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McCormick, John

Was the first white man that settled in this city.  He arrived here on the twenty-sixth day of February, 1820, and built his cabin on the bank of White River, about ten steps below the east end of the National Road bridge.  His two brothers, Samuel and James, helped him to move out and build his cabin.  James' family arrived here on the seventh of March; Samuel did not bring his family until the next fall.

Mr. McCormick kept the first tavern in the place, and entertained the commissioners a part of the time when they were here for the purpose of selecting a site for the seat of government.  He was very expert with a gig, and could fill a canoe with the most choice fish in a few hours.  He frequently gigged the inferior kinds to feed to his hogs.

Mr. McCormick was the first man to leave the fort at Connersville, and build a house for a residence, about the year 1813, and there remained until his removal to this place.  He died at his residence on the bank of the river in the year 1825.  His widow married a man named King, and moved within one mile of the bluffs of White River, where she yet lives, a widow the second time.

Samuel and James McCormick lived in this county many years--Samuel on the farm now owned by Charles Garner, on the west bank of the river, at the crossing of the Crawfordsville State road.  From there he move to Hendricks County, near Cartersburgh, and there died in June, 1867.

James McCormick died in this county many years since, and left a large family of children, most of whom live in Hendricks County, where their mother also resides.

John McCormick, eldest son of Samuel, yet lives one mile west of the city, on the National Road, and is in the nursery and gardening business. 

The three elder McCormicks were considered honest and industrious men, and respected in their neighborhood.  There has been considerable said and written as to who was the first settler in this place, some claiming tht George Pogue was; but I have evidence beyond dispute that Pogue did not come until the latter part of March of that year. 

It was Mrs. McCormick that my father and others saved from falling into the hands of a desperate Indian, that I referred to on another page.

Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 23-24.


A few years since we made the assertion, through one of the city papers, that John McCormack was the first white man that settled in Indianapolis, and that he built his cabin on the bank of the river on the 26th day of February, 1820.  This fact had been patent up to that time and have never been denied, but I was surprised that some person had informed one of the city editors that I was in error, and that George Pogue was the first settler, and had come here in March, 1819.  I immediately addressed a letter to the late Cyrus Whetzel on this subject, and received this answer, which was published in the Sentinel at the time:

WAVERLY, Morgan County, March 10, 1870.

Mr. J. H. B. Nowland:--Dear Sir—Yours, of the fourth inst., is received.  The subject to which you call my attention I thought was settled many years since, i.e., John McCormack built the first house in Indianapolis, in February, 1820, and that George Pogue settled on the bank of the creek that takes its name from him the following March.  I am confident that there was not a white man living in Marion county in 1819.  My father and myself settled where I now live in the spring of 1819, when I was in my nineteenth year, and at an age calculated to retain any impression made on my mind.

                    Yours respectfully,
                        Cyrus Whetzel.

P.S.—Your statement in the Sentinel of the 25th ultimo, is correct.  My father and I came out in the spring of 1819, say about the 15th of March, cleared ground, raised a crop, and moved the family out in October following.                    CW

We think that this letter of Mr. Whetzel’s establishes the fact beyond the shadow of a doubt, that John McCormack was the first white man who settled in Indianapolis or in Marion county.

John McCormack kept the first tavern or place of entertainment in the place.  He provided for the commissioners a portion of the time when they were here for the purposes of locating the capital.

His house stood on the east or left bank of the river, a few steps below where the National road bridge now crosses that stream.

One bright, sunny Sunday morning, about the middle of March, my father and myself took a walk to the river.  When within about fifty yards of the cabin of Mr. McCormack, we heard cries of “Help! murder!” etc., coming from the house.  We ran, and by the time we got there several men had arrived.

A well known and desperate Delaware, known as the Big Bottle (from the fact that he generally carried a large bottle hung to his belt), had come to the opposite side of the river and commanded Mrs. McCormack to bring the canoe over for him; this she refused to do, knowing that he wanted whisky, and when drinking was a dangerous Indian.

He set his gun against a tree, plunged into the river and swam over, and when he reached the house was ascending the bank, tomahawk in hand, preparatory to cutting his way through the door, which Mrs. McCormack had barricaded.  At the sight of the several men he desisted from his intentions, and said he only wished to “scare white squaw.”  He was taken back to his own side of the river in the canoe, and admonished that if he attempted to scare the “white squaw” again her husband would kill him.  This rather irritated him, he flourished his scalping knife towards her, and intimated by signs from her head to his belt that he would take her scalp.

The spring and summer brought with them many new settlers, viz:  James M. Ray, Daniel Yandes, John Given, James Blake, Calvin Fletcher, Daniel Shaffer, Robert Wilmot, Dr. Samuel G. Mitchell, Dr. Isaac Coe, Dr. Livingston Dunlap, Alexander W. Russell, and many others, who became valuable citizens in after years.  The commissioners in their report to the Legislature, among other advantages of the location, spoke of the navigation of White river as paramount to all others.  They selected 2,560 acres, equal to four entire sections, sections numbered one and twelve, east and west fractional sections numbered two, east fractional section numbered eleven, and as much of the east part of west fractional section three to be set off by a north and south line, as would complete the requisite number of acres, all in township fifteen, range three east.  So it will be seen that the donation was made up of two entire, and the balance in fractional sections

Howland, John H. B., Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876, with a Few of the Pioneers of the Cityand County Who Have Passed Away, A Sequel to “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis.” 1820-’76, c. 1877, Indianapolis, Tilford & Carlon, Printers., p. 13-14.