A marker around two miles north of Willshire on Highway 49 marks the site of an Indian Reservation granted to Jean Baptiste de Richardville. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
A marker around two miles north of Willshire on Highway 49 marks the site of an Indian Reservation granted to Jean Baptiste de Richardville. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

VAN WERT – According to local legend, there should be a pot of gold in the fields of western Van Wert County simply for the search. Stories have it that when the well-known Indian Jean Baptiste de Richardville owned 1,200 acres of land in western Ohio and eastern Indiana, he buried a pot of gold in Van Wert County.

Richardville was once pegged as the wealthiest man in Indiana, but buried the pot of gold in Van Wert County for the keeping of anyone that found it.

For months after the story was told, farmers in the area searched their fields and farms to see if they might own the sacred plot of land where the gold had been buried. To this day, there is no record of the valuable treasure ever being found. It is technically still there for the finding.

In 1818, Richardville signed the Treaty of St. Marys with the United States. This treaty punished the Miami for their lack of support for the U.S. during the War of 1812 against the British, and forced them to cede most of their land in central Indiana to the United States.

At the time Richardville offered legal land grants in the area to individual Miami families, including for himself. He eventually controlled more than 20 square miles along the St. Joseph, St. Marys, Mississinewa, Salamonie and Wabash Rivers.

Richardville often offered his private lands as a refuge for other Miami Indians. This enabled a large amount of the Miami people to remain in Van Wert County and portions of Indiana when the tribe was officially removed by the U.S. to Indian territory west of the Mississippi River.

Richardville was born about 1761 in the village of Kekionga, now Fort Wayne, to Tacumwah and Joseph Drouet de Richerville, a French fur trader from Quebec. He was well educated and learned to speak Miami, Algonquian, Iroquois, French and English. He gained his status in the tribe from his mother’s people.

Most of Richardville’s local 1,200 acres was on the Ohio side of the St. Marys River although a narrow strip extended across the river into eastern Adams County, Indiana, mainly east of U.S. 33 from Pleasant Mills to Willshire.

Richardville and his mother made most of their income from the fur trade and control of a portage connecting the Maumee River to the Little River, known today as the Little Wabash River. The Treaty of Greenville abolished the control of the portage to the Miamis and declared that all portages of the region were to be of free use.

Richardville, however, acquired a trade license in 1815 which gave him a monopoly on carry-over services at the portage. Through that, he earned considerable profits again from the trading traffic at the portage.

After signing the Treaty of Mississisiwas in 1826, Richardville was given $600 toward the building of the Richardville House in Fort Wayne. At the time of his death in 1841, he was considered to be the richest man in Indiana, in spite of the pot of gold left behind in Van Wert County.