Indiana Means Land of the Indians:
In 1800 a territory was carved from the Northwest Territory, the United States Congress named it the Indiana Territory meaning Land of Indians. The name fits as there were many Native American peoples who had migrated to this area from the north and east prior to the Indiana Territory’s creation. Many were forced from their native land due to the influx of European settlers.
It would appear that even before that time in history, what became the State of Indiana was favored by native cultures. Archeologists have found several mounds and evidence of inhabitants dating back to the Archaic, Woodland period, and Mississippian Pre-Columbian period. Roughly that translates into from about 3000 BC to the 16th century.
Legend in my family, on my father’s side, says that my Great-Grandfather escaped from a reservation and lived the rest of his life passing as a white man here in Indiana. According to my grandmother her father didn’t talk much about his past life on the reservation. He was terrified that he would be taken back or face a fate worse than that. According to the family stories my Great-Great-Grandfather was of pure native blood and my Great-Great-Grandmother was mixed with both native and the white man’s blood. Our family does not know which native people we descend from.
I would like to describe the different native peoples who are known to have lived in Indiana both before and after the arrival of the Europeans and after their arrival, until they were removed.
Lenape or Delaware Indians:
The Lenape come from the Algonquian speaking peoples. Their name means the original men or true men. Other tribes referred to them as the Grandfather tribe. The European settlers began to refer to them as the Delaware Indians because they lived along the Delaware River on the east coast. They lived for thousands of years in the areas of what is now Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York states.
Proficient in agriculture, hunting, and fishing the Lenape lived in settlements with land being tended by the clan of the settlement. The clan was determined by the mother’s ancestry. It is believed that at the time of the first Europeans the Lenape had a population of around 15,000 in the New York metropolitan area alone.
The Lenape were the first to encounter the Europeans and it didn’t take very long before they began to move toward the west with a large population remaining in what is now Indiana.
The Kickapoo, also an Algonquian speaking people, were living in Indiana along the Wabash River when LaSalle’s expedition came through in the late 17th century.
Living in fixed villages the Kickapoo dwelt in bark houses in the summer and flag reed oval lodges in the winter months. They grew corn, beans, and squash. Known to hunt buffalo on the plains and rode horses.
The Kickapoo belonged to the Wabash Confederacy with the Wea to their north, the Piankashaw to their south, and the mighty Miami to their east. They were known to be the strongest allies of Tecumseh in his battle with the whites after many of the treaties they had signed were broken.
The Kickapoo were the first tribes to leave Indiana when the sentiment became to rid the State of all Indian tribes. They agreed to some land in Kansas and received a subsidy on a yearly basis for leaving.
The Shawnee were a conservative group and were the ones who fought the hardest to keep their customs and traditions intact. Known as fierce warriors they fought in many important battles during the encroachment of their lands by the Europeans and Americans.
One important leader of the Shawnee was Cornstalk, although he did not live in Indiana. The most famous Shawnee Chief is Tecumseh, an intelligent man who tried to lead his people and his allies to defeat the white man and gain their land back once and for all. He was a respected war strategist and possessed a very charismatic nature.
The Shawnee also came from the Algonquian speaking people and grew corn, hunted buffalo, and lived in villages.
The Shawnee were moved to Oklahoma.
Also an Algonquian speaking nation, the Miami originally lived around the Great Lakes regions and eventually settled in Indiana.
They lived in dome shaped homes called wigwams and their villages were surrounded by corn.
The women were the workers in the fields, cultivating the crops, gathering the maize, and drying the deer, bear, and buffalo meat. A Miami woman prepared the meals and gathered the wood. She sewed the bark canoes together. When moving from one place to another, the Miami women carried the wigwam material on their backs.
Each clan was ruled by a male chief which was a hereditary position and passed down to the oldest son. One of the greatest chiefs and warriors came from the Miami nation, Little Turtle.
Wea and Piankashaw:
The main homeland for the Wea in the 1700s was in Indiana. The largest settlement near what is now Lafayette, Indiana and was called Ouiatenon. When the population got too large, one member volunteered to take some of the people and move down the river to start a new village.
It was custom back in those days for the Weas to have slits or holes in their ears. The man who created the new village was called Piankashaw which translated to “The Torn Ears People”.
The Wea and Piankashaw also spoke an Algonquian language. In 1854 a treaty was signed creating a confederacy of the Wea who decided to go west. However, many Wea remained in Indiana and have descendants who still live here.
The sign on the right designates a preserved are called the Wea Plains where many species from the original prairie still live today. It is located in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. The picture is from a public domain photo.
The Wyandot were also known as the Huron spoke an Iroquois language but do not seem to be related to that nation of people. In fact, they seemed to be enemies for the most part.
They were farmers with corn being the mainstay of their diets. Fish was preferred as the main supplement with venison also hunted.
Wyandot people lived in longhouses like the Iroquios. It was not uncommon to have 900 to 1600 people in a village, living in 30 or 40 longhouses.
Allied with the Shawnee, the Wyandots were referred to as “uncles” by the Shawnee. Tarhe was a respected Chief of the Wyandot around the time of Tecumseh’s war.
The Wyandot now live in Okalahoma and spell their name Wyandotte.
The Potawatomi spoke a form of Algonquian language and lived in the northern part of Indiana. They were farmers, growing mostly corn and beans. And they also were proficient hunters.
Bark was an essential element of the Potawatomi tribe. They used it to cover their wigwams and also made substantial baskets from bark. Cooking with bark and using bark for utensils they also had canoes covered with bark.
They were relatives and allies of the Ojibwa and Ottawas and supported the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet.
The Potawatomi were removed to Kansas and Oklahoma. Some left by treaty and others were marched at gunpoint. Nearly 900 people were rounded up and marched for 61 days to Kansas. So many died along the way that the march was referred to as the “Trail of Death”.
Indiana Has A Wonderful Museum In Honor Of Indians
The Eitlejorg is a wonderful museum in the capital city of Indianapolis. Showcasing art and artifacts of Native Americans from all tribal traditions of North America the museum is one of my favorites places to go. The museum plans a variety of activities throughout the year along with always having a special exhibit.
As traditional with many Native American Peoples, a gathering for discussion of issues included the passing around of a ceremonial pipe. I would like to take this time to pass the pipe and discuss a few things about my topic.
The graphics used were chosen specifically as a bit of symbolism. I did not want to use typical graphics that depict Native People with disrespect and I also did not want to have an incorrect depiction of a particular tribe. So, I used sweet children doing everyday activities that would have been done by the people I describe above. Children are the future of all cultures and offer hope for us all. I am a member of the Graphics Factory and it is where I found all of the graphics used on this page.
The history of what was done to all of the Native People in North America saddens me greatly. In a quest for more and more land, the European settlers destroyed nations of people through ignorance and greed. The People were looked at as savage, yet most of the savage behavior was taught and rewarded by both French and British soldiers. The People had culture, religion, and governments and had lived here for thousands of years before they encountered the strange pale men.
And finally, do I believe the legend of my family? Are we descended from one of the many great tribes that were pushed out of Indiana? I believe that my Great-Grandfather was indeed an escapee from a reservation. It just doesn’t seem a likely tale that someone would have guardedly talked about back around the early 1900’s. It had been some 60 years since the forced exit of Indians from Indiana so he could not have been born here. Perhaps he knew that there was some family that had stayed behind. There were instances where some people were allowed to stay but that could have been risky on his part. We will never know for sure and we can never be certain who our people really were.