The 10 O’Clock Line

~by Julia Pearson, drawing by Joe Lee

The Ten O’clock Line is a significant boundary marker established in 1809 on the timeline of Indiana history. William Henry Harrison,

Governor of the Indiana Territory, signed the Ten O’clock Line Treaty with Little Turtle, a Miami chief. It provided for the acquisition of three million acres of Native American lands and is recorded as a land purchase by the United States of America with the Delawares, Potawatomi, Miami, the Eel River band of Miami, Weas (signed in November 1809), and the Kickapoo (signed March 1810). The primary inhabitants of the region sold were the Kickapoo and the Wea. Negotiations did not include the Shawnee, who had been previously asked by Little Turtle to leave the area.

Many sources say that the first name comes from the shadow of a spear cast at 10:00 a.m. each year on the anniversary of the agreement, the last day of September, because native beliefs distrusted surveying equipment. There are additional myths surrounding the names saying it was either a tree or a fence that was used.

To open more land for settlement, Harrison pushed for a treaty with the Indian tribes against the wishes of President James Madison. The Miami, Wea, and Kickapoo were “vehemently” opposed to any more land sales near the Wabash River. To change their opposition, Harrison decided to negotiate with willing tribes.

In the fall of 1809 he invited the Pottawatomie, Lenape, Eel Rivers, and Miami to a Fort Wayne meeting. Large subsidies and payments were promised by the government if the lands asked for were ceded. The treaty was opposed only by the Miami. They presented their copy of the Treaty of Greenville which guaranteed possession of the lands around the Wabash River. They explained how the Wea and other tribes had been invited to settle in this territory. The Miami expressed concern that the leaders of the Wea were not present, and they had been the primary inhabitants of the land being sold. The Miami also desired new land sales be paid for by the acre. Harrison refused purchase by the acre but did agree to make the treaty contingent on acceptance by the Wea and other tribes in the territory.

After negotiating for two weeks, the Pottawatomie leaders convinced tribes to accept the treaty. This treaty led to a war between the United States, begun by Shawnee leader Tecumseh, and other dissenting tribes. It was Tecumseh’s heartfelt belief that the land belonged to all the Indians and individual tribes were not entitled to negotiate without consent of all the tribes. Native American resistance to Harrison culminated in November 1811 in the Battle of Tippecanoe, in which Harrison’s army overcame Indian forces at Prophetstown and destroyed the village. This victory launched Harrison’s bid for the presidency and routed the remaining native peoples. The history of this period is deep, rich, and emotional—a chapter worth revisiting and seeing with new eyes.

The Ten O’clock Line is 16 miles in length, with 7.29 miles passing through what is today’s Brown County State Park. The regional boundary line runs from the Raccoon Creek along the Wabash River near Vincennes to a site near Seymour, Indiana. Close at hand, the Ten O’clock Line extends in a northwest to southeast direction along the northern end of Yellowwood Lake in the Yellowwood State Forest to the Weed Patch Hill’s fire tower in the Brown County State Park, and on through Story, Indiana, where it is memorialized with a historical marker.

It passes right through the marrow of a nature preserve established in July 2010 and whose name commemorates the Ten O’clock Line. This designation as a nature preserve is a commitment by the Division of State Parks and Reservoirs that the land will not be developed. It features a large block of upland and floodplain forest known as a habitat for many wildlife species dependent on deep forest ecology: the whip-poor-will, broad-winged hawk, cerulean warbler, timber rattlers, and red bats, to name a few.

“This nature preserve provides permanent protection for some of the rarest wildlife in Indiana, as well as one of the rarest trees in the state, the yellowwood.”
—John Bacone, DNR Division of Nature Preserves.

There are several stands of yellowwood within the preserve. Occupying much of the southwest corner of the Brown County State Park, it can be reached by visitors parking at the Ogle Lake parking area and taking hiking trail 7 to reach hiking trail 9, which traverses part of the northern preserve. From the Nature Center, visitors can walk through the Taylor Ridge Campground (note: there is no public parking at Taylor Ridge). The Ten O’clock Line Nature Preserve can also be accessed via a portion of the bridle trail.

The Ten O’clock Line Trail is craggy and rough, following old stage coach roads that cross over ridges and valleys, native trails, and historic highways blazed through the forests more than 150 years ago. The first settler of European descent to arrive in Brown County was Johann Schoonover. It was around 1820 and he chose to settle down and trade with the native peoples. The creek nearby came to share his name— Schooner Creek—and the area as Schooner Valley, which is located on the Ten O’clock Line.