Thursday, December 18, 2014

Settler-Indian land deal set stage for modern era

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/24/2014

Time to warm up the singing voices and get the birthday gifts ready.

Ottawa will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its birth this fall. The city’s charter was signed Sept. 6, 1864, according to Franklin County Historical Society records.

Time to warm up the singing voices and get the birthday gifts ready.

Ottawa will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its birth this fall. The city’s charter was signed Sept. 6, 1864, according to Franklin County Historical Society records.

“Like many other towns in the Midwest and West, Ottawa was founded by a town company, which was a private organization — not a municipality,” Deborah Barker, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society, said. “The town company was composed of several men that were connected to the Ottawa Indians.”

While many towns in the area were established in the mid-1850s, Barker said, Ottawa got its start a decade later because a private town could not be built on the tribal reserve at that time.

“It was still illegal to build on that land, and the Ottawas would not be removed [to Oklahoma] for several years yet, so [the town company] had to work out a deal with the Ottawas,” Barker said. “Many of the towns in this part of the country were founded in 1854. This one was really late because there were so many tribes here and the bureaucracy involved in getting them relocated.”


The Franklin County Historical Society plans to commemorate the town’s sesquicentennial with an exhibit at the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, which would include artifacts from the earliest days of the community, Barker said. While a date for the exhibit opening has not been set, Barker estimated it would open in late summer.

The historical society also plans to periodically distribute “eblasts” via email to its enewsletter subscribers throughout the year to mark significant achievements in the town’s development, Barker said. To sign up for the eblasts, go to and click on the link to the historical society’s enewsletter.

In addition, The Herald plans to take the lead on organizing a citywide commemoration of the town’s founding. A poll now posted on The Herald’s website — — seeks input on possible events for the celebration. The newspaper also is looking for community partners to assist with the effort.

“This year, we’ll mark a significant moment in Ottawa’s history,” Jeanny Sharp, Herald editor and publisher, said. “The past 150 years have been filled with challenges and successes — events that gave the community character and strength — and it all starts with the settlers whose tenacity and vision literally paved the way for the rest of us along the Marais des Cygnes River.”

The city of Ottawa is in an ideal location, Barker said.

“The best site in the county was the Ottawa town site,” she said. “It’s at the Ohio City ford — a ford means shallow sides and a rock bottom — where you could cross the Marais des Cygnes [River] with relative ease. If you went across it today you would be crossing what is now Hickory Street — sometimes it’s even called the Hickory Street ford.”

The well-traveled route connected the tribal reserves with Lawrence, Barker said.


Members of the town company — led by Isaac Kalloch, who later would become mayor of San Francisco — negotiated an agreement with the Ottawas, which were led at the time by John Tecumseh Jones, an educated half-blood Chippewa who joined the Ottawa tribe and later was adopted by them, according to an article co-written by Barker on the Franklin County History Portal website,

“[Jones] became [the Ottawas’] leader, their minister and their storekeeper, besides operating the only hotel in the county, on this site,” Barker wrote in the article. “Jones became known as ‘Ottaway’ or ‘Tauy’ Jones because of his central role in tribal affairs. The creek’s nickname of Tauy also refers to the Ottawas.”

Jones, who was educated at Columbia College in Washington, D.C. and Madison University [now Colgate] in upstate New York, was a bright individual and skilled negotiator who was well-versed in dealing with the “white man’s ways,” Barker said.

“Negotiations started between the Ottawas and the town company, and it was going to be a win-win situation,” Barker said. “If the Indians would give them the acreage for the town site, the [town company] agreed to build a school for the Indians, which would be Ottawa University.

“Asa Althrop [town company secretary], Tauy Jones and Isaac Kalloch were the main operators, though there were some others involved [in establishing the town site],” Barker said.


By fall 1864, the paperwork was completed and the town company started to mark off the town site and lay out the streets. The original town boundaries were Logan, Cherry, Seventh and Ash streets, according to an article written by John Mark Lambertson, former director of the Franklin County Historical Society.

The town company negotiated with the tribe for the transfer of deed for 20,000 acres of the reserve, according to Lambertson’s article. The agreement allowed the area around present-day Ottawa to be opened for settlement, Barker said, which grew after the Civil War ended the following year in 1865 and settlers and soldiers looked for new opportunities.

The founding of Ottawa did not come without some strife, Barker said.

“It was very complex,” Barker said. “The Ottawas were like every tribe — you had your traditionalists and your progressives. The progressives knew they would have to learn to live in a white man’s world and they might as well just get educated and learn to farm and deal with it. The traditionalists wanted to maintain their own language and lifestyles ... the traditionalists were always convinced that the progressives had sold them out.”

Though the school’s original board members consisted of Indians and white men, the conflict among tribal members was magnified by the fact many Ottawas were “very unhappy at the scale of the school building that Ottawa University was building,” Barker said. “They thought it was way, way bigger than anything they thought they needed, and it became crystal clear to them that while Indians might be allowed to attend this school, it wasn’t exactly what it was being built for.”

Varying viewpoints about the negotiations between the town company and the Ottawas have been documented, Barker said.

“The white men knew the Indians would be gone, whether or not the Indians did,” Barker said. “They knew Ottawa was a good site for a town, with a good river crossing. There was not a lot of opposition to moving the county seat from Ohio City, a town that doesn’t exist anymore that was northeast of Princeton, because it did not have a good water supply and was not a natural town site.”

The town company gave some land to the county for a courthouse and provided incentives to businessmen as an enticement to locate in Ottawa. They also gave or sold lots for pennies to most of the churches, Barker said. The town founders also knew a railroad, extending from the Union Pacific Railroad in Lawrence, was platted to come through Ottawa on its way south through Indian Territory [now Oklahoma], Barker said. Kollach was one of the investors in that railway, which was named the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad.

“The locals called it the Lazy, Lousy and Greasy,” Barker said, laughing.

The railroad arrived in Ottawa on New Year’s Day 1868, Barker said, firmly entrenching the early success of the town as a county seat, railway stop and agriculture center.

The city of Ottawa, which incorporated as a municipality in 1866, would not have been established on the Ottawa reserve without the relationship developed between the town company and the Ottawas and the fact Tauy Jones wanted a school, Barker said.

“The Indians were excited to have a school, and the town company was excited to have a town,” she said.

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