History of Liberty Township, Porter County, Indiana
From: History of Porter County, Indiana
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago-New York 1912


LIBERTY TOWNSHIP

This township was created by the board of county commissioners at its first session in April, 1836. It lies in the northern part of the county and is bounded on the north by Westchester township; east by Jackson; south by Center, and west by Portage. It is exactly five miles square and contains an area of twenty five square miles. The surface is generally level, with some swamp lands in the western and northwestern portions. When drained this land produces large crops of grain and hay. The soil is a dark loam, running to clay in places. Long Lake, in the southeast corner, is connected with Flint lake in Center township by a narrow channel; Coffee creek flows across the northwestern portion, and Salt creek runs along the western border, or rather across the southwest corner and thence along the western border. The latter stream furnishes some water power, and in one place widens to form a pond of considerable size. Originally, the land was heavily timbered with oak, hickory, maple, ash, elm, black walnut, butternut, white wood and some minor varieties, but very little of the native timber remains, except in the swamp districts which have not yet been brought under cultivation.

Probably more trouble occurred over the land titles and claims in Liberty township than in all the rest of Porter county. Through the treaties with the Pottawatomie Indians, the government granted to certain individual members of that tribe small reservations, known as "floats," varying in size from a quarter section to a section, and in some cases even more. These "floats" could be bought of the Indian or half breed owners for a trifle, and shrewd speculators took advantage of the situation to purchase a number of them for the purpose of selling them to actual settlers at a handsome profit. As the Indians to whom they had been reserved rarely occupied them, white men located upon them, not knowing the real state of the title. After the occupant had made some improvement the speculator would appear upon the scene and demand a price that was often beyond the means of the settler to pay, or his immediate removal from the land. In the one case the speculator could receive a price for the land much greater than he had paid for it, and in the other he became possessed of the improvements made by the settler without cost to himself. Several petitions were sent to Washington praying for relief, but the government was slow to act and the pernicious system went on until it culminated in what is known as the "Snavely war." William Crawford located upon one of these Indian tracts - a quarter section in the northeast part of the township - but subsequently sold it to William Snavely. A little later Peter White laid claim to the land and asked the assistance of the law to dispossess Snavely. Charles G. Merrick, who had been elected sheriff of the county in 1838, organized a posse, and, pursuant to the order of the court, went to Snavely's for the purpose of evicting him. Snavely barricaded himself in his cabin, and he and his sons, well armed, put up a spirited defense. Unable to gain admittance through the doors or windows, the sheriff ordered some of his men to climb to the top of the house and tear off the roof. No sooner had they begun to remove the clapboards than Snavely fired through the opening and wounded one of the men. This had the tendency to stop active operations on the part of the sheriff and his men, and Snavely, thinking he had killed the man, made an attempt to escape. He was overtaken, captured and taken to the county jail, where he remained until his victim recovered from the wound, which was only a slight one, when he was released upon payment of a fine and a promise to relinquish the land. Some years after his death, his heirs received a portion of the value of the improvements made by Snavely while in possession.

Trouble also resulted through the methods practiced by speculators at the public land sale at Laporte in 1835. The "land sharks" were there with long purses, anxious to get possession of the most valuable tracts, not for the purpose of establishing homes upon them and bringing them under cultivation, but merely to hold them until some actual settler would be forced to buy at a large profit to the original purchaser. Liberty township, with its heavy growth of timber, offered special attractions to these men. In order to gain an opportunity to purchase the lands at a low price they frequently gave a quarter section to those seeking a home not to bid against them. Then by collusion among themselves they "bought the lands for a song." Those to whom the quarter sections had been given as bribe not to bid went upon their lands, built houses and founded homes Every improvement of this character created a demand for other lands in the township and gave the speculators an excuse for advancing prices. As most of the land in the township was owned by the speculators, settlers sought claims elsewhere, and Liberty was slow in developing.

Owen Crumpacker is credited with being the first settler in the township. He came from Union county, Indiana, in June, 1834, and was soon followed by William Downing and Jerry Todhunter. During the next two years John Dillingham, E. P. Cole, William Gosset, George Hesing, Asa Zane, Ira Biggs, David Hughart, Solomon Habanz, John White, Abram Snodgrass, Frederick Wolf, John Sefford, William Calhoun, Daniel Kesler and a few others located within the present limits of the township. Three settlements were formed by these pioneers. One known as the Dillingham settlement was in the eastern part; the Zane settlement near the center, and the Salt creek settlement in the western portion. Soon after his arrival in 1836, William Gosset built a saw and grist mill on Salt creek, and with the first lumber sawed he erected the first frame house in the township. It was a one story structure, about 24 by 32 feet in size, and later was used for a church and school house. Gusset's mill was for years a landmark in that portion of Porter county. The people of the Zane settlement patronized Elijah Casteel's mill, which was located on Coffee creek, just across the line in Jackson township.

The first death was that of William Hughart's wife, and it was due to the escapades of some drunken Indians. One day, in the fall of 1835, some four or five Indians visited Joseph Bailly's trading post on the Calumet river, where they took on a cargo of "fire water," and then started out to annoy the settlers. William and David Hughart, who lived together, were absent on a hunt and the Indians tried to force an entrance to the house. The women, though badly frightened, managed to bar the door, after which they sought refuge in the loft of the cabin. After beating the door awhile with their tomahawks, the Indians left, and none too soon for their scalps, for in a little while the brothers returned. Mrs. Hughart died not long afterward from the effects of the shock. On June 14, 1836, William Hughart married Elizabeth Zane, which was the first wedding in Liberty township. A wedding in the pioneer days was usually the occasion for a neighborhood gathering and nearly always wound up with a dance. The following story is told of the festivities accompanying the marriage of George Humes and Sarah Crawford in April, 1837. The ceremony was performed in a log cabin about 14 by 16 feet feet, by Thomas J. Wyatt, justice of the peace. As there were some thirty or forty invited guests present, and the cabin contained two beds, besides other articles of furniture, the crowded condition of the room can readily be imagined. After the wedding the justice and the bride's father celebrated by looking too frequently upon the "flowing bowl," and in a short time were hopelessly intoxicated. The younger guests insisted upon having "just a little dance," but the two drunken men were in the way. The two beds were piled full of hats, wraps, etc., but a bright young woman solved the difficulty by proposing to roll the two men under the beds. Her suggestion was carried out and by this means the larger part of the floor could be given to the dancers, who continued the merriment until the "wee sma' " hours.

In Liberty, as in the other original townships created by order of the board of county commissioners, April 12, 1836, an election was ordered to be held on April 30th. Following is a copy of the election returns from Liberty township:

"At an election held at the house of Daniel T. Kesler, Liberty township, Porter Co., Ind., on the 30th day of April, A. D., 1836, for the purpose of electing one Justice of the Peace for said township, the following named persons came forward and voted, to wit: Peter Ritter, Thomas J. Wyatt, William Downey, Daniel W. Lyons, Joel Crumpacker, Joel Welker, John Sefford, M. Blayloch, Frederick Wolf, Richard Clark, William Calhoun, Isaac Zane, Owen Crumpacker, Hiram Snodgrass, Jerry Todhunter and Solomon Habanz. We, the undersigned Inspectors and Judges of an election held at the house of Daniel T. Kesler, in Liberty Township, Porter Co., Ind., on the 30th day of April, 1836, for the purpose of electing one Justice of the Peace, do hereby certify that for the office of Justice of the Peace, Peter Ritter got thirteen votes, and Thomas J. Wyatt got three votes. Given under our hands this thirtieth day of April, 1836."

These returns were signed by Jerry Todhunter, inspector, and by John Sefford, Joel Crumpacker, William Snavely and Solomon Habanz, judges. At the spring term of court following this election, Daniel W. Lyons was appointed the first constable for the township; Jesse Morgan and Richard Clark, overseers of the poor; Edmund Tratebas and William Downey, fence viewers, and Solomon Habanz, supervisor of roads. About the same time, Peter Ritter, Samuel Olinger and William Thomas were appointed to lay out a road from Casteel's mill, on Coffee creek, to Gosset's mill, on Salt creek. The road as established by them is still in existence and follows very closely the original line. The Valparaiso and Michigan City plank road, built in 1851, ran throught the eastern part of the township, on the line now occupied by the Valparaiso and Chesterton road, a fine, macadamized highway, and there are about ten additional miles of improved road in Liberty township.

In 1836 a school was taught in a little log house in the Zane settlement by Mrs. Sophia Dye. This, it is believed, was the first school in the township. The following year a school was taught in the Dillingham settlement by Anna Lyons, and a year later a log school house was built in that locality, in which E. P. Cole taught several terms. A school was likewise opened in the Salt Creek settlement in 1837, but the name of the teacher cannot be learned. The first frame school house was built in 1856. As in the other parts of the county the first school houses were built by the cooperative labor of the citizens, and the schools were maintained by subscription. In 1911-12 Liberty had seven district schools in operation, the teachers in which were as follows: No. 1 (the Phares school), Eva Wheeler; No. 3 (the Cole school), J. M. Lentz; No. 4 (the Linderman school), Eda Lawrence; No. 5 (the Johnson school), Nellie Crumley; No. 6 (the Babcock school), Grace Moore; No. 7 (the Daly school), Phoebe Hess; No. 8 ( Crocker), Coral Toseland.

Transportation facilities were very meager in the early days, and to supply this deficiency Abram and Peter Stafford and Dr. Stanton conceived the idea of building a steamboat to navigate lower Salt creek and the Calumet river, for the purpose of carrying or towing timber and produce to the Chicago markets. W. D. Cruthers later became associated with the projectors, and about the close of the Civil war work was commenced on a small vessel, twelve feet wide and thirty feet long. Some two years passed before it was finished, but eventually it started on its maiden trip. The experiment was not the success anticipated, and after two or three trips the boat was sunk in the Calumet river. The promoters were so badly discouraged that they made no attempt to raise the vessel, and somewhere in the Calumet river the fishes play hide and seek among the ruins of the only steamboat ever built in Porter county for the navigation of local waters. At the present time transportation is furnished by three lines of railway. The Baltimore & Ohio crosses the township east and west a little north of the center; the Wabash runs along the northern border, and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern crosses the northwest corner. Woodville, a station on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, one mile west of the eastern boundary, is the principal village of the township. It grew up after the building of the railroad and in 1910 had a population of less than 100. The postoffice was established there in 1881 or 1882, and in 1912 it was the only postoffice in the county, the others having been discontinued on account of the rural free delivery routes which cover all parts of the township. Three miles west of Woodville is a small station called Babcock, and in the northwest corner, at the junction of the Wabash and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, is the village of Crocker, with a population of about 200. It is a trading and shipping point of some importance, and owes its existence to the crossing of the two lines of railroad at that point.

While the increase in population has not been great in recent years, Liberty has not been humiliated by a decrease as have some of her sister townships In 1890 the number of inhabitants, according to the United States census, was 855; in 1900 it was 877, and in 1910 it had reached 881.


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