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The Indiana Experience

IBJ Arts Editor Lou Harry travels back in time to three different periods of Hoosier history, via interactive exhibits at the Indiana History Center.

Timeline of Indiana: 1600’s

  • (1614 – 1615) Samuel de Champlain, New France governor, explored Maumee River region
  • (1671) Simon de Saint-Lusson claimed most of the area for France
  • (1679) Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, Louis de Baude de Frontenac, planned for control of Maumee-Wabash trade route; plans included relocation of Miami Indians to headwaters of Maumee River


  • (1728 – 1732) Vincennes established on Wabash River by France, first European settlement in area
  • (1747) British convinced Huron Indian Chief, King Nicolas, to attack French-owned Fort Miami
  • (1752- 1753) Smallpox epidemic devastated local Indian population
  • (1754 – 1763) France and Indian War
  • (1763) England gained control of Vincennes and Indiana area; Proclamation of 1763 forbade settlement west of Appalachian Mountains; British sent Indian war parties to attack settlers who disobeyed proclamation
  • (1772) General Gage ordered France to leave settlements in Wabash Valley, demanded land deeds
  • (1774) British Parliament passed Quebec Act, French settlements, including Indiana, were included in province of Quebec
  • (1775 – 1783) Revolutionary War
  • (1777) British encouraged Indians to attack settlers George Rogers Clark
  • (1778) Colonel George Rogers Clark’s expedition captured Fort Sackville at Vincennes; Indiana became part of Virginia; British Governor Henry Hamilton overtook Fort Sackville
  • (1779) British at Fort Sackville surrendered to Colonel George Rogers Clark, his expedition and Francis Vigo
  • (1783) Treaty of Paris gave modern-day Indiana lands to United States
  • (1787) Continental Congress created Northwest Territory; territory to be governed by a governor, three judges; laws prohibited slavery, encouraged public education, guaranteed religious freedom and civil rights
  • (1794) Anthony Wayne overwhelmed Shawnee Indians, led by Tecumseh, in battle near rapids of Maumee River; Anthony Wayne established fort, named Fort Wayne


  • (1800) Indiana Territory established from Northwest Territory; William Henry Harrison first Governor; Vincennes named capital
  • (1803) Indians signed treaties ceding land in Indiana
  • (1805) Michigan Territory separated from Indiana Territory
  • (1809) Illinois Territory separated from Indiana Territory
  • (1811) Chief Tecumseh and Indians defeated in Battle of Tippecanoe
  • (1812 – 1814) War of 1812
  • (1813) Chief Tecumseh killed at Battle of the Thames; Indiana Territory capital moved to Corydon
  • (1814) Treaty of Ghent ended War of 1812
  • (1816) Indiana became 19th U. S. state; Jonathan Jennings first Governor; Abraham Lincoln and family moved to Indiana
  • (1818) Indians gave up claims to portion of central Indiana, “New Purchase”
  • (1825) State capital moved to Indianapolis
  • (1835) Wabash and Erie Canal opened from Fort Wayne to Huntington
  • (1842) University of Notre Dame founded
  • (1851) State Consitution adopted, included measure protecting property rights of married women
  • (1861 – 1865) Civil War
  • (1889) Standard Oil Co. built refinery in Whiting
  • (1897) Tribal status of Miami Indians terminated

Native Americans guide French explorers through Indiana as depicted by Maurice Thompson in Stories of Indiana.

The history of human activity in Indiana, a US state in the Midwest, began with migratory tribes of Native Americans who inhabited Indiana as early as 8000 BC. Tribes succeeded one another in dominance for several thousand years and reached their peak of development during the period of Mississippian culture. The region entered recorded history in the 1670s when the first Europeans came to Indiana and claimed the territory for the Kingdom of France. At the conclusion of the French and Indian War and after one hundred years of French rule, the region was claimed by Britain for twenty years. After the British defeat in the American Revolutionary War, the entire trans-Allegheny region, including what is now Indiana, was ceded to the United States.

The United States government divided the trans-Allegheny region into several new territories. The largest of these was the Northwest Territory, which was progressively divided into several smaller territories by the United States Congress. In 1800, the Indiana Territory was the first new territory established from a portion of the Northwest Territory. The territory grew in population and development until it was admitted to the Union in 1816 as the nineteenth state, Indiana. Following statehood, the newly established state government laid out on an ambitious plan to transform Indiana from a segment of the frontier into a developed, well populated, and thriving state. The state’s founders initiated a program that led to the construction of roads, canals, railroads, and state-funded public schools. Despite the noble aims of the project, profligate spending ruined the state’s credit. By 1841 the state was near bankruptcy and forced to liquidate most of its public works. During the 1850s, the state’s population grew to exceed one million. The ambitious program of its founders was realized as Indiana became the fourth-largest state in terms of population, as measured by the 1860 census.

Indiana became politically influential and played an important role in the Union during the American Civil War. Indiana was the first western state to mobilize for the war, and Indiana soldiers were present in almost every engagement during the war. Following the Civil War, Indiana remained politically important as it became a critical swing state in U.S. Presidential elections. It helped decide control of the presidency for three decades. During the Indiana Gas Boom of the late 19th century, industry began to rapidly develop in the state. The Golden Age of Literature began in the same time period, increasing the state’s cultural influence. By the early 20th century, Indiana developed into a strong manufacturing state, but experienced setbacks during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, expansion of the auto industry, urban development, and two wars contributed to the state’s industrial growth. During the second half the of the 20th century, Indiana became a leader in the pharmaceutical industry due to the innovations of companies such as Eli Lilly.

Early civilizations

Following the end of the last glacial period, Indiana’s topography was dominated by spruce and pine forests and was home to mastodoncaribou, and saber-toothed cats. While Northern Indiana had been covered by glaciers, Southern Indiana remained unaltered by the ice’s advance, leaving plants and animals that could sustain human communities.  Indiana’s earliest known inhabitants were Paleo-Indians. Evidence exists that humans were in Indiana as early as the Archaic stage (8000–6000 BC).   Hunting camps of the nomadic Clovis culture have been found in Indiana.  Carbon dating of artifacts found in the Wyandotte Caves of Southern Indiana shows humans mined flint there as early 2000 BC.   These nomads may have enjoyed the large supply of freshwater mussels in Indiana’s streams, and may have built the shell mounds found throughout southern Indiana.

The Early Woodland period in Indiana is generally dated between 1000 BC and 200 AD. The society of this time is known as the Adena culture, named for the estate in Ohio where its artifacts were first discovered.  The Adena culture was noted for domesticating wild squash and making pottery, which were large cultural advances over the Clovis culture. The Early Woodland period also saw the natives’ introduction of early burial mounds. The oldest mounds in Indiana date from this era, including the oldest earthwork in Anderson‘s Mounds State Park.

Humans of the Middle Woodland period were of the Hopewell culture and may have been in Indiana as early as 200 BC. The Hopewells were the first culture to create permanent settlements in Indiana. About 1 AD, the Hopewells mastered agriculture and grew crops of sunflowers and squash. Around 200 AD, the Hopewells began to construct mounds that are believed to have been used for ceremonial and burial purposes. Most modern knowledge of the Hopewells has come from excavation of these mounds. The artifacts in the mounds show the Hopewells in Indiana were connected by trade to other native tribes as far away as Central America.   For unknown reasons, the Hopewell culture went into decline around 400 and completely disappeared by 500.

The Late Woodland era is generally considered to have begun about 600 AD and lasted until the arrival of Europeans in Indiana. It was a period of rapid cultural change. One of the new developments—which has yet to be explained—was the introduction of masonry, shown by the construction of large, stone forts, many of which overlook the Ohio River. Romantic legend used to attribute the forts to Welsh Indians who supposedly arrived centuries before Christopher Columbus reached the Caribbean.   Archaeologists and other scholars, however, believe that the cultural development was due to the arrival of the Mississippians.


View of Mound A at Angel Mounds

Evidence suggests that after the collapse of the Hopewells, Indiana had a low population until the rise of the Fort Ancient and Mississippians around 900 AD.  The Ohio River Valley was heavily populated by the Mississippians from about 1100 to 1450 AD. Their settlements, like those of the Hopewells, were known for their ceremonial mounds. Some of these remain visible at locations near the Ohio River. The Mississippian mounds were constructed on a grander scale than the mounds built by the Hopewells. The agrarian Mississippians were the first to grow maize in the region. The people developed the bow and arrow and copper working during this time period.

Mississippian society was highly developed; the largest Mississippian city contained as many as 30,000 inhabitants. Their cities were typically sited near rivers and included a large central mound, several smaller mounds, an open courtyard, and were usually enclosed by walls.   The remains of a major settlement known as Angel Mounds lie east of present-day Evansville.   Mississippian houses were generally square-shaped with plastered walls and thatched roofs.  For reasons that remain unclear, the Mississippians disappeared in the middle of the 15th century, about 200 years before the Europeans first entered what would become modern Indiana. Mississippian culture marked the high point of native development in Indiana.

It was during this period that American Bison began a periodic east–west trek through Indiana, crossing the Falls of the Ohio and the Wabash River near modern-day Vincennes. These herds became important to civilizations in southern Indiana and created a well-established Buffalo Trace, later used by European-American pioneers moving west.

European contact

Before 1600, a major war broke out in eastern North America among Native Americans; it was later called the Beaver Wars. Five American Indian Iroquois tribes confederated to battle against their neighbors. The Iroquois were opposed by a confederation of primarily Algonquian tribes including the ShawneeMiamiWeaPottawatomie, and the Illinois.   These tribes were significantly less advanced than the Mississippian culture that had preceded them. The tribes were semi-nomadic, used stone tools rather than copper, and did not create the large-scale construction and farming works of their Mississippian predecessors. The war continued with sporadic fighting for at least a century as the Iroquois sought to dominate the expanding fur trade with the Europeans. They achieved this goal for several decades. During the war, the Iroquois drove their neighboring tribes to the south and west.

As a result of the war, several tribes, including the Shawnee, migrated into Indiana, where they attempted to resettle in land belonging to the Miami. The Iroquois gained the military advantage after they were supplied with firearms by the Dutch in New Netherlands and later by the English. With their superior weapons, the Iroquois subjugated at least thirty tribes and nearly destroyed several others in northern Indiana.

When the first Europeans entered Indiana during the 1670s, the region was in the final years of the Beaver Wars. The French attempted to trade with the Algonquian tribes in Indiana, selling them firearms in exchange for furs. This incurred the wrath of the Iroquois, who destroyed a French outpost in Indiana in retaliation. Appalled by the Iroquois, the French continued to supply the western tribes with firearms and openly allied with the Algonquian tribes.   A major battle—and a turning point in the conflict—occurred near modern South Bend when the Miami and their allies repulsed a large Iroquois force in an ambush.   With the firearms they received from the French, the odds were evened. The war finally ended in 1701 with the Great Peace of Montreal. Both Indian confederacies were left exhausted, having suffered heavy casualties. Much of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana was left depopulated as many tribes fled west to escape the fighting.

The Miami and Pottawatomie nations returned to Indiana following the war.  Other tribes such as the Lenape were pushed westward from the East Coast by encroachment of European colonists. Around 1770 the Miami invited the Lenape to settle on the White River.  The Shawnee arrived in present-day Indiana after the three other nations.   These four nations were later to be participants in the Sixty Years’ War, a struggle between native nations and European settlers for control of the Great Lakes region. Hostilities with the tribes began early; the first known deaths of Europeans by Indians in Indiana occurred in 1752, when five French fur traders were attacked and killed by members of the Piankeshaw near the Vermilion River.

Colonial period – Native Americans guide French explorers through Indiana as depicted by Maurice Thompson in Stories of Indiana.

French fur traders from Canada were the first Europeans to enter Indiana, beginning in the 1670’s.   The quickest route connecting the New France districts of Canada and Louisiana ran along Indiana’s Wabash River. The Terre Haute highlands were once considered the border between the two French districts.   This made Indiana a vital part of French lines of communication and trade routes. The French established Vincennes as a permanent settlement in Indiana during European rule, but the population of the area remained primarily Native American.   As French influence grew in the region, Great Britain, competing with France for control of North America, came to believe that control of Indiana was important to halt French expansion on the continent.


The first European outpost within modern Indiana was Tassinong, a French trading post established in 1673 near the Kankakee River.   French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle came to the area in 1679, claiming it for King Louis the XIV of France. La Salle came to explore a portage between the St. Joseph and Kankakeerivers, and Father Ribourde, who traveled with La Salle, marked trees along the way. The marks survived to be photographed in the 19th century.   In 1681, La Salle negotiated a common defense treaty between the Illinois and Miami nations against the Iroquois.

Further exploration of Indiana led to the French establishing an important trade route between Canada and Louisiana via the Maumee and Wabash rivers. The French built a series of forts and outposts in Indiana as a hedge against the westward expansion of the British colonies from the east coast of North America and to encourage trade with the native tribes. The tribes were able to procure metal tools, cooking utensils, and other manufactured items in exchange for animal pelts. The French built Fort Miamis in the Miami town of Kekionga (modern Fort Wayne, Indiana). France assigned Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, as the first agent to the Miami at Kekionga.

In 1717, François-Marie Picoté de Belestre established the post of Ouiatenon (modern LafayetteIndiana) to discourage the Wea from coming under British influence.   In 1732, François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, established a similar post near the Piankeshaw in the town that still bears his name. Although the forts were garrisoned by men from New France, Fort Vincennes was the only outpost to maintain a permanent European presence until the modern day.  Jesuit priests accompanied many of the French soldiers into Indiana in an attempt to convert the natives to Christianity. The Jesuits conducted missionary activities, lived among the natives, and accompanied them on hunts and migrations. Gabriel Marest, one of the first missionaries in Indiana, taught among the Kaskaskia as early as 1712. The missionaries came to have great influence among the natives and played an important role in keeping the native tribes allied with the French.

During the French and Indian War, the British directly challenged France for control of the region, as part of their struggle in Europe of the Seven Years’ War. Although no pitched battles occurred in Indiana, the native tribes of the region supported the French.   At the beginning of the war, the tribes sent large groups of warriors to support the French in resisting the British advance and to raid British colonies.  Using Fort Pitt as a forward base, British commander Robert Rogers overcame the native resistance and drove deep into the frontier to capture Fort Detroit. The rangers moved south from Detroit and captured many of the key French outposts in Indiana, including Fort Miamis and Fort Vincennes.   As the war progressed, the French lost control of Canada after the fall of Montreal. No longer able to effectively fight the British in interior North America, they lost Indiana to British forces. By 1761 the French were entirely forced out of Indiana.   Following the French expulsion, the native tribes, led by Chief Pontiac, confederated in an attempt to rebel against the British without French assistance. While Pontiac was besieging British-held Fort Detroit, other tribes in Indiana rose up against the British. They were forced to surrender Fort Miamis and Fort Ouiatenon.   In 1763, while Pontiac was fighting the British, the French signed the Treaty of Paris and ceded control of Indiana to the British.

Great Britain

When the British gained ownership of Indiana, the entire region was in the middle of Pontiac’s Rebellion. During the next year, British officials negotiated with the various tribes, splitting them from their alliance with Pontiac. Eventually, Pontiac lost most of his allies, forcing him to make peace with the British on July 25, 1766. As a concession to Pontiac, Great Britain issued a proclamation that the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains was to be reserved for Native Americans.  Despite the treaty, Pontiac was still considered a threat to British interests, but after he was murdered on April 20, 1769, the region saw several years of peace.

After Britain established peace with the natives, many of the former French trading posts and forts in the region were abandoned. Fort Miamis was maintained for several years because it was considered to be “of great importance”, but even it was eventually abandoned.   The Jesuit priests were expelled, and no provisional government was established; the British hoped the French in the area would leave. Many did leave, but the British gradually became more accommodating to the French who remained and continued the fur trade with the Native American nations.

In 1768, a treaty was negotiated between several of the British colonies and the Iroquois. The Iroquois sold their territorial claims to the colonies as part of the treaty. The company created to hold that claim was named the Indiana Land Company, the first recorded use of the word Indiana. The claim was disputed by the colony of Virginia, which did not participate in the treaty because it already laid claim to the land through its royal charter.   In 1773, the territory of Indiana was brought under the administration of Province of Quebec to appease its French population. The Quebec Act was listed as one of the Intolerable Acts the Thirteen Colonies cited as a reason for the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The thirteen colonies thought themselves entitled to the territory for their support of Great Britain during the French and Indian War, and were incensed that it was given to the enemy the colonies had been fighting.

Although the United States gained official possession of the region following the conclusion of the American Revolution, British influence on its Native American allies in the region remained strong, especially near Fort Detroit. This influence caused the Northwest Indian War, which began when British-influenced native tribes refused to recognize American authority and were backed in their resistance by British merchants in the area. American military victories in the region and the ratification of the Jay Treaty, which called for British withdrawal from the region’s forts caused a formal evacuation, but the British were not fully expelled from the area until the conclusion of the War of 1812.

Indiana Territory – United States – See also: Illinois Campaign

After the outbreak of the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark was sent from Virginia to enforce its claim to much of the land in the Great Lakes region.  In July 1778, Clark and about 175 men crossed the Ohio River and took control of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and several other villages in British Indiana. The occupation was accomplished without firing a shot because Clark carried letters from the French ambassador stating that France supported the Americans. These letters made most of the French and Native American inhabitants of the area unwilling to support the British.

Clark’s march to Vincennes, by F. C. Yohn

The fort at Vincennes, renamed Fort Sackville by the British, had been abandoned years earlier and no garrison was present when the Americans occupied it. Captain Leonard Helm became the first American commandant at Vincennes. To counter Clark’s advance, the British under Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton reoccupied Vincennes with a small force. In February 1779, Clark arrived at Vincennes in a surprise winter expedition and retook the town, capturing Hamilton in the process. This expedition secured most of southern Indiana for the United States.

In 1780, emulating Clark’s success at Vincennes, French officer Augustin de La Balme organized a militia force of French residents to capture Fort Detroit. While marching to Detroit, the force stopped to sack Kekionga. The delay proved fatal when the expedition met the warriors of the Miami tribe under Miami Chief Little Turtle along the Eel River, and the entire force was killed or captured. Clark organized another assault on Fort Detroit in 1781, but it was aborted when Chief Joseph Brant captured a significant part of Clark’s army at a battle known as Lochry’s Defeat, near present-day Aurora, Indiana.

Other minor skirmishes occurred in Indiana, including the battle at Petit Fort in 1780.   In 1783, when the war came to an end, Britain ceded the entire trans-Allegheny region to the United States—including Indiana—in the peace treaty negotiated in Paris.

Clark’s militia was under the authority of the state of Virginia, and although a continental flag was flown over Fort Sackville, the area was governed as Virginia territory until the state gifted it to the United States federal government in 1784.   Clark was awarded large tracts of land in southern Indiana for his service in the war and modern Clark County is named in his honor.

Indiana Territory – Main article: Indiana Territory – See also: History of slavery in IndianaNorthwest Territory, and Tecumseh’s War

Map of the Indiana Territory

In 1785, the Northwest Indian War began. In an attempt to end the native rebellion, the Miami town of Kekionga was attacked unsuccessfully by General Josiah Harmar and Northwest Territory Governor Arthur St. ClairSt. Clair’s defeat is the worst defeat of the U.S. Army by Native Americans in history, leaving almost the entire army dead or captured.  The defeat led to the appointment of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne who organized the Legion of the United States and defeated a Native American force at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. In 1795, the Treaty of Greenville was signed and a small part of eastern Indiana was opened for settlement. Fort Miami at Kekionga was occupied by the United States, who rebuilt it as Fort Wayne. After the treaty, the powerful Miami nation considered themselves allies with the United States.  The war ended hostilities with the Native Americans, leaving them victorious in 31 of the 37 recorded incidents involving white settlers during the 18th century.

The Northwest Territory was formed by the Congress of the Confederation on July 13, 1787, and included all land between the Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. This single territory became the states of OhioMichigan,IndianaIllinoisWisconsin, and part of eastern Minnesota. The act established an administration to oversee the territory and had the land surveyed in accordance with The Land Ordinance of 1785.  At the time the territory was created, there were only two American settlements in what would become Indiana: Vincennes and Clark’s Grant. The population of the northwest included fewer than 5,000 Europeans. The Native American population was estimated to be near 20,000, but may have been as high as 75,000.

William Henry Harrison, the 1st Governor of Indiana Territory from 1801 to 1812, and the 9th President of the United States

On July 4, 1800, the Indiana Territory was established out of Northwest Territory in preparation for Ohio’s statehood.  The Indiana Land Company, which still held claim to Indiana, had been dissolved by a United States Supreme Court decision in 1798. The name Indiana meant “Land of the Indians”, and referred to the fact that most of the area north of the Ohio River was still inhabited by Native Americans. (Kentucky, South of the Ohio River, had been a traditional hunting ground for tribes that resided north of the river, and early American settlers in Kentucky referred to the North bank as the land of the Indians.) Although the company’s claim was extinguished, Congress used their name for the new territory.   The Indiana Territory contained present day Indiana,Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.  Those areas were separated out in 1805 and 1809. The first Governor of the Territory was William Henry Harrison, who served from 1800 until 1813. Harrison County was named in honor of Harrison, who later become the ninth President of The United States. He was succeeded by Thomas Posey who served from 1813 until 1816.

The first capital was established in Vincennes where it remained for thirteen years. After the territory was reorganized in 1809, the legislature made plans to move the capital to Corydon to be more centralized with the population. Corydon was established in 1808 on land donated by William Henry Harrison. The new capitol building was finished in 1813 and the government quickly relocated following the outbreak of war on the frontier.

As the population of the territory grew, so did the people’s exercising of their freedoms. In 1809, the territory was granted permission to fully elect its own legislature for the first time.   Before that, Governor Harrison appointed the legislature. Although Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance had prohibited slavery, it had existed since French rule and was then the major issue in the territory. The anti-slavery party won a strong majority in the first election.   Governor Harrison found himself at odds with the new legislature which proceeded to overturn the indenturing and pro-slavery laws he had enacted. Slavery remained the defining issue in the state for the decades to follow.

War of 1812 – Main articles: Tecumseh’s War and Indiana in the War of 1812

The first major event in the territory was the resumption of hostilities with the Indians. Unhappy with their treatment since the peace of 1795, the native tribes, led by the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, formed a coalition against the Americans. Tecumseh’s War started in 1811 when General William Henry Harrison led his army to rebuff aggressive movements of Tecumseh’s confederation.  The war continued until the Battle of Tippecanoe which firmly ended the Native American uprising and allowed the Americans to take full control of all of Indiana. The Battle earned Harrison national fame, and the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.”

The war between Tecumseh and Harrison merged with the War of 1812 when the remnants of the Indian Confederation allied with the British in Canada. The Siege of Fort Harrison is considered to be the United States’ first land victory during the war.   Other battles that occurred in the modern state of Indiana include the Siege of Fort Wayne, the Pigeon Roost Massacre and the Battle of the Mississinewa. The Treaty of Ghent, signed in 1814, ended the war and relieved American settlers from their fears of the nearby British and their Indian allies.  This marked the end of hostilities with the Native Americans in Indiana. Of the 58 recorded incidents between Native Americans and the United States in Indiana during the 19th century, 43 of these are Indian victories.


The Constitution Elm in 2006

In 1812, Jonathan Jennings defeated Harrison’s chosen candidate and became the territory’s representative to Congress.  Jennings used his position there to speed up Indiana’s path to statehood by immediately introducing legislation to grant Indiana statehood, even though the population of the entire territory was under 25,000. Jennings did so against the wishes of incoming governor Thomas Posey. No action was taken on the legislation because of the outbreak of the War of 1812.

Posey had created a rift in the politics of the territory by refusing to reside in the capital of Corydon, but instead living in Jeffersonville to be closer to his doctor.   He further complicated matters by supporting slavery, much to the chagrin of opponents like Jennings, Dennis Pennington, and others who dominated the Territorial Legislature and who sought to use the bid for statehood to permanently end slavery in the territory.

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