The History of Indiana
A historical overview of Indiana from Native
through the twentieth century
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
The American Takeover
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.
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.
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.
E. Wilson, Indiana, A History, (Bloomington and
London: Indiana University Press, 1966), 21.
of Historical Reviews
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All
Kindred Trails Worldwide Genealogy Resources
University of California, Santa Barbara
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.