Looking at Prehistory:
Indiana's Hoosier National Forest Region, 12,000 B.C. to 1650

Looking at Prehistory:
Relating Prehistoric Cultures to Historic Indian Tribes

One might expect it to be an easy task to relate Indiana's late prehistoric cultures to the Indian tribes known from early historic documents. It is not, and so far it has prove impossible to link the people of prehistory with specific tribes in Indiana. By the 18th century over two hundred years had already passed since Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas and the European settlement of the Eastern Seaboard was essentially complete. Unfortunately for Native Americans, there was a rapid westward expansion of pioneers seeking increasingly large amounts of land for family farms. Each new settlement caused a displacement of local Indians into territory belonging to other Native American groups. By this time, several generations of Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley had been involved in the flourishing Fur Trade and enjoyed the new foreign material conveniences of woven blankets, muskets, iron tools, copper kettles, glass beads and many other European commodities obtained in trade (Figure 111). While many traditional Indian customs and languages continued, and often thrived during this time, their material culture had become largely European in nature and some tribes were already living in log cabins rather than traditional lodges.

Figure 111: Historic period artifacts of silver, glass, iron, lead, etc. including musket parts. The small, round piece is a lead seal for securing trunks of cargo. The square piece on the left is a gun-flint made in France that was shipped to the New World along with muskets and other weapons, copper kettles and various trade goods between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Archaeologists depend on artifact types to identify the people they study. These types are distinguished by the recognition of traditional designs and methods of manufacture that remain without significant change over long periods of time. Since most of the artifacts used by the Indians of the Historic period were made by Europeans, they do not match the known prehistoric types that we are familiar with. Thus, we have a prehistoric archaeological record based on knowledge of traditional Indian artifacts that abruptly ends over only a few decades, when they are overshadowed by artifacts of European manufacture. In addition, these mass-produced items of European trade were made available to many Indian groups over a very wide territory. In Indiana, this dilemma has so far only fostered speculation about a few tribal identities back into prehistory.

While we do not know why, apparently the Angel Mounds village and most, or all, archaeological sites had long been abandoned when the first explorers, traders and missionaries first came into Indiana in the 17th century. Yet, a number of historic Native American groups are repeatedly mentioned as having had settlements within Indiana. The Miami and Potawatomi were apparently more numerous than other groups, having had settlements spread over much of the state (Figures 112-115). Yet, most scholars see language and cultural ties to peoples living in Wisconsin and suggest the Miami and Potawatomi probably migrated from the southwest side of Lake Michigan beginning only as late as the 15th century. In fact, very little prehistoric material culture appears to relate to them in Indiana except perhaps in the northwestern part of the state. Caborn-Welborn sites around the mouth of the Wabash are known to produce some European trade goods, but no historical documents mention Native Americans in this area.

Figure 112: The Son, a Miami chief. The original is a painting by James Otto Lewis that he completed at the Treaty of Mississinewa, Indiana in 1827. The individual is wearing a series of silver gorgets and arm bands and is holding a war club and metal tipped spear (modified from Lewis 1836).

Figure 113: D-MOUCHE-KEE-KEE-AWH, a beautiful Potawatomi married to Abram Burnett. "... No Pottawatomie squaw equaled her in regard to dress; she was... plated with silver brooches—the very ne plus ultra of an Indian woman's toilette" (modified from Ball 1948: Plate XVIII).

Figure 114: CHAT-O-NI-SEE, a Potawatomi chief. The individual has a silver broach on his turban and is wearing a presidential medal around his neck. The original is a painting by James Otto Lewis that he completed at the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1827 (modified from Lewis 1836).

Figure 115: WA-BAUN-SEE, a Potawatomi chief (modified from M'Kenney and Hall 1838:107).

Historic records also document Shawnee, Delaware, Piankashaw, Kickapoo, and Wyandotte, as well as other groups that were in Indiana only briefly before moving further west. Many scholars think at least some of the villages attributed to the Fort Ancient tradition in southern Ohio can be linked to the Shawnee. We are not so sure about Oliver and Fort Ancient in Indiana, as the sites may represent occupations by more than a single ethnic group. The Delaware and Wyandotte were displaced from original homelands to the north and east and settled, at least for a short time, between the White and Ohio Rivers in southern Indiana (Figures 116-118).

Figure 116: PAYTA KOOTHA or "Flying clouds", a Shawnee warrior (modified from M'Kenney and Hall 1836:83).

Figure 117: KISH-KALLO-WA, a Shawnee chief (modified from M'Kenney and Hall 1836:15).

Figure 118: TISH-CO-HAN or "He who never blackens himself", a Delaware chief (modified from M'Kenney and Hall 1836:199).

No historic period Native American sites are archaeologically documented, though local histories mention most of the above Indian groups in connection with the writing of the histories of the nine county area encompassed by the Hoosier National Forest. While little information provided on Native Americans in these histories can be traced to original sources, we can assume that some families related to these larger ethnic groups utilized either the hill country for a short time or crossed through this area while slowly being displaced westward by European settlement.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008