This morning we are heading to Indiana Amish country in the far north of the state on the border with Michigan. In planning the trip I had thought that our stay in Lafayette/West Lafayette would be focused only on the Purdue experience. Since Andrew had to return to his studies in earnest yesterday Mike and I did a bit of exploring on our own and learned that we had indeed been staying in a more interesting place than I had thought. Our campground was located in Prophetstown State Park, a name which captured my curiosity. Before leaving I finally learned what its significance was all about.
Back in the beginning of the nineteenth century people began moving from the east into the heart of North America in droves. At first the native people lived in a kind of strained peace with their new neighbors who were claiming bigger and bigger chunks of the wooded lands and prairies that had been the homes of the Shawnee and the Kickapoo and other tribes. They eagerly accepted trinkets like cloth, blankets, guns, bullets, and even alcohol from the newcomers. Before long though their entire way of life was being threatened by the numbers of pioneers who continued to pour in without abatement. They began to view the outsiders as invaders. A charismatic leader named Tecumseh became enraged by what he saw happening to his people. He traveled around the area attempting to create an alliance between his own Shawnee tribe and others. He believed that if they all worked together they would have the power needed to repel the white men.
Around the same time as Tecumseh was doing his best to form a federation of Native Americans William Henry Harrison became the governor of the territory. He was determined to protect the pioneers and to keep the flow of newcomers open. In 1811, the tension between the two groups built to a feverish point. While Tecumseh was away doing his politicking he put his brother, a spiritual man known as “The Prophet”, in charge of his tribe which lived in a village at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. Meanwhile General Harrison had come to the area intent on brokering a favorable agreement with Tecumseh that would allow the settlers to continue coming. In Tecumseh’s absence his brother, the Prophet, initially agreed to meet with Harrison. Instead he invaded the encampment of Harrison’s army without warning early on November 7, 1811. The melee that ensued later became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Both sides lost a around sixty men and even more were wounded. In spite of being outnumbered Harrison and his men won the day. They followed up their victory by burning the Indian Village at Prophetstown to the ground in a show of force. Ultimately this broke the resolve of the native people and their way of life rapidly disappeared from the forests and prairies of Indiana. It also increased the tension between the United States and Great Britain who had been supplying the native people with arms and ammunition and lead to the War of 1812. William Henry Harrison enjoyed the reputation of a hero and eventually became President of the United States after a campaign that featured the popular song, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”
The campground where we had slept for so many nights was only a mile or so from the original native people’s home, known as Prophetstown. The mystery of the place was solved and we also got to see both the field where the famous Battle of Tippecanoe occurred and a recreation of Tecumseh’s village. In the eerie quiet of both locations we reflected a bit on the injustices that had occurred so long ago.
In our meanderings we found a couple of other enchanting places. Not far from the Tippecanoe Battle Ground is Wolf Park. To our chagrin it is closed on Mondays but we learned that it is the home of wolves who are protected by the state. On Fridays and Saturdays the public is invited to come out at around 7:30 in the evening to hear the creatures howl away the day as dusk descends into night. We opened our windows and got very quiet but heard nary a sound. We may have to catch this charming park next time we come.
Driving south of Lafayette we came to New Richmond, a quaint and tiny town that boasted another name in a movie from 1985. Most who have watched “Hooziers” would know it as Hickory, the fictional place that recreated the true story of a high school basketball team that stunned the world. The movie is a classic view of Americana as it unfolds the story of a washed up coach who arrives to take over a team that has little chance of being anything other than mediocre. It is a Horatio Alger story of determination and teamwork.
The town itself has seen better days just as was portrayed in the movie. There is not much there but it speaks of long lost dreams that just never materialized. The buildings that may have once been grand are mostly empty and decaying. Still there is a haunting charm about them and it is easy to imagine the story of “Hooziers” coming alive in its streets.
I suppose that not everyone would be as enchanted by the drive on narrow roads through fields of corn and soybeans as I was but it felt as though I had found a little piece of heaven. Neat little farmhouses sat in the middle of a sea of green and brown and yellow as far as the eye might see. The citizens ignored us as they cut down the spent corn plants in anticipation of a new planting season. We saw evidence of the pride that they have in being masters of their own land. It seems to be such a tranquil life compared to the tensions of big cities and yet I understand that they have their own set of challenges. They must deal with the vagaries of weather, insects, and the markets for their crops. They literally depend on what they grow for survival. I suspect that many of them are quite nervous from year to year. The “For Sale” signs in front of many of the homes tells a tale of surrender and frustration.
I seriously love Indiana, the place where my great grandmother, Christina was born. The people are the salt of the earth, friendly and hard working. The land is lovely and filled with stories of people who quietly go about their business from day to day without too much complaint. In so many ways they represent all of us. They seem to understand that they are guardians of the earth and they thoughtfully care for it. The evidence of their work is everywhere in the farms, factories, shops, and university.
I’m a Texan by nature and there aren’t many places that would be good enough to attract me. Indiana just might be a place that I would be willing to live if Texas were not an option. There is something about the state that stirs my spirit.