By Luke Gascho, retired executive director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College
In 1830, two 100-year-old white oak trees stood close to the intersection of what is now the corner of Main Street and College Avenue.
These trees had witnessed many changes through their life span. This land had been the home of the Miami People for over 700 years. They were displaced to the west during the mid-17th century because of the Beaver Wars initiated by European nations. The Miami established their homes further to the southeast of Goshen when they returned in the mid-18th century. This disruptive period of history brought the Potawatomi People into the Elkhart Prairie from the north, just as the two oak trees were young saplings. This land was a favored location where Miami and Potawatomi raised corn, beans and squash, gathered non-domesticated plants, fished and hunted. The first settlers arriving on the Elkhart Prairie noted the wigwams of many Potawatomi family units.
Then, this land we now call Goshen College, was taken by treaty from the Potawatomi by the U.S. government in September 1828. It is clear that the land was prime farm land, as only settlers could own parcels on the Elkhart Prairie. The treaty states:
“There shall be granted to the following persons, all of whom are Indians by descent, the tracts of land…provided that no location shall be made upon the Elkhart Prairie, nor within five miles of the same.”
The treaty to cede their land was signed by key chiefs; Topenebee, Pokagon and Shipshewanon, along with 66 other Potawatomi representatives and two commissioners of the U.S. government.
The two oaks were listed in the first surveyor’s 1830 field notes as “witness trees” to the post he set to create the northwest corner of Section 22 of Elkhart Township of Elkhart County. As he looked to the west, he described the land as rolling down to the Elkhart River. He then walked east, recording in his field notes that the land was an oak savannah that soon opened into prairie (just past the current Music Center). At the half mile point (approximately the intersection of College Avenue and 15th Street) the surveyor noted a road heading to Fort Wayne. This was the primary trail/road that the Miami and Potawatomi had traveled for centuries between what are now the cities of Elkhart and Fort Wayne. It is also the road that many early settlers used as they came from the east.
Much of the land where Goshen College is situated was first purchased in 1831 by a settler Daniel Cripe, Sr., the first Dunkard minister in the area, and the deed was signed by President Andrew Jackson. Daniel and his wife Magdalena sold the land to their son Emanuel in 1830, who then sold it to Noah Shoup in 1895. Goshen College purchased land from the Shoup family in 1903, as the Elkhart Institute relocated to Goshen. The original location of the Elkhart Institute has a very similar land story, just with different settler names.
As we celebrate 125 years, Goshen College acknowledges that its land was taken from the Potawatomi and seeks to establish healthy relationships with Potawatomi in the region. We believe “The Earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) –– and are committed to humbly pursuing health with all of Creation and being in right relationship with all people.