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In a Land Not Sown The Life and Times of Jeremiah William Cory, Sr.

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In a Land Not Sown
The Live and Times
Jeremiah William Cory, Sr.
David A. Cory, M.D.

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Chapter 4

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.
--Jeremiah 29:5, Revised Standard Version

The Corys came to Elkhart County during the twilight years of the local Native American tribes, the Miamis and Potawatamis. With the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the Indian tribes ceded the southern two-thirds of Ohio and a narrow strip of southeastern Indiana to the United States. With the exception of tracts of land around the Wabash-Maumee portage near Ft. Wayne, the site of the current city of Ft. Wayne, Ouiatanon (near present-day Lafayette), Vincennes, and Clark's grant (around present-day Clarksville), the rest of what is now Indiana was recognized as Indian land [17,23]. However, with the establishment of the Indiana Territory in 1800, the United States, through territorial governor William Henry Harrison, embarked on an aggressive policy of land acquisition for white settlement. President Thomas Jefferson and Governor Harrison expected the Indians to become "civilized," giving up hunting for white farming methods. The only alternative seen by Jefferson and Harrison was Indian expulsion westward [18]. Between 1803 and 1809 Harrison negotiated several treaties with the Indians which resulted in the United States acquiring southern Indiana for white settlement. After armed conflict between the U.S. and the Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe and during the War of 1812, Indian resistance was broken, ultimately resulting in the New Purchase Treaty in 1818, in which the Indians gave up the central third of Indiana [19].

Statehood came to Indiana in 1816, but at that time northern Indiana was still Indian land. The Treaty of Chicago in 1821 and the Treaty of Carey Mission (located near Niles, Michigan) in 1828 resulted in Indian claims to the land now making up Elkhart County being extinguished [20]. During the years 1828 and 1829, there was an influx of several hundred white settlers into that part of northern Indiana. On January 29, 1830, Governor James B. Ray signed into law "An Act for formation of the counties of St. Joseph and Elkhart," which set the boundaries of Elkhart County [1]. On June 28, 1830, a three-man Board of Justice appointed by the governor organized the county and divided it into two townships, Concord and Elkhart. Concord Township included the four modern townships of Cleveland, Osolo, Concord, and Baugo. Elkhart Township comprised the rest of the county. In addition, the current counties of LaGrange and Steuben on the east, Noble on the southeast, and Kosciusko on the south were attached to Elkhart County for civil and criminal jurisdiction [25].

According to their son, Abijah Curtis, Jeremiah and Dolly Cory and their children settled in Elkhart County in the fall of 1831 [4]. The earliest record of a land entry+ by Jeremiah was dated Sept. 17, 1832 and consisted of 240 acres in section 28 of Benton Township [14]. Benton Township was part of the original Elkhart Township and occupies the southeast corner of the county. The surface is level and the soil is rich, sandy loam well suited to farming. When the first white settlers arrived, the area was covered by forests of oak, maple, poplar, beech, and other species of trees, so abundant that those not used for fuel or for building log cabins were felled and burned on the spot to clear the land for farming [15]. We have no record of the house occupied by the Cory family during their early years in Indiana, but the following account [3] by John Irwin, whose father was a pioneer in Elkhart County, indicates the type of log cabin built by settlers in the early 1830's:

The house was of the uniform size of all the cabins then built, being exactly twenty feet square, made of round logs from twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, laid on each other at the ends and notched so that the space between them was from one-half to five inches. This was afterward filled by driving chinking of suitable size. When the cabin was built there were no saw mills and so no lumber could be had even for the floor, which was made by splitting logs into slabs about four of five inches in thickness. The levelest side was hewn with a broad axe to be used for the upper side. The joists were round poles. On these rested a floor of lighter puncheons. The lower story was about seven feet and the upper story from one to five logs. Then came the ridge pole on which rested the clapboards. These were held on not by nails, for there were none to be had, but by long poles. The chinking between the logs was usually covered by mud, clay if it could be found. If not then straw or chaff was mixed in to hold the sandy composition together. The chimney was made by cutting out five or six logs for a breadth of six feet. A log fireplace was made here, surmounted by a chimney of sticks, all plastered inside with the mud to secure against fire. The mode of access to the loft, which was generally the sleeping apartment of the younger members of the family, was by a row of large, stout pins in the wall.... In the better cabins the ladder took the place of these. The window of our home afforded four lights of glass ten by twelve.

Some cabins used greased paper instead of glass window lights (panes), and some had dirt floors [3].

At the time Elkhart County was formed in 1830, there were thought to be about 500 Indians living in what is now Kosciusko County [26]. In 1826, the Miami chief Flat Belly had signed a treaty which left him with a reservation of thirty-six sections of land in present-day Kosciusko County and adjoining Noble County. He and his brother Chief Wawasee lived on this reservation. In October 1832, a treaty between the Potawatamis and the United States was signed on the banks of the Tippecanoe River, extinguishing Indian claims to their land in Kosciusko County [24]. Subsequent to the ratification of this treaty in 1833, the current Kosciusko County was set off as Turkey Creek Township of Elkhart County. According to Kosciusko County historian James W. Armstrong [25], "While the treaty of 1832-33 was pending, many in Elkhart and Wabash Counties, and other of the earlier settlements, were waiting anxiously for the time to come when the newly acquired lands should be put on the market." The Corys apparently were among those awaiting this opportunity, for between the years of 1833 and 1837, Jeremiah Sr., his sons Jeremiah Jr., John Calvin, and Abijah, his nephews Squire Martin Cory and Andrew Jackson Cory (sons of his late brother Abijah), and his sons-in-law Lemuel Veneman and Peter Gordy purchased from the United States several tracts of land on both sides of the east end of the present Elkhart-Kosciusko County line [14,16]. A James Cory also purchased land in Elkhart County, but this could not have been Jeremiah Sr.'s son James Burbridge Cory, who was a child less than 10 years old in the 1830's. In 1835, Turkey Creek Township of Elkhart County became Kosciusko County [25].

It is likely that during their time in Indiana the Corys were farmers. Census records from 1830 and 1840 do not indicate occupation, but later censuses list them as farmers. In addition to the farm land owned by the Corys, Jeremiah Sr. bought two lots in the town of Benton in 1839 [13]. The purchase was from P.W. Roller, who was a merchant the early days of the town [2]. What, if any, use Jeremiah made of the lots is unknown; in 1845, he sold them. In addition to farming, at least one Cory took advantage of the nearby lakes to obtain food. Squire Martin Cory is credited with building a fish trap in the channel between Wawasee and Syracuse Lakes, just south of the present Pickwick Bridge, around 1832. The trap was constructed of logs six to eight inches in diameter, and the logs could still be seen early in twentieth century [27].

With the exception of James Burbridge, all of Jeremiah and Dolly's children were married in Indiana, as follows:

The names of a few of the Corys show up in legal documents from the early days of Elkhart County. On Dec. 8, 1837, John Cory was sued by Henry W. Kellogg for damages of $2.475, but the defendant was not found, so a summons was then issued to Jeremiah Cory in January 1838, which resulted in the damages being paid [9]. In 1839, Isaac Walker Cory was sued for $1.11 by Hans Hulbert [10]. In 1840, Jacob Connell sued Jeremiah Cory for the amount of $10.33 [11]. On the positive side, Jeremiah served as treasurer of School District No. 1 in Benton Township in 1840 [8]. Finally, the estray notices for Elkhart County for 1842-43 show that Jeremiah Cory, Jr. laid claim to a stray brown stud colt which was appraised at twelve dollars by Isaac Walker Cory and Z.D. Wood on Dec. 3, 1842 [12].

In summary, the life of the Cory family in Indiana was in many aspects typical of American pioneers of the 1830's. They were not adventurers or Indian fighters, but they were on the forefront of the flood of white settlement which continued to push the Indians west. They carved homes and farms out of virgin forest and Jeremiah and Dolly saw their large family marry and begin another generation. They lived simply without great material wealth, living off the bounty of the land. They went from a stage of mere survival in the wilderness to acquiring more land to improve their way of life, and they continued to look to the vast territory of the west to assure prosperity for themselves and future generations.



+ Land law of the American frontier is a complex subject, but in essence, as Indian lands were ceded to the U.S. Government, the land was surveyed and laid out in townships six miles square, each containing thirty-six one-square-mile sections. Local land offices were set up to dispose of the land. At the time the Corys bought land in Elkhart County, the process began with the settler registering an entry claim at the land office, accompanied by a down payment. The minimum purchase was forty acres (beginning in 1832) at a price of $1.25 an acre. Once the paperwork was processed and payment made in full, the settler received a patent (first-title deed) transferring ownership to him from the U.S. Government. See A. Eakle and J. Cerny, The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Salt Lake City:Ancestry Publishing Co., 1984, pages 224-226.

++ There are several variant spellings of this surname, including Vaneman, Venaman, and Venneman.

Chapter 5
Polk County, Iowa

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land.
--Numbers 14:7, Revised Standard Version

After becoming well established in northern Indiana in the 1830's and early 1840's, the Cory family was struck again by the urge to move westward in the latter part of the 1840's. Why this occurred is open to speculation. As noted in the preceding chapter, the Corys were the objects of some fairly minor civil lawsuits, but these were settled years before the family began to emigrate; threatened litigation is unlikely to have played a role in their decision. There is no evidence that they were involved in any criminal activities; to the contrary, they generally held strong religious convictions. They appear to have been good citizens who paid their taxes [11] and accepted other civic responsibilities such as jury duty [10]. It is unlikely that they moved westward to escape prosecution or angry creditors. They no doubt felt the mysterious pull westward as expressed by Henry David Thoreau in his essay "Walking":

Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down. He appears to migrate westward daily, and tempts us to follow him. He is the Great Western Pioneer whom the nations follow. We dream all night of those mountain-ridges in the horizon, though they may be of vapor only, which were last gilded by his rays. The island of Atlantis, and the islands and gardens of the Hesperides, a sort of terrestrial paradise, appear to have been the Great West of the ancients, enveloped in mystery and poetry. Who has not seen in imagination, when looking into the sunset sky, the gardens of the Hesperides, and the foundation of all those fables?

On a more practical level, land was becoming scarcer in northern Indiana as more settlers arrived. The Corys saw a more prosperous future for their growing families in the great expanses of cheap, unclaimed land in the west.

The land hunger of white settlers could be satisfied only as the United States government acquired title to the land and the Indians were removed. At the time the Corys were ready to begin emigrating from Indiana, the government had just opened up the central portion of the Iowa Territory to white settlement. The land had been occupied by a confederation of the Sac and Fox tribes. Black Hawk, of the Sacs, led an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim land east of the Mississippi River in 1832. After defeat in Black Hawk's War, the Sac-Foxes signed a series of treaties relinquishing land in eastern and central Iowa to the United States. In the final treaty of 1842, the Sac-Foxes agreed to vacate the land east of a line running through the Red Rocks of the Des Moines River in Marion County by May 1, 1843. By October 12, 1845, they were to give up their remaining land in Iowa and move to Kansas [16]. The government built a fort west of the treaty line at the junction of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers in 1843. The purposes of the garrison were to maintain peace among the Indians, to protect the Indians from advancing white settlers, and to ensure the removal of the Indians to Kansas by the 1845 deadline [21]. At midnight on October 11, 1845, a gun was fired at the Indian agency at Ft. Des Moines, signalling the end to all Indian claims in central Iowa, and settlers rushed in to make their claims in what is now Polk County, Iowa. By March of 1846, Indian stragglers had been rounded up and moved to Kansas, Fort Des Moines was closed, and the soldiers were gone [22]. The site of the fort became the nucleus of modern-day Des Moines, the state capital.

Into this environment, the first Cory moved to central Iowa. John Calvin Cory, son of Jeremiah and Dolly, appeared in the 1840 United States Census of Elkhart County, Indiana as the head of a household of three people, but his name does not appear in the 1846 tax records of the county [11], implying that he had moved on. J. C. Cory is said to have been the first settler in what is now Elkhart Township, Polk County, Iowa, arriving in the spring of 1846 [15]. Iowa was several months away from statehood when John Calvin settled in the northern part of what is now Polk County. The county, established by the Territorial Legislature on January 17, 1846 [23], had not yet been surveyed or laid out in civil townships. The board of county commissioners had divided the county into six townships for election purposes, and John Calvin settled in what was then Skunk Township [1]. The stand of timber where he settled came to be known as Cory's Grove [4]. Whether his wife and family came with him or moved later is not known. He lived in Polk County for at least two years [4], but he did not make any land entries when the United States began selling land in Polk County in 1848, and where he went after that is not known at this writing.

A brief look at the geography of central Iowa provides some insight into the immigrants' choice of location. Central Iowa is a glacial moraine, where mounds and ridges were formed as the glacier piled new material on top of old. After the retreat of the glacier, the area became a high grass prairie, with forests extending only along the larger streams that coursed across the moraine [19]. Early immigrants from the woodlands of the east chose to settle in familiar surroundings, at the edge of timber. Only after land in the groves was claimed did the pioneers become "sodbusters" on the prairie. Aside from providing them with accustomed surroundings, the groves of central Iowa afforded other advantages to the pioneers. Logs were readily available for shelter and fuel, and water was nearby. The land of the groves was well-drained, in contrast to the prairies, which could not be cultivated until drainage tiles became widely available.

In October of 1846, John Calvin's brother, Isaac Walker, and his family were the next Corys to migrate to Iowa [4]. The 1840 United States Census for Elkhart County, Indiana shows five people in the household of Isaac Walker Cory and Mariah Phebus, presumably including three children. There are said to have been five children in the family when they left Indiana, with two dying on the way to Iowa, and one dying after arriving in Iowa [6,15]. The 1850 United States Census for Polk County corroborates this version of events, showing Isaac, Mariah, sons Isaiah and Francis, and Mariah's father, George Phebus (who migrated in 1849), living together in a household in Polk County.

Much of what we know of the early days of the Cory family in Iowa comes from the reminiscences of Isaiah Martin Thorp (I. M. T.) Cory, eldest son of Isaac and Mariah. He was nine years old when the family migrated from Indiana, traveling southwest from Elkhart County, entering Illinois at Vermillion County, then traveling westward across Illinois to cross the Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa [1]. They then proceeded northwest along a route used by freight haulers to Polk County, stopping at "Uncle Tommy" Mitchell's tavern, a resting place for pioneers entering the county. After another two-day journey, they arrived at Cory's Grove, where, I. M. T. observed, "there was nothing . . .but Indians, deer, elk, turkeys, otter, beaver, and 'coons, but there was not a rabbit or rat in the whole county [1]." Two basic requirements for pioneer survival, water and timber, were plentiful, along with gooseberries, currants, grapes, plums, choke cherries, elderberries, and nuts. Hollow trees contained honey and plenty of sugar maple trees were available to be tapped in the spring [8]. One account states that the family put up a small log cabin with walls chinked with mud, and a chimney built of sticks and clay [1]. Another narrative has the family occupying a roofless, doorless cabin abandoned by a trapper, with the only entrance being a ladder over the wall [8]. A pile of stones in the woods north of the current site of the Cory Grove Church near Elkhart, Iowa is the only possible remnant of the original dwelling [7]. Regardless of the privations Isaac Walker, Mariah, and family suffered during the winter of 1846, Isaac must have described Iowa in glowing terms in his letters to his parents and siblings back in Indiana [8], and in 1847, Jeremiah Jr., wife Rebecca, sons Marcus and French, and daughter Missouri Ann migrated to Iowa [18]. At about this time, William K. Wood, the Corys' brother-in-law, visited Cory's Grove [4].

Surveys of Polk County were carried out from June through November of 1847 [2], and the surveyors stayed in the cabin of Isaac Walker and Mariah Cory while working in their vicinity [13]. In 1848, the settlers in Township 81 North, Range 23 West, held a meeting at which time the civil township was organized and called Elkhart in honor of the Indiana home of the Corys [1].

In 1849, several more members of the Cory family, along with children, spouses, and in-laws set out for Iowa. William K. Wood's recollection [4] of the trip provides a colorful look at the events and the personalities involved:

In our party making the trip from Kosciusko County, Indiana, in the early summer of 1849, there were thirteen adults and several children. The heads of families were Father Jeremiah Cory, and his three sons-in-law--Lemuel Venneman, Abraham Byers and myself. Father and Mother Cory rode in a comfortable covered carriage. The rest of us, all young and vigorous, came in true emigrant style. Five covered wagons, each drawn by a team of horses, conveyed the wives and children, the small store of goods and provisions, and the indispensable implements of warfare with the soil, while we young men followed with the herd.

The trip was without notable incident till Mount Pleasant was reached. There we were detained three days by rains and floods which made the Skunk River impassable. We camped, and one tent and our wagons afforded us shelter. As soon as it seemed reasonably prudent, we attempted the crossing. The river was about 200 yards wide from bluff to bluff, and rapid at that place. The ferry was poor old craft which a short time after this went down and carried some people to watery graves. Each team and wagon with its load was driven on board and ferried across with a cable and pulleys. Mother Cory, who was about the best woman in the world, scented the danger and rebelled against staying cooped up in the covered buggy. But Father Cory, feeling competent to take care of her and steer the craft too, insisted upon her remaining where it was dry, and his strong will prevailed. But her spirit boiled, and to stir it still worse, as we started off, Uncle George Phebus called out from the bank: "Good-bye, Dolly, I expect never to see you again."

When we were safe on shore again, the good mother made us all laugh by exclaiming, "Lordy massy, just to think what might have happened if I had drowned, for I was just as mad as I could be!" In swimming the cattle across four of them were carried by the current a quarter mile below, where and island and a lot of drift made the passage ugly. "They are goners!" the Mount Plea- sant men, who were assisting us, exclaimed. "There never was a dog got out of that drift." I did not know fear, nor hesitate a moment to risk my life when it seemed necessary. One of the steers in danger was mine. I stripped and went after him, and he came out and so did the rest of the cattle.

Wood goes on to describe their early days in Iowa:

The immigrant's choice of location was largely determined by proximity to water and wood. We settled, June 22, 1849, in the edge of the timber which skirts the Skunk River, in the north part of Polk County. My brother-in-law, Calvin Cory, had already lived there for two years, and the neighborhood had ac- quired the name of Cory's Grove, the name it keeps yet. I had some acquaintance with the locality, having visited my brother-in- law there about eighteen months before. I entered a quarter section with the government and loaned the money in Des Moines at 40 per cent interest to pay the government price, $1.25 per acre. My wife and I had little besides--$5 in cash, five head of yearlings, two milch cows, two yearling colts, one small horse and a little household stuff comprised it all. We, however, got along with a fair degree of comfort there for two and three- fourths years, and paid off the loan and increased our stock. I had a good pair of hands which I turned to whatever I could find to do, besides working my land. I thought nothing of walking eight miles to do two days work, and nine miles for a three days' job for Eli Trulinger. To get my first breaking done, I walked three miles and chopped and split rails at the rate of 400 rails for each acre of breaking.

My way of managing worried Father Cory some. Mother Cory told me about it. She said, "Father doesn't like it because you don't do as he advises you." "Well," I answered, "the way it is, I've set my stake, and I have to work to it. When father's advice helps me toward making that stake, I'm thankful for it, and use it; but when it doesn't, I have to let it go. I have to work on my own plan." After that I was allowed to work out my own ideas without remonstrance.

It is interesting to note that the relationship between generations in 1849 was very much as it is today.

Wood goes on to describe a coon hunting trip where he and his companions repeatedly treed an animal, only to watch the animal escape and lead them further into the woods. It was only after Wood had climbed a tree to within ten feet of the prey that the hunters realized they were stalking a wildcat. The hunt ended with no injury to either wildcat or hunters.

In 1849, large numbers of emigrants took part in the California Gold Rush, taking provisions with them, and leaving shortages for those remaining in Iowa. As a result, grain became a valuable and coveted commodity, with corn selling for $2.00 to $2.50 per bushel. On November 30, 1849, William K. Wood, Abraham Byers, Isaac Walker Cory, and James Burbridge Cory+ set out for the mill nearest Cory's Grove, which was at Oskaloosa, over sixty miles away. The mill was so busy when they arrived that the party had to camp in their wagons for almost a week before their corn and wheat could be ground. During this time, they successfully guarded their precious cargo against theft, and had what Wood described as "a rather lively time" when a rogue unsuccessfully attempted to steal a buffalo robe from one of their wagons. On the way home, Isaac Walker had a driving accident and broke his arm, obtaining medical attention at Oskaloosa before returning to Cory's Grove [4].

Tales of "Indian scares" were common among the early settlers of central Iowa, doubtlessly embellished with each retelling over the years, but there is no record of any settler actually being molested by an Indian [25]. Although the Sac-Fox Indians had been removed to Kansas before white settlement began in Polk County, a few Mesquaki++ either avoided relocation or drifted back to their former home, subsisting by hunting, fishing, and by begging from the white settlers [17]. There are three published accounts of threatened Indian massacres involving the settlers of Cory's Grove [1,4,13], all of which include the Mesquaki in some fashion. It is very possible that all three stories are different versions of the same event. No doubt the Corys felt a sense of terror at the perceived threat to their well-being, but it is unlikely that they were in real peril. At worst, the scare or scares may have been an attempt by the Mesquaki to trick the settlers into abandoning their homes and livestock, leaving easy pickings for the Indians. However, the Corys banded together at the cabin of Jeremiah Cory, Jr. to defend themselves. Two accounts have some of the Mesquaki in the cabin to help the Corys. Accusations of lying about the supposed massacre attempt were exchanged between a male member of the tribe and Aunt Sarah, the wife of the tribe's chief (just who was accused and who was accuser varies between the stories). The end result was a knife fight which ended in the killing of the chief's wife. The murderer ran from the Cory cabin, but eventually was caught. One account has the brave escaping again without being brought to justice, while another has him being apprehended and burned at the stake by his fellow tribesmen while the Corys watched!


+ The pioneer lifestyle did not allow time for prolonged honeymoons. James Cory and Sarah Smith had gotten married only five days prior to this trip.

++ In early encounters with the Mesquaki, the French developed a low opinion of the tribe and called them "les Renards;" the English translation, Fox, stuck with the tribe [20].

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