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Swan Township

The first settler in Swan Township, according to early records, was George Rickard, a native of New York State, who appeared in the autumn of 1833 and built a small beech-log cabin on a tract of eighty acres in the northern part, where he resided with his wife and several children.  As travel had already set in along the Lima road, he turned his cabin, small as it was into a place of accommodation and entertainment, and it was generally known as the "Buck-Horse Tavern."  In June, 1834, Conrad Cramer entered eighty acres of land adjoining the tract of Rickard and moved in with his family.  He also was from the Empire Stte.  The next settlers were probably James and Charles Shelner and Daniel Tousley, in 1834; then, within the next two or three years, Jonas and John Strouss, Samuel Brkwell, Charles Salsbury, Mr. Flagg, Hiram King, Alexander Gifford, the Broughtons, Oliver and Stanberry Wright, Hiram Parker, three or four of the Fulks (who settled in the southwestern part), Oliver L. Perry and others.  From that time until 1844 the principal settlers who arrived were Weston Ackley, J. L. Blowers, Hamilton Badger, John C. Billings, Conrad Bricker, Dexter Brooks, Russell Clapp, Samuel Carothers, Nicholas Cooper, M. P. Dickerson, F. Tilton, Samuel Frances, William Gregg, Samuel Huff, Henry Haskins, William Errickson, Charles Law, John Latta, Joseph Richards, Henry Timmerman, Aaron, Alva and Josiah Wood, James, Luther, Lewis and Erastus Warner, Jared and John Weeks, Edward and Lewis Walburn, and James Willetts.

The people were very hostpiable to new arrivals, assisting them in the erection of their cabins, and in other ways.  The woods soon became full of wild hogs, which the settlers hot for food, and as there was plenty of other wild game, meat, as a rule, was easily procurred.  The first crops planted were usually potatoes, corn, pumpkins and wheat.  Much fine timber was sacrificed, the trees being cut down and the logs burned to make room for the farms.  Flax was also raised to furnish material for clothing made by the women.  Shee were soon introduced and thrived well, though it was necessary to protect them from the wolves which were then numerous in the timber.  Occasionally a ber was trapped or shot, but this animal soon disappeared; the deer remined longer and venison was a common article of food with all the pioneer settlers.  The earliest arrivals located along the Mongoquinong road, which had been laid out previously on an old Indian trail, and which served as an artery to float the products raised in the township, and gave comparatively easy communication with Fort Wayne, which was for years the principal market for all Northern Indiana.  The scarcity of money caused a recognized scale of barter to be established, which often different gretly from the cash prices, always to the disadvantage of the settler who had not the cash.  But in time money became more plentiful and conditions improved. 

In 1837 occurred the first township election, at the residence of George Rickard, who had been appointed inspector.  Only six qualified voters were present, in addition to several people not entitled to vote.  Two or three officers were elected, but as no returns were made, the election proved invalid.  Notwithstanding this, the election in the spring of 1838 was conducted in the same manner, but John Fulk, who had been elected road inspector, consented to serve and did.  In 1839 the election was held at the cabin of Mr. Badger, and Jonas Strous was elected justice of the peace.  The occasion was one of disorder, resulting in several fights, as some of the canal men from Green Township came over and insisted on voting without any right to do so, and as a consequence Mr. Strous had to try a number of cases of assault and battery.  Joseph Exler and Ann Cramer were the first couple married in the township, and the first death was that of the mother of Hiram Parker, occurring in 1837.

For some years after the first settlement Swan Township was without a grist-mill, although there were two "corn-crackers" distant about eight or ten miles, one at Port Mitchell and the other on the Goshen road, about two miles southeast of Wolf Lake.  Consequently flour and meal were brought from Fort Wayne when the weather and condition of the road permitted the journey.  Saw-mills, however, were soon built, one, which was probably the first, being erected near the center of the township, on Black Creek, by Mr. Mendenhall.  About the same time another was built by Hiram King, on an outlet of Cramer's Lake in the northern part.  A Mr. Bruce also put up an early saw-mill, which, for some reason or other, had but a brief existence of about a year. About 1850 the Plank Road Company erected a fine steam saw-mill, near the Village of Swan.  This mill passed through a number of hands and had a long and successful career.

The first store in Swan Township was opened about the year 1844 by Hiram King, at his residence in the northern part.  A few years later he was appointed postmaster, though the office was at the residence of Mr. Clapp.  Hiram Cramer succeeded Mr. King as merchant, buying the latter's stock, but opening his store about 1 1/2 miles east.  He in turn became postmaster and held the office, with interregnum of six months, for over thirty years.  Another early store was conducted for a brief period by a Mr. Ogden on the State road in the northern part.

The Village of Swan was laid out in July, 1870, by Samuel Broughton, Orville Broughton and Franklin Hilkert, and contained seventy-eight lots between the railroad and plank road.  The location had been selected as a site for a residence and store as early as 1856, by Ephraim Cramer, who had noticed that the old plank road saw-mill was quite extensively frequented by workmen and settlers.  In 1861 his store burned, but he erected a better
one of brick and continued in business for many years.  Robert Taylor opened a second store in Swan in 1872 and he and Mr. Cramer were in time succeeded by other merchants.  In 1874 Mr. Taylor and Allen Willetts, who were then in partnership, built a grist-mill costing about $7,000, which they operated successfully, manufacturing, excellent flour.  Soon after the completion of the railroad, F. S. Surick, of Fort Wayne, put a stave factory for oil barrels, but after manufacturing about 200,000 staves he failed, his failure causing a loss of $1,000 to Mr. Cramer, who had bought staves for him, receiving checks in payment.  A few other industries have flourished at various times, in Swan, but the village has not grown, its present population being about fifty.  There is one store.

The Village of La Otto started a little later than Swan, but has exceeded it in population and prosperity.  A steam saw-mill was built on the site during the winter of 1871-72 by David Simon, and was operated until about 1873.  In the spring of 1872 Martin Belger erected a blacksmith shop, into which John Miller moved with his family, and on the same day -- April 5th -- Abrham ern moved into a shoe shop which had been built a short time before.  In the precedent October, David Voorhees, Martin Belger, David Simon, Solomon Simon and Jonathan Simon had laid 101 lots at the junction of the two railroads and had christened the place "Simonville."  The railroad company, however, called the station Grand Rapids Crossing; but this name was found cumbersome, and in September, 1873, at the suggestion of the Rev. B. F. Stultz, backed up by a petition of freeholders, the village received its present name of La Otto, which the postal authorities have condensed into a single word, "Laotto."  Mr. Kinzie was appointed postmaster in the autumn of 1872.  A bedstead factory was started at an early date, and Mr. Miller erected the second saw-mill, after the one built by Mr. Simon was discontinued in 1873.  The first store was opened, it is thought, in September, 1872, the proprietors being Kinzie & Bonbrake, and since then there have been quite a number of other merchants, either in succession or doing business contemporaneously.  At various times formerly brick and tile manufacture was pursued.  The village has now a population of about 300, with an elevator, stores and wagonshop.  The postoffice has one rural route. 

Robert M. Waddell, History of northeast Indiana: LaGrange, Steuben, Noble and DeKalb Counties, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1920, Noble County, pgs. 440-442.