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The History of Indiana
A historical overview of Indiana from Native American inhabitants
through the twentieth century

© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 1

Historical Review 1.9   
Native Americans
          Many different Native American tribes have inhabited present-day Indiana over the span of thousands of years. Native American history has been divided into sections based on the tribes and their progress. The first people to live in what is now Indiana were the Paleo-Indians, arriving about 8,000-10,000 years ago, after the melting of the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. These people came to North America by crossing the land bridge with Asia. They hunted large game, including mastodons, and when the large mammals became extinct, they began hunting smaller game, such as bison and deer.

          The next stage of Indiana's Native American history is called the Archaic Period. The Archaic Indians are thought to be a distinct group, possibly entering Indiana from the south in about 4,000 B.C.(1) These people were nomadic, like the Paleo-Indians, but differed in many ways. They discovered that the mussels in the Wabash and Ohio rivers were edible. These mussels became an important food source for the Archaic Indians. From the remains of shell mounds found throughout Indiana, it appears that these people stayed in certain places throughout the year, remaining only partly nomadic. Another significant difference between the Archaic and Paleo-Indians was the way they prepared food. The Archaic Indians roasted and boiled their food, something their Paleo predecessors did not do.

          The Woodland Period overlapped the Archaic Period, beginning in approximately 800 B.C. and lasting until the arrival of Europeans. The Woodland Period is divided into three subgroups (Early, Middle, and Late), and includes the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient/Mississippian peoples. During this large span of time, the Native Americans advanced in very important ways. Of the new developments achieved during this time, pottery making, agriculture, and the invention of the bow and arrow had the most impact on the society. These discoveries made life much easier, giving the Woodland people more time to develop social institutions, such as religion. The numerous burial mounds, which were constructed during this time for ceremonial purposes, and the great city of Cahokia, one of the biggest cities in the world at that time, serve as examples of the Woodland Indians' cultural developments.

      The Lenne Lenape, a separate tribe, arrived in Indiana during the Late Woodland Period (1100-1300). The Lenne Lenape, Mississippians, Hopewell, and the Fort Ancient peoples all lived together in Indiana until the 16th century. By this time, the complex civilizations that had been built up during the Middle Woodland Period were in decline, and those people had reverted to a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle.(2) It is unknown why the complex civilizations, mainly the city of Cahokia in present-day Illinois, declined, but it is believed to be from a combination of warfare, environmental degradation, and natural disasters.

          By the time of European arrival in the 16th century (which marks the beginning of the Modern Period), the main tribes living in Indiana were the Miamis, Potawatomis, Piankashaws, and the Weas. Despite the diversity of tribes, there was actually only a small Native American population in Indiana at the time of French exploration and settlement. The Miamis lived on the banks of the St. Joseph River near present-day Chicago, the Weas lived near present-day Lafayette, and the Piankashaws lived near the mouth of the Vermillion River. The Kickapoos and the Delawares moved into the Indiana about a century later, as white settlement in the east and competition with the Iroquois pushed them westward. The Nanticokes and the Mohegans came to Indiana during this time too, but had left by 1818. By the late 18th century, the Shawnees began using Indiana as a hunting ground, and the Potawatomis relocated to Indiana around this same time period as well. At the turn of the 19th century, Indiana was home to many tribes, but these tribes would soon be forced out by the increasing settlement of Americans.

The French Period

          The French began to explore the Great Lakes region in the 1670s. It is believed that the first white men to reach present-day Indiana were Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. Marquette and Jolliet spent the winter of 1674 -1675 near present-day Chicago on their way back from their Mississippi River exploration. They then circled the head of Lake Michigan before returning to Mackinac Island. Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, took a similar trip down the Mississippi, and is believed to have crossed the northwest corner of Indiana on his return trip.

          The main concern of the French government was to extract furs from the Northwest. Their settlements were based on the fur trade, not colonization; therefore, the French population remained relatively low. To strengthen their presence and protect against English encroachment, they built a number of forts. The first fort and white community in Indiana was Fort Ouiatenon. It began as an outpost containing a few soldiers and fur traders, but during its ninety year existence, grew to become a large fort with significant settlement that was crucial in extending the French presence in the area. Fort Miami, formally known as Fort St. Philippe des Miamais, was built in 1719. For the first few decades of the 18th century, scattered forts and trading posts remained the extent of French organization in Indiana and the rest of the Northwest. When it became apparent that the English colonies along the Atlantic were growing at a much larger rate, and that the settlers were spreading to the west, the French government decided to send more colonists in hopes of further securing France's claim to the land. Settlers who came to the New World from France were called habitants. They were farmers, not fur traders, who settled in permanent agricultural villages near the forts. A significant number of habitants lived at Vincennes, and remained there after France lost control of the area. The French effort to colonize the Northwest came too late, and the number of French settlers and fur traders never reached more than a few thousand, far less than their British neighbors.

British Control

          During the 18th century it became clear that there was not enough room in the New World for English and French colonies. Competition between the two countries began over control of the fur trade and culminated in a succession of Indian wars, the last of which is known as the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The English took control of the Northwest by 1760, and officially received claim of the land in the Treaty of Paris (1763). Occupation of the Northwest came slowly. To the dismay of local tribes, they managed the fur trade much differently than the French had. They were not as cordial and did not present the Natives with gifts, like the French had done. This different and unfriendly treatment quickly led to trouble between the English and the Native Americans.

          Pontiac, an Ottawa war chief from the area near Detroit, was especially unhappy with the English fur trade and wanted to restore French rule. The French and Indian War was not officially over (the Treaty of Paris was signed later that year) which meant that France technically still had a chance to win back the Northwest, at least in the eyes of Pontiac. He raised Indian troops near Detroit and initiated a siege on the British forts that lasted for months. Indian warriors from neighboring areas joined in strengthening the attack. By July of 1763, nine forts in the Great Lakes region had fallen to the Indians. The siege began in the spring and lasted until October, when the Treaty of Paris was signed and the British legally had control of the French claims. Pontiac's rebellion came to an end, yet Pontiac remained hostile, as did some of the other tribes. After a few skirmishes and attempts to reconcile, the English were eventually able to make peace with the Native Americans.

          British rule of the Great Lakes region was short-lived and, save Pontiac's War, largely uneventful. The Quebec Act of 1774 annexed the land above the Ohio River to Canada, which upset the English settlers (Americans) who wanted to expand westward. This, among other actions, such as increased taxation, set Americans on the path to fight for their Independence from Great Britain.

The American Takeover

          With exception of the campaigns of George Rogers Clark, the Old Northwest was not home to many Revolutionary battles. Clark and his troops easily occupied the Northwest at the beginning of the war and based themselves at Vincennes. The French habitants readily swore American loyalty, and it seemed that the Northwest was securely under American control. Four months later, British Colonel Henry Hamilton arrived at Fort Vincennes with 200 British and French troops and 400 Indians, and recaptured the fort. Hamilton and his troops settled in for the winter, not anticipating any attacks until spring. That winter was especially harsh; huge snowstorms were followed by bouts of warm weather, turning the Midwest into an icy swamp. Hamilton never expected Clark to lead his men through the storms to Vincennes, but he did. Clark and his troops surprised Hamilton and retook Vincennes, regaining the upper hand in the Northwest and securing the region for Americans.

          Unlike the French and British, the Americans expanded rapidly. The French occupied the Northwest for a century, but only managed to settle a few thousand people. It took only a couple of decades for the Americans to populate Indiana with tens of thousands of people. Once land became available, thousands of families from the Upper South quickly settled in Indiana. At first, life in Indiana was difficult. It was a wilderness with scattered forts, settlements, and Indian villages. Hostility between the Americans and the Native Americans remained rife, culminating in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.

          Indiana went through a number of territorial transitions during the first two decades of the 19th century. It became its own territory in 1800, and included what is now Illinois, Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan and Minnesota. Michigan Territory was formed in 1805, and Illinois Territory in 1809, leaving Indiana Territoryesent size. The population of Indiana continued to increase, and the territory achieved statehood in 1816. At this time, Indiana entered into a phase of incredible population growth and development.

(1)William E. Wilson, Indiana, A History, (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1966), 21.
Wilson, 24.
By Rickie Lazzerini
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2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
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