Indians, Indiana's early population

IN all parts of this continent except the Ohio Valley region, early explorers, fur traders, or settlers encountered Indian tribes who lived in or claimed as hunting territories the lands under exploration. In Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, this was not the case. In the early eighteenth century, when the whites first began to penetrate the wilderness country west of the Alleghenies, they encountered practically no Indian groups within the Ohio Valley region who could lay certain claim to this vast territory by virtue of long and continuous occupation or use of it.

Yet Indiana, like its sister States on the east and south, is extremely rich in archeological remains that attest the fact that in prehistoric times the region supported a large or fairly large native population. What happened virtually to clear the Ohio Valley of this population prior to the advent of the whites? One explanation is that the confederated Iroquois tribes of central New York gained power after their early acquisition of guns from white traders, and sent out war parties westward. It has been suggested that they swept Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky clear of their native population during the seventeenth century. This is a possible explanation, although recent studies of the Iroquois render dubious the extent to which the Five Nations dominated the native tribes in regions as far distant from New York State as the valleys of the White and Wabash Rivers.

Many archeological, linguistic, and ethnological problems of the Great Lakes-Gulf area, which includes Indiana, are not yet solved. Only the most tenuous clues are available on what tribal or linguistic groups constituted the early historic inhabitants of the present State. One of the most positive statements concerning Indiana's early population is that made by Father Gravier who, in his description of a trip down the Mississippi River in 1700, remarked that the Wabash and lower Ohio Rivers were called the river of the Akansea (Quapaw), 'because the Akansea formerly dwelt on its banks.' If this is actually so, the Quapaw, a Siouan-speaking tribe, would be the earliest recorded group in Indiana. However, their reported occupation on the Wabash and lower Ohio had terminated before Indiana itself was explored; when Marquette and Joliet descended the Mississippi in 1673 they encountered the Quapaw on its banks, near the mouth of the Arkansas River, and in 1682 La Salle and members of his party 'established a peace' and took possession of the Quapaw villages on the Mississippi River for the French.

Beside the Quapaw, two other tribes, the Algonquian-speaking Shawnee and Miami, are often mentioned as early inhabitants of Indiana. Some scholars have suggested that southern Indiana and Kentucky was the aboriginal home of at least a part of the Shawnee tribe. The most explicit reference to the Shawnee being located on the Ohio River in the late seventeenth century is by Abbé Gallinée, in the Jesuit Relations. Galliée states that, in 1668, some Seneca told La Salle 'many marvelous things concerning the Ohio River, which they claimed to be perfectly acquainted with . . . They told him that this river had its source at three days' journey from Sonnontouan [near Naples, Ontario County, western New York] and that after a month's travel he would reach the Honniasontkeronons [Andaste?] and the Chiouanons [Shawnee], and that after having passed these and a great waterfall which there was in the river [the Falls of the Ohio?] he would find the Outagame and the country of the Iskousogos . . .' In 1669 Gallinée and La Salle embarked from Montreal to explore the Ohio under the guidance of their Seneca informants, but the expedition ended disastrously and they did not even succeed in reaching the headwaters of the Ohio River.

Marquette also mentions the 'Chaouanons' or Shawnee; in his account of his trip down the Mississippi with Joliet he remarks that the Waboukigou, which was the name some of the Indian tribes gave to the Ohio below its confluence with the Wabash, 'flows from the lands of the East, where dwell the people called Chaouanons in so great numbers that in one district there are as many as twenty-three villages, and fifteen in another, quite near one another.' On Joliet's sketch maps the Shawnee are located variously, near the eastern bank of the Mississippi and south of the Wabash-Ohio.

The evidence presented by Gallinée and Marquette on the late seventeenth-century location of the Shawnee is based on hearsay, and not on any direct contacts between these explorers and the tribe in question. None of the early French explorers, as far as is known, encountered the Shawnee in their travels through the Mississippi Valley. On the other hand, definite contacts were made east of the Allegheny region with various Shawnee groups before the close of the seventeenth century by English traders and settlers, and numerous late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century sources would seem to indicate that the Shawnee were probably situated much farther east and south than Gallinée and Marquette put them. The suggestion that the Shawnee, as a large and united tribe, were one of the early historic groups of southern Indiana is therefore questionable.

The claims of the Miami to aboriginal occupancy of Indiana were most clearly set forth by a famous leader of this tribe, Little Turtle, in a speech delivered in 1795. Little Turtle stated: 'My fathers kindled the first fire at Detroit; thence they extended their lines to the headwaters of the Scioto; thence to its mouth; thence down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash, and thence to Chicago over Lake Michigan.' This claim, coupled with the fact that in 1680 French explorers found Miami groups actually living on the St. Joseph River in extreme northern Indiana, gives some grounds for the assumption that the Miami were the aboriginal occupants of at least the northern half of the State.

For two reasons, however, their title is by no means clear. It has been generally believed that Little Turtle was either a fullblood Miami, or half Miami and half Mahican. But in a recently published manuscript, which was compiled and written at Fort Wayne by C. C. Trowbridge 13 years after Little Turtle's death, it is stated on the authority of Miami informants that 'The Little Turtle is not considered a Miami.' He was, it seems, the offspring of a Mahican man and an Ioway girl who 'settled among the Miamies and had a great many children, of whom the eldest was Little Turtle.' There is no doubt that Little Turtle spent his life among the Miami and rose to eminence as their most astute war leader, but whether he was qualified to speak on the past history of this tribe, or whether his reference to his 'fathers' applied particularly to the Miami, is open to question.

The second and more serious reason for not accepting the Miami as the original proprietors of Indiana lies in the fact that in 1658 some of this tribe, at least, were reported by Gabriel Druillettes as living at the mouth of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1670 Nicolas Perrot, a French explorer, actually visited a Miami village at the headwaters of the Fox River, in Wisconsin. Within a decade, however, these Miami had moved south from Fox River and formed settlements at Chicago and on the St. Joseph River in extreme northern Indiana. It is here, in 1680, that their history as Indiana Indians appears to begin, although it is not impossible that a few of the Miami, representing the southernmost members of the tribe, may have been living in Indiana prior to 1680.

Despite the cloud of uncertainty that shrouds the identity of the early peoples of Indiana, this region was by no means devoid of an Indian population during the early period of white penetration. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries both Indiana and Ohio were refuge areas for a large number of Indian tribes, and at least a dozen different groups spent some time in Indiana. Some of these, such as the Mahican, Nanticoke, Wappinger, Delaware, Munsee, and Shawnee, were originally from the eastern seaboard region and had been pushed out of their home territories by the press of white settlement. Others, such as the Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Miami, Piankeshaw, Wea, and Huron, were from the Great Lakes area to the north. With one exception all of the groups who migrated to Indiana spoke Algonquian languages; the exception was the Huron, whose speech belonged to the Iroquois family.

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