From June 12-14, scholars from all corners of the globe—including Cape Town, New Delhi, Toronto, Berlin, Peru, and Amsterdam—convened at San Francisco State University. Among them were Indianapolis historians Sam Opsahl (he/him), Jordan Ryan (they/them), and myself (she/her). The reason for this meeting of the minds?: the second ever Queer History Conference (QHC). Amidst the surreal beauty of the campus, lined by Muir Woods’s iconic redwood trees, we discussed universal research questions, learned about novel methodologies, and shared valuable resources. Considering how new the field of queer history is, I would be remiss not to discuss the insights gleaned at the QHC, many of which could be applied to various historical projects.
QHC attendees were a uniquely welcoming and curious bunch, although we were slightly intimidated by the number of people who decided to forgo compelling sessions like “Queering Women, Sex, and Youth in Colonial Settings” and “Legal Consciousness in Mid-Twentieth Century Queer and Trans History” in order to attend our panel. However, we felt immediately at ease presenting about those living on the margins of Indianapolis’s queer community, especially because our moderator Dr. Eric Gonzaba gave credence to Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that “wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something important there.”* Now an Assistant Professor of American Studies at California State University-Fullerton, Dr. Gonzaba grew up in rural southern Indiana and earned his BA from Indiana University. In his introduction, Dr. Gonzaba aptly noted that Indiana’s place in American queer history has been cemented both by the groundbreaking work of the Kinsey Institute and the controversial passage of the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Jordan Ryan, architectural historian, activist-scholar, and founder of The History Concierge, kicked off our session. Ryan adapted their presentation from their paper, co-authored with Dr. Paul Mullins for the Journal for theAnthropology of North America, entitled “Imagining Musical Place: Race, Heritage, and African American Musical Landscapes.” Ryan focused on the erasure of Black cultural sites along Indiana Avenue, including venues like the Pink Poodle (later the Famous Door) and Log Cabin, which hosted popular drag shows in the first half of the 20th century. Ryan noted that although female impersonators were popular in vaudeville revues, “moral ideologues sometimes resisted openly queer drag performances.” This was reflected in one Indianapolis Recorder editorial about a show at the Paradise that attracted an audience of 2,000. The opiner wrote that “‘fairy’ (fag) (pansy) public stage show and dance . . . was a disgrace to this community.” Ryan concluded that:
Like much of the complex expressive culture that flourished on Indiana Avenue, female impersonators have not found a place in the public memory that has been crafted by ideologues whose representations of jazz have revolved around a very narrow dimension of the Indiana Avenue musical experience.
Following Ryan’s analysis of the built environment and public memory, I presented my work about the exclusion of gender non-conforming individuals at Indianapolis gay bars and the queer community’s effort to grapple with this discrimination. (A draft of my paper can be read here). On separate occasions in 1989, Our Place refused to serve patrons Kerry Gean and Roberta Alyson, resulting in public humiliation and, in Alyson’s case, arrest. Bar employees refused service on the grounds that Gean and Alyson—members of the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE)—did not meet dress code and their identification did not match their female-presenting appearance. Our Place was by no means the only Indianapolis gay bar to implement these policies and soon the pages of gay newsletter The Works teemed with editorials about the conflict. The majority of them condemned this discrimination, likening it to the prohibition of Black individuals at Riverside Park, while some agreed that such policies were necessary to preserve the bars’ masculine atmosphere.
Perhaps ironically, it was Indianapolis police officer and community liaison Shirley Purvitis who facilitated a meeting to try to resolve issues between “certain segments of the gay community.” Bar owners, IXE members, IPD vice officers, and members of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Justice, Inc. shared their experiences and discussed excise law. Although contentious, such meetings, coverage in The Works, and one-on-one meetings between IXE members and bar owners, led to the reversal of policies at many bars. The conflict illuminated the value of forums and facilitators and demonstrated how amplifying multiple perspectives resulted in greater inclusion.
Sam Opsahl, program coordinator for Indiana Humanities, concluded our panel, presenting a paper adapted from his 2020 thesis, “Circle City Strife: Gay and Lesbian Activism during the Hudnut Era.” He highlighted the work of Justice, Inc. leader Kathy Sarris, noting that she “worked to insert the queer community’s narrative into public spaces by celebrating the gay and lesbian minority in public.” Opsahl positioned Sarris at the center of the local rights movement, ensuring that she will not be forgotten, unlike many lesbian activists whose work has been overshadowed by that of white, male leaders belonging to the middle class.
In 1983, through the Indianapolis Gay/Lesbian Coalition (IGLC), Berg and Sarris secured a meeting with Mayor William Hudnut, where they presented a list of seven recommendations. This marked the first time an Indianapolis mayor met with gay individuals to discuss issues facing the greater community. While the closed door meeting did not produce the results they hoped for, Berg and Sarris left feeling that “at least a dialogue had been initiated that they would continue to pursue should Hudnut be re-elected.” Opsahl contended that:
Mayor Hudnut, Berg, and Sarris contested the space on Monument Circle via protests and community celebrations, which rendered Indianapolis’ queer community impossible to ignore. Hudnut’s visions of an entrepreneurial city were endangered by the public debacles on Monument Circle, police discrimination, and the HIV crisis. Activists established their own dreams for citywide recognition that conflicted with Hudnut’s.
In listening to my colleagues’ presentations, fielding thoughtful audience questions, and receiving feedback from Dr. Gonzaba, I gained insight about Indianapolis’s queer past in real-time. It occurred to me that each of the individuals we studied had had to navigate the internalization of white, cisgender, heteronormative ideals by the LGBTQ community. We were left to ponder questions, like “What makes Indianapolis’s community unique?” and “How do we best document and memorialize queer history in a conservative region, in which anonymity provides safety?” The examination of intersectionality, as it relates to queer history, is relatively new and we hope our panel contributed to this field of study.
With our session mercifully scheduled for the first day, I was anxious to learn about others’ research findings and methodologies for the duration of the conference. I found the “Strategies for Documenting and Memorializing Queer History” panel to be particularly enlightening, as University of Toronto Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation made me rethink how we conduct and use oral history interviews. Dr. Brown spoke about implementing novel interview strategies, such as utilizing guided meditation in order to engage interviewee’s senses. She found that this practice allowed subjects to both reinhabit and meaningfully relay the past.
Dr. Brown and her team have also given much thought to the question of utility, asking themselves: “Is the main purpose of conducting interviews to create a primary source for future historians to draw upon? Or is their value entrenched in telling relevant stories to modern audiences?” Regarding the latter, Dr. Brown is mindful of a study that found people listen to only half of an oral history interview, regardless of whether it is one minute or three hours long. Therefore, her team tried to think creatively about how to capture listeners’ attention. They hired an illustrator and sound engineer to recreate settings described by interview subjects. Pairing the animated sequences with two minute interview segments provided a multisensory experience. Dr. Brown played one such clip for the audience and I think we were all stunned by how immersed we were in the story.
Slide from Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation about novel oral history interviewing techniques.
While attention has certainly been paid to illuminating history through social media, San Francisco State University Master’s student Jesse Ataide’s presentation “Imagining the Queer Past on Instagram” probed issues unique to queer history. Ataide initially created his account @queer_modernisms to share interesting images he came across in his research, which focused on the period between 1890 and 1969. However, when the account rapidly grew in followers (it is now up to 26,000), he realized he needed to be more intentional about how he curated content. He became ever-mindful of the question “who and what is queer?,” noting that many images circulated online appear queer to the “contemporary eye,” but can easily be misinterpreted. These include fascist/Nazi images that glorify the male body and “same sex intimacy across different eras and cultures.” Ataide noted that the subjects of such images may have actively resisted the “queer” designation and that “unambiguous self-identification” is certainly the exception, not the norm. So, in order to avoid outing or misinterpreting someone’s sexual identity, he tries to “find mention or evidence of queerness in academic, published, or other authoritative sources before posting.”
He also discussed the importance of representation. Images of white, masculine, middleclass male subjects garner the highest rates of engagement, so he is currently strategizing how to amplify diverse content without losing his platform. Ataide left us with many insightful questions to ponder, especially about how best to create a “useable past.”
My time at SFSU concluded with a roundtable comprised of both academic press editors and scholars whose work has been published by such presses. Larin McLaughlin, Editor in Chief at the University of Washington Press, emphasized the importance of vision when crafting and pitching a book idea. It is not enough that your topic has never been written about before, but you should able to articulate to a publisher how your work moves the field forward. Finding an editor that shares your set of goals is also crucial in executing your vision. McLaughlin encouraged writers to focus on interdisciplinary topics, as they appeal to audiences outside of history. Dominique J. Moore, Acquisitions Editor for the University of Illinois Press, noted that a well-executed introduction chapter goes a long way in convincing an editor to publish your work. She also advised crafting a table of contents that contains a summary of each chapter’s arguments and sources, as well as how the chapters relate to one another. When considering your audience, ask yourself, “What conference do I want to see my book at?” Write for those attendees.
Panelists also articulated the differences between trade and university presses. They noted that whereas trade presses typically have much bigger marketing budgets that can be used to quickly advertise your book to a broad network, academic presses provide longevity, as they continue to publish books long after the first printing. Similarly, trade presses sometimes present more obstacles to publication, as aspiring authors have to convince an agent who then needs to convince an editor about your work. For the self-doubting historian, their reassurance about the peer review process was liberating: ultimately, you can and should push back against critiques that you vehemently disagree with. You are the expert, after all.
In a field dominated by stories of stigma, violence, and oppression, the 2022 QHC provided a much needed opportunity to learn about LGBTQ individuals who thrived, helped build community, and furthered human rights. It was invigorating to be around scholars equally humbled and excited to be part of this nascent field. The conference also provided reassurance that I am on the right track in terms of respectfully telling balanced, accurate histories about LGBTQ Hoosiers. Likewise, it revealed to me that people genuinely are curious about queer life in the Midwest. But before delving back into the pages of The Works, this midwestern historian is closing her eyes and revisiting San Francisco’s winding roads, dotted with colorful condominiums and flanked by glimmering beaches.
* IUPUI anthropology professor Paul Mullins was originally slated to moderate our session. Although Dr. Mullins was unable to make it, he was with us in spirit and scholarship.
Central Indiana abounds in the sites of small towns that have disappeared over the years but still are important to a county’s history. Many of these places only had a rural post office, a railroad stops, and a cluster of houses surrounding a mill or general store. Towns became lost for a variety of reasons. In most cases, the economic activity that supported the town stopped or shifted elsewhere. Perhaps residents abandoned a village because the settlement ceased to offer the same amenities as a nearby community. Sometimes a major transportation avenue, like a railroad, bypassed the town, effectively closing it to the outside. Other towns grew around a post office and when the post office closed, so did the town.
The area that is now called Hancock County was first settled around 1818. Andrew Evans, John Montgomery, and Montgomery McCall came to the area with their families and settled on the Blue River. Evans built the first crude log cabin in 1818 and two years later Elijah Tyner, Harmon Warrum, Joshua Wilson, and John Foster homesteaded on the Blue River. In 1822, Solomon Tyner, John Osborn, and George Penwell with their families also made their home on this historic stream. These families were in the Hancock County before it was organized.
Many early settlers arrived in the Hancock area on the Napoleon Trace, which was an old buffalo trail used by the Delaware and Shawnee. It extended through the current townships of Blue River, Jackson, and Green. The trail crossed the Blue River near Warrum’s old home and Sugar Creek near Squire Hatfield’s at a place known as Stover’s Ford. In the current Green Township, the Napoleon Trace ran close to the proposed Charleston and Milner’s Corner.
According to the Binford History of Hancock County:
When the early settlers came to the Blue River it was a dense wilderness for miles and miles; one save the rustling of the leaves, the moaning of the wind, and the angry voices of storm clouds; no music broke the calm stillness of the summers air save the buzzing of the mosquitoes, the howling of ravenous wolves, or the fierce yell of the prowling panther; no noisy hum of laboring factories; no clanking of hammers in dusty shops.
Settlers had to go as far away as the White River to mill grain at Connersville about 40 miles away. The first blacksmith in the county was in Blue River, Thomas Phillips. Elijah Tyner, on the Blue River, had the first store and orchard in the county.
Small communities in these townships were platted and set up at rural crossroads or streams. They supplied essential goods and services to the settlers like blacksmiths, grain elevators, churches, schools, lawyers, taverns, doctors, post offices, and transportation. Some communities were platted or named on maps but never existed. Others existed and failed because of competition of other nearby settlements, roads that bypassed the community, or the removal of an essential service like the post office. These are the lost towns of Hancock County.
The Knightstown and Shelbyville railroad maintained one stop in Hancock County in Blue River Township called Petersburg. It was located on the county line east of the Handy school house. Petersburg was named for Peter Binford, who erected a log cabin around the station area. The cabin of Andrew Evans, the first settler in Hancock County, was near the vicinity.
Notes on Petersburg appear in the Hancock Democrat newspaper as early as the 1880s, written by an agricultural worker known as “Plow Boy.” The paper reported:
Isaac T. Davis is visiting here. He reports things lively in Blue-River Township. Charles Nibarger is the champion jumper of this place.” In 1895, the paper also delivered the sad news that “A small daughter of Mr. Derring of Petersburg was buried on Tuesday. Services by the Rev. Beckett at the Universal church.
Silas Haskett sold a small lot at Petersburg to John Young for the purpose of running a store and an eating house, which he did for several years. Young sold it to Daniel Haskett who kept a general store at the site until after the railroad went out. The Petersburg Station was a large platform for loading across the county line to Rush County. Captain P.A. Card also ran a store in the Blue River Township after 1872 for several years.
The Knightstown and Shelbyville Railroad accommodated passengers, who could stop the train anywhere along the line by waving a handkerchief. Beginning operation in the 1840s, it crossed the southeast corner of Blue River Township, following the south valley of the Blue River. According to an earlier publication of the Hancock County Historical Society, “This steam railroad said to have been first west of the Alleghenies, ran with a crude wood-burning locomotive and two cars both open. Whenever things went well, the railroad made one trip a day between its terminals. The railroad ran until 1855, after which time, was shut down, the iron rails were salvaged for use in the Civil War.” The old grade still can be seen at some places, such as the current Tyner Pond farm.
Nashville, located in Brown Township, was originally platted by John Kennedy and David Blakely on December 30, 1834. The town was named after the ancestral home of one of the founders. Nashville was located on the Knightstown Pendleton Road, where it crosses the Sugar Creek. Stores and blacksmith shops had long been maintained at the site. Among the early business owners were Elijah Thornburgh and Allen White. By March 1847, the Board of Commissioners granted William L. Davis a license to run a tavern at Nashville. The eventually stores disappeared but the blacksmith shops outlasted the stores for several years. A church which is now a residence, and a few old houses are standing at the site.
The Hancock Democrat reported the following events:
An administrator’s sale on the property of Samuel Griffith’s of Nashville was conducted on December 23, 1870, for all his personal property of 1 horse, cattle, hogs, corn in the fields, wheat, farming tools, household furniture, &c. Terms of the sale was cash.
In February 1891, “Taylor Garriett of Nashville was in our midst last week. He is much improved in health and will be able to do justice to a square meal before long.”
John W. Smith, near Nashville, found a stray hog in November 1891. “Sometime last week I took up a stray hog which the owner can have by describing the same and paying a fair price for his care and this advertisement.”
Charlestown in Green Township was laid out on the west bank of the Sugar Creek. Charleston appeared in the County Commissioners records in connection with road construction. It was platted but likely never came into existence. Supposedly nothing was ever built at the site. In 1959 local historian Jake Hite says that longtime residents would turn up pieces of dishes, glass and other items when plowing on the Dave Rash Farm north of the old Cook Cemetery. Perhaps in the early days there were a few dwellings erected on the town site.
Berlin was platted but never constructed. Located in Center Township, Berlin was laid out by William Curry during the 1830s. It was platted to a gristmill which was running at the time. A note appeared in the Hancock Democrat in February 1885 requesting information on a lost town. Mary Bragg found a note in the county deed records with a reference to the Town of Berlin, but the exact location was not noted. “The town has 51 lots arranged on various sides of a large public square. The man that platted the town evidently believed in education as in every other square is a lot marked ‘school.’
Milner’s Corner was located in Green Township and consisted of one or two dwellings, a store and a blacksmith shop. Beginning in the 1850s, business was conducted at the site for more than one half of a century. Milner’s Corners was named after either James Milner or Henry Milner in 1850. The community was never platted. The first store was kept by David Mckensey, who was a former schoolteacher. The post office was set up in 1868 with the first postmaster being Nimrod Davis. When the post office was set up in the 1860s, it delivered to a population of forty.
The Hancock Democrat reported on the activities of Milner’s Corner frequently. In February 1881, it noted:
A new debating society is in successful operation. Champion debaters were John G. Davis and Oliver Collins; regular jurors were John Collier, Wright Marion, and Asa Carmichael.
The following year, editors reported exciting news, noting:
Among the many enterprises and improvements in our County will be the construction of a telephone from Milner’s Corner to Willow Branch for the accommodation of Drs. Troy and Ryon.
Several Civil War veterans and widows lived in Milner’s Corner, such as Jonathon Baldwin, who suffered a gunshot wound in the right thigh. The paper reported in April 1890 that he “received a monthly pension of $4. Joel Manning, gunshot wound in the face, $18 pension. Eliza A. Williamson, widow, pension of $8.”
In January 1903, the paper reported “A bobsled party of fifteen attend Church at Milner’s Corner one night last week.”
According to the Hancock County Democrat, you could get a piece of President Andrew Jackson’s “Ole Hickory Democratic Timber” at Joel Manning’s shop. Milner’s Corner was democratic enclave. Dr. Troy was a candidate for state representative.
Milner’s Corner citizens formed a Citizens Band on April 4, 1913, for a social past time and musical entertainment. Nothing is left at the crossroads except a 1920s cement block building, a house, and barn.
Leamon’s Corner, named for post office operator Cyrus Leamon, was in Jackson Township. It housed a little store, blacksmith shop, and sawmill. The Missionary Baptist Church was set up in 1878 and Leamon’s Corner Center Friends was erected the following year.
After the post office closed in 1881, George Tague installed a post office in a little grocery he owned the post office, known as Binwood, distributed mail until the late 1880s. The blacksmith shop in Leamon’s Corner was run by Bud Phillips’s son of Thomas Phillips in 1906. Leamon’s Corner Ball Club defeated the Shamrock’s of Greenfield that same year. The Leamon’s Corner Telephone Company was incorporated April 1, 1902, with $140 in capital.
The Hancock County Democrat on July 29, 1879, reported on entertainment provided by Leamon’s Corner’s Literary Society, noting:
The entertainment promises to be the best ever given in the County, consisting of declarations, orations, poems, addresses, comic recitations, songs, plays and &c. Let every lover of education attend. There will be good music and ample refreshments. The county teachers are all invited to attend.
The first public school in Jackson Township was at Leamon’s Corner, known as District 4. Seats were cut from slabs of wood and rubbed as smooth as possible. Wooden legs were bored into the seats. Water came from a nearby stream and all the students drank from the same bucket. Teachers employed corporeal punishment, using a boot jack and some switches. Holes and pins in the wall served as hat and coat rack.
These lost towns of Hancock County like other counties are important to the study of the community and local history. Small towns changed gradually before WW I, some disappeared, and some never got started. Author Thomas Schlereth gives interesting insight and definition into the study of these communities, local history, and possibly lost towns, which he labels “landscape history.” As a matter of explanation, Schlereth defines archaeology as the work of researchers “who usually excavated the material remains of past cultures and through such evidence, attempt to recreate the history of a community from the earliest past.” Schlereth goes to tell us:
Above ground archaeologists, unlike their below ground colleagues, dig into the past but usually on the surface; they examine what they find before it is buried by time and chance. Above ground archaeologists can be called landscape historians. Landscape historians are intent at looking at objects, be they pot chards or service stations with an intense symptomatic and precise scrutiny that ultimately yields specific cultural information from single artifacts as well as braided cultural patterns.
But like tree rings, the evidence of the past comes easily enough to hand but we need to see it, read it and explain it before it can be used to further tell the story of the lost towns of Hancock County.
* Mark Sullivan also contributed to this post. He is a native of Schoharie, New York. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major from the US Army in 2009, having served for 25 years, and currently works as a Department of the Army Civilian at the Finance Center on Fort Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a frequent contributor to the Log Chain, the historical magazine of the Hancock County Historical Society.
Richman History of Hancock County
Binford History of Hancock County
Glimpses of the Past, Hancock County Historical Society
Interview John Milburn Hancock County GIS Coordinator
Interview Tom Vanduyn Upper White River Archaeological Association
Interview Michael Kester, President of the Hancock County Historical Society
Interview Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian
Interview Steve Barnett, Marion County Historian
Graphics by Mark Sullivan
 It was located on the northeast corner of the southwest corner of section 33, township 15, range 8.
 The store was about a half mile west of the southeast corner of the Blue River Township.
 The red barn on the NW Corner of 900N was built in the 1840’s. Some of the beams in the barn were marked with the date 07-1849 and signed by Henry Milner in red paint. The barn has had a section added to the original structure. Some of the cross beams in the barn are hewed from standing timber. These beams are marked from timber working tools of the period. There are also racks to hang harnesses and collars from the beams. The barn is now protected with sheet metal covering and concrete pillars.
 Other storekeepers included John Dawson, Henry Milner, Nimrod Davis, Joseph DeCamp, Caldwell & Keller, William and Joseph Bills, S. A. Troy, Tague & Brother, and W. Vanzant. Merchants included David McKinsey, Nimrod Davis, Charles H. Troy, Charles Albea, Sanford Cable, Frank Pritchard, who also conducted a store. Milner’s Corner had its blacksmith Shops and sawmills. Cyrus Manning and his son conducted a blacksmith shop at the site. Vandyke was another blacksmith. Wood workers include Josiah Long and Joel. Manning. There was a steam sawmill owned by L. Tucker. It had a capacity of five thousand feet per day.
 Among the physicians who were located there including D.H. Myers, George Williams, Charles Pratt, and S.A.Troy. Dr. Troy served the community for several years.
 Noble H. Troy was the manager; Aubery Thomas, director; Ralph Fisk, C.H. Jackson, Roy Hassler and Glen Johns, cornetists; Robert Troy and James Barnard, baritones; Dale Troy and Luther Barnard, trombones, Lon Godby alto; Chester Alford tenor; Jess Hayes, tuba; Edward Jones and Robert Dorman, drummers.
 On June 15, 1905, a meeting was held near Leamon’s Corner. Evangelist John Hatfield and Rev. Williamson presiding. In July 1905 there was a holiness meeting at Leamon’s Corner with the Rev. Worth presiding.
Immigrants have long helped to create a healthier U.S. economy. The work of respected historians and economists has repeatedly dispelled the xenophobic myth that immigrants “steal American jobs.” Instead, immigrants (both those who arrive through documented and undocumented venues) increase the earning potential for all Americans. Pia Orrenius, Vice President and Senior Economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and Fellow at the John Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University, explains:
Immigration fuels the economy. When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives . . . In addition to the immigration surplus, immigrants grease the wheels of the labor market by flowing into industries and areas where there is a relative need for workers — where bottlenecks or shortages might otherwise damp growth. 
This was especially true of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Not only did they help stimulate the United States economy, but they were willing to move into areas like rural Indiana where farmers needed extra help at harvest time. And several Indiana businesses can attribute their success during the lean years of the Great Depression and the labor shortages of the Second World War to the contributions of workers of Mexican origin. 
Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., just outside the town of St. Joe in DeKalb County has become a successful company and nationally recognized brand over their last century of operations. In addition to the hard work, vision, and savvy of its founders, Ralph and Anne Sechler, the company attributes much of its success to the workers who helped them meet increasing demand over the years. Since the 1940s, many of these laborers have come from Mexico or have had Mexican ancestry. But within that group, there is much more diversity than newspapers and other sources have recognized. As immigration continues to diversify today, this nuance is worth understanding better. 
Some of these workers were U.S. citizens whose parents were born in Mexico, such as Carmen (Morales) Ortiz, who was born in Kansas. Some were born in Mexico and became U.S. citizens through naturalization, including Carmen’s husband Floyd Ortiz, who was a U.S. citizen for decades before starting at Sechler’s. Others, including Aurelio Rivera, were Mexican citizens who came to Indiana at the behest of the U.S. government via the Bracero Program to help meet increased wartime food production demands. And still others, such as Rosalio and Paula Luna, were migrant workers, travelling with the harvests through the Midwest, sometimes returning to Mexico to help family there. Despite their varied backgrounds, contemporary sources, especially newspapers, often treated these individuals as a monolith. Thus, it can be difficult to record an accurate history of workers of Mexican origin and their experiences in Indiana. An exploration of this Hoosier pickle company, however, provides a glimpse into workers lives in a way that adds richness to the story of our state.
This post, the first of two, will look at the experiences of two U.S. citizens of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Carmen and Floyd Ortiz. Notably, this study suffers from a lack of sources created by the Ortizes themselves. To address this hole in the record, I have juxtaposed newspapers, government records, contextual sources, and family and corporate histories. In doing so, this post also serves as a lesson in the importance of comparing sources created from different perspectives and how that creates more accurate history. This balance is especially important in telling the history of marginalized groups. Personal stories of the Ortizes and vital records, such as census and immigration papers, help to counter biased newspaper accounts given by Indiana newspapers. The rhetoric of these newspapers also provides insight into Hoosier opinions on immigration and how perspectives about Mexican immigrants changed depending on external forces such as the Great Depression and WWII. And finally, this concentrated study reinforces the fact that many immigrants arrived here because Hoosier farmers and the U.S. government asked them to, establishing the migration patterns that continue to shape the state and nation. The stories of the workers and their families at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., are part of the story of Indiana and a diversifying United States. Additionally, this story of how Sechlers got started, how the Ortizes arrived at Sechler’s Pickeles, and how these families formed a relationship that would last for generations is in interesting look into the lesser-explored agricultural history of the state.
Ralph E. Sechler was born in 1894 in St. Joe, DeKalb County. He attended St. Joe and then Butler High School, graduating circa 1912. He taught at a local high school for three years and worked summers at a “pickle receiving and salting station in St. Joe” ran by the D.M. Sears Company of Fort Wayne. In 1915, he entered Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute where he thrived. He played basketball, managed the track team, and served as secretary of the Daedalian Literary Society through which he participated in debates and delivered speeches. 
When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Ralph registered with the U.S. Army. When his name came up for service, he was one of only eighteen (out of 781 names) who did not attempt to claim an exemption. Before he left home for the war, he married Anna Florence Martindale, a Greenfield native two years his senior. 
Anna was just as sharp as Ralph and worked as a teacher at Seymour High School during her new husband’s absence. In September 1917, Ralph left for Camp Taylor in Louisville. His superiors quickly noticed his intelligence and aptitude for teaching. In October, the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that “Ralph Sechler, another St. Joe boy, is still at Camp Taylor, engaged four nights in the week teaching night school for the benefit of Uncle Sam’s boys who have not learned to read and write.”  He was commissioned Second Lieutenant but did not serve overseas because of the Army’s need for competent teachers at the officer’s training camp.
After his discharge from the Army in 1919, he went back to work for the D.M. Sears Company and was soon put in charge of approximately a dozen “receiving stations,” where farmers brought their produce to be processed. Between 1920 and 1923, he transitioned from managing these stations to leasing them and securing his own contracts with local cucumber growers. Soon Ralph and Anne Sechler had established their own pickle processing business at their home and farm just north of St. Joe. By 1925, local grocery stores carried “St. Joe Valley” pickles and by 1930, they were popular in local restaurants as well. 
The Sechlers employed creative strategies to stay afloat during the Great Depression. As one would expect, they worked with local cucumber growers, processing this produce into pickles. But they also worked with Chicago processors, purchasing goods to resell to Hoosier grocery stores and restaurants, and thus besting other businesses with the variety they could offer. They also brought barrels of pickles to homebound locals who would jar the goods. These neighbors worked for low wages, but also received income they would otherwise have not been able to access. 
Around 1933, Ralph and Anne turned their barn into a pickle processing factory and a driver began making deliveries to businesses in a new truck marked “St. Joe Valley Pickles.” In 1937, the Sechlers made major improvements to the processing facility, hooking up a steam engine to the threshing machines and pickling tanks and increasing production. Early on a late October morning in 1937, the Sechlers’ pickle processing center, which they had built in their barn, burned down. By the following Monday, workers were already building a new, larger facility. This larger facility helped the company grow; the following year, the company also purchased more delivery trucks. 
Over the following decade, Sechler’s added more varieties of products. One Indiana grocery store advertised in 1944: “St. Joe Valley sweet pickles, raisin crispies, sweet relish, sweet chips, sweet mixed dills, sweet orange marmalade, jellies, Apple butter, strained honey.” Thus, by the time the U.S. increased agricultural production for the war effort and the Bracero Program was in full swing, Sechler’s Pickles was a thriving Indiana business employing a number of local growers, packers, and delivery drivers and serving stores and restaurants across the state. 
The Ortiz Family
Floyd Ortiz was born circa 1903 to John and Isabelle Gutierez-Ortiz in Salamanca in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.  While today, Salamanca is a thriving manufacturing city with a renowned university, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the area was not economically or politically stable. President Porfirio Díaz made some economic improvements, increasing the mining output of the region, but it was mainly already wealthy people who benefited. His tax breaks for the rich and “unwillingness to recognize minority rights” of the indigenous people of the region led to a revolt against the administration in 1910.  In 1911, a coalition led by Francisco Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza ousted President Díaz and replaced him with Francisco Madero. However, battles between federal and rebel factions continued for years, destabilizing the region and making it hard for average citizens to make a living. Floyd Ortiz, like many others from Guanajuato, likely came to the United States as “displaced refugees fleeing the political upheaval and violence” of the 1910 revolution.
In 1919, Floyd Ortiz arrived in the United States at Laredo, Texas, where he received documentation for “lawful entry” into the country. He was just 16 years old.  Within four years, in 1923, Ortiz became a naturalized U.S. citizen.  Just one year later, the U.S. shut the door to refugees with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act), the result of xenophobic ideas and no small amount of lobbying by the Ku Klux Klan. And while Mexican immigration was exempted from this exclusionary immigration act – for reasons we’ll examine further in part two – Mexican immigrants were not exempt from prejudices of pseudoscientific thinking influenced by eugenics and general racism and bigotry. They often endured low wages, poor living conditions, and hard labor to make a life in the United States. 
Carmen Morales was born circa 1908 in Kansas to parents of Mexican origin. Throughout her life, newspapers and even official government sources recorded her as “Mexican,” despite the fact that she was a native born U.S. citizen. We don’t know much about her family’s path to Indiana, but by the mid-1920s Carmen was “employed in beet work” in central Indiana and her mother and step father were living in northwest Indiana.  Perhaps she met Floyd Ortiz through work because he was also working the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties. Or perhaps they met through family, friends, or church events, as later records show they were both devout Catholics.
In 1927, Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, got married at the county clerk’s office in Tipton, Indiana. We’re lucky to have local newspaper coverage to supply some details of the day. However, the reporter for the Tipton Daily Tribune treated the event not as a wedding between two U.S. citizens living in Indiana but as an oddity, exaggerating the “foreignness” of the couple. The newspaper’s account of this “out of the ordinary” wedding focused on the Mexican heritage of the couple and their parents. 
The Tipton Daily Tribune called Floyd a “native born Mexican” and described Carmen as “full blooded Mexican, but who was born in the state of Kansas.” In other words, while Carmen was a United States citizen, the newspaper reporter still considered her Mexican. Despite Floyd’s almost ten years in the United States and his 1923 naturalization, and despite Carmen’s status as a native-born U.S. citizen, the 1927 newspaper article could only see their race and that construct made them Mexican and not American. The reporter further underscored the couple’s “foreignness” by detailing that their parents were both from Mexico. While both sets of parents were indeed born in Mexico, they were also Hoosiers by this point. The groom’s parents lived in Geneva, Indiana, and the bride’s mother and stepfather lived in Francisville, Indiana. Further research would be needed to determine if the parents were naturalized citizens, but it is likely they had also been in the United States for some time considering Carmen’s stepfather went by “John” as opposed to a “Juan” or another Spanish name. Without considering the citizenship information offered by the census and immigration agencies, one would come away from reading the newspaper article believing that two “Mexicans Married” as opposed to two U.S. citizens with families of Mexican origin. This theme of juxtaposing sources will continue to be important as we dig deeper into the story of workers of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. 
Why is it important to clarify that Floyd and Carmen are U.S. citizens? Because at the time, and even today, many treat all workers of Mexican origin as a monolith, usually assuming that they are Mexican citizens and migrant workers coming to the U.S. to make money at harvest time and then return to Mexico. This is, in fact, an assumption that allowed Mexico to avoid immigration restrictions that impacted other groups in the 1920s. However, Mexican immigrants and migrants of Mexican origin are not a monolithic group; there are a range of reasons people left Mexico and either returned home or stayed in the United States to brave the road to citizenship. Every Hoosier has their own family immigration story, creating a rich and diverse state history. Families of Mexican origin are not different. The array of migration experiences is as diverse as Hoosiers of Potawatomi, German, African, or Serbian heritage.
The Ortiz Family at Sechler’s Pickles
After Floyd and Carmen worked the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties and got married in Adams County, Indiana, they moved to Paulding County, Ohio. The 1930 census listed Floyd as a “beet worker” here as well, while listing Carmen’s occupation as “none,” likely because she had recently given birth to their first daughter, Mary. Their family grew quickly and by 1940, the census reported that Floyd and Carmen were the parents of eight children. Times must have been very difficult; though the census reported that both Floyd and Carmen were beet workers, Floyd had been out of work for unknown reasons for thirty weeks. 
By 1944, however, Floyd was at work at the Paulding Sugar Beet Co. The company contacted Sechler’s Pickles about growing and processing beets for them and offered to send “a real good family,” as well as housing for them, in exchange for Sechler’s help with production. The Ortizes and the Sechlers accepted the arrangement. By this point, Floyd and Carmen had fourteen children and they moved the family to DeKalb County. Floyd and several of the children went to work for Sechler’s. The younger children worked in the field picking produce and then, after they turned sixteen, they worked in the processing factory. 
We don’t know too much about their life in DeKalb County except that they were able to take care of their family and save money, as eventually they purchased their own 80-acre farm just east of St. Joe on the Ohio border. Frank Sechler, son of Ralph and manager of the company by this point, speculated that the Ortizes picked the location because of it’s proximity to their church. Frank recalled Floyd’s devout faith:
I seldom walked up to Floyd in the field but what he didn’t reach in his pocket and pull out a stone he had just found, which would have a figure of Christ, a cross, or some other religious item on it. Sometimes I had a little trouble discerning it, but he would convince me!!! 
By the 1960s, Floyd and Carmen Ortiz were living in Hicksville, Ohio where Floyd died in 1973. Several family members, including daughter Dorothy Chew, daughter-in-law Betty Ortiz, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren continued the Ortiz family connection with Sechler’s, working in the fields and factory.  In fact, the Ortiz family helped to fund the state historical marker for Sechler’s Pickles that will be installed this fall 2022. The text will read:
Ralph and Anne Sechler established Sechler’s Pickles (first named St. Joe Valley) on their homestead here in the 1920s. Despite the Great Depression, they grew the business, selling many varieties of pickles to local restaurants and building a larger processing facility in 1937. By the early 1950s, grocery stores across Indiana and Ohio carried Sechler’s Pickles.
Workers of Mexican origin, including Braceros who arrived in the 1940s to aid the U.S. war effort, were essential to the Sechlers’ success. Several of these families remained with the company for decades. A network of salesmen, mail orders, church fundraisers, and partnerships with well-known companies made Sechler’s Pickles a respected and nationally recognized brand. 
In addition to the Ortizes, Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. also employed Mexican migrant workers and dozens of Braceros. The experiences of workers who were Mexican citizens in Indiana were much different than that of the Ortiz family’s experiences as U.S. citizens. In Part Two of this post, we’ll examine the work and lives of Mexican migrant and Bracero workers at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., their reception by their Hoosier neighbors, and how they were portrayed in Indiana newspapers. Check back for:
“Rancho Allegre:” Experiences of Bracero, Migrant, and U.S. Workers of Mexican Origin at Sechler’s Pickles Inc. Part Two.
 Pia Orrenius, “Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs,” The Catalyst, Spring 2016, Issue 2, George W. Bush Institute, https://www.bushcenter.org/catalyst/north-american-century/benefits-of-immigration-outweigh-costs.html.
 Ibid.; Jorge Durand, Douglas S. Massey, and Emilio A. Parrado, “The New Era of Mexican Migration to the United States,” Rethinking History and the Nation State: Mexico and the United States, A Special Issue of the Journal of American History 86, No. 2 (September 1999): 518-536, accessed Organization of American Historians.
 Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file. According to the corporate history written by founder Ralph Sechler’s son Frank Sechler, “Hispanics were very much a part of our operations, both in the field and in the plant.” This source is consulted throughout the post and compared with the other sources listed in the notes below.
 Ralph E. Sechler, Medical Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, December 12, 1962, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Roll 19, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Grave of Ralph E. Sechler [photograph], Riverside Cemetery, Saint Joe, DeKalb County, Indiana, accessed Find-A-Grave; Butler High School Yearbook, 1912, p. 16, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Juniors and Sophs Wine in Normal Series,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 13, 1915, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles; Edgar L. Morphet, “Freshies Finish Last,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], December 2, 1915, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles; Indiana State Normal School, Program of Commencement Week, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1916, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com; “Literary Society Meets,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], October 4, 1916, 12, Hoosier State Chronicles; “State Normal Presents Baseball Players with Letters,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute}, June 11, 1917, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.
 “Ralph Sechler,” Registration Card, DeKalb County, Indiana, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “DeKalb County Fails to Get Quota of Eighty-Eight,” Fort Wayne News, August 9, 1917, 1; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 14, 1917, 11.
 “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Daily News, September 20, 1917, 11; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 29, 1917, 3; “Will Visit Camp Taylor,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 26, 1918, 11; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, September 12, 1918, 3; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, June 10, 1919, 8.
 “St. Joe News,” March 11, 1920, newspaper clipping, in Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, 3, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file; Fort Wayne City and Allen County Directory, 1922 (Fort Wayne: R. L. Polk & Co. Publishers), 924, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Local and General,” Waterloo Press (DeKalb Co.), August 30, 1923, 5; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, July 31, 1925, 30; Garrett Clipper, October 4, 1926, 7; Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Concord, De Kalb, Indiana; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0003, FHL microfilm: 2340320, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, May 23, 1930, 36; Sechler, 4.
 Sechler, 10-11.
 “Thousands See Great Parade at County Fair,” Garrett Clipper, October 8, 1934, 2; “Pickle Plant at St. Joe Consumed,” Waterloo Press, October 21, 1937, 1; “Personal,” Garrett Clipper, November 1, 1937, 2; Sechler, 11-12.
 Advertisement, Daily Reporter (Greenfield), May 12, 1944, 5.
 Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 Victor Garcia and Laura Gonzalez Martinez, “Guanajuatense and Other Mexican Immigrants in the United States: New Communities in Non-Metropolitan and Agricultural Regions,” JSRI Research Report #47, Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1999, accessed https://jsri.msu.edu/upload/working-papers/wp47.pdf.
 Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 Jill Weiss Simins, “Braceros in the Corn Belt Part Two: Ambassadors of Goodwill,” Indiana History Blog, March 13, 2019, https://blog.history.in.gov/braceros-in-the-corn-belt-part-two/.
 Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Mexicans Married,” Tipton Daily Tribune, December 28, 1927, 6.
 Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 Ibid; Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, Blackcreek Township, Mercer County, Ohio, Page: 11A, Enumeration District: 54-1, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 Sechler, 26.
 “Former Decatur Resident Dies,” Decatur Daily Democrat, October 8, 1973, 1.
 Learn more about the Indiana Historical Bureau and the state historical marker program: in.gov/history.