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home : local news : local news August 28, 2014

8/31/2012 2:01:00 PM
Professor's book recalls Native Americans' sale of Crawford County land
Daily News

A former Robinson man has written a book looking at the time when Revolutionary War-era Indians sold land that included parts of what would become Crawford County.

The book by Blake Watson, a 1974 Robinson High School graduate and professor of law at the University of Dayton (Ohio) School of Law, examines the sale of lands by the Piankeshaw Indians. "Buying America From the Indians: Johnson v. McIntosh and the History of Native Land Rights" studies the history and controversy of the 1773 and 1775 land purchases, and 1803 and 1805 land successions by the Piankeshaw to private investors and the U.S. government.

Early in his career working for the Justice Department, Watson dealt with Native American issues and became aware of the case. "I wondered how they did it," Watson said. "How did they actually travel out there to negotiate?"

The decision in Johnson v. McIntosh has been described as "the root title for most real property in the United States." It also established the "doctrine of discovery," which states that European discovery of the New World automatically divested the native inhabitants of their full rights of property.

Following the French and Indian War, Great Britain was awarded control of present-day Illinois and Indiana. In 1763, King George III barred English subjects from buying Indian land west of the Appalachians. On July 5, 1773, a group of 22 British investors bought two tracts of land in southern and central Illinois. Two years later, an overlapping group, which became the Wabash Land Company, met with Piankeshaw Indians in Vincennes and made a deal for two more tracts - one south of Vincennes, and the other farther north - at a cost of $24,000 in goods and livestock.

The northern tract was described as running north to the mouth of "Riviere du Chat" or Raccoon Creek near Montezuma, Ind., south to a place on the Wabash River called Point Coupee, near Greenfield, Ind., then west 30 leagues to near Vandalia and east 40 leagues to present-day Hayden, Ind.

After the Revolution, investors tried to have their claims validated. In the meantime, U.S. officials were negotiating with Indian tribes for land. William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory, persuaded the Illinois and Piankeshaw to give their rights to the lands at issue. The government then offered the land for sale. A 12,000 acre plot was bought by Vincennes resident William McIntosh for just under $24,000.

When Illinois became a state in 1818, the Wabash Land Co. sued McIntosh for ownership of the land. Chief Justice John Marshall announced that following the European discovery of America, Indians no longer enjoyed the "power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased." While he stated that Indians were "the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession," Marshall also held that the Indians no longer owned the property.

The result was that since the Indians did not own the land in 1775, they could not sell it.

In 2001, Miami Indians, to which Piankeshaw and other tribes belong, made an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim nearly 2 million acres of land in Illinois they say was taken from them in 1795 and 1805.

Watson said the case is still listed in most property-law textbooks and taught by many professors like himself.

His book is available through online retailers. Watson plans to donate a copy of his book to the Robinson Public Library.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Article comment by: Claudia Bedwell

It just so happens that I checked out this book at the Knox County Public Library. The title is what caught my eye but I didn't even look at the author's name. I was just browsing the Daily and the title of this article caught my eye. I sure didn't know it was Blake Watson until I read this article. The book should be an interesting read on how the land of the Native Americans changed hands.

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