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Moment of Indiana History

The Ten O’Clock Line Treaty

While the nation celebrates the Lincoln bicentennial, 2009 also represents the two century-mark of another important event in the state where the President spent his boyhood.

Although statehood was not official until 1816, white settlers in the Indiana territory had been vigorously acquiring land from native Americans for at least two decades beforehand.

In 1809, Governor William Henry Harrison struck the most comprehensive of these ongoing land deals with a consortium of native peoples, led by the Miami and Potawatomi tribes, and including the Eel River, Delaware, Kickapoo, Lenape and Wea Indians.

Born of extensive negotiation, The Treaty of Fort Wayne, also known as “The Ten O’clock Line Treaty,” conferred three million acres of land to the settlers.

The acquisition lay southwest of a line drawn from a point near the Illinois border in Parke County to Brownstown, in Jackson County.

Legend has it that, in dealing with Governor Harrison, Miami Chief Little Turtle did not trust the white man’s surveying equipment and would only accept a line created by the shadow of a spear thrown into the ground at ten o’clock in the morning.

Regardless of the surveying technique employed, Shawnee chief Tecumseh was indignant about the arrangement, which he declared invalid. Asserting that the land belonged to all the Indians, Tecumseh contended that individual tribes were not entitled to deal without unanimous consent.

Hostilities mounted as Tecumseh rallied a native confederacy to resist Harrison. The period known as Tecumseh’s war culminated in November 1811 in the Battle of Tippecanoe, in which Harrison’s army subdued the Indian forces at Prophetstown and lay waste to the Shawnee village.

The victory launched Harrison’s presidential bid and essentially routed the remaining native peoples.
The Ten O’Clock Line represented the northern border of Indiana when it became a state in 1816.

This Moment of Indiana History was drawn from correspondence with Sue Trotman, Curator of the Ten O’Clock Line Treaty Museum, Gosport, Indiana.

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