Jawbone in Ind. Could Be from Missing City Founder

8:44 AM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
Investigators were on the scene looking for more human remains in Garfield Park. on the scene. Wed May 8th, 2013, investigators were on the scene at Garfield Park after a human jaw bone an finger were found overnight. Police believed the remains to be old due to their condition. The area in the park was also believed to be a possible burial site from the civil war era. (Michelle Pemberton/The Star)
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Written by Jill Disis, Indianapolis Star

Nearly 200 years ago, George Pogue secured his place in the history books. It was a short one.

The co-founding father of Indianapolis, he went missing in the spring of 1821, barely two years after arriving in the settlement that became the state capital. Today, most know him only for his namesake, Pogue's Run, the winding Eastside creek that disappears into a concrete tunnel Downtown.

Pogue's body was never found -- and Indiana state archivists say some human remains found in a city park last month might hold the key to Indiana's oldest cold case.

After the discovery of the human jawbone in Garfield Park on May 7, speculation about its owner abounded. Was it a Civil War soldier? Remains from a Delaware Indian burial ground?

It's impossible to say for now - the Marion County Coroner's Office said it could be another monthbefore it's determined how long the bone had been there.

But the discovery caught the attention of the Indiana State Archivist office, a small team of researchers tasked with procuring and protecting the state's oldest historical documents.

Two staff archivists there, Vicki Casteel and Jim Corridan, are intrigued by the possibility that the bone belongs to Pogue. Settlers in that area at the time were scarce, they say, and the place where the bone was found matches up with where Pogue was headed when he was last seen.

If the dating of the bone matches up with the time of his disappearance, the next step would be to track down some of Pogue's descendants for DNA testing.

Settling in Indianapolis

The story begins in 1819, when Pogue and his family began their journey to what soon would become Indianapolis. The newly assembled Indiana state legislature had designated the largely rural area at the center of the state as its new capital, replacing Corydon

Settlers flocked to the area, many of them from bordering Ohio and Kentucky - both states that had been admitted to the union more than a decade before Indiana.

Pogue, according to Casteel, "was said to be a blacksmith. I think he had come from Kentucky, but his dress put people in mind of (the) Pennsylvania Dutch."

He and Revolutionary War veteran John Wesley McCormick are considered the city's co-founders.

Often described in history books as a large man in his 50s, Pogue was among the first to travel north to seek his fortune. Settling early in Indianapolis, said state archivist Jim Corridan, had its benefits: pioneers wanted to "strike it rich and build their businesses as the city grows."

For a while, that's what Pogue did. He eventually settled along the creek later named for him, near what is now Downtown Indianapolis.

He had no idea what would happen next.

Bubbling tensions

The path to Indianapolis for the city's first white settlers was not without its perils.

Many Native American residents were thrust into upheaval once Indiana became a state. A treaty signed in 1818 by representatives of the budding union and local Native American tribes tore ownership of the land from those who had lived on it for centuries.

"They didn't know the people signed away their rights and they had to move out," Corridan said. "So you had all that bubbling under the surface."

But that wasn't the only thing, Casteel said, that Indians were holding against the settlers - or vice-versa. Two dozen white settlers had been slaughtered during the War of 1812 just a few years earlier near Underwood, Ind., in what historians call the Pigeon Roost Massacre.

"That had all been kind of smoothed over," Casteel said, "but you still have all thse tensions going on int he area between the Native Americans and the settlers."

Those tensions sealed what many believe was Pogue's fate. In April 1821, several of the horses he brought with him to Indianapolis went missing. An Indian brave named Wyandotte John told him they had been stolen - by a tribe of Delaware Indians, living near present-day Garfield Park.

Pogue "didn't really trust the guy, but he thought, 'I'll go check it out,'" Casteel said. He "got his things and went off.

"And they never saw him again."

Rumors abound

No trace of Pogue was ever recovered. But that didn't stop the rumors.

According to "Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis," one of the earliest historical accounts of the city, one of Pogue's sons claimed to have seen a Delaware Indian wearing his father's clothes not long after he disappeared.

The author, John H.B. Nowland, describes an encounter with the son in the 1840s.

"One of his sons claimed to have gone out hunting and that he actually shot an Indian who was wearing (Pogue's) clothes," Casteel said. "(Nowland) thinks the guy just made the whole story up.

"He didn't trust the guy's state of mind."

Since Pogue's disappearance along the same waterway where the bone was found last month, archivists acknowledge that things could have shifted around. Flooding, for example, might have moved bones from other burial grounds down the creek.

And there is a chance that Pogue might have already been found; a newspaper article from 1905 mentions in passing a skeleton unearthed near that spot a few years earlier.

But Casteel said exploring the past - and resurrecting Pogue's mystery - is worth some suspicion.

"It could be anybody," she said. "I think just because of the importance of the figure and the disappearance that, if it turned out to be from that time period, it would be neat to find a descendant and do some DNA testing. That would be fun," she said.

"For history's sake."

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