Chief Kokomo, The Ornriest Man I Knew

Kokomo, Indiana is named for a Miami Indian named Kokomo.  That much, everyone agrees about, but that’s the extent of the agreement.  Beyond that, legend reaches in both directions.  One version of the legend of Chief Kokomo states that he was kind and was venerated by the selection of Kokomo as the name of the town where he lived.  More legends, in fact, most legends tell a different story – one less venerating, of a hard-drinking, rabble-rousing, trouble-making, wife-beating malcontent who was expelled from the Miami tribe in Miami County, and took up residence with a few followers in what would become Kokomo.

Reaching back in the records, we find that David Foster, the man who founded and plotted the city of Kokomo said of the place, “”It was the ornriest town on earth, so I named it for the ornriest man I knew — called it Kokomo.”  Was that said in jest?  We have no way of knowing –  but given the number of similar stories – likely not.

One story tells that Kokomo, in addition to being quite fearless and outspoken, was an extremely large man, towering over everyone else in town.  In fact, when (unmarked) Indian burials were disturbed in 1848 when a sawmill was being built near the old location of the Indian village, one was identified as that of Chief Kokomo because of the extremely large size of the bones.  Apparently Kokomo was then reburied, along with all of the other Indian bones that had been inadvertently disturbed, together in a pine box, in the old pioneer cemetery, a couple of blocks away.

kokomo Lafontaine trace

In the late 1840s, this tract was awarded to Miami Indian Chief Francis LaFontaine.  In fact, there is a street in this area of Kokomo today named LaFountain street.  You can see the word “Ko Ko Mo” where the village was located.  The village is near present day Main and Sycamore Streets.  Buckeye south of Superior, on the banks of the Wildcat Creek, where the burials were discovered, is a block or two away, on the other side of the courthouse and slightly south.  Today, this is all downtown area of Kokomo.

Kokomo Indian locations

On the contemporary map above, the Indian village is the top arrow, the original location of the Indian burials is the bottom left arrow and the Old Pioneer Cemetery where Kokomo’s remains were reburied is at far right.

Kokomo, whether chief or rogue, or both, lived in the 1830s and was probably dead by the time this land was granted to Francis LaFontaine in the later 1840s.  We know that Kokomo was alive in 1840 when a gunsmith was repairing his gun and Kokomo decided he wanted to kill the man because he was a Kentuckian and Kokomo has been cheated previously by a Kentuckian.

The only actual record we have of Kokomo is a record from a trading post.

Chief Francis Godfroy maintained a trading post at the mouth of the Mississinewa River back in the 1830s.  One entry in his store ledger on Wednesday, June 27, 1838, when “Koh Koh maw” and a squaw were billed $12 for a barrel of flour and a few yards of Calico. Most Indians also bought Whiskey which sold at .25 a quart, but Koh Koh Maw has no record there of buying whiskey. This does not support the reputation as a drinking man, although clearly, it is only one record.

There were other Miami Villages in this general region as well, based on the 1877 Howard County Historical Atlas.  Nip Po Wah lived at Vermont and Shoc Co To Quaw at Greentown. Pete Cornstalk lived at Indian Suck (the southeast corner of Ervin Twp.) and Ma Shock O Mo south of Greentown a mile and a half; Shap Pau Do Sho which meant “Through and Through,” was at Cassville.

The Ervin township location is shown on this 1877 map.  I believe it is the pink tract shown below.

http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/22645/

ervin two location

However, only Kokomo had the honor of having a town, now a city, named after him.

Kokomo’s reburial location is marked today in the old Pioneer cemetery.

chief kokomo marker

This old photo shows the location in the 1900s with a memorial honoring both the old pioneers and Chief Kokomo who is buried along with them.  I surely wish they would mark the location of the Native cemetery along the riverbank of the Wildcat Creek.

kokomo pioneer cemetery

You can read more about Kokomo, the Indian, at these links.

http://www.howardcountymemory.net/default.aspx?id=12816

http://www.howardcountymemory.net/default.aspx?id=12880

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About robertajestes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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8 Responses to Chief Kokomo, The Ornriest Man I Knew

  1. Amy says:

    Wow! Thanks for the article and link to Howard County Memory. You are my favorite Genetic Genealogist!

  2. John Wilkinson says:

    It was believed, back in the 1960’s thru early 1970’s that Chief Kokomo was once, or even still buried on the location of where the Mongonagal Buick Dealership was in downtown Kokomo, which now, this land has a different building on it today. But the land is North of the Wildcat Creek, Southside of Superior St., West of Main St., and East of RR tracks on S. Buckeye Sts. And that there were never and remains of the Chief at that cemetery just east of Kautz Field (Old Kokomo High School Football Field)
    and South of Superior, just west of Pennsavania RR tracks

  3. Rich Ferguson says:

    A step back further also indicated that the bones found were of a large Indian. Miamis were short people and other stories indicate that Ko Ko mah may have been Shawnee. Many clans of them were over 6 feet tall. They scattered throughout the Wildcat river area after Prophetstown was burned for a third time by Col. W. Russell in 1813.

  4. David Foster says:

    My great great great grandfather was David Foster the founder of Kokomo. And what I know about this story is considerably different then most told. Chief Ma-Koko-Mo (He-Bear) was part of the Miami tribe according to some native story tellers that frequented David Foster’s trading post. He was a giant literally measuring in over 7 foot tall. He was well loved by his people for his acts of great bravery and benevolent leadership. He lived way before the time of the whites coming to the Indiana territory and hailed from the area of Muncie, Ind. On one occasion while on a hunting trip near downtown Kokomo he became sick and died. He was later burried in that general vacinity. Later in the mid 1800’s Indian graves were exhumed near the downtown of Kokomo while building a log tram for a local saw mill owned by a family named Keetings. There were a total for three skeletons discovered, but one was of a giant male. A local Doctor (Corridan Richmond) who later became Mayor conducted measurements of the bones and stated that the person must have been over 7 foot tall. Well David heard tale of this and went to the grave site and proclamed that these were the bones of none other than chIef Kokomo. The bones were later burried along with other bones where the monument to him now stands. My personal opinion is that Ma-Koko-Mo was neither a Miami or Shawnee and rather a decendant of Allegewi Hopwell tribe that lived near the Muncie area. Hard to say, but the Allegewi Hopewell where known for their great size and many of them were said to have been giants. Just my two cents.
    David Foster

    • Thank you so much for contributing this information.

    • There have been many giant bones found all over the Ohio, Ind areas in the mounds as well as all across the US. Since the Hopewell were actually not the tribes name but rather the name of the man who owned the land where the first mounds were discovered, we really do not know the actual name of the tribes. many legends of the native americans claim that there were giants that they fought when they came into the land, who were very tall and had red hair and 6 fingers. Lewis and Clark’s journal relates this story told to them from the natives while going on their trek west. There is much investigation being done today by L. A. Marzulli on this very subject. the Bible mentionsabout the giants called the nephelim, of which was Goliath, and King Og. Marzulli’s investigations as well as historian Fritz Zimmerman of Ft. Wayne, are finding that the nephelim certainly were here in the new world. Steve Quayle has a book from over 30 years of research on the giants much of which is online at : http://www.genesis6giants.com/ and Marzulli’s latest book “On the Trail of the Nephelim” can be found and purchased here: http://lamarzulli.net/on-the-trail-of-the-nephilim.php#.U6GKHLGdHFI .
      thanks for the information on Kokomo’s history..very interesting!
      Karen Taylor

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