's property in Section 1.
Source: Hardesty's 1876 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Porter County, Indiana, p. 67.

Photograph of George Wesley Hunter.
Source: Dianne Goshorn,

Interestingly, despite Oscar Field's notice to have human remains vacated from his property in 1882, the death notice for Elizabeth Crisman published on December 20, 1888, in The Tribune (Chesterton) states that Elizabeth was "buried in the Oscar Field cemetery." Thus, this burial ground was still in use as late as December 1888. Field had died in February of 1888, so area residents continued to use his property for burials while his estate was proceeding through probate.

Death notice for Elizabeth Crisman.
Source: The Tribune, December 20, 1888.

That said, Elizabeth Crisman may have been rightfully buried, in a legal sense, at the "Oscar Field cemetery" as a direct result of an 1883 court case whereby Benjamin Crisman, Isaac Crisman, and Joseph White, plaintiffs, challenged Oscar Field and Jane Field, defendants, from denying burials on the Field property. The decision in this case was in favor of the plaintiffs with a decree of a perpetual injunction. Given the decision of this case, the burial ground should legally exist to the present day, though not under deed to Portage Township.

Perpetual injunction against Oscar and Jane Field, most
likely in reference to burials on their property.
Source: Porter County Vidette, June 28, 1883.

So who was Oscar Field who became the owner of George W. Hunter's land and, as a result, ended up having a burial ground appurtenant to his property? Oscar was born on September 17, 1835, in Seneca, Lenawee County, Michigan. It should be noted that other contemporary Oscar Field biographies place his nativity at Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan, and Saratoga, Saratoga County, New York. Oscar was a son of Reuben G. and Abigail (Strong) Field.

Soon after his birth Oscar moved with his parents to Troy, Rensselaer County, New York, where his mother would pass away when he was a year old. At the age of twelve, Oscar's father died and he would soon travel to Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, with a total of three cents in his possession upon arrival. Oscar reportedly met a farmer in a tavern a few miles west of Milwaukee and, by chance, learned he was a friend of his now-deceased father, Reuben. The farmer offered Field a job at his farm situated thirty miles west of Milwaukee, which Oscar accepted, and there he became a farm hand for several years.

Field's obituary mentions that when still a boy he went to the plains and entered the service of the Overland Stage Company where he would eventually rise to be a superintendent of a division of that firm. He moved to Chicago in 1860 where he purchased Ed Price's livery business. In 1865, Oscar married Mrs. Jennie Stokes, the widow of Charles Stokes. Field's livery business would be completely destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and he would rebuild his business only to have it destroyed by another fire in 1874. Once again, he would resurrect his business, this time at 165-166 Michigan Avenue, two blocks south of the Chicago River in today's downtown core.

An 1886 published biography of Field remarks that:
For many years he has been one of the largest shippers of racers and fancy stock in the country, enjoying the patronage of many of the largest horse-owners.... Mr. Field is the owner of the well-known stock-farm at Crissman, thirty-two miles from the city. It contains five hundred and fifty acres, and is supplied with large barns for stock with box-stalls, etc., sheds, water, and shade.
It is believed that Field purchased the Hunter property in the fall of 1882, which he would name Pleasant View Farm. The following news item appears in the January 11, 1883, issue of the Porter County Vidette and described Oscar Field's real estate investment in Portage Township:
There is located near Crissman Station one of the largest stock farms in this part of the country. Mr. Oscar Field, of Chicago, a large dealer in and breeder of stock, has purchased about 40 acres of land near the above place and laying out considerable money in making it second to none in the country. He has already 50 head of stock on hand, among which are six head of horses valued at $12,000.
Not only was Field purchasing real estate, he was also improving it. It is known from a short news item appearing in the October 1, 1884, issue of Chesterton's newspaper, The Tribune, that Field had been investing in repairs and remodeling on his Pleasant View Farms property:
Mr. Oscar Fields  [sic], owner of "Pleasant View Farms," has been for several years doing a vast amount of repairing on his farm. At the present writing he is remodling [sic] his dwelling house, which when finished, will look very neat and sensible and add greatly to the value of the farm.

Advertisement for assorted goods and stock at Oscar Field's
Pleasant View Farm located in Portage Township.
Source: Porter County Vidette, November 16, 1882.

Field had added considerably to his forty acre parcel purchased from Hunter in the fall of 1882. By 1886 his real estate holdings near Crisman consisted of five hundred and fifty acres. The January 8, 1885, issue of The Tribune mentions that Field was preparing to construct "a mammoth barn on his farm" with a footprint of 40 feet by 250 feet, allegedly making it the largest barn in Indiana at that time. Field also sold sand from Crisman, advertising in The Chicago Tribune; he used the Michigan Central Railroad as the mode of shipment of sand from Crisman to Chicago markets.

Arthur J. Bowser, longtime publisher of the
Chesterton Tribune, mentions in the December 24, 1884, issue of his newspaper a visit that Field had at Bowser's newspaper office. Bowser provides a description of Field as follows:
Mr. Oscar Field, of Pleasant View Farm, Crissman, called at our sanctum last Friday [December 19], and when we say that he made us a pleasant call, we will emphasize that remark by adding that he ordered THE TRIBUNE sent to his address for one year, and also left an "ad" which, the way, we call your attention to. In Mr. Field, we found one of those great big-hearted, jovial democrats who are always looking on the bright side of life, eccentric in some things maybe but at the same time full of enthusiasm for the "forlorn hope."
Mr. Field was apparently benevolent and kind. The January 1, 1885, issue of The Tribune states in separate news items that:
On the 28th of the present month, Oscar Field, of the Pleasant View Farm also owner of several large livery-barns in Chicago, will give the orphans of the Orphan's Home, of that city a grand sleigh-ride free of cost. Mr. Fields does this every year, and there is not an orphan in the Orphan's Home but what calls him "uncle."

Last week's issue of THE TRIBUNE gave our fellow-townsman, Oscar Field, owner of the Pleasant View Farm, a generous puff. It is not our intention to write the gentleman's biography, which undoubtedly would be very interesting as well as instructive reading. Mr. Field's life has been a very active as well as eventful one. The fire-fiend has twice robbed him of all his wealth. He lost every dollar in the Chicago fire of '71, yet undaunted he strove again adversity and to-day he is the possessor of thousands, which he distributes with lavish hand on his Porter County home. Besides he furnishes scores of men with employment, who are well paid and the proceeds go toward building and happy homes. The needy man, if honest, never was dismissed without receiving pecuniary aid, and in many instances, profitable employment. A visit to his farm will convince the most skeptical sour milk and codfish aristocrat in Porter County that a man of great wealth can be a prince, and yet be respected by all who known him. Mr. Field is fully aware of the fact that there are millions of people on God's green earth besides himself, who are entitled to a chance of becoming independent, consequently he considers it his duty to make business lively so far as lays in his power. To make a long story short, such men make our world a fit place to live in -- they are the levers that move every branch of industry -- their presence in a community causes business to boom, and elects democratic presidents. In this instance the heart is the power that moves the brain.

At some point Oscar must have moved to reside in Porter County's Portage Township since he would be appointed to serve as the postmaster of the small community of Crisman beginning on May 21, 1886. He served as postmaster until his death although he had moved back to Chicago about a year after his appointment to the position.

Oscar Field advertisement for sale of stock and breeding services.
Source: The Tribune, May 20, 1886.

News item mentioning Oscar Field's appointment to serve as postmaster of Crisman.
Source: The Tribune, May 27, 1886.

Less than a year into his term as the postmaster of Crisman, however, a column critical of Field's management of the Crisman  post office appeared in the December 23, 1886, issue of The Tribune. The column states that Field had appointed "a bigoted, narrow-minded republican. By his acts he has brought down the displeasure of the major portion of the patrons of the office, regardless of party and is regarded as a nuisance generally. The Crismanites, in their own language say 'they will not be brow-beaten out of the constitutional right of mailing their letters where they please, by this Mr. Cobb,' and say that his attitude toward them compels them to mail their letters on the train. Great complaint comes from Crisman about this Mr. Cobb, and now Postmaster Field, if you have such a critter in your employ, fire him. Yes, fire him for the good of the cause."

News column critical of Oscar Field's management of the Crisman post office.
Source: The Tribune, December 23, 1886.

Oscar passed away at his Chicago residence located in the Pullman Building on February 12, 1888, and his funeral took place from his home on February 15. He was interred in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. Oscar had been ill one year prior to his death and he had undergone two surgeries, the second of which reportedly resulted in his death. At his death, Field's estate was estimated to be worth at least $50,000 (or approximately $1.5 million in 2022). Oscar bequeathed his entire estate to his wife, Jennie, and no children are mentioned in his will.

Oscar Field's obituary.
Source: The Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1888.

Notice of Shepard Sargent being appointed Crisman's
postmaster upon the death of Oscar Field.
Source: The Tribune, May 10, 1888.

After Oscar's death, his wife Jennie S. Field would settle up his estate. She disposed all the personal property located on Field's Portage Township real estate, consisting of six parcels of land, at a public sale on September 15, 1888. Remarkably, a short item appearing in the January 31, 1889, issue of The Tribune states that Jennie had been ordered [by the probate court] "to settle estate as insolvent," strongly suggesting that Oscar had accrued debts in excess of his assets at the time of his death. Jennie was leasing Oscar's real estate as pasture land in the spring of 1891, advertising its availability in multiple issues of The Tribune. For over a decade, nothing would be mentioned of in local newspapers about the Field property. A short news item, however, appeared in the March 7, 1902, issue of The Chesterton Tribune stating that "There will be a change in the Oscar Field farm at Crisman this spring. Mr. Spencer will retire, and is succeeded by Mr. Detlow. Judge Johnston, who manages the farm for Mrs. Field in her absence, announces that extensive improvements will be made of the farm this year, to cost about $2,000. This is one of the finest farms in the county, and ideally located for extensive stock raising."

Public sale notice placed by Jennie S. Field for
sale of personal property of Oscar Field at Crisman.
Source: The Tribune, August 16, 1888.

Advertisement placed by Jennie S. Field for pasture land at Crisman.
Source: The Tribune, March 5, 1891.

News item concerning the Oscar Field farm.
Source: The Chesterton Tribune, March 7, 1902.

A total of three burials are known to have been made in Crisman Cemetery. Siblings Martha and Wilbur Crisman were buried in the cemetery in 1876 after succumbing to scarlet fever. Elizabeth (Baughman) Crisman, according to her death notice, was interred in the "Oscar Field cemetery" after dying from typhus fever in 1888. Confusingly, a tombstone for Elizabeth exists in Portage Township's McCool Cemetery, suggesting that Elizabeth may never have been buried at the Crisman Cemetery or that her remains were disinterred from Crisman Cemetery and then reburied at the McCool Cemetery. The parents of Martha and Wilbur Crisman - Isaac Crisman and Jane (White) Crisman - are also buried at McCool Cemetery.

Aerial view showing probable location of Crisman Cemetery.
Source: Google Earth, 2021.

Newspaper photograph showing corner where Crisman Cemetery was likely
located northeast of the intersection of Crisman Road and U.S Route 20.
Source: The Vidette-Messenger, January 28, 1960.

Why did the Crisman Cemetery essentially disappear given a perpetual injunction existed, thereby ordering for the allowance of burials to continue on the Field property? It is assumed that the decree ran with the land, similar to an easement, and not with the owner of the land. Thus, all successors in interest to the Field property would have been subject to the decree allowing burials.

The fact that Crisman Cemetery did not become a township cemetery likely led to its "disappearance." The cemetery probably served only the White and Crisman families. As these families either removed from Porter County or were buried elsewhere within the county, there was nobody to fill the void in maintaining the cemetery. If the cemetery had been deeded to the township, then it would have become the legal duty of the township trustee to maintain the burial ground using property taxes paid by township landowners.

In addition, the cemetery was located on a ridge surrounded by marsh-like land; control of the overgrowth of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees would have to be regularly attended to so as to have the cemetery appear as a properly maintained burial ground. As the cemetery became overgrown, it may have become out of sight and, therefore, an out of mind burial ground. The James-Shrock Cemetery, also situated in Portage Township, is an example of cemetery that was once massively overgrown and nearly "lost" until rediscovered when the Indiana Toll Road was being surveyed for construction through the township.

There is one final twist to this physical site. William Albert Briggs, an early twentieth century historian of Porter County, identified the location of the Crisman Cemetery as also being the location of a house used for the Underground Railroad. Dorris et al., citing Briggs as their source, write in 1976 that "For many years before the Civil War numerous slaves escaped from their masters in the South and made their way northward through the Free States.... Porter County had several lines of this means of escape and one stopping place was located about a half mile from the village of Crisman. It was on the north-east corner of Crisman Road and U.S. 20. Here a frame building of four rooms was built in 1857 by a Mr. Smith who used it as a home for himself and his family. The real purpose of the house was to aid the runaway slaves in their break for freedom. Mr. Smith disappeared and no trace of who financed him, where he came from, or where he went have ever been learned. Two main rooms of this house were built over a double cellar and in the floor of each room was a trap door. One or the other was always covered with a rag carpet. Each door led to a separate compartment of the cellar."

Inspection of the 1860 Federal census records for Portage Township reveal only two Smith families, spelled Smithe, residing in the township, that being the household of John and Pheba A. Smithe and their immediate neighbors Dexter and Caroline Smithe. Interestingly, and consistent with Brigg's observation, neither of these two Smithe families are residing in Porter County according to 1870 Federal census records.

Efforts to determine the current location of the three tombstones discovered in the 1962 excavation have been unsuccessful. The author would be interested if you know anything about these tombstones; please contact him at

Below is information concerning the three known burials in Crisman Cemetery.

CRISMAN, Elizabeth Baughman
Birth: August 16, 1816, in Carroll County, Ohio
Death: December 15, 1888, in Crisman, Porter County, Indiana
Note: Wife of Benjamin G. Crisman; tombstone for Elizabeth (Baughman) Crisman appears in the McCool Cemetery in Portage Township. The following death notice published on December 20, 1888, in The Tribune (Chesterton) for Elizabeth Crisman:
DIED- On Dec 15, Mrs. Elizabeth Crisman, of Typhus fever. The funeral took place on the 17th inst., and the remains buried in the Oscar Field cemetery. Mrs. Crisman was the wife of Benjamin Crisman and was an old settler of Porter county, having come to the county with her husband in 1850. Her home was at Crisman Station.
Death: December 1876
Note: Daughter of Isaac and Jane (White) Crisman; given name may have been Mertie.

CRISMAN, Wilbur F.
Death: December 1876
Note: Son of Isaac and Jane (White) Crisman; given name may have been spelled as Wilber.

Siblings Burten Allen "Ollie" Crisman and Lucy Mae "Mazie" Crisman, circa 1886.
Two children of Isaac and Jane (White) Crisman that lived to adulthood.
Source: Collection of Steven R. Shook.

Isaac "Ike" Crisman, circa 1890s.
 Collection of Steven R. Shook.

Source Material

Andreas, A. T. 1886. History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. Chicago, Illinois: The A. T. Andreas Company. 875 p. [see pp. 363-364]

Baker, J. David. 1976. The Postal History of Indiana. Volume II. Louisville, Kentucky: Leonard H. Hartmann, Philatelic Bibliopole. 1,061 p. [see p. 920]

Dorris, Joyce, Dina Vinzani, Dorothy Dudenski, K. Imogene Jones, and James Milligan. 1976. Weaving the Past into the Future: Bicentennial Handbook of Portage Township. Portage, Indiana: Graphic Communications Center, Portage Township Schools. 24 p. [see p. 4]

Hardesty, A. G. 1876. Illustrated Historical Atlas of Porter County, Indiana. Valparaiso, Indiana: A. G. Hardesty. 90 p. [see p. 67]

Historical Publishing Company. 1886. Origin, Growth, and Usefulness of the Chicago Board of Trade: Its Leading Members, and Representative Business Men in Other Branches of Trade. New Yok, New York. Historical Publishing Company. 421 p. [see p. 376]

Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society. 1995. Portage Township Cemeteries. Valparaiso, Indiana: Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society.

Porter County Circuit Court. 1887. Will Record, Volume C, October 1886 to December 1896. Valparaiso, Indiana: Porter County Circuit Court. pp. 80-86 [Will Record No. 622].

Stacy-Ray Map Publishers. 1948. Stacy-Ray Farm Plat Book of Porter County, Indiana. Kankakee, Illinois: Stacy-Ray Map Publishers. 21 p.

Newspapers (listed by date of publication)
Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; December 7, 1876; Volume 20, Number 49, Page 3, Column 6. Column titled "Joy's Run Items."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; October 19, 1882; Volume 26, Number 42, Page 8, Column 2. Column titled "The County. Joy's Run."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; October 26, 1882; Volume 26, Number 43, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 2, 1882; Volume 26, Number 44, Page 5, Column 3. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 9, 1882; Volume 26, Number 45, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 16, 1882; Volume 26, Number 46, Page 4, Column 5. Column titled "Notice. For Sale at Pleasant View Farm."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 16, 1882; Volume 26, Number 46, Page 8, Column 6. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 23, 1882; Volume 26, Number 47, Page 4, Column 5. Column titled "Notice. For Sale at Pleasant View Farm."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 23, 1882; Volume 26, Number 47, Page 8, Column 6. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; December 21, 1882; Volume 26, Number 51, Page 7, Column 6. Column titled "Notice To Vacate Burying Ground."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; December 28, 1882; Volume 26, Number 52, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Notice. For Sale at Pleasant View Farm."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; January 11, 1883; Volume 27, Number 2, Page 5, Column 2.

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; March 1, 1883; Volume 27, Number 9, Page 1, Column 3. Column titled "The County. Joy's Run."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; June 28, 1883; Volume 27, Number 26, Page 1, Column 4. Column titled "Circuit Court."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; October 1, 1884; Volume 1, Number 27, Page 1, Column 3. Column titled "Crisman Items."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; December 24, 1884; Volume 1, Number 39, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Chesterton Local Items."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; December 24, 1884; Volume 1, Number 39, Page 8, Column 3. Advertisement for Pleasant View Farm.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; January 1, 1885; Volume 1, Number 40, Page 8, Columns 1-2. Column titled "Country News As Dished Up by Our Special Correspondents. Crisman."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; January 8, 1885; Volume 1, Number 41, Page 8, Column 1.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; July 9, 1885; Volume 2, Number 15, Page 1, Column 8.

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 20, 1885; Volume 29, Number 34, Page 5, Column 3. Column titled "Monday."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; May 6, 1886; Volume 3, Number 6, Page 1, Column 5.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; May 20, 1886; Volume 3, Number 8, Page 4, Column 6. Advertisement for "Pleasant View Farm."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; May 27, 1886; Volume 3, Number 9, Page 1, Column 6.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; December 23, 1886; Volume 3, Number 38, Page 1, Column 3.

The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Cook County, Indiana; July 31, 1887; Volume 47, Page 13, Column 6. Column titled "Business Chances."

The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; February 13, 1888; Volume 48, Page 3, Column 2. Column titled "The Obituary Record. Oscar Field."

The Daily Inter Ocean, Chicago, Cook County, Indiana; February 15, 1888; Volume 16, Number 325, Part I, Page 8, Column 2. Column titled "Deaths."

St. Paul Daily Globe, St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota; February 15, 1888; Volume 10, Number 46, Page 1 , Column 6. column titled "Oscar Field Dead."

Daily Journal, Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana; February 16, 1888; Page 8, Column 4. Column titled "Telegraphic Brevities."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; March 1, 1888; Volume 4, Number 46, Page 1, Column 7. Column titled "Country News. As Dished Up by Our Correspondents. Crisman Items."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; April 12, 1888; Volume 4, Number 52, Page 4, Column 3.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; April 26, 1888; Volume 5, Number 2, Page 1, Column 7. Column titled "Crisman Salad."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; May 10, 1888; Volume 5, Number 4, Page 1, Column 7. Column titled "Husks and Nubbins. Items Gathered From a Varied Source By Our Huskers. Crisman."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; August 16, 1888; Volume 5, Number 18, Page 4, Column 2.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; August 16, 1888; Volume 5, Number 18, Page 4, Column 8. Notice of "Public Sale."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; December 20, 1888; Volume 5, Number 36, Page 1, Column 6. Column titled "Newsy Nuggets. Culled From All Sources."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; January 24, 1889; Volume 5, Number 41, Page 1, Column 5.  Column titled "Court Notes."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; January 31, 1889; Volume 5, Number 42, Page 1, Column 5.  Column titled "Courting."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; March 21, 1889; Volume 5, Number 48, Page 1, Column 8.

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; August 29, 1889; Volume 6, Number 20, Page 1, Column 7. Column titled "Notice."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; March 5, 1891; Volume 7, Number 47, Page 8, Column 3. Advertisement titled "Pasture Land."

The Chesterton Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; March 7, 1902; Volume 18, Number 48, Page 5, Column 3. Column titled "Chesterton Chips."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; May 14, 1929; Volume 2, Page 7, Columns 6-8. Photograph column titled "Non-Resident Notice."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; January 28, 1960; Volume 33, Number 174, Page 1, Columns 1-3. Photograph column titled "Portage Corner Brings $75,000."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; July 11, 1962; Volume 36, Number 6, Page 1, Columns 1-3 and Page 6, Column 6. Column titled "Grave Question," by Rollie Bernhart.

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; July 11, 1962; Volume 36, Number 6, Page 1, Columns 2-5. Photograph column titled "Monument(al) Question."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; July 19, 1962; Volume 36, Number 13, Page 1, Columns 3-4. Column titled "Explanation Offered In Crisman Grave Mystery," by Rollie Bernhart.

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; July 30, 1962; Volume 36, Number 22, Page 1, Column 1 and Page 6, Columns 4-5. Column titled "Over a Cup of Coffee."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; November 3, 1972; Volume 46, Number 106, Page 1, Columns 1-4. Column titled "Last Section of I-94 Opened," by Rollie Bernhart.

© 2022 Steven R. Shook. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Clear as Mud: Coffee, a Stream, and The Stroller

Toponymy is the study of place names based on etymological (origin of words), geographical, and historical information. George R. Stewart's 1945 classic Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-naming in the United States, published in more than 64 editions, provides an outstanding critical, as well as entertaining, examination of American history as told by the origin of place names.

As Stewart explains, place names can originate from story-telling and tales that are not altogether based on fact. Here, we review one of the first named geographic features in what would become Porter County. But instead of starting our review at the time when the feature was allegedly named, we jump forward 122 years to September 22, 1955, when The Vidette-Messenger published an article titled "Indians Recover Wheels of Stage Coach Mired In North County, Stroller Recalls." The column written by The Stroller, the pen name of William Ormand Wallace, provides an account of an event that allegedly gave rise to the naming of Coffee Creek.

The Stroller relates that a "Converse & Reeves" stagecoach that was built in 1833 by the Standard Wagon Works in Chicago was supposedly too heavy for one team of horses, and poorly built such that freight had to be piled in with passengers inside the coach. The stagecoach's first journey by Converse and Reeves was a trip from Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Detroit. When the stagecoach approached the mouth of present day Coffee Creek near the Little Calumet River it became "hopelessly mired in a so-called bottomless swamp." The passengers and horses were able to safely get themselves out of the marshland, but a bag of coffee on the top of the stagecoach became torn and dumped its contents into the creek and ever since that time the "stream has been known as Coffee Creek."

The Stroller writes that one of the drivers supposedly rode a horse back to Fort Dearborn to fetch another stagecoach while the stranded passengers trekked to Joseph Bailly's home 
to wait for his return. We learn from the article that the stagecoach mired in the swamp was supposedly dismantled, the front wheels and part of the body removed, but the rear wheels were "too deeply imbedded [sic] in the quick-sand-like marsh to pay to dig them out" and were abandoned at the site.

The Stroller's narrative concludes with some Indians discovering the rear wheels of the stage near the creek and recovering them for use. The Stroller directly quotes Charles H. Bartlett as saying:

As proud as any conquering monarch in his golden chariot was this red chieftain [Leopold Pokagon] trundling through the forest across the prairie, in his brave contrivance, which, he trusted, should convince the world that the Indian might master the arts of the pale face.
That two-wheeled vehicle continued to do service for many years and was at that time a matter of no little astonishment to the early inhabitants of the region.
One of the old settlers was prone to recall the times when he saw a strange apparition moving across the prairie at a fairly good pace. As the equippage [sic] drew near it proved to be Pokagon and his wagon, with the chief himself holding the reins over a horse and a presumably stolen steer that were harnessed together and worked as submissively as could be desired.
The royal car rolled away along the ridge, then turned to the north for that way lay the Dragon Trace the military road to Fort Wayne, and the Indian village beyond.
Well remembered now is the day when two farmer boys dug out of the spring's spongy earth around Pokagon town the broken parts of a huge wheel, a most fortunate relic of the past.
These fragments of a broken wheel seemed to teach their lesson plainly for were they not to last as visible tesimony [sic] of the Indian's struggle with the white man's art.

Research focused on the facts stated above very strongly suggest that William Wallace's story concerning Coffee Creek may be entirely fabricated, with the exception of the stagecoach operated by "Converse & Reeves" on a road between Fort Dearborn and Detroit during the time period in question.

Postcard image of Coffee Creek, 1912.
Source: Collection of Steven R. Shook.

Converse and Reeves first appear in written Porter County history in Adolphus Gustin Hardesty's Illustrated Historical Atlas of Porter County, Indiana, published in 1876. Here, Hardesty states that:

Mr. Bailey [Joseph Bailly] was monarch of all he surveyed up to 1831, when there was a mail line established from Fort Dearborn to Detroit, called the Detroit and Chicago road. It ran through the territory that now comprises Jackson, West Chester, and Portage township. The mail was carried in knapsacks on the backs of two soldiers detailed for that purpose. In 1833 stage coaches ran over this line three times a week. The first contractors were Converse & Reeves. The Porter county Stage House was kept by Jesse Morgan.

Eight pages later, Hardesty, while writing about various locations in Porter County, mentions how Coffee Creek received its name:

Coffee Creek -- named so in consequence of the mail carrier, who was driving a wagon, in the early history of this county, across the creek losing in it a sack of coffee. The creek was swollen from recent rains, and hence the accident.
Goodspeed and Blanchard appear to have lifted from Hardesty in their 1882 work Counties of Lake and Porter, Indiana: Historical and Biographical. Unlike Hardesty, however, Goodspeed and Blanchard seem to directly link the tumbling coffee sack incident to Converse & Reeves. In other words, they took two separate entries from Hardesty's history and mashed them together, as follows:

The year 1833 was an important era in our history. A stage line was established, and coaches ran from Chicago to Detroit, making three trips per week. The first contractors of this line were Messrs. Converse & Reeves. At a season of high water, the mail carriers lost a sack of coffee in a large swollen stream, which incident gave to coffee creek its name. With the establishment of this stage line, commenced the actual settlement of Porter County by white families.... The Morgan brothers, Jesse, William and Isaac, natives of Monongalia County, Va., arrived early in this memorable year. Jesse settled in what is now Westchester township, on Section 6. The Chicago and Detroit road passed through his farm, and invited him to assume the character of "mine host." He accordingly christened his home the "Stage House," and had no lack of guests in his hostelry.
So, what's fact and what's fiction? Let's scrutinize The Stroller's newspaper column and square it with known historical facts.

First, was there a Standard Wagon Works in Chicago in 1833? No. In 1833, Chicago's population stood at approximately 350 and the few businesses that did exist were most likely serving the military outpost at Fort Dearborn. Early histories of Chicago never mention a Standard Wagon Works. Neither does the massive and comprehensive Encyclopedia of Chicago maintained by the Chicago Historical Society. A Chicago map prepared by Walter Conley shows how Chicago appeared in 1833. There is no wagon works to be observed on Conley's map.

Map of Chicago, circa 1833.
Source: Walter Donley, 1932.

Next, who were "Converse & Reeves?" Given their historical significance to "the actual settlement of Porter County by white families," as claimed in Goodspeed and Blanchard in 1882, one could assume that biographical information concerning these two individuals exists as it applies to the county's early history. It does not. However, after considerable research, "Converse & Reeves" have been identified 145 years after they first appeared in Hardesty's 1876 history of Porter County.

"Converse" is John Phelps Converse. A rather detailed multipage biographical sketch of Converse appears in a history of the counties of Geauga and Lake in Ohio published in 1878 by the Williams Brothers. Within this extended biography appears this sentence: "In 1833 the first mail ever carried across the territory of Michigan was carried by him [Converse] to Chicago, then only a trading-post, with three or four houses, in the vicinity of Fort Dearborn, thus becoming a second time a pioneer." Elsewhere in Converse's biography it is revealed that he had secured several contracts with the United States Post Office Department, today's United States Postal Service, between 1824 and 1836, "in which time he had overcome all the difficulties of the route and literally made straight paths for the feet of those who should succeed him." These contracted routes traversed Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Engraving of Hon. John Phelps Converse.
Source: Williams Brothers' History of
Geauga and Lake Counties, Ohio
, 1878.

John P. Converse was born at Randolph, Orange County, Vermont, on January 27, 1792, the eleventh child of Israel and Hannah (Walbridge) Converse. In 1818, John married Hannah Breck Parkman. He would serve as a member of the Ohio State Assembly from 1842 to 1843 and then served as an Associate Judge of Geauga County, Ohio, from 1846 to 1851. Hannah died in 1859 and John married Mrs. Rebecca Hahns, apparently a widow, in 1862. John had at least one child through his marriage with Hannah and three children resulted from his union with Rebecca. Converse passed away at Parkman, Geauga County, Ohio, on February 20, 1865, and was buried in the Old Cemetery located in Parkman.

The process of identifying "Reeves" was much more problematic, but eventually this individual was identified as Henry Joseph Rees through one of many petitions submitted to the United States House of Representatives by John P. Converse. Fortunately for historians, Converse filed numerous claims related to the payment of tolls he incurred while under contract with the United States Post Office Department during the very early 1830s. Then Postmaster General, William Taylor Barry, had allegedly assured bidding contractors that bridge tolls would not be collected from individuals under contract with the Post Office Department. However, tolls were collected and Converse had to pay these tolls out-of-pocket. These accumulated tolls were significant, running into the thousands of dollars, as mail ran weekly and later daily on Converse's contracted routes; Converse was petitioning Congress to be reimbursed for these costs.

A handful of Converse's many claims mention a Henry J. Rees. Converse's petitions show that he and Rees had secured contracts for several mail routes and that they worked in tandem, each using different modes of transport to get the mail efficiently delivered. Specifically, Converse appears to have provided the ground transport of mail, while Rees provided transfer of mail by ship.

Example of claim petition by John P. Converse presented to
the United States House of Representatives, January 28, 1845.
Source: Reports of Committees, 28th Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 54.

Though "Reeves" has been identified as Henry J. Rees, relatively little is known about his life. It is known that he was born to Thomas and Mary Taft (Reed) Rees on October 20, 1800, at Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania, and in 1824 he married Mary Hubbard, a union that resulted in at least two children. Henry and Mary would become pioneers of Michigan City where they can be found in the 1850 Federal Census enumeration. These census records indicate that Henry's occupation was "Forwarding Merchant;" he was very likely providing shipping services similar to today's freight forwarders.

Rees served on the Board of County Commissioners of LaPorte County, Indiana, from 1855 through 1857. He passed away on April 20, 1859, at Michigan City and was buried in the "Old Buryal Ground" that was located at the southeast corner of the intersection of present day Detroit Street and Spring Street in Michigan City. This one acre burial ground was set aside by Isaac C. Elston when he laid out Michigan City in 1835. The city council vacated this burial ground in 1882 and during the following year the remains in this cemetery were exhumed and reburied elsewhere; Rees' remains were laid to their final rest in Michigan City's Greenwood Cemetery.

Scant information exists concerning Rees' shipping activities. It is known that while still residing in Ashtabula County, Ohio, Rees was the co-owner of the schooner Nehemiah Hubbard, which was built in 1832 in Ashtabula by Amasa Savage. The great-grandfather of Rees' wife, Mary, was Nehemiah Hubbard, who had been a prominent banker in Connecticut. 
The ship's other owners included William A. Fields, Walter Joy (a New York banker), George B. Webster, and James Blair. On November 15, 1842, the Nehemiah Hubbard ran aground in Lake Erie off the shore of Conneaut, Ashtabula County, Ohio, resulting in the death of seven crew members. The ship was a total loss.
At this point, we can be certain that The Stroller did not create the characters of Converse and Reeves (Rees). These were real men that had secured mail contracts in the Midwest with the United States Post Office Department and one route they operated was between Chicago and Detroit during the early 1830s. Hardesty's 1876 history of Porter County is likely The Stroller's source concerning who was delivering the mail through the region.

But what is known about the road mentioned in The Stroller's 1955 column? As pointed out in Hardesty's 1876 history, Porter County's first road was cleared by the United States government in 1831 through the townships of Portage, Westchester, and Jackson, said road connecting Fort Dearborn with Detroit. It would be most commonly referred to as the Chicago-Detroit Post Road.

Goodspeed and Blanchard's 1882 history states this same fact, but adds to it by mentioning that this road had "formerly ran along the beach of the lake, but was afterwards moved farther south." This additional information suggests that some sort of roadbed, however crude, existed near Lake Michigan prior to the construction of the Chicago-Detroit Post Road in 1831.

In 1834, surveyors were contracted by the United States to lay out the townships that would become Porter County two years later. Surveyor Andrew Burnside, with his two chainmen, Adam Guthrie Polke and Seth May, and his marker J. Hines, surveyed the land that the Chicago-Detroit Post Road traversed and provided remarks about this road in their field notes. 
These field notes were later used by Lucius Lyon of the Surveyor General's Office in Detroit to draw township plat maps. Relevant portions of two of these maps are provided below.

As an aside, Andrew Burnside was an uncle of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, who also served as the first president of the National Rifle Association and whose rather interesting facial whiskers gave rise to the word "sideburns." Andrew's chainman Adam G. Polke served as the second sheriff of LaPorte County and once owned land north of LaPorte that later became known worldwide as the Belle Gunness farm; Adam would die at the Cascade Locks in Hood River County, Oregon, on November 10, 1847, at the age of 40.

General Land Office plat based on Andrew Burnside's survey field notes
showing Morgan's Stage House Tavern and the stage road traveled
by Converse and Rees 
(Sections 1-18, T36N R5W), 1834.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

General Land Office plat based on Andrew Burnside's survey field notes showing
the stage 
road crossing Coffee Creek (Sections 33-36, T37N R6W), 1834.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Lucius Lyon's map of Township 36 North, Range 5 West, shows the Chicago-Detroit Post Road heading southeast through today's Jackson Township where it would continue eastward and connect with the community of LaPorte before turning northward to Detroit. Shown on this map adjacent to and south of the road is a building labelled "Morgan's." This was Jesse Morgan's Stage House Tavern.
Therefore, using contemporary survey evidence, we know that The Stroller was correct in stating that a road did exist and that it was constructed prior to 1834.

Can we narrow down when Coffee Creek was named? The answer is "yes." Since the Chicago-Detroit Post Road was not cleared as a military road until 1831, we know that the creek was likely not named any earlier than that year. Hardesty's 1876 county history seems to imply that wagons were not traversing the road until 1833, so perhaps 1833 is the earliest this stream was named.

The first post office in existence in what would become Porter County was established at Morgan's Stage House Tavern on January 29, 1835, and it was named Coffee Creek and located east of the stream in question. It was a very common practice to name post offices after nearby rivers and streams. The stream, therefore, was very likely named Coffee Creek prior to the post office's establishment.

It should be noted, however, that post offices were also very often named in honor of locations already in existence elsewhere - a place naming convention George R. Stewart referred to as transplanted names. Regrettably, no extant official records provide evidence of who named this post office or why it was named Coffee Creek. Thus, a bit of uncertainty remains.

At the time of its creation, the Coffee Creek post office was within the boundaries of LaPorte County as Porter County as a political entity did not yet exist. This post office operated intermittently until it was finally discontinued on December 31, 1849. A second Coffee Creek post office was established on April 15, 1850, but it was located west of the creek along the Valparaiso & Michigan City Plank Road, today's North Calumet Road, in what would later be known as Chesterton.
What is quite interesting and revealing about Hardesty's 1876 Porter County history is that it is impossible to trace the source of his story concerning the naming of Coffee Creek and the year it was named. Hardesty was born in 1846, well after the naming of the stream, so he was either told or overheard the story of the stream's naming from someone or had possibly read about it. It is important to note, however, that no newspaper published in Porter County prior to 1876 relates how Coffee Creek received its name, and Hardesty's history was published  more than 40 years after the stream was given its name. It is entirely possible that Hardesty or someone he communicated with fabricated the sack of coffee story.

Calumet Region map, 1833. Shaded area shows
location of stage road crossing Coffee Creek.
Source: Moore's The Calumet Region: Indiana's Last Frontier, 1959 [see p. 57].

Let's return to The Stroller's newspaper column once last time and then examine some alternative theories to the naming of Coffee Creek.

Who was Charles H. Bartlett whom The Stroller quotes at length about a coach mired in the mud, which was then dismantled, and parts abandoned that were later used by Potawatomie Chief Leopold Pokagon?

Charles Henry Bartlett published a book titled Tales of Kankakee Land in 1907, which is a compilation of numerous tall tales. In 1833, Chief Pokagon had negotiated an amendment to what became the Treaty of Chicago. The amendment called for Pokagon's band to remain in Michigan (near Dowagiac), which they did. 

Chapter XII, the last chapter in Bartlett's book, recalls a story concerning Chief Pokagon's wagon, and even includes a sketch of the chief in his war bonnet regalia guiding his wagon with a horse and ox. The sketch of Pokagon's wagon is rather peculiar. The wheels of the wagon are shown to be very heavy and solid. In Bartlett's story, he states that that the wagon consisted of "two massive wheels, each from six to seven inches in thickness and not less than two and a half feet in diameter. They were cross sections of the trunk of a great white oak." Obviously, these were not the wheels of a stage coach used for delivering mail as related by The Stroller.

Sketch by Will Vawter of Chief Pokagon's famous wagon.
Source: Bartlett's Tales of Kankakee Land, 1907.

Also in Bartlett's story, Pokagon Town is repeatedly mentioned as if it is a location in Northwest Indiana. The problem here is that this place name has never existed in Lake County or Porter County, though there was a Pokagon Town situated for a very brief period of time about six miles north of South Bend.

A news item published in the March 6, 1897, issue of The South Bend Saturday Tribune, makes mention of Chief Pokagon "Seated high in a wooden cart drawn by a little pony" near the St. Joseph River. The article fails to mention any of the chief's activities in Porter County or of the origin of his cart. A biography of Johnny Appleseed, published by Eleanor Atwood in 1915, also recalls Pokagon's "chariot," but it, too, is silent as to how he came into possession of it. Pokagon would pass away in 1841 at the age of about 65 years.

Neither the newspaper articles nor Bartlett's book refer to a mired in the mud stage coach. More importantly, Chief Pokagon is never mentioned in the five major histories written about Porter County. Other histories of Pokagon fail to introduce his activities in what would become Porter County.

Collectively, evidence strongly suggests that The Stroller merely weaved two stories together, Hardesty's and Bartlett's, and concocted several other "facts" along the way to fashion a more remarkable tale for his newspaper audience.
Perhaps the spilling of coffee into the stream did give rise to the naming of Coffee Creek. It would not be the first stream named because of such an incident. In Henry Gannett's Origins of Certain Place Names in the United States, published in 1902, a Coffee Creek located in Humboldt County, California, was "named from the circumstance of a sack of coffee having been spilled into it."
Personally, I believe the tale of a dumped sack of coffee into a Porter County stream is fictional; alternative and more plausible reasons exist to explain why this stream was named Coffee Creek. First, and most compelling, is the fact that there is no contemporary account that provides direct evidence of the coffee sack incident. Instead, it is first mentioned more than 40 years after it allegedly took place. Everyone loves an entertaining story, and it is conceivable that a tale was created because nobody really knew how the stream got its name. Also, the man most likely to know the true story behind the naming of the stream, pioneer Jesse Morgan, had already been dead for 23 years when Hardesty published his county history.
Second, according to Goodspeed and Blanchard's 1882 history of Porter County, Converse and Reeves (Rees) were crossing the creek "at a season of high water" when it was "swollen." A very credible explanation for the naming of the stream is soil erosion. Seasons of high water very often result in collapsed stream banks, even in areas where agricultural practices are not taking place. Was this steam brown or muddy when it was named, while other nearby creeks were clearer? If yes, then the creek could have simply been named Coffee Creek due to its coffee or muddy-like appearance.
Third, the use of the name Coffee Creek for a stream is far from being unique. According to the United States Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), there are at least 94 streams named Coffee Creek in the United States.

Curiously, one of the many Coffee Creeks in the United States is located in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Today, this Coffee Creek parallels Interstate 90 to the south just before one arrives at the cloverleaf exit onto Ohio State Road 11 while heading eastbound. One pioneer that resided very near this Ohio-based Coffee Creek was none other than Henry Joseph Rees of the partnership of Converse & Rees. Maybe Rees named the Porter County stream. It would be far from the first time that an individual would name a place, stream, mountain, etc. after one that is preexisting (e.g., Coburg, Valparaiso). Coincidence?

Word of Caution. William Ormand Wallace, or The Stroller, authored a column about Porter County history that regularly appeared in The Vidette-Messenger from 1953 to 1962. More than 700 of his stories were published; many were later republished by the newspaper about twenty years later to entertain another generation of readers. The bulk of Wallace's source material can easily be traced to the 1876, 1882, and 1912 histories of Porter County. These old county histories provided lots of facts presented in a rather uninteresting, and to be quite blunt, boring manner. Wallace had a knack for embellishing Porter County history.

In fact, Wallace's 1962 death notice says that his "articles eliminated the usual dryness of historical accounts by injecting fiction in his always interesting stories about early Porter county." Indeed, the majority of Wallace's columns are very entertaining. And good stories sell newspapers. Unfortunately, Wallace's columns were so well written that it is often difficult to tease out the fiction from the facts. Many readers have apparently disregarded the small-type editor's note appearing with most of The Stroller columns indicating that the historical series was "based on fact and legend...." (emphasis added)

Why does all this matter? Local history is always an interesting topic as it provides much of the context to today, whether published in book or newspaper form, or presented orally. But history can evolve from being solely factual to highly contrived when historical fiction or tales, which is the genre of writing practiced and published in The Stroller columns, evolves into believed fact by readers. There are literally several dozen articles appearing in local and regional newspapers that repeat fictional components lifted from Wallace's Stroller column. There are also local history books published since the mid-1980s that repeat Wallace fiction as fact.

The accurate telling of history requires researching contemporary source material and, if possible, triangulating across multiple contemporary sources. One should avoid reading more into source material than what it actually provides.

In addition, well composed history examines the people who made it. Very often biographical information provides the context behind an historical event, and can also lead to alternative rationales to explain historical facts. This article focuses on the simple act of naming a geographical feature: a stream. The first source to mention the naming of this stream as Coffee Creek appeared in 1876, but it does not specifically point to Converse and Reeves as the individuals that had a sack of coffee fall into the stream from their stagecoach. Rather, it was the 1882 county history by Goodspeed and Blanchard that appears to link the coffee sack incident to Converse and Reeves. Then The Stroller runs with these early facts to create a "new history."

Two alternative rationales have also been presented to explain why this stream may have been named Coffee Creek; though, admittedly, neither is as interesting as the spilled sack of coffee story.

Source Material

Books and Maps
Atkinson, Eleanor. 1915. Johnny Appleseed: The Romance of a Sower. New York, New York: Harper & Brothers. 341 p. [see pp. 244-245]

Bartlett, Charles H. 1907. Tales of Kankakee Land. New York, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 232 p.

Blake, Darius P. 1929. Early Days of Lake and Porter Counties. In History of Lake County (pp. 77-89). Volume 10, Publication of the Lake County Historical Association. Gary, Indiana: Calumet Press. 223 p. [see p. 84]

Charles C. Chapman & Company. 1880. History of LaPorte County, Indiana. Chicago, Illinois: Charles C. Chapman & Company. 914 p. [see p. 550]

Conley, Walter. 1932. Map of Chicago about 1833. 1 p. [Map]
Gannett, Henry. 1902. The Origins of Certain Place Names of the United States. U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin No. 197. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey. 280 p. [see p. 77] 

Goodspeed, Weston A., and Charles Blanchard. 1882. Counties of Lake and Porter, Indiana: Historical and Biographical. Chicago, Illinois: F. A. Battey & Company. 771 p. [see pp. 17, 35, 156, 215]

Hardesty, A. G. 1876. Illustrated History of Porter County, Indiana. Valparaiso, Indiana: A. G. Hardesty. 90 p. [see pp. 23, 31]

Howe, Frances Rose. 1907. Story of a French Homestead in the Old Northwest. Columbus, Ohio: Nitschke Brothers. 165 p. [see pp. 62, 91]

The Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Volume I. Chicago, Illinois: The Lewis Publishing Company. 357 p. [see p. 35]

Moore, Powell A. 1959. The Calumet Region: Indiana's Last Frontier. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Bureau. 654 p. [see pp. 51-59]

National Archives and Records Administration. Public and Survey Township Plats, Compiled 1789-1946. Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49 for Range 7: Range of Ranges and Townships: N and W R5 T1 - N and W R9 T37, 2nd Principal Meridian.

Poore, Benjamin Perley. 1882. The Life and Public Services of Ambrose E. Burnside, Soldier - Citizen - Statesman. Providence, Rhode Island: J. A. & R. A. Reid. 448 p. [see pp. 19-21]

Stewart, George. R. 1945. Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States. New York, New York: Random House. 418 p.

Tenney, H. A., and David Atwood. 1880. Memorial Record of the Fathers of Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: David Atwood. 400 p. [see pp. 53-55; biography of Surveyor Andrew Burnside].

Williams Brothers. 1878. History of Geauga and Lake Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Pioneers and Most Prominent Men. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Williams Brothers. 259 p. [see pp. 87-89]

Works Progress Administration, Writers' Program. 1939. The Calumet Region Historical Guide. Gary, Indiana: Garman Printing Company. 271 p. [see pp. 21, 71]

Newspapers (listed by date of publication)
The South Bend Saturday Tribune, South Bend, St. Joseph County, Indiana; March 6, 1897; Volume 24, Page 7, Columns 1-2. Column titled "Old Pokagon Town."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; April 10, 1930; Volume 3, Page 13, Columns 2-3. Column titled "Death Takes Chesterton Woman Who Came to America Eighty Years Ago by Sailboat, at 91."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 5, Columns 4-8, Page 6, and Page 7, Columns 6-8. Column titled "The Founding of Porter County --- A Story of the Daring and Fortitude of Pioneers Who Came From South and East To Bring Civilization To Indiana."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 6, 1949; Volume 23, Number 29, Page 1, Column 4 and Page 2, Column 3. Column titled "Porter County Atlas of 1876 Offers Wealth of Data On Early Life Here."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 16, 1952; Volume 26, Number 37, Page 1, Columns 7-8 and Page 2, Column 6. Column titled "Centennial Plans are Complete: Chesterton's 'Party' Will Start On Sunday," by Kari D. Henrichs.

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Idaho; September 22, 1955; Volume 29, Number 68, Page 1, Columns 5-6 and Page 6, Column 4. Column titled "Indians Recover Wheels of Stage Coach Mired In North County, Stroller Recalls," by The Stroller (William Ormand Wallace).

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; October 18, 1962; Volume 36, Number 90, Page 1, Column 4 and Page 6, Column 8. Column titled "'Stroller,' Wife Are Found Dead," by Rollie Bernhart.

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; December 8, 1989; Volume 63, Number 122, Page 1A, Columns 1-5 and Page 12A, Columns 5-6. column titled "The Stroller: Author's Life as Mysterious as Stories," by Beverly Overmyer.

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