History of German Township, St. Joseph County, Indiana
From: History of St. Joseph County, Indiana
Hon. John V. Hadley, Editor in Chief.
Chas. C. Chapman & Co.,
Chiago 1880


There is a peculiar, instinctive characteristic of man which seems to lead him, as it were unconsciously and imperceptibly, in the footsteps of progress and direct him to locate in that part of an unsettled country which is destined to become in the near future a country the most highly civilized, the most beautiful and fertile. It is probably to be attributed to this innate feature of finite man that German was among the earliest settled townships in St. Joseph county. Taken as a whole, there can surely be no more desirable locality in the county in which to live than German township. Here everything exists in abundance, and the country is richly embellished with all the beauties of nature; and, all in all, it seems to be one grand and lovely combination Of nature and art in which the former largely predominates; for, civilize the country all you may, improve it all you can, and then bring to bear upon it the inventions wrought out by all the skill and ingenuity of man; then compare its condition with what it was in its early, pristine state, when the timbered land was inhabited by the red man, and the prairies were covered with tall and waving grass, interspersed here and there with wild flowers which sent forth their sweet 'perfume as a presentiment of the coming future, yes, do all this, strain your imagination to conceive and comprehend all these, and you will find the two conditions almost incomparable, with the present one gradually fading away like the rays of the setting sun. But no commendatory prelude can do justice to the history of German township; plain facts must be presented.

Nov. 25, 1830, at a special session of the Board of Justices, the following order was passed: Ordered by the Board aforesaid that from the second principal meridian of the State until the center of range 2 east, shall form and constitute a township in said county, to be known by the name of German township; and that the sheriff is hereby ordered to give public notice to the citizens of said township, according to law, for the qualified voters to meet at the house of David Miller in said township, to elect one Justice of the Peace in and for said township, on the 18th day of December next."

On the appointed day the citizens of said township met at the house of David Miller, and at that meeting elected Lambert McCombs the first Justice of the Peace of German township.

We have been unable to ascertain definitely why the name "German" was proposed for this township; but all supposition in regard to the subject is based upon the fact that at the time of the organization of the township nearly all the inhabitants of it were Germans or of German descent.

From the order passed by the Board of Justices it would be difficult for one to imagine the size of the township. Suffice it to say that it is quite small, being little more than half of a full township. It is township 33 north, range 2 east; is bounded on the north by the State of Michigan, on the east by the St. Joseph river (and beyond it lies Clay township), on the south by Portage, and on the west by Warren township. About one third of the northern tier of sections of this township lies in Michigan, and on the east the line is quite irregulars, owing to the indentations made by the St. Joseph river which marks the eastern boundary.

In noticing early settlements the greatest care must necessarily be exercised, for it is of the greatest difficulty to avoid all mistakes. Upon a few of the pioneer settlers of this township, who have long survived their contemporaries, we are dependent for the authenticity of this part of the history. Their statements differ; hence we kindly ask all those interested to overlook all unavoidable errors. Judging from the best authorities, Lambert McCombs, John Hague and William Brookfield were the earliest permanent settlers of the township; the former two came from Wayne county, Ohio, and settled in this township as early as 1829 or '30; the latter, who was at that time the surveyor of all the Government land throughout this community, chose a situation in the township about 1829, bought land on sections 34 and 35, and laid out a town, mention of which will be made hereafter.

About 1831 Brookfield's family went down the Kankakee river in a boat, and probably went to Texas. John Hague and wife died in Warren township, this county, and are probably buried in German township. Lambert McCombs went to Oregon and died there: Such has been the fate of the three pioneer settlers of German township.

In 1830 a great many made German township their home, of whom the following are a few: John Smith, who settled on section 32; David Miller, also on section 32; Christian Holler, on section 7; Joshua and Benjamin Hardman, who came either in 1830 or in 1831. However, as much as two decades prior to the earliest settlement of the township, in the year 1810, A man passed through the territory, not then known as German township, coming from Detroit, Mich., who declared at that time that if ever this country was settled by white men he would he one of them; sure enough, in comparatively a short time the country, once wild and uncultivated, was settled by white men, and the Indians were thereafter soon removed; and true to his firm resolve, that man did come in 1831, and settle on section 27, where he remained two years and then went to La Porte county, and finally died in Wills township; that man was John Cissime, father of Robert G. Cissne, now a very old settler of the township, and to whom we are indebted for a great deal of its early history.

During the same year came Aaron Miller, brother of David, before mentioned, and settled on section 23; in the same year came also J. D. Miller, son of Aaron Miller; Samuel Witter, who settled on section 16, and Samuel Good, on section 28; in the year 1832 came Jesse K. Platts, who settled on section 21, John Witter on section 20, Daniel Wagner on section 16, Jacob and Samuel Ritter. In 1833 came Jacob Miller, a nephew of Aaron Miller, who settled on section 18. Simultaneous with him, and even before, came numbers of others whose names it is not easy to obtain; suffice it to say, that from this date onward the township settled very rapidly, and a country soon began to don the robes of improvement, civilization and progress. Of the old settlers not yet mentioned, the following may be named as having come prior to the year 1836: Jesse Frame, Prosper Nichols, James Nixon, Jacob Ritter, John and James Huston, Henry Denslow, James Good, David Hoover, Michael Smith, William Roe, Charles Roe, John Martindale, Eli Roe, Henry Brown, James R. McGee, Christian Smith, Mr. Overacker, Scott West and John Cripe. Henceforward the township became rapidly settled by an honest, intelligent, industrious class of people who loved the "sons of toil," and who, like them, earned their daily pittance by the "sweat of their face," and many of whose posterity still survive, well situated citizens, reaping the reward of their ancestors.

It is altogether probable that Henry Smith, son of John and Nancy (Miller) Smith, was the first white child born in the township and, indeed, even in the county; he was born Sept. 15, 1829, and is now a farmer in the township on sec. 16; P. O., South Bend. The first marriage in the township was probably that of John Harris and Lavina Eller; they were married, however, in Michigan, but were residents of this township. The first frame house in the township was built by Christian Holler, and is now standing on section 7, on the farm now owned by Jacob M. Whitmer. John Hague is said to have plowed the first furrow in the township.

In the winter of 1832, quite a remarkable little episode occurred, which for a time greatly frightened the few scattering inhabitants of German township: Jacob M. Whitmer, now a resident on section 7, then only a little child three and one half years old, went out one morning in pursuit of his father and accidently became lost. Search for him was immediately instituted by his parents and the neighbors; but all seemed in vain, and for three long days and two nights the lost child still wandered, enduring the bleak winds of winter. His sorrowful parents and 200 anxious friends who were in search of him, had given him up as lost forever and supposed him to have been captured by the Indians. But about this time, when despondency and gloom had settled upon many anxious hearts of that community, Judge McCartney, now deceased, continued the search on horseback, when lo! by him the child was found and returned to its anxious, awaiting parents; and where before had been the shadow of gloom and sorrow, was now the sunshine of gladness. Some time prior to 1836 a grist mill was built on the St. Joseph river, on section 27, by Shank & Downs, two millwrights; the mill was owned and controlled by William McCartney, who ran it for a while, doing a good business; but the mill did not long stand, on account of difficulty in securing water power.

A very sad accident happened a short time prior to 1844. Jesse K. Platts, who has been already mentioned as a very early settler of the township, was killed by runaway horses. Upon a certain appointed day all his children,were coming home to have a reunion; the day previous Mr. Platts went out into the timber to get some wood; his horses becoming frightened ran away. His cries of anguish were heard by Mr. Good's family, residing near by, who started immediately for his rescue, but only to find the man dead. No one was able to ascertain definitely how he met his sad fate, but they supposed him to have been killed by being crushed between the sled and a log. The following day all his children did come, but oh, what a spectacle met their view! oh, what a change! for in lieu of a happy reunion of parents and children there was a sad and sorrowful funeral of a man bemoaned by weeping children and hosts of sympathizing friends.


There is very little within the limits of German township which adds in any way to its business interests. By a careful examination of statistical records and the removal of the dust from the pages of history of the days of by gone years, it is found that there were at one time in German township three places which deserved the name of a town. An elaborate history of these towns it is impossible to give, as nothing can be obtained from the records, and very little from the old settlers now living.

Aug. 19, 1836, the town of Mount Pleasant was laid out, on what is called the Michigan road, on sections 31 and 32. At this place, during the same year, the first and only postoffice that ever existed in the township was established, with Levi Wills as postmaster. There was once a dry goods and grocery store kept by a man named Mar; there was also in the place at one time another small store; also two blacksmith shops, the first one of which was run by Joseph Barker. At one time in the history of the town John Tipton opened a boot and shoe store; and two hotels, the proprietors of which were Christopher Lentz and James R. McGee, once graced the little country village. But all these were of short duration, for the town was soon after vacated, and today not even a trace of its ruins remain to mark its former existence.

July 12, 1834, the town of Portage was laid out along the St. Joseph river on section 26. This place never became noted as a town. At one time in its history there were two stores in the place, one of which was run by Elisha Egbert; and there was also once a tavern in the place, an institution very common in those days.

And still another place is yet to be mentioned; though last and least in size, it is by no means least in reputation; this place was St. Joseph, at one time the county seat. In May, 1830, the Board of Justices located the county seat of St. Joseph county at this place. Sept. 14, 1830, the town was laid out on the St. Joseph river, about two and a half or three miles northwest of South Bend, either on section 27, or on sections 34 and 35. The land on which the town was located was then owned by William Brookfield, the Government surveyor. Nov. 25, 1830, an order was passed by the Board aforesaid for William Brookfield to sell lots in the town of St. Joseph; and one would naturally suppose, upon reading that order, that sales of real estate would be rife for a season; but how different must have been their expectations when not a single house was ever erected in the place. And at the meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, on the second Monday of May, 1831, an order was passed to have the county seat re-located, the County Commissioners testifying that they were "of the opinion that public interest requires a removal of said seat of justice;" and after careful examination and due deliberation, the place selected was South Bend, then a mere village, now a prosperous city.

"A petition had been circulated among the settlers, and over 125 names were secured in favor of South Bend. The friends were very active and finally triumphed. Bonds were given by L. M. Taylor, Alexis Coquillard, Joseph Rohrer, Samuel Studebaker, Samuel Hanna and David H. Coidrick, in Which they obligated themselves to pay the sum of $3,000, if the county seat be permanently located at South Bend. Fifteen lots were donated by Taylor and Coquillard for the use of the county, and lots No. 341, on said town plat, for the use of the United Brethren to build a church thereon, and lot No. 403 to the German Baptist denomination, and lot No. 234 for the Presbyterians, and four acres of land for a public graveyard."

These liberal offers carried the day, and South Bend became the capital of St. Joseph county permanently, and the town of St. Joseph was vacated, to be remembered only as a thing of the past, bearing the lamentable motto, "It might have been." Today nothing regains to mark the former existence of any of these towns.

There is a steam saw mill in the northwestern part of this township, on section 18. There are two dairies in the township: one on section 34, run by John Beyrer, established in 1879. Mr. B. keeps 18 cows, runs one wagon, and sells milk at South Bend; this is known as the "Portage" dairy. The other one is on section 26, on the St. Joseph river, and is conducted by Francis Johnson. He keeps 75 cows, sells milk at South Bend, and runs two wagons, making two trips daily each way; this is known as the "Riverside" dairy. Both are doing a good business.

No railroads cross the township; no lakes of sparkling water dot the prairies; no creeks water the low and timbered land save one; this is a small branch of the river which cuts off a very small portion of the southeastern part of the township. But. the surface throughout is beautifully diversified, and the tilled land responds richly and bountifully to the labor of the industrious husbandman. There is just timber enough in the township adequately to supply the wants of the inhabitants and make it one of the best townships in the county. Along its eastern line flows gently and ever onward the beautiful little St. Joseph river, which drains the St. Joseph valley and washes the shore on the eastern boundary of German township.


As regards the first school taught in the township, there are some conflicting statements. Some say it was held in an old log house on section 27, and was taught by Dwight Dennings; others say it was on section 21, in the house of John Martindale, who was the teacher in the winter of 1831. The first school house in the township was a log structure, erected on section 19 by the people of the immediate neighborhood; this was about 1832, and Judge Farren was probably the first teacher in this house. But the days of small things" in the direction of log houses in German township have long since passed away, and today they have five good, substantial buildings, conveniently located throughout the township, where the children of the citizens are afforded eight months' school annually. The present school trustee is W. H. H. Ritter, also a farmer on section 29.

The first minsters of the township were Aaron and David Miller, who settled here very, early and were members of the German Baptist Church. John Martindale, a Christian minister, and Robert Martindale, his brother, a Baptist minister, were early settlers and preachers of the gospel. Here in this small township, in its early history, these four good men preached the gospel in school houses and in private houses where their hearers were wont to go and worship God "according to the dictates of their own conscience."

The first church built in the township was the German Baptist, which is a brick building, situated on section 18, and was built in 1851. The first pastor was Elder David Miller, who had organized the congregation about the year 1831. The following are a few of the charter members: David Miller and wife, Benjamin Hardman and wife, Christian Holler and wife, John Ritter and wife, Samuel Jones and wife, Joshua Hardman and wife and Samuel McMullen and wife. The present pastor is James H. Miller, who holds regular services in the church every two weeks. At present the congregation numbers about 100.

Baptist Church - There was a man by the name of Zigler, a Methodist, who built the church about 1854. The building was put up by the Methodists, but there being some encumbrance upon it the Baptists took it off their hands and now control it. The Baptist congregation in thins township is quite small, and is only a part of the general congregation at South Bend. J. G. Keitner is now trustee of the Church. There is a Sunday school in the church, of which Mrs. Caldwell and Mr. Sweet are Superintendents. Rev. Mr. Egbert, of South Bend, is the regular pastor and holds services there every two weeks. Elder Campbell was probably the first Ba tist minister who ever held regular meetings in the church.

Universalist Church. - An elaborate and complete history of the Universalist Church it is impossible to give, on account of the want of records; suffice it to say that it is located on section 32. The first pastor of the Church was Rev. Jacob Maryfield, from Mishawaka. The Church proper was organized about 1858. At present they have no regular pastor and no regular services.


Politically, German township is Republican. J. G. Keitner was appointed census enumerator for the year 1880, and the population of the township was 579. The present justice of the peace is Mr. Wallace, but he has never qualified, as the business to be transacted does not justify it. The present assessor of the township is William Dietrich, and the office of school trustee, the highest in the township, is held by W. H. H. Ritter.


Although the farming land of German township, most of which is included under the name of Portage Prairie, in the shape of a horse shoe, is most salubrious, yet the cold and icy hand of death, the common leveler of time, the reprover of all humanity, has left its trace, and three graveyards, with tombstones and slabs of marble pointing upward to heaven, which mark the final resting place of many of the pioneer settlers, are found in the township. One, known as Portage Cemetery, is on section 18; in it lie buried the following of the early settlers of the township: Jacob Miller and J. D. Miller and wife. TheWitter Cemetery, on section 22, was named after W. Witter, already mentioned as an old settler, who donated the ground. The last remains of four old settlers, Samuel Witter and Aaron Miller, Daniel Wagner and wife, lie buried in it. Mount Pleasant Cemetery is located on section 32, near the Universalist church and near where the town bearing the same name was once hid out. Within its limits lie the last remains of the following pioneers of German township: David Miller and wife, John. Smith and wife, John Witter and wife. The above named are only a few, many more sleep here too, but the final resting place of many is unmarked by man; yet somewhere they sleep, and let them sleep on; for disturb them, we cannot; but cherish their memory forever we will.

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