The short-lived Republic of Indian Stream owed its existence to frustrations rooted in divergent interpretations of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain. The treaty included a number of provisions including those designed to establish firm boundaries between Canada and the United States. Ironically, a document intended to create a bright demarcation actually created additional confusion.
The treaty devoted an entire section, Article 2, to preventing "all disputes which might arise in future" along the border. That purpose seemed both noble and fair. The problem centered on its reliance on geographic landmarks to create a line, specifically its use of watersheds. The confusing portion of the clause read:
It sounded fine in theory. However the United States and the Great Britain couldn’t agree on the placement of the "northwesternmost head of Connecticut River."
Was the northwesternmost head at Halls Stream, Indian Stream, Perry Stream or the Connecticut River itself? The United States favored Halls Stream while Great Britain favored the Connecticut River. One would have thought those little details might have been discussed and resolved before ink dried on paper. They were not. Negotiators failed to clarify their intent and created a small disputed area between Halls Stream on the west and the Connecticut River on the east.
The former belligerents negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the United States ratified it the following year. Yet dueling interpretation remained fully intact for nearly a half-century afterwards. Finally local residents reached their breaking point. They tired of double taxation, military recruitment and rule of law. People in this disputed territory declared themselves to live in an independent state, the Republic of Indian Stream, in 1832. The couple of hundred residents formed their own legislature, minted their own coinage, established their own law enforcement, and set about creating the infrastructure of a tiny nation. The United States and Great Britain were not impressed. They continued to squabble and bicker while ignoring the notion of a sovereign Indian Stream.
Pittsburg, NH by Axel Drainville, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Republic, if it truly ever existed, ended in 1836. A force from Indian Stream "invaded" Canada to free one of its local citizens who had been arrested for an outstanding debt and imprisoned there. This created an international incident. The Republic quickly authorize its annexation to the United States and the New Hampshire Militia occupied the territory to protect it. Great Britain decided the dispute wasn’t worth the trouble and acquiesced to an American interpretation using Halls Stream as the border.
River Road Covered Bridge by James Walsh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
After finally resolving the boundary dispute, the former Republic of Indian Stream became New Hampshire’s Town of Pittsburg. It’s attractions included the beautiful Connecticut Lakes, a string of lakes along the Connecticut River named without regard to imagination, First Connecticut Lake, Second Connecticut Lake, Third Connecticut Lake and Fourth Connecticut Lake. It also included the Happy Corner Covered Bridge over Perry Stream. Other than an historical marker, there isn’t much evidence of the old Republic any longer.
Events in northern New Hampshire have been considerably more sedate ever since.
I failed to mention a specific Milwaukee example in the recent I Before E Like in Milwaukie. That was intentional. I noticed a rather unusual reference included within the Geographic Names Information System that deserved further observation. It featured two adjoining neighborhoods that had the dubious distinction of sharing a name with a rather unpleasant beer that I’ve done my best to avoid since my college days.
Old Milwaukee East and West, Laredo, Texas
I was sure the names were coincidental, that Old Milwaukee East Colonia and Old Milwaukee West Colonia borrowed from the road of the same name that each of them flanked. The situation was unlike, say, the Old Milwaukee Lane in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where Rexam Beverage Can Americas runs a factory). I’m sure the Laredo reference happened by chance. Someone from Wisconsin probably lived near the border in decades past and the name stuck.
What was a Colonia, though? The literal Spanish translation meant colony, although it could also represent community, neighborhood or settlement more generally. However it had a very specific context in the southern United States borderlands. The Texas Secretary of State defined it as, "a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing." The source provided additional statistics.
The Attorney General of Texas provided a handy interactive map.
Colonias Near El Paso, Texas, USA
via Attorney General of Texas Interactive Map of Colonia Communities
Colonias were developed in a predominantly predatory manner beginning in the mid-20th Century. People with little income needed places to live and speculators sold them undesirable scrub lands with little to no zoning or infrastructure at bargain prices. Purchasers often couldn’t obtain ordinary loans from banks because of their unreliable incomes so plots were sold to them in "contract for deed," arrangements, i.e., rent-to-own. People wouldn’t own the land until they paid every monthly installment to the speculator.
Residents didn’t generally build their homes all at one time either, so they built as they could when they had enough money to afford it. Maybe the foundation one year, then the framing and the roof, then later walls and interior work, all over a period of several years while living on the site the entire time. Structures were ramshackled in various stages of completion, perhaps with plumbing or electricity or not, or maybe eventually. It was an arrangement that seemed to work in an unusual sense. Speculators made tidy sums on rent-to-own arrangements; residents got a place they could call their own that they could improve over time, and generally free of pesky building regulations and government oversight. None of that erased the grinding poverty of many residents though, or the lack of basic necessities within numerous Colonias.
The interactive map contained color coding as defined by the state. The worst was red, and "Lack access to potable water, adequate wastewater disposal or are un-platted — greatest public health risk."
Cameron Park, Texas, USA
via Google Street View, May 2011
Cameron Park near Brownsville, Texas was held up as a negative example of a Colonia with problems identified by multiple sources. It sat along a lovely stretch of Spoil Banks Ditch. According to the United States Census Bureau, Cameron Park had a Hispanic/Latino population of 99.3%, a median household income of $24,851 per year, and a distressing 52.8% of residents living below the poverty line. Wikipedia claimed, "Cameron Park is the poorest community of its size or larger in the United States, and is among the 100 poorest places in the United States." Yet, Cameron Park was listed as yellow on the interactive map, leading one to wonder how much worse the conditions might have been in the ones listed as red.
Modular Bathrooms by U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Significant academic, media and government attention have been focused on the issues of Colonias in recent years. Texas A&M University founded a Colonias Program to study issues and develop solutions. Major publications including the New York Times and CNN featured both problems and potential. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development created several programs, as did other Federal agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture plus individual states along the border. The Flickr image showed modular bathrooms built by the USDA’s Rural Development agency for a Colonia in southern Arizona on land of the Tohono O’odham Nation (it’s an issue for all disadvantaged people along the border). The Tohono O’odham Nation, some readers may recall, last appeared on 12MC in Overheard in México.
Fortunately the situation of Colonias has been improving slowly in recent years although there is still a long way to go.
Colonia, New Jersey
Colonia, New Jersey, USA
The community of Colonia, New Jersey appeared to be completely unrelated, just an instance of an unfortunate coincidental name.
"I Before E Like in Milwaukie." If that phrase doesn’t grate on one’s nerves or otherwise sound completely wrong, it probably means the reader came from a location outside of the United States. Or came from Oregon. Because there is a Milwaukie in Oregon. I discovered that recently while examining the 12MC reader statistics. Someone visited the website from Milwaukie and it caught my eye because of its unusual spelling. The more standard variant, of course, would be Milwaukee with double-e as used in the large city of that name in Wisconsin.
Milwaukie Theater by Curtis Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
There were two takeaways. First, anyone arriving on Twelve Mile Circle from an unusual location will always be fair game for a future article. Second, I felt compelled to learn whether Milwaukie and Milwaukee were somehow related to each other. That’s my nature and that’s always going to happen.
I’ll spoil the surprise right at the beginning. Yes there was a connection. Alright, everyone can go home now.
Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
Credit an early Western pioneer and entrepreneur, Lot Whitcomb, for the Oregon name. He founded the town in 1848 and without a doubt he named it for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukie Historical Society of Milwaukie, Oregon issued a History of Milwaukie Oregon in 1965, basing it on an unfinished manuscript prepared as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The manuscript noted the etymology of Milwaukee, a "gathering place by the water" in various Algonquian languages such as Potawatomi and Ojibwe (Chippewa).
Milwaukee in Wisconsin was settled where three rivers converged, the Milwaukie, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, forming a natural harbor immediately prior to entering Lake Michigan. Whitcomb admired the success of the Wisconsin city that he attributed in part to its favorable geographic placement and searched for a similarly-situated location in Oregon. He found such a spot along the Willamette river where "Kellogg Creek, Johnson Creek and many smaller branches fed by the multiplicity of springs in the vicinity" came together in a comparable fashion. Thus Whitcomb platted a new town and named it Milwaukee. Later the spelling changed to Milwaukie. The exact reason for the change was subject to various apocryphal tales. The History of Milwaukie Oregon concluded that the most likely explanation involved the Postal Service wanting to reduce postal mistakes. Less mail would be routed erroneously if the spellings differed.
Bing by mbgrigby, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Milwaukie’s primary claim to fame has been the Bing Cherry. That famous fruit also had a fascinating history.
I never realized Bing cherries were actually named for a person. Also, why the fixation with spelling changes in that part of Oregon?
Finally I guess I should mention that Milwaukie is the home of Dark Horse Comics so nobody should feel a need to mention that in the comments.
Back to Milwaukee
I examined the Geographic Names Information System to see if there were other places named Milwaukee, Milwaukie or whatever other variations might be possible. There were very few and I found almost nothing more related to any of them. The Milwaukee in Pennsylvania, however, was featured in a YouTube video by a guy who randomly hit a map with a Sharpie while blindfolded and selected a tiny village near Scranton (map). He drove three hours to Milwaukee the next day to see a few homes and a pie shop.
Actually, the guy had an interesting premise called Here a Year, "to embody the three verbs (Live, Discover, Connect)." He let his readers select a state for him to live in for a year and the audience chose Pennsylvania. The Milwaukee video was one of many articles and videos he posted from March 2012 to March 2013 during his Pennsylvania year. I always find out about these wonderful ideas when it’s too late. I would have enjoyed following along with his adventures as they unfolded.
He selected another state afterwards, Nevada, and a few months later the trail ran cold. I have no idea what he’s up to now — probably got swallowed up in Vegas for all we know — and disappeared. I suppose I could fill-out the contact form on his website and see what happened although, well… that would entail effort. I’m sure he’s well.
Someday I’d love to undertake a year-long county counting journey. I’ll get right on that after I collect my lottery winnings.