KOSCIUSKO, INDIANA, IN PRINT
by Edward Pinkowski
This article first appeared in the POST EAGLE, April 23, 2003 issue, pages 4, 15
Polish place names in the United States don't appear in the news as often as Polish surnames. Shortly after President George W. Bush sent American troops to Iraq, two Polish place names popped up in the news with the death of 26-year-old Lance Corporal David K. Fribley, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The city of Nassiriyah, Iraq, near which he was killed in an ambush March 23, 2003, is nothing like Warsaw, the county seat of Kosciusko County, Indiana, where the Marine graduated from high school and generations of the Fribley family paid their taxes, or Cape Coral, Florida, where he was activities director of a retirement community until he joined the Marines in 2001. Both communities mourned his loss in Iraq.
Mourning war heroes in their communities is not a strange phenomenon in the United States. What is part of American history and especially interesting is the way the people who built Warsaw, about 40 miles west of Fort Wayne, and Kosciusko County in the northern part of Indiana kept the two Polish place names in print since the 1830s. It required no help from the Polish population. In fact, in 1930, when Kosciusko County had a population of 27,501 persons, 5,735 of them in Warsaw, not one was Polish.
Over the years, items in the local newspapers have perpetuated the names of the capital of Pulund and General Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Among the headlines were the elections of public officials, county fairs, snow blizzards, train wrecks, and visits of famous people. For example, the Warsaw Daily Times had a number of stories on one of the first women in aviation, Marvel Crosson, who was born in Warsaw, April 27, 1904, and learned to fly in 1923 in San Diego, California, to which the family moved earlier. During the Woman's Air Derby from Santa Monica to Cleveland, her plane went down in the desert at Welton, Arizona, on August 20, 1929, and her body was found 200 feet from the wreckage. Her parachute had failed to open. The adventures of her brother, Joseph Crosson, with whom she learned to fly, were also covered in Warsaw, with pictures of his expedition to the South Pole in the 1920s with Sir Hubert Wilkins.
Nothing compared with the headlines in 1861 when the merchants, farmers, mechanics, veterans of the Mexican War, and others of the Indiana county left their desks, plows, shops, or whatever, and organized Company E, 12th Indiana Regiment of Volunteers. Before leaving Warsaw, where it met from day to day for drill, the company adopted a song, Kosciusko Guard's Farewell, and gave three cheers to the volunteer who wrote it. The opening three stanzas read:
Adieu to Peace and all her in charm
Our Country calls, To arms!
Arouse! To arms!
Ye patriots true
And meet the Southern traitor Crew.
Our country's Standards high unfurled
The pride, the wonder of the world!
That honored Standard bids us go
To meet the Southern traitorous foe.
Will Kosciusko's Sons allow
The Stars and Stripes to trail below
While the "Rattle Snake" shall wave on high
And give to Liberty the lie?
Stories of the Kosciusko Guards abound. Relief through rhyme ballooned in popularity at the time. During the year the Kosciusko Guards were in military service, mostly on guard duty along the Potomac River because for half of its period of active duty it lacked adequate arms to face the enemy, the people of Kosciusko County read about it in the newspapers. The company was not equipped with Springfield rifles until November 15, 1861. Occasionally someone from the company returned to Warsaw to recruit more men for it. No person under five feet six inches in height was sworn in. Of the first 135 volunteers, fifty-five were turned down because they were not tall enough. It didn't matter about age. The drummer of the company, Tommy Hubler, was nine years old, and the youngest person in the Union Army.
Imagine the gleam in President Lincoln's eyes when the drummer boy showed up in a dress parade at the White House on May 6, 1S62, with the Kosciusko Guards, part of two Indiana regiments that were invited, and even more surprising, for the first time in the history of the country, the sight of the company's banner, having "Kosciusko Guards" embroidered in gold letters in the center of an American Flag. The company marched to the White House from 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the music of its fifer, Thompson Holt, whose age I don't know, and the drum beats of young Hubler.
When their term of enlistment was over, the members of the Kosciusko Guards returned to Warsaw, Indiana, and most of them joined other Union regiments for the rest of the conflict. Reuben Williams, a native of Tiffin, Ohio, who was promoted to captain of the Kosciusko Guards on August 7, 1861, was taken prisoner shortly afterwards with six enlisted men to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. When they returned to the company on March 24, 1862, nothing but skin and bones, Dr. David Hazzard, whose son was one of the human scarecrows, left his medical practice in Warsaw, Indiana, to help the former p.o.w.'s get back on their feet. Later Williams, still in his early 30s, became an intrepid Union general and a hero of Chicamauga. Several veterans of the Kosciusko Guards won elections for various county offices, as did George W. Scott, who was a sheriff of Kosciusko County before the war. During his term in office as county auditor, Joseph S. Baker acquired enough experience in building the Kosciusko County Court House that he became a contractor for similar buildings in Indiana. William S. Hemphill, author of Journal of the Kosciusko Guards, which he kept in 1861 and 1862, ran the Northern Indianian, beginning in 1877, and filled his pages with a lot of good historical material.
Kosciusko County Courthouse
Origin of Kosciusko County
No matter what their family names were, either Kosciusko or Warsaw, where they came from, was always in print. After a new county was named after a Polish hero of the American Revolution, many persons could not pronounce Kosciuszko, which they spelled without the letter "z", and wanted to change it. Had a lawyer named John B. Chapman not laid the groundwork, or pulled a fast one as is often said, most likely the foes of Kosciusko would have changed the name.
Chapman was in love with the Polish name for a long time. "When I was a boy in the army in Norfolk, Virginia," he wrote in the Northern Indianian. "I heard some old veterans of the revolutionary war speaking of the noble traits of character of Koscius(z)ko. I always thought he had been neglected by the American people as a patriot of the revolution."
Chapman found himself in what became Kosciusko County in the early 1830s when the federal government let him have a post office and an Indian Agency in his log cabin. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1834. On 7 February 1835, when the body approved fifteen new counties for Indiana, Chapman grabbed his chance to name one for General Kosciuszko, just as others selected Steuben, De Kalb, and Pulaski for other counties, and the majority of the legislators approved his choice with cheers and clapping of hands.
The first settlers of the county, scarcely more than fifty when it was formed, but growing rapidly like a volcano, were more opposed to a railroad project from New York to the Mississippi River, because it would cut up their farms and kill their animals, than to their new place name. As the hostility to railroads in Indiana grew, office seekers focused on Chapman, who favored railroads over canal digging, and each one declared that if he were elected he would change the name of Kosciusko. They said that Kosciusko was a hard name to spell.
Chapman said to them, "when you reach the legislature you may be able to blot out the sun, and sink the earth in oblivion, but never can you change the name of Kosciusko."
His secret "modus operandi," as he called his unfinished work, was to hold a sham sale of land in the center of the county, name the area Warsaw, and sell part of it to the county commissioners on which to build a court house. The quarter section of land he bought was nothing more than a swamp with denuded tamarack trees, each one slim and straight as a mast of a small vessel. Then he hired an old surveyor, William Lightfoot, to divide the water-logged land into lots and put up building stakes. He sold the lots to ficticious buyers with a lot of fanfare. On the day he carved this on the trunk of a tree, "courthouse of Warsaw," his audience, to whom he said that it was the beginning of the capital of Kosciusko County, included his five little boys and the old surveyor.
As soon as the deal was closed to buld the court house, Chapman had the last laugh. Lightfoot laughed, too. Nearly everybody thought they could not build a town in the middle of a swamp. As Chapman described his enemies, "They had tried the bounds but could not alter them; and now fixing the court house at Warsaw, clinched the whole fabric together."
Connect to Official Kosciuszko County, Indiana, Web Site
Connect to Official Warsaw, Indiana, Web Site