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The Monster at Manitou

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The most important pioneer artist in Indiana’s early history arrived in 1837. His name was George Winter, a native of England who immigrated to the United States when he was a very young adult. With brief stops in New York and Ohio, his travels soon took him to a tiny village in the far west — Logansport. The original plan was a short stay. George came here for the sole purpose of painting Native Americans. Logansport was the center of Native American affairs primarily due to its Indian Agency. Members of the Miami and Pottawatomie tribes frequented Logansport routinely, trading at various shops. It was a perfect place to capture a subject on canvas, but not for long.

Under a treaty signed in 1826, all native tribes living in the area would leave by 1838. It was Winter’s intention to paint the natives and leave the following year, but his plans changed. Winter would spend 14 years in Logansport and much of the rest of his life in Lafayette, Ind., until his death in 1876.

As a painter in a pioneer town income was a severe problem. The subjects he wanted to paint for art, Native Americans, were not paying customers, and there was not a large supply of people needing their portrait painted. He needed a second job and was hired to write a column for the Logansport Telegraph, a weekly newspaper.

What does a pioneer artist write about? Apparently fiction.

In the early years of settlement, the woods of Indiana were infested with several species of wild animals, bobcats, bear, wolves, etc. Many early settlers also believed that the small lakes in Indiana also contained mysterious and dangerous creatures. Among them was Lake Manitou, near present day Rochester. A story had been passed to George by a fisherman about a supposed serpent lurking within the waters of Manitou. George, being a good reporter and desperately needing money, went to "investigate.” The article written for the Telegraph caused quite a stir throughout Cass County. George described the serpent as follows:

"This beast was sixty feet in length, had a frontal bone three feet across, eyes as big as saucers and a forked tongue as red as blood.”

Winter even used his artistic talent providing a sketch of the creature alongside the article. Sounds terrifying, doesn't it? The people of Cass County thought so. Parties were sent to the lake to capture the serpent, all ending in failure.

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