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A New History of Indiana

James H. Madison

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eBook - ePub


A New History of Indiana

James H. Madison

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The story of this Midwestern state and its people, past and present: "An entertaining and fast read." ? Indianapolis Star Who are the people called Hoosiers? What are their stories? Two centuries ago, on the Indiana frontier, they were settlers who created a way of life they passed to later generations. They came to value individual freedom and distrusted government, even as they demanded that government remove Indians, sell them land, and bring democracy. Down to the present, Hoosiers have remained wary of government power and have taken care to guard their tax dollars and their personal independence. Yet the people of Indiana have always accommodated change, exchanging log cabins and spinning wheels for railroads, cities, and factories in the nineteenth century, automobiles, suburbs, and foreign investment in the twentieth. The present has brought new issues and challenges, as Indiana's citizens respond to a rapidly changing world. James H.Madison's sparkling new history tells the stories of these Hoosiers, offering an invigorating view of one of America's distinctive states and the long and fascinating journey of its people.

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The Place and People
before the Americans

WHEN INDIANA BEGAN IS NO SIMPLE QUESTION. STATEHOOD IN 1816 is an obvious answer, but that date ignores fundamental changes long before. One might argue instead for the first human settlement, or even the first plant life, or even the last of the glaciers. A traveler crossing Indiana on an interstate highway today might ignore the land and its features. Pioneer Hoosiers made no such mistake, nor did people who came before them; nor, likely, should twenty-first-century Hoosiers.


Long before there were people there was land, and it was always changing. For two or three billion years, massive ice sheets moved across North America. Layers of ice drifted southward, receded, and moved south again. The glaciers gave Indiana one of its most generous and enduring gifts: a rich sediment that had been pushed and turned by ice and melting waters. The last of the Ice Age glaciers, named the Wisconsin Glacier, covered the northern two-thirds of the state about twenty thousand years ago. Geologists call the sediment it left behind till. Its most important presence is in the Tipton Till Plain of central Indiana. Here the soil would prove to be among the most fertile on the face of the earth, from first cultivation to the present. Here the terrain was flat or gently rolling and blessed with abundant water and sunshine. Corn and beans would flourish. The glaciers also left fertile soil across the northern part of the state, where the terrain is not as flat and is marked by marshy areas such as the Kankakee Valley that were unsuited to Indian or pioneer agriculture.1
The Wisconsin Glacier stopped before reaching the southern third of the state. The dividing line is still clearly visible south of Indianapolis, near Martinsville. This unglaciated land features hilly uplands and lacks the deep, rich soil of central Indiana. The southeastern and southwestern corners of the state contain flatter lands and richer soils than the unglaciated triangle extending southward from Morgan County to the Ohio River. Although the wooded hill country of southern Indiana was attractive to the first settlers, it became less so in the nineteenth century, as the land proved less suited to commercial agriculture and to the construction of railroads. Nor, with the exception of coal in the southwestern section and limestone in Lawrence and Monroe Counties, were there significant mineral resources to compensate for the inferior quality of the soil and terrain.
As important as terrain and soil to the history of Indiana are the rivers and lakes that formed as the glaciers receded. Native Americans and the first Europeans traveled the Great Lakes and paddled and portaged the streams and rivers, particularly the St. Joseph River of Lake Michigan and the Kankakee, Maumee, and Wabash Rivers. The Maumee-Wabash route was the most important, connecting Lake Erie and northern Indiana with the Ohio River and from there to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The headwaters of the Maumee, formed by the joining of the St. Mary’s and the St. Joseph of the Maumee, was the most strategic location in the region and served in turn as the site of an Indian village, a French trading post, an American fort, and the city of Fort Wayne. This location provided access to Lake Erie, with a portage overland to the Wabash River.2
The people of southern Indiana were served by the lower Wabash River and its tributaries, particularly the White River, and by the Ohio River, which became a major migration route to Indiana. Until the mid-nineteenth century, most Indian and white settlements were located along these rivers and the streams that flowed into them. The first centuries of human life were intensely rivercentric.
The land that became Indiana encompassed more than 36,000 square miles, most of which, about 20 million acres, was forestland – “among the finest broadleaved hardwood forests anywhere in the world,” one expert has asserted.3 Approximately 2.2 billion trees grew thick and dense, many of massive size. By the end of the Civil War, Hoosiers had cut down two-thirds of those trees. A sycamore more than fifty feet in circumference stood in Howard County until 1916; when it was cut down, the stump was moved to a park in Kokomo, a marvel of a time gone by. In addition to sycamore and black walnut, buckeye, oak, beech, sugar maple, tulip tree, and cypress, the land included wetlands and prairies covered with grasses and wildflowers, especially in the northwest corner. All that changed with the arrival of humans, particularly Euro-Americans, who not only removed trees but introduced new plants, some with unintended consequences. Multiflora rose and Johnson grass once seemed attractive new plant species but now are labeled as noxious weeds.
Indiana’s land, plants, and rivers determined how people lived. So too did climate. Four pronounced seasons structured human activity from the beginnings into the twentieth century, though with some variations within the state. Everywhere there were thunderstorms, tornadoes, summer droughts, and winter ice storms, and each year there were the pastel bursts of spring colors, bright autumn mornings, precious days of Indian summer, and sunny, crisp winter afternoons. The climate was particularly suited for agriculture. Hot, humid summers, long months between killing frosts, and generally adequate and dependable rainfall shaped the agricultural development of the state. Nothing connected the climate, land, and people so intimately as corn. In the beginning was corn, and all was good.
Animals came before humans. Experts have identified more than one hundred mammalian faunas in the region that became Indiana. Creatures ranged the state during the Ice Age, a population more diverse than in the twenty-first century. Some were large, such as the American mastodon and Jefferson’s mammoth, which, like many others, are now extinct. Remains of Ice Age mammals include the mastodon discovered in a boggy field in Hancock County in 1976, now on display at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, and another found in Allen County in 1998, on display at the Indiana State Museum. Many descendants of Ice Age creatures still roam the state, including bobcat, striped skunk, and woodchuck. And there are animals from earlier times that disappeared in the nineteenth century when human settlement drove them away, including porcupine, elk, and plains bison. As with plants, exotic animal newcomers arrived later, sometimes less desirable ones such as the European starling.4
The bison or buffalo were likely present in every part of Indiana, but especially across the southwest, where they migrated from the Illinois prairies across the Wabash to the Falls of the Ohio and into Kentucky. Tens of thousands of buffalo hooves created one of the major trails for humans, the Buffalo Trace, from Vincennes to New Albany. The buffalo was a prominent feature of the earliest known territorial seal, shown in a document from 1802. As in later versions of the state seal, the animal is shown leaping off into the sunset. One of the state’s early historians, Jacob Dunn, claimed that the buffalo was running west and “represented the primitive life retiring in that direction before the advance of civilization.”5 Some have claimed that the sun is rising rather than setting, suggesting even more clearly a new day of progress and civilization. A bill introduced in the state legislature as recently as 2005 specified an official rising sun but did not pass. Whether it is supposed to be a rising or a setting sun, buffalo were in the way of progress, and like many other large animals they were among the first to disappear.
Humans drove away animals and later reintroduced them, including the beaver, the bald eagle, and the white-tailed deer. Deer were gone by 1900, but thirty-four of them were reintroduced into the state in 1934. Rapid population growth led to the establishment of a deer-hunting season in 1951. By the twenty-first century, many farmers and gardeners viewed deer as pests to be fenced off or eradicated. Huge numbers in state parks damaged plants, leading to selective “harvests” by hunters. Some Hoosiers acquired herds of buffalo, elk, and other animals to raise and sell to restaurants and local markets.
The diversity and richness of Indiana’s natural heritage have declined greatly over the last two centuries. Humans have altered the ecosystem in pursuit of food, shelter, economic growth, and general well-being. They removed trees, cleared land, plowed prairie grasses, drained wetlands, drove off many animal species, and polluted the soil, air, and water. In their search for abundance, they transformed a diverse ecosystem into a simpler one. With less biodiversity came more unknown and likely unintended consequences for twenty-first-century human life.6
The natural environment – the soil, terrain, rivers, and climate – shaped Indiana’s history. The nature and direction of human settlement, the distribution of population, the choices of economic activity, and some of the variations among people within the state occurred in response to these environmental features.


Perhaps having crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia to North America, humans arrived in Indiana near the end of the Ice Age, the first of the diverse peoples who preceded Euro-Americans in the 1600s. While these initial settlers altered the environment as they hunted and gathered, they accommodated their lives more fully to the natural world than did later arrivals. Scholars know nothing about them as individuals and little about specific events of their lives. Archaeologists label them “prehistoric people” because they left no written language. But by relying on evidence from physical artifacts (particularly projectile points), burial remains, and man-made changes in the natural landscape, archaeologists have been able to portray the broad features of their cultures and to suggest patterns of change and continuity over thousands of years, as long ago as 10,000 BC. It is possible to imagine people who built homes, reared children, cared for the aged, sought new opportunities, and, we might even guess, lived lives that encompassed as much “happiness” as those of later arrivals.7
A standard way of studying Indiana’s prehistoric peoples is to approach the centuries prior to about 1600 AD in terms of four cultural stages, each occurring within a broadly distinctive chronological period. These stages are known as the Paleo-Indian Tradition, the Archaic Tradition, the Woodland Tradition, and the Mississippian Tradition.
The Paleo-Indian Tradition (to about 7500 BC) is the earliest and most ambiguous of the four. In parts of North America there is evidence that in the waning years of the Ice Age, people hunted for food using spears to kill now-extinct animals like mammoth and mastodon. Archaeologists have found in nearly every Indiana county evidence of human life in this period in the form of projectile points with grooves or flutes on both sides of the blade, once attached to a spear.
The Archaic Tradition (8000 BC to 700 BC) covers a prehistoric period in which the harsh conditions of the Ice Age gave way to a climate, trees, and plants similar to those encountered by the first European explorers. Hunting and gathering peoples adapted to a more habitable environment. Archaeologists have found for this period more efficient tools, evidence of some trade over wide geographical areas, and artifacts such as grooved axes, mortars, pendants, and hairpins. The numerous mussel shell mounds in southwestern Indiana offer evidence of success in finding reliable food sources and indicate people living in groups and adapting their culture to local conditions.
The Woodland Tradition (1000 BC to AD 1200) includes a continued reliance on hunting, fishing, and gathering, but also the beginnings of some plant cultivation. Change is most apparent in the appearance of fire-hardened pottery containers, representing a new achievement in human endeavor. Woodland peoples made ceramic pots with different clays, shapes, and decorations, all of which enable archaeologists to sort out prehistoric cultures and establish time periods. Arrowheads evidence use of the bow to hunt. Hoe blades indicate more intensive agriculture to grow maize, beans, and squash. The Woodland period also included complex burial rituals, including the construction of burial mounds. At Mounds State Park near Anderson, a large earthwork structure 6 feet in height and 360 feet in diameter once included several burials, pottery, and other artifacts. Large complexes such as this suggest concentration and cooperation of peoples beyond the small family group.
The Mississippian Tradition (AD 1000 to AD 1650) is the last and most complex of the four prehistoric traditions. It includes intensive cultivation of maize, beans, squash, and tobacco, permanently located settlements of several hundred people, and community structures and institutions that served political and religious functions. The most impressive of such sites in Indiana is Angel Mounds, on the Ohio River near Evansville, one of the best-preserved and best-interpreted in the nation. The Angel Mounds site included a large log stockade, a mound measuring 650 by 300 by 44 feet, and several smaller mounds, which probably served community functions. The village also contained about two hundred houses constructed of wood posts and cane mats covered with daub. The community was hierarchically structured in a chiefdom system for organizing work and performing ceremonies to maintain group cohesiveness. Residents skillfully crafted pottery, tools, and jewelry and traded for goods at far distances. They grew food crops, hunted deer, bears, elk, bison, squirrels, and turkeys, and fished the rivers. Angel Mounds was the largest, most complex Mississippian village in Indiana, but there were others nearby. Recent archaeological work at the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers in Posey County, for example, shows walled fortifications and other evidence, including arrow wounds and scalping, that suggests violent conflict. For reasons that are not known, these people left the area about AD 1600 and were not observed by European explorers or settlers.8
Archaeologists and historians have not been able to connect the prehistoric people who lived in Indiana before 1600 with the historic Indians who were observed and encountered by white Europeans and American colonists. Indeed, the major historic Indians, the Miamis and the Potawatomis, did not settle in Indiana until the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Efforts to determine relationships between the pottery, tools, and other artifacts of prehistoric and historic Indians have not been successful, in part because by 1700 European-made goods had rapidly replaced or altered Indian artifacts.
Beginning in the 1930s with Glenn Black’s work at Angel Mounds, professional archaeologists have been digging for the artifacts and the intellectual methods and concepts that enable us to know more about these first people. They have used radiocarbon dating, studies of dental remains to estimate changing diets, and various other techniques to advance knowledge. In recent years strong state laws have protected archaeological sites and diminished looting and disturbances by amateurs, while universities and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources have helped deepen public understanding.
If we know little about individuals and only generally about any specific groups before 1600, it is nevertheless evident that rich and varied prehistoric cultures existed in the part of North America that became Indiana, and that these cultures changed through the centuries. Like newcomers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these first people depended on the natural abundance provided by the soil, terrain, rivers, and climate.


Newcomers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused rapid changes to the land that was to become India...

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