Grandpa’s Indian discovery creates stir

My mother, Cora Rebbe Torbeck, was reared along Flat Creek in Wilberton Township. The firstborn of seven children of Edward and Edna Moeller Rebbe, she was reared within a stone’s throw of the home of her grandparents, Chris and Minnie Rebbe.

One night, while sitting around the supper table, Mom told us of the time her father had unearthed the skeleton of an Indian while plowing a field along Flat Creek. Mom knew that this had happened while her dad was still a teenager, but she didnt know any of the details. The story intrigued me.

Several years ago, I decided to check it out. I knew my grandparents were married in June 1918. And, since Mom said Grandpa was plowing, it was something that happened in the spring of the year.

Would I have a chance of finding a newspaper account of the incident? Microfilmed copies of The Vandalia Union, beginning with the year 1893, are kept at Evans Public Library. They also supply the machine needed to look at these old newspapers.

I began my search in 1908. Grandpa Rebbe would have been 16 years old, big enough to handle a team. I looked through several years of the springtime editions of The Vandalia Union, and there it was! On the front page of the April 28, 1910, issue, Skeleton Unearthed. Plowed Up By A Wilberton Township Farmer. It was Grandpas Indian!

According to the newspaper article, a number of items were found along with the skeleton. They included a small brass kettle, two hunting knives, a bullet mould, a steel and two pieces of material used for catching fire from the flint, one hammer, two gimlets, a copper button with an eagle and some letters, which were indistinct, a belt buckle and a stone pipe.

The skeleton measured more than 6 feet in length, and, judging from the condition of its teeth, was estimated to be about 40 years of age.

The article went on to say that the point where the skeleton was unearthed was off to one side of the old Vandalia-to-Salem Road, where it crossed Flat Creek. The spot was a historic one because it was a favorite camping place when the old four-horse stagecoaches traveled between Vandalia and Salem.

At Fosterburg, in Marion County, the horses would be exchanged for fresh ones, and the coach would continue the journey to Salem and points south.

Knowing this, I would guess that Grandpas Indian probably wasnt an Indian, but rather a traveler along this ancient trail.

The Rebbes, along with other neighbors, built a coffin box and placed the remains inside. They gave the stranger a Christian burial in a corner of McConnell Cemetery, which was located a short distance from the Rebbe farm. The large rock placed over the grave to mark its location is still there today, and a few of the older residents still remember hearing of the incident.

That would be the end of the story were it not for a happenstance meeting with the now-deceased Fritz Meseke. I was visiting Connie Torbeck at her parents’ Brownstown home, and joined in on a family dinner.

Esthers brother, Fritz Meseke, was among the dinner guests. The Meseke family was through-the-woods neighbors to my moms folks, and he remembered the incident very well. He told me that since this was the early day, communication was not what it is now. With no telephones and such, word still got out around the community of the discovery.

He said that neighbors came in droves to see the place where the skeleton had been found. As evening approached, someone placed a lantern in the depression where the skeleton had rested for so many years, and a faint light shone from it.

Many who would not venture close to the hole were startled to see the light emanating from it, and conjured up all kinds of explanations for its presence.

Among those who visited the site was Jacob Ehrat. Having business in Vandalia, he then called on the editors of The Union, telling them of the excitement caused by the discovery. Were it not for Mr. Ehrat, Moms family story about Grandpas Indian would have been just that a story.

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