“Nestled in the wooded hills of southern Indiana, lies a land of fantasy. . . where it’s Christmas every day.”
Indiana has its fair share of uniquely named towns – Gnaw Bone, Popcorn, Pinhook, Needmore, and Pumpkin Center to name a few. But perhaps the most well-known idiosyncratic place name is Santa Claus in Spencer County, Indiana.
So, how did we get this intriguing sobriquet? Before we get there, we should cover some of the history of the area. The Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware tribes first stewarded the land that later became Spencer County. At the turn of the 19th century, many of these tribes joined Tecumseh’s confederation to oppose white encroachment. However, both U.S. policy and the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1803 and the Treaty of Vincennes in 1804 opened the land to white settlement. Crossing over from Kentucky, white settlers established permanent homes by 1810 in the Indiana territory near Rockport on the Ohio River, 17 miles southwest of modern-day Santa Claus. But by the mid-nineteenth century when settlers decided to incorporate their new town, they did not originally pay such homage to the Christmas holiday.
As with many place names, the origin of the name Santa Claus is mostly the stuff of legend. The Indiana State University Folklore Archive has preserved three versions of the story behind the name Santa Claus. Below is one example:
Several families settled in the area and decided that they should have a name for their community. They decided on Santa Fe. They applied for a post office to make it official. On Christmas of 1855, everyone was greatly excited at the thought of going to their own brand new post office for their Christmas cards and gifts instead of having to ride to Dale. Unfortunately, a large white envelope with important seals arrived the day before Christmas to reveal that a town in Indiana already was named Santa Fe. Determined to get their post office just as quickly as possible, the citizens of Santa Fe decided to discuss the matter that very night, Christmas Eve. While they were signing, the whole world outdoors became filled with an intense, blinding light, and a little boy came rushing in. ‘The Star, the Christmas star is falling! Everyone rushed out just in time to see a flaming mass shooting down from the heavens and crash into a low distant hill. They considered it an omen of good fortune. Returning to the meeting, it seemed to most natural thing for all the folk to agree that the name Santa Fe should be changed to Santa Claus.
This account is certainly embellished to some extent, seeing as the “Christmas Star” (which appears in the sky every twenty years when Jupiter and Saturn align in the winter sky) made its last appearance in 2020 and did not, in fact, fall from the sky in 1855. However, it gives us an idea of why Santa Claus citizens themselves believe to be their origin story.
However it happened, the townsfolk eventually decided on Santa Claus as a replacement name, and the Santa Claus post office was officially established on May 21, 1856.
For years, however, the strangely named town was just that – a town with a strange name. It wasn’t until Santa Claus Postmaster James Martin began answering letters written to Saint Nick in the early 20th century that the town began truly embracing its merry moniker. It’s unclear when or why letters to the man at the North Pole began arriving at the Santa Claus, Indiana post office, but in 1914 Martin began writing back, and the tradition only grew from there.
Mail clerks around the country began rerouting letters simply addressed “Santa Claus” to the Indiana town for Martin to handle. Parents began writing notes with enclosed letters or packages to be stamped with the Santa Claus postmark and sent back, making the letters and gifts under the tree on Christmas morning that much more authentic.
By 1928, Martin and his clerks were, not unlike Santa and his elves, handling thousands of letters every holiday season and were garnering enough attention to catch the eye of Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Before Ripley’s was an after school tv show and before it was a coffee table book you bought at your school’s annual Scholastic Book Fair, it was a syndicated newspaper panel that shared interesting tidbits and oddities from around the world. And on January 7, 1930, the oddity in question was none other than Santa Claus, Indiana.
It was a brief mention, but it was enough. The next Christmas, Martin reported that the number of parcels and letters coming through his post office had grown exponentially, adding:
I guess my name ought to be Santa Claus, because I have to pay out of my own pocket for handling all this mail. I’ve hired six clerks to help out and I recon it’s going to cost $200. But it advertises the town and besides lots of folks from all around come out to the store to see us sending out the mail.
With great fame comes great scrutiny, or at least it did in this case. By 1931, the Associated Press reported that officials in Washington were considering changing the name of the town as the stress put on the postal system during the holiday season was becoming too much to handle. Christmas lovers across the country bemoaned the potential loss, but none so loudly as the citizens of Santa Claus, who contacted their U.S. Senator James Watson and U.S. Representative John Boehne, of Indiana.
Watson and Boehne got to work for their constituents. Representative Boehne notified the USPS that the entire Indiana delegation would oppose the name change if it were to go forward. Senator Watson took a more direct route and went straight to Postmaster General Walter Brown to assure him that, “The people won’t want it changed. “ “The name must not be changed nor the office abolished.”
In the end, of course, the citizens were able to preserve their beloved town’s name, and the tradition continued to grow.
Entrepreneurs, hoping to cash in on the Christmas spirit, began to take notice of the small town. In 1935, Vincennes speculator Milt Harris founded the business called Santa Claus of Santa Claus, Incorporated. Harris erected Santa’s Candy Castle, the first tourist attraction in town. Built to look like a fairy castle and filled with candy from project sponsor Curtiss Candy Company, the Candy Castle was the centerpiece of what Harris dubbed Santa Claus Town, a little holiday village of sorts made up of his business ventures. The castle would eventually be joined by Santa’s Workshop and a toy village.
Across town, a different, similarly named business, Santa Claus, Incorporated, brainchild of Chicago businessman Carl Barrett, built another Yuletide monument, a 22-foot tall statue of Santa Claus purportedly made of solid granite. This colossal Kris Kringle was the start of a second Christmas themed landmark, this one called Santa Claus Park. All of this in a town of fewer than 100 people.
Both attractions were dedicated during the Christmas season of 1935, but all the holiday spirit in the world wasn’t enough to keep the peace between Harris and Barrett.
By 1935, the town of Santa Claus, Indiana was home to two organizations – Santa Claus, Incorporated, owned by Carl Barrett, and Santa Claus of Santa Claus, Incorporated, owned by Milt Harris. Barrett and Santa Claus, Incorporated were developing Santa Claus Park, which featured the 22-foot Santa Claus statue. Harris and his company were developing Santa Claus Town, featuring Santa’s Candy Castle. Barrett filed suit against Harris, alleging that the latter had no right to use a name so similar to its own. Meanwhile, Harris filed suit against Barrett because Barrett had bought and was building Santa Claus Park on land that had been leased to Harris by the previous owner.
A judge put an injunction on Santa Claus Park, meaning Barrett could not move forward with development. Eventually, this tongue twister of a case went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled in 1940 that both companies could keep using their names and overturned the injunction, meaning that the plans for Santa Claus Park could move forward, regardless of Harris’s lease.
However, the protracted legal battle, combined with wartime rationing, which impacted tourism due to gasoline and tire shortages, took a toll on both attractions. By 1943, cracks ran through the base of the giant Santa Statue and the Candy Castle had closed its doors.
With the end of the war came new opportunities. In 1946, retired Evansville industrialist and father of nine, Louis Koch, opened Santa Claus Land after being disappointed that the town had little to offer visiting children hoping to catch a glimpse of the jolly man in the red suit. This theme park, reportedly the first amusement park in the world with a specific theme, included a toy shop, toy displays, a restaurant, themed rides and, of course, Saint Nicholas.
This was no run of the mill Santa Claus, though. Jim Yellig would become, according to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, “one of the most beloved and legendary Santas of all time.” Yellig had donned the red and white suit at the Candy Castle and volunteered to answer letters to Santa for years before becoming the resident Santa at the new park, a position which he held for 38 years. During his tenure as Saint Nick, Yellig heard the Christmas wishes of over one million children.
Throughout “Santa Jim’s” tenure, Santa Claus Land continued to grow, thanks in large part to Louis Koch’s son, Bill Koch, who took over operation of the park soon after its founding. By 1957, the park offered a “miniature circus,” a wax museum, Santa’s Deer Farm, and an outdoor amphitheater. Live entertainment shows, such as a water ski show, started and in the early 1970s rides such as Dasher’s Seahorses, Comet’s Rockets, Blitzen’s Airplanes, and Prancer’s Merry-Go-Round were added. And in 1984, the Koch family expanded from a strictly Christmas-themed park to include Halloween and Fourth of July sections and changed its name to Holiday World. Still in operation today as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, the theme park, which features what are considered some of the best wooden roller coasters in the world, welcomes over 1 million people per year.
Today, the town of Santa Claus is more “Christmas-y” than ever. Many of its 2,400 residents live in Christmas Lake Village or Holiday Village on streets with names like Poinsettia Drive, Candy Cane Lane, or Evergreen Plaza. The Candy Castle was renovated and reopened in 2006 and is known for its wide selection of cocoas and its Frozen Hot Chocolate. Carl Barrett’s 22-foot Santa Statue was restored by Holiday World in 2011 and now welcomes tourists from all over the world. Visitors to Holiday World can stay at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Park or Santa’s Lodge. Every Christmas season, the small town comes alive with festivals, parades, and even Christmas fireworks. And, of course, dedicated volunteers still answer children’s letters to Santa, even if they sound a little different than they used to.
*This post was written by IUPUI Public History graduate student Molly Hollcraft.
Often, stories and memories play an important part in understanding history. They offer a human element that helps connect people to one another. W. Todd Groce wrote in an article for History News that “Memory is deeply emotional,” and when people remember something they do so because they have a connection to it. According to historian David Thelen, memory “can illuminate how individuals, ethnic groups, political parties, and cultures shape and reshape their identities.” In 2009, at the age of 98, Black activist Pearl Cannon Bassett gave an interview to a student at the University of Southern Indiana. In the interview, she recounted events related to civil rights and desegregation that she witnessed while living in Marion, Indiana. Bassett’s memories of the discrimination and Civil Rights Movement in Grant County illuminate how Black citizens in Marion shaped their identity.
Peal Bassett and Civil Rights
Pearl Elizabeth Cannon Bassett was born April 28, 1911, in Marion, Indiana. Aside from the years she spent in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois, Pearl Bassett, also known to many as “Ms. Pearl,” spent her life in Marion. In her oral history interview, Bassett briefly talked about her early education and her family. She recalled how her teacher lowered her grade because it was “too high.” While she was not living in Marion at the time, she recalled the impact the 1930 Marion lynching had on the local Black community. As a 19-year-old, she would have been about the same age as victims Tom Shipp and Abe Smith. In August, the young men had been jailed for the murder of Claude Deeter and rape of Mary Ball. A white mob ripped Shipp and Smith from their cells, brutally beat them, and lynched them near the Marion courthouse. Fearing for her safety, Bassett’s family told her that she should not return home yet. When the National Guard was called into action in Marion not long after the lynching, some of the soldiers were standing in her family’s yard. In remembering the lynching, she said “that was terrible because we had a lot of discrimination.” Shortly after the tragedy, she became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Through organizations like the NAACP, Bassett became an active member in the Marion community and helped fight discrimination and segregation. Her name appeared frequently in the African American newspaper TheIndianapolis Recorder for these efforts. Her work included how helping the Red Cross reach its quota for war relief, serving as chairman for the war service commission, and serving as a board member for the Carver Community Center. In her interview, Bassett talked about how she helped organize the NAACP Auxiliary, Women in NAACP, and the Urban Gild, all of which would play a role in desegregation efforts throughout the city.
She also described the discrimination that Black citizens in Marion faced because of segregated of swimming pools, such as Matter Park. Before its 1954 integration, African Americans had to travel to Anderson to swim. When they did get to swim in the Marion pools they would be drained and refilled afterwards. While it is unclear how directly Bassett was involved in these efforts, it is certainly possible as she was a member of the Marion Urban League, one of the two civil rights organizations that worked to desegregate the swimming pool.
We do know that she participated in anti-discrimination efforts through civil disobedience, as she stated: “When we could not go into the restaurant and eat. . . we formed a committee, and we just read the civil rights law, which has always been right. . . . And if they didn’t open up the place, when they were charged $100 a person in their restaurant. So they opened it up the day we walked in there.”
She also joined an NAACP march in 1969, recalling “We first had the walk from 26th Street to the courthouse for discrimination and equal opportunities for people and jobs. And it was a wonderful thing.” The Ku Klux Klan tried unsuccessfully to confront them at the courthouse, but were told by the city that “they would need a permit and that they [the KKK] would have to take their hoods off.” This was not the only experience that Pearl Bassett had with the Klan. While president of one of the many organizations she was involved in, she received a call from the Klan members. She said, “Many a time they told me they were coming out and burn up my house.”
While in the NAACP, The Indianapolis Recorder reported in the 1960s that Bassett was elected secretary and chaplain for the Marion branch. Bassett was also the President of Women and “wore her tiara as the state queen of the NAACP” during a visit to Kokomo in 1982. She was also the first Black secretary of the Democratic Committee in Grant County. Pearl Bassett also received numerous awards from the NAACP and The Fort Wayne Frost Illustrated reported in 2004 that she received the Region Three Rosa Parks Women of the Year award for her work in civil rights. The Mayor of Marion made a Proclamation for Pearl Bassett Day and gave her a key to the city. In June 2021, Pearl Bassett passed away at the age of 110. Her first-hand accounts help humanize tragic events and shape the identity of Black citizens in Grant County. Her documented memories are invaluable because traditional media often mischaracterized or neglected to record minority history.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, expeditions from multiple nations took on one of the most dangerous, treacherous parts of the globe: the north and south poles. The most well-known example is Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. His expedition to Antarctica in 1915 became world-famous for his actions to save all 22 men of his crew from extreme cold for 105 days. Biographies of this journey became best-sellers, inspiring many on-screen adaptations, most notably 2002’s Shackleton, starring Kenneth Branagh. However, Shackleton wasn’t the only artic explorer to receive accolades for his endurance and bravery. Julius Frederick, Indiana resident and survivor of the Lady Franklin Bay expedition, also endured harsh temperatures, food shortages, and crew disruptions while stranded in the arctic.
According to the Indianapolis News, Frederick was born in Dayton, Ohio on July 21, 1852. He spent most of his early years in St. Mary’s, Ohio before his mother died when he was thirteen. Without much keeping him in Ohio, Frederick moved to Chicago, taking odd jobs as a messenger boy and railroad worker before he enlisted in the US army in 1876. For many years, Frederick was a soldier in military campaigns against Native Americans, fighting the Sioux and Nez Pierce. Specifically, he fought in the battle of Muddy Creek against the Sioux on May 7, 1877.
By 1879, Frederick was interested in a different course and signed up to join the Howgate expedition to the North Pole. However, the unstable condition of the ship stranded Frederick in Montana for another two years. Finally, in 1881, Frederick joined the Lady Franklin Bay expedition led by Adolphus Greely, a then-First Lieutenant of the Army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment. Lady Franklin Bay is by Ellesmere Island, Nanavut, Canada, making it one of the most northern spots on the globe to be explored. The expedition’s task, in Frederick’s words, was to “take scientific observations within the Arctic Circle.” This came in the form of weather recording devices and other techniques used to understand the intense climate of the arctic region. In August of 1881, the 21 person crew set course on the ship Proteus, a “steam whaler” that carried them from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Lady Franklin Bay. As historian Glenn Stein noted, Frederick’s “nickname among his Arctic comrades was “Shorty” because of his five-foot, two-inch stature” and he “did little hunting during the LFBE, but performed the various duties of a cook, steam-launch engineer, and shoemaker.”
Once they arrived at Lady Franklin Bay, Greely and his team began their months-long investigation of the region, complete with recordings of the climate and natives. This was all in accordance with a multinational project called the International Polar Year that, according to historian C. J. Taylor, sought to establish “14 research stations” to “study the geophysics and geodesy of the polar region.” Among these stations, they resided at Fort Conger, an outpost a few miles inland from the bay. During these investigations, Sergeants David Brainard and James Lockwood confirmed the “farthest north” record up to that time. Things were going well until the supply ship Neptune failed to reach Lady Franklin Bay and returned to the United States. With its failure went the expedition’s resupply of food and other necessities. Subsequently, the expedition went from a mission of knowledge to one of survival.
Greely and his men began to face intense supply shortages which ravaged the crew, leading many to die from the lack of food and the harsh temperatures. A first rescue attempt in 1883 had failed, when the ship Proteus had been sunk by ice collisions, permanently shifting the crew southward from Fort Conger. It was in this dire situation that Julius Frederick endured his most painful experience of the expedition. In April of 1884, only a few months before the party was rescued, Frederick and Sergeant George W. Rice trekked to Cape Isabella, Baird Inlet, “to attempt the recovery of the hundred pounds of English beef which had been abandoned in November, 1883.” As a profile in Scribner’s magazine wrote, Frederick and Rice risked “their lives at almost every step of the way . . . only to find, after hours of searching among the floes, that their triumph was a barren one. . . .” The meat “had drifted from the shore” and was not salvageable. Rice’s condition worsened dramatically and he asked Frederick to leave him to die. Frederick refused and stayed with Rice until the very end, wrapping Rice’s “frozen feet with the temiak, or fur-lined jacket taken from his [Frederick’s] own back for this purpose, and then sat and held his unfortunate comrade till the latter’s pain was relieved by death.” Frederick initially yearned to die but, dedicated to his mission, saved Rice’s food ration, laid Rice’s body to rest, gathered up their supplies, and returned to camp so his colleagues wouldn’t suffer during a search attempt. As Scribner’s wrote, “He would use what was his own, but would not rob the living or the dead.”
While many died from malnutrition, immense cold, and sheer exhaustion during the Greely expedition, only one was executed for insubordination. Private Charles B. Henry was caught stealing food in excess of his ration and summarily punished for his crimes. As the Fort Wayne Sunday Gazette noted, Frederick recalled that Private Henry was shot in the back with “two balls taking effect and producing instant death.” The Gazette shared more details from Frederick about the grisly conditions:
He said further there may have been cannibalism, but of this he has no personal knowledge. Henry had been warned several times about stealing food, but he repeated the offense and finally Greely issued the order for his execution.
Frederick’s account was also published in the New York Times. However, the Indianapolis News reported that survivor Maurice Connell claimed Henry had been falsely accused and that Greely had actually stolen food. “To these charges,” the News wrote, “Sergeant Frederichs [sic], of this city, gives an emphatic denial, claiming that he himself saw Henry commit the theft. . . .” Greely also defended his decision to the New York Times, exclaiming that “it was discovered that, with other articles [food], Henry had stolen and secreted the sealskin boots of the hunter of the expedition.” The execution of Private Henry was one of the more inhumane moments of the Greely expedition, an acknowledgement of the harsh environment encompassing the men.
On June 23, 1884, after three long and suffering years, the survivors of the Greely expedition were rescued by a slew of ships led by Commander Winfield Schley. When all was said and done, there were only six survivors: Frederick, Brainard, Biederbick, Connell, Long, and Greely himself. Frederick was promoted to Second Lieutenant for his service during the expedition. The rest had perished during the years-long process to resupply and then rescue the expedition party. Greely, as quoted in the Indianapolis Journal, lamented that “six out of twenty-five were brought home. Nineteen brave men remain in that land of desolation.” When the crew docked at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 4, 1884, the New York Times wrote:
Never before in the history of Portsmouth has there been so grand and imposing an event as the celebration of the return of Lieut. Greely and the survivors of the expedition. . . . They were enthusiastically greeted as they landed, and the crowd pressed forward to shake their hands.
The hero’s welcome they received from their fellow citizens underscored the almost unthinkable hardships these men faced while in the arctic.
After a few other postings, Frederick moved to Indianapolis in February 1885, on assignment for the federal Signal and Weather Bureau Services. His move back to the US required some adjustment, especially in regards to the climate. “Sergeant Frederick[s],” the Indianapolis Journal wrote on January 13, 1887, “was about, yesterday, in his shirtsleeves complaining that the weather was much too warm.” The article further quoted him:
“I suppose an Esquimau [sic],” said the Sergeant, “couldn’t be made to understand that heat, no matter how strong it might be, could under any circumstances, occasion suffering. A hereafter of unquenchable fire would have no terrors for him, and when missionaries are sent to the ever-frozen north, they will have to preach a future for the wicked of even more intense cold.”
Despite his acclimation to the cold, Frederick never fully recovered from his expedition. In an interview with the Indianapolis News, when asked of why he chose to live more inland in Indiana, he cited “rheumatism” as a motivator.
In 1902, after many years of lobbying by the state legislature, Julius Frederick received a final promotion, first-class Sergeant of the signal corps of the army, as well as a retirement with pension. Biederbick, Long, and Connell also received the same commendation. The measure was passed by the Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 12, 1902. This final tribute, explained by Indiana Congressman Jesse W. Overstreet in an article in the Indianapolis News, was to “give to these men the only recognition which it remains for a grateful nation to bestow upon those who have imperiled their lives in war or in pursuit of science. This expedition carried the American flag to the northernmost point it has ever been planted by any scientific expedition.” Frederick’s contributions to exploration were finally recognized by the United States and he could finally retire to focus on his health.
Unfortunately, by the fall of 1903, Frederick’s health steadily declined. As the Indianapolis Journal reported, Frederick was “lying in a critical condition at his home on Center Drive, Woodruff place. Acute gastritis, brought on by exposure while with the General A. W. Greely expedition to the North Pole nineteen years ago, is the cause of Sergeant Frederick’s illness.” Frederick died on January 6, 1904 from complications from stomach cancer. He was only 51 years old. Upon his death, the Monthly Weather Review applauded his work in meteorology and noted that he died “enjoying the respect and esteem of all who knew him.” His friend and fellow Greely expedition survivor, Henry Biederbick, traveled all the way from New Jersey to attend his funeral. Frederick was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
The Greely expedition was most unfortunate. I am not going to criticise [sic]. It was a horrible experience. I think, however that the success of polar expeditions is largely a question of equipping well. My expedition for the most part had only the rigors of the climate to contend against.
Frederick’s humility and perseverance, in the face of unparalleled challenges, speaks to the importance of exploration. As astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote, “We have always been explorers. It is part of our nature. Since we first evolved a million years or so ago in Africa, we have wandered and explored our way across the planet.” Frederick was one of those explorers, a brave soul who dared to face the elements and survived. In his success the world grew more connected, more understood. Upon Frederick’s death, a friend recalled a motto that he had “made a precept throughout his life: ‘Nothing is impossible to him that does.” If that is the case, then Frederick thoroughly achieved the impossible.
Did you know that three Hoosiers appeared on national tickets for president or vice president in 1916? The Democrats ran Thomas R. Marshallof Columbia City for re-election in 1916 alongside President Woodrow Wilson. The Republican Party tabbed President Theodore Roosevelt‘s former vice president Charles W. Fairbanks of Indianapolis as the running mate of GOP presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes. You may ask, who was the third Hoosier running for president or vice president in 1916? If you guessed Terre Haute-native Eugene V. Debs, you would be wrong. After being the Socialist Party presidential nominee four times from 1900-1912, Debs sat out the 1916 campaign before running again (from prison) in 1920.
The third Hoosier and national party candidate in 1916 was a man who is not well-known today, but was a former governor of Indiana, and an influential leader in the prohibition movement. As a third-party challenger, J. Frank Hanly ran as the Prohibition Party presidential nominee during the 1916 election. Founded in 1869, the Prohibition Party campaigned for laws to limit or ban the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors. The party nominated candidates for office, but only found real success with local elections. For Hanly, his candidacy in 1916 served as the culmination of decades of advocacy for making Indiana, and the nation, dry as a desert.
According to a 1904 profile in the Indianapolis News, James Frank Hanly was born on April 4, 1863 in Champaign County, Illinois. His early life exemplified the rough-hewn stereotype that politicians of the era both yearned to have and exploit when useful. As the News wrote, “The world had nothing to offer the cabin boy but poverty. His parents lived on a rented place and sometimes the Hanly’s wondered where the sustenance of coming days was to come from.” Hanly, described as a bookish child, reveled in debate during his schoolhouse days and had “victory perched on his banner very often.” With his mother blinded early in his life and the family thrown into even more intense poverty, Hanly was sent to live with friends of the family in Williamsport, Warren County, Indiana.
He held odd-jobs throughout his early years in Indiana, most notably ditch digging and teaching, before gaining an opportunity from a local judge named Joseph Rabb. Rabb provided Hanly with the tools to take the bar exam. After passing the exam, Hanly began work at Rabb’s office. Nearly two years later in 1890, he founded a law office with partner Ele Stansbury. Equipped with skills of law and oratory, Hanly was a natural fit for the role of public service. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1894 and served one term; his reelection was dashed due to redistricting. After some considerations for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Hanly decided to run for governor of Indiana in 1904 and won, defeating Democrat John W. Kern by 84,000 votes, according to the Plymouth Tribune.
Hanly served as Indiana’s Governor from 1905-1909 and his tenure was marked by a controversial fight over Hanly’s central political issue: the sale of alcohol. He committed his tenure to enacting a stronger form of public policy in regards to the liquor traffic. In an op-ed for the Jasper Weekly Courier, Hanly wrote:
Personally, I have seen so much of the evils of the liquor traffic in the last four years, so much of its economic waste, so much of the physical ruin, so much of its mental blight, so much of its tears and heartache, that I have come to regard the business as one that must be held and controlled by strong and effective laws.
Hanly was undeterred. He reaffirmed his position against alcohol in a rousing speech at the 1908 Republican National Convention reprinted in the Indianapolis News. Concerning the liquor traffic, Hanly declared:
I hate it as Abraham Lincoln hated slavery. And as he sometimes saw in prophetic vision the end of slavery and the coming of the time when the sun should shine and the rain should fall upon no slave in all the republic, so I sometimes seem to see the end of this unholy traffic; the coming of the time when, if it does not wholly cease to be, it shall find no safe habitation anywhere beneath Old Glory’s stainless stars.
To Hanly, the sale of alcohol equaled slavery in its immorality, and akin to his political hero, viewed his indictment of alcohol as righteous as Lincoln’s position on slavery (at least on the surface).
All of his activism proved valuable by the election of 1916. Originally, Hanly received the Progressive Party’s nomination for governor, after he ran unopposed in the March primary. Despite support from the party and the voters, Hanly felt ambivalent about his nomination. As the Indianapolis News reported, Hanly “spent nothing and made no promises when a candidate before the primary for the Progressive nomination as Governor.” The Progressive Party, in some respects, was a poor fit. Even though Hanly alienated himself from mainstream Republican politics due to his strict prohibitionist views, his dedication to fiscal conservatism and limited government did not align with the Progressives. While Hanly internally debated accepting the Progressives’ gubernatorial nomination, another political party began recruiting him for an even higher office.
In June 1916, Hanly abandoned the Progressive Party, and declined the nomination for governor. Later that summer, he received the Prohibition Party nomination for President of the United States. The Indianapolis News and the Indianapolis Star reported that Hanly would gladly accept this charge only after the party decided to abandon a plank in their party platform supporting “initiative, referendum, and recall” elections, which Hanly saw as anathema to his limited government views. The party acquiesced to Hanly’s demands, which later drew criticism from an editorial in the Indianapolis Star and later reprinted in theJasper Weekly Courier. On the day of his nomination, Hanly reiterated his resolve to the cause of Prohibition and argued that “legislative enactments, administrative action, judicial decision and constitutional amendment—all shall be used for its [alcohol’s] dethronement.” In eight short years, Hanly went from Republican, to reluctant Progressive, to ardent Prohibitionist.
His disassociation with the Republican Party led to a fairly embarrassing episode reported in the August 15 issue of the Indianapolis News. The paper wrote that, “state officials are wondering how a picture of J. Frank Hanly got on the wall in [Ed] Donnell’s office [at the state printing board’s office]. Mr. Hanly, former Governor of Indiana, is now the nominee for President on the Prohibition national ticket.” A little over a week later, on August 28, the portrait disappeared. When asked how it left, Donnell “referred questioners to [J. Roy] Strickland, who disclaimed all knowledge of any theft, other than to declare that he understood the picture had been confiscated by the Democratic state committee.” The installation and later removal of the painting remains a mystery, but this story exemplified one conclusion that many political observers were making about the Prohibition Party candidate: the major parties were done with him too.
Hanly’s presidential campaign began later that August with an announcement from Hanly and his Vice-Presidential running mate, Dr. Ira Landrith, that they would conduct a “two-months’ tour of the country, will stop at approximately 600 towns.” The slogan for their campaign was “A Million Votes for Prohibition.” As part of the Prohibition Party’s push for a million votes, Hanly heavily criticized the major party candidates, Republican Charles Evans Hughes and incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. On the issue of prohibition, Hanly said that “President Wilson has not changed his mind on the liquor question, not in the last six years, at least, but we know that during these six years he has changed his mind on every other question which has come before him.” Of Hughes, Hanly remarked that the Republican nominee “stands for nothing.” By supposed contrast, Hanly and Landrith stood for women’s suffrage, an eight-hour work day, environmental protections, and military preparedness in line with the Monroe Doctrine alongside its desire to end the liquor trade.
By November 1916, the Prohibition Party appeared confident in their chances for some electoral success. The Indianapolis Newscovered their claims of success at a rally in Auburn, Indiana. “Ira Landrith, the vice-presidential candidate,” the News reported, “declared there now are 167 electoral votes in “dry” states; that next year there will be 200, and in 1930 there will be 300.” Their optimism was misplaced, for the election returns told a different story. Hanly and Landrith only captured 221,302 votes, or only 1.19 percent of the popular vote. They neither secured the one million votes they campaigned on, nor picked up a single electoral vote. Wilson won the election with 277 electoral votes and 49.25 percent of the popular vote. The Indianapolis News highlighted that the level of the vote for the Prohibition Party had dropped in Marion County alone by nearly 500 votes, from 1241 to 744, and throughout the State of Indiana, Hanly only garnered 16,680.
Hanly’s lifelong efforts advocating for prohibition came to an end with his untimely death on August 1, 1920, at the age of 57. He had been “fatally injured in an automobile accident near Dennison [Ohio],” reported the Indianapolis News. His funeral was held at Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church and he was buried in Williamsport, Indiana. In a eulogy by Indianapolis Phalanx publisher Edward Clark, Hanly was hailed as a “a national leader in the greatest moral and political reform of the century.” Clark concluded, “[Hanly] has ended life’s combat and laid down the weapons he wielded so heroically and so valiantly.”
Historian Jan Shipps argued that the choices Hanly made during his political career may have been pure opportunism, the mark of a true believer, or somewhere in the middle. The last argument seems to be the most accurate, because Hanly appeared to be a bit of both, at least in the press. He was an astute, masterful politician who used the workings of power to achieve his own prerogatives. At the same time, he was a deeply religious man whose moral judgement animated him to act as a crusader against alcohol. As Edward Clark’s eulogy intimated, Hanly knew that “to announce himself as a party prohibitionist meant unpopularity, scorn, ridicule, abuse, and political oblivion—but he hesitated not.” While he never saw the effects of Prohibition, both good and bad, in his state or in the country, Hanly’s contributions to the movement should not be neglected in our understanding of the era.
Scholar and reformer Sarah Parke Morrison is best remembered as the first female student and then professor at Indiana University. But she took on the role of trailblazer reluctantly, as she feared being the target of backlash against this furthering of women’s equality. Her fears were not unfounded. Unsurprisingly perhaps, she faced discrimination as she entered this previously all-male space. What was surprising as we dove into research for a new state historical marker honoring Morrison, was the intensity of the vitriol that some male students directed toward this groundbreaking scholar. While Morrison would continue to work to advance women’s educational opportunities at IU, she was for a time, driven from from her chosen profession by these students’ misogyny. Despite this difficulty, Morrison’s willingness to serve as the first woman at IU opened the doors for the many women who followed, each one furthering the cause of equality.
This and other stories of defeats, setbacks, small advancements, and modest gains are also important to women’s history as they show us the breadth of the movement and the perseverance required of its pioneers – women who challenged injustice in their small realm of influence. These local efforts, multiplied by the work of women across the United States, eventually created a sea change in women’s rights, roles, and power.
Sarah Parke Morrison was born in Salem, Indiana, in 1833, into a family that highly valued education and believed in equal opportunities for women. In 1825, her parents opened Salem Female Seminary and hired female teachers, “a rarity at this time.” After extensive study at home with her professor parents, she pursued an advanced education at several colleges, including Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in Massachusetts. After graduating in 1857, she continued to study and began teaching at Vassar College in New York. Morrison thrived in a college atmosphere. Reflecting on her Holyoke and Vassar professors, Morrison wrote that “their wide knowledge of Latin and Greek, and in the sciences, were eye and heart openers to such as thirsted for fuller draughts of knowledge.” Over the following years, she served on the faculty of several colleges, including Glendale Female College and the Western Female Seminary, both in Ohio.
Morrison consistently expressed her support for women’s equality in education, but her desire to work more directly for sweeping women’s rights was tempered by fear of a negative response from her community. In 1851, she wrote a poem praising social reformer and former Indiana representative for the U.S. House, Robert Dale Owen for his women’s rights advocacy during the constitutional convention, which was published in the Indianapolis Sentinel. She chose to sign the poem with the pseudonym, “Fannie,” and we only know of her authorship because she described the work in a 1911 autobiographical essay. In this later essay, Morrison explained that she wrote this poem while she “cultivated the muse in secret,” meaning she had come to believe in women’s equality but determined it was not yet the time for her “coming out on the woman question.” She was moved by Owen’s work, but wrote that like the groundhog, she needed “to retreat for further security and more genial conditions until a later day.”
Morrison also wrote that as a young woman, she was aware of the work of Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, “but their position was too peculiar, too audacious to be received wholy [sic] by such as had no courage and a rather sensitive imagination respecting mobs, sneers, hisses, mud-slinging and rotten eggs.” Instead, Morrison held a “secret respect” for these suffragists, as well as a desire to strengthen her nerve and awaken her conscience. Her fears of a negative response were she to enter the battle for women’s rights would be substantiated.
Morrison had completed her advanced education and served as a professor at several colleges, but by the 1860s, she was again living back home because of the limited occupational opportunities available to a highly-educated woman. At this time, the Indiana University Board of Trustees had been debating the admission of women. Sarah Morrison’s father John, who was the State Treasurer as well as a former IU board president, advocated for women’s admission and persuaded his daughter to petition the board for entrance. Morrison had to be convinced. She was not an eager, young girl just out of primary school, hoping to expand her knowledge. She was a 34-year-old scholar and teacher with a lifetime of education and an advanced knowledge of ancient languages. She had little desire to be the first woman student at IU, or the subject of controversy, but she conceded for the larger good – and a five dollar bribe. Morrison wrote:
Father . . . said to me that he thought the time was about ripe for the admission of women; and that if I would prepare an appeal to that effect he would present it, and to show his interest would give me Five Dollars.
The IU Board of Trustees narrowly voted to admit women, first with some restrictions, but soon after announced: “Ladies are admitted to College classes on the same terms as males.” Morrison would have been happy to leave it at that and to watch with satisfaction as young women entered IU. But she again found herself in the position of reluctant trailblazer. No women applied for the fall 1867 semester and one professor told her, “Miss Morrison, you will have to come to fill the breach.” While she considered this responsibility “rather a cloud” on her horizon, she feared the implications for the struggle for women’s equality if she didn’t rise to the occasion.
She wrote that she was tired of going to school, but she was more tired of the old arguments about why women shouldn’t attend a university. According to Morrison, these arguments included the idea that the “Female Colleges” were good enough for young women, there were too many “risks” in women and men attending the same schools, and male students and professors should be saved from the “embarrassment – yea scandal” of women’s presence. Morrison looked at the IU catalogue and determined she could complete the four-year course in two. She was worried though. “To fail would be worse than not to try,” she wrote. The first female student at IU would be representing her entire gender to the masses, not all who believed she deserved to be there.
Morrison entered Indiana University along with three hundred young men in the fall of 1867. She wore a large sun hat to protect herself “from six hundred eyes” trying to cast “a sly glance” at the school’s first female student. She soared through her Latin and Greek classes and by the second semester of her first year she became a sophomore. More importantly, during that spring semester of 1868, a dozen women followed Morrison’s lead, entering Indiana University as freshmen students. In a powerful contemporary photograph, Morrison is seated front and center, surrounded by the women who followed in her wake.
The next year, Morrison continued her accelerated course of study, beginning the fall semester as a junior and becoming a senior spring semester. She wrote that she could probably have skipped Latin “if I had chosen to make a point of it,” but instead “read more than really required” so no one could claim that she would “lower the standard.” At one point during her first semester, the students could choose to write an essay or make an oral argument for a final exam. The professor assumed Morrison would prefer an essay so as not to speak in front of an audience of male students. She responded simply, “why?” Her second semester, a professor discouraged her from making her “declamation” at examinations, which would be attended by the general public. Morrison told him that she had appealed to the Board, not him, for her position and he could not stop her from making her declamation in the same manner as her male colleagues. Yet another professor acknowledged her ability for public speaking, but discouraged her from engaging in an exercise where she would debate her male colleagues. She again responded, “why?” and entered the debate. Finally, before graduation, a professor encouraged her to submit an essay and not to speak at commencement. She again asked him simply, but pointedly, “why?” Morrison explained:
‘Why?’ became my one and only, but effective ammunition when approach to the ‘Woman question,’ was bold enough to lift its head.
By this, Morrison meant that when faced with the question of whether her gender should prevent her from equal participation at the university, she simply asked the professor “why” because her continued success and proficiency left no answer that could be based on anything but gender discrimination.
Similarly, when she received a “slighting remark” from a fellow student, whom she described sarcastically as “a rather superior young gentleman,” she “lost her temper” but managed to bite her tongue. She chose not to retort, explaining: “It was probably intended as a test. If I was mad internally, I could not suffer my cause to suffer.” Instead, she chose to focus her efforts on her commencement address. She knew many had low expectations for her performance. She wrote:
To have a performance at Commencement that would pass a general critical public, was an undertaking, indeed for me. I could not come down to their notions, could I lift them up to mine?
Morrison became the first woman to graduate Indiana University in the spring of 1869 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Indiana newspapers reported that Morrison “graduated in the Classical course with great credit to herself, delivering in a splendid manner a very fine oration.” Newspapers across the country picked up the story, reporting on “the first female graduate of Indiana State University.” She demonstrated that there was indeed no reason “why?” a woman couldn’t succeed at Indiana University.
After graduation, Morrison moved to Indianapolis and began teaching Greek language classes. She was active in the education field, attending a “special session” for teachers at the State Normal School in Terre Haute in the summer of 1870. In 1872, she was elected as an “alumni orator” and spoke at the 1873 Indiana University commencement ceremony. By this point, IU had also granted Morrison a Master of Arts degree, which was at that time “conferred upon such graduates of three years’ standing as have, in the meantime, pursued professional or general studies.” In 1873, Indiana University hired Morrison as a “tutor” in the “Collegiate Department.” And, by 1874, Morrison became an Adjunct Professor of English Literature, making her the first female professor at Indiana University.
Like the stories of other women trailblazers, the moment where the glass ceiling shattered, is often the point where Morrison’s story ends for historians. But what was it like for Morrison and other women once they became the first and only woman in their place of employment? What did it feel like to be the only woman in the lecture hall, laboratory, or operating theater? Of course experiences vary, but all faced some level of discrimination, opposition, or misogyny. Morrison faced all of these, delivered with a maliciousness some might find surprising for a genteel, academic setting.
Several of her male students refused to recite to her, recitation being the manner in which students orally showed their comprehension of the class material. By refusing to recite, they were showing that they refused to recognize her authority. They deemed that, as a woman, she was unqualified to teach them as men. Despite her years of schooling, mastery of several languages, experience teaching, advanced degrees, and praise from professors, these undergraduate students claimed that she was undeserving of their respect because of her gender. Newspapers in Indiana and then across the country, picked up the story. Taking an amused tone over her “awkward predicament,” newspapers reported on her appointment to IU faculty and the student discrimination in the same article. The Chicago Tribune reported:
Miss Sarah P. Morrison, daughter of the President of the Board to Trustees and adjutant Professor of English Literature in the State University, has been struck against by a portion of the students, who refuse to recite to her. No adjustment of the difficulty has yet been made.
Not content to demonstrate their disrespect for their professor through silence, some of the students in the fraternity Beta Theta Pi published an article slandering her character and qualifications. At the end of the school year, the fraternity published an issue of their newspaper the Dagger, which Indiana University Archives referred to as “the 19th century version of Rate My Professor.” For Morrison, who had long moderated her work for women’s advancement for fear of backlash, the 1875 issue would have been humiliating and devastating.
Sarcastically referring to Morrison as “the Queen of the University,” these male students published a horribly sexist, misogynistic criticism of Morrison’s teaching and intelligence. They claimed she had no right to her professorship because she lacked even “some shadow of reputation, a few reliable words of recommendation; or at least the outward appearance of an intelligent being.” They claimed she barely taught any classes, was “pinned to the coat tail of our faculty,” and got paid to do “nothing whatever.” They wrote, “Never before in all the history of the institution, has there been so gross and imposition practiced upon the taxpayers of Indiana.” They continued with base name calling, referring to her in turn as “impudent,” lacking “all common sense,” “idiotic,” and an “uneducated ape.” The students claimed:
Petitions for her removal have been thrust in the faces of both her and her father. But shame has lost its sting upon this impudent creature, dead to the pointing finger of withering scorn.
They wrote that “their diplomas are disgraced by her contemptible name” and that the senior class would be marking her name out on their diplomas. They concluded the article:
We close with the warning to our idiotic subject. O! Sallie that you may not make a consummate ass of yourself, hast-to your mothers [sic] breast, sieze [sic] the nipple of advice and fill your old wrinkled carcass with the milk of common sense.
The condescension and entitlement mixed with sexism is hard to read, especially knowing how qualified and intelligent Morrison was, but also how timidly she accepted the responsibilities that came with her groundbreaking position. Perhaps one element makes this misogynistic slander slightly bearable today: unintended humor. In short, the young men were terrible writers. Ironically, these students who claimed that Morrison did not posses the intelligence to be their teacher, populated their vicious article with spelling and grammar errors. Undoubtedly, they should have listened to what she could have taught them.
It would be much more satisfying to report that Morrison persevered in the face of this misogyny and went on to teach for many more years, but not all stories of women who furthered the fight for equality end with professional success and empowerment. Morrison left the university and the profession that she loved after the 1874-75 school year. She instead became an active advocate for the temperance movement, traveling throughout the country, including into Indian territory, and spoke at the national level. She became a leader within the Society of Friends, speaking at state meetings. And she penned poems and family histories.
Though she never returned to teach at IU, she stayed involved with the university. She spoke at alumni events and commencements and wrote regular letters to the administration. Through these letters, she advocated for placing women on the Board of Trustees and the Board of Visitors, as well as hiring women professors. These letters show her finding strength in herself in demanding greater opportunities for women. For example, in 1906, she submitted her vote to the Board of Trustees “For Some Woman” and wrote on her ballot: “Every new man who allows his name to appear does that much to keep out some woman.”
In 1908, Morrison returned to IU at the age of 75 . . . as a student. Reminiscent of her 1867 entry into the university as its first female student, newspapers across the country covered her latest adventure as a sort of novelty. The New York Times reported that Morrison enrolled in a post-graduate course on Greek during the summer term. The newspaper reported:
Though Miss Morrison is 75 years of age, she is as sprightly of body and mind, apparently, as she was when a student at the university nearly fifty years ago. She has never lost her interest in the classics nor in poetry.
She must have continued to impress IU staff and administration because she delivered the alumni address at the 1909 commencement. Morrison also continued to write to the IU administration in her later years. In 1911, she advised the university’s president and the Board of Trustees on filling a teaching position upon the death of a female professor. It’s likely that this advice was unsolicited, but she chose strong and clear words. She stated that the woman the Board chose to fill the vacant position should possess “very decided views respecting the equal [underline] privilege granted the young women of our University, and accepting suffrage for women as a matter of course.” Before her death in 1916, Morrison found the courage to outwardly support women’s suffrage, something she had feared as a younger women.
This year, while commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, historians have enthusiastically shared stories of bold suffragists who marched in the streets and spoke passionately to large crowds – those women who stood unafraid before the Indiana Supreme Court or the Indiana General Assembly to demand their rights. But not all of the women who blazed the path toward equality loudly beat the drums of reform. Morrison shied from controversy and rightfully feared backlash from entering previously all-male spaces, but she ventured forward anyway. This is the very definition of courage – to persevere in the face of fear. While sometimes reluctant, she made important gains for women at Indiana University. Hers was the foot in the door, wedging it open for other women to follow her. And they did. Sarah Parke Morrison should be remembered not only for her “firsts,” but for her selflessness, determination, and quiet audacity.
 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Washington Township, Washington County, Indiana, September 20, 1850, roll 179, page 37 (338A), line 35, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Raysville Monthly Meeting, Henry County,” 1876, Earlham College, Richmond, IndianaMinutes, Indiana Yearly Meeting Minutes, accessed AncestryLibrary; “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, submitted by marker applicant.; Indiana State Board of Health, “Certificate of Death,” (Sarah Parke Morrison), July 9, 1919, Roll 13, page 532, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Biographical Note,” Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Archives at Indiana University. The quoted text comes from the “Biographical Note” written by the Archives at Indiana University.
Annual Catalogues of the Teachers and Pupils of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary from 1847-1857 (Northampton: Hopkins, Bridgman & Co., n.d.), 44, accessed HathiTrust.; “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, copy available in IHB marker file.; Indiana University, Arbutus [yearbook], 1896 (Chicago: A.L. Swift & Co. College Publications, 1896), accessed HathiTrust.
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 Fannie (Morrison), “Lines to Robert Dale Owen,” Indiana State Sentinel, March 27, 1851, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
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Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.
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Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.; “Women Students,” accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.
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Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1868-69 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1869), Indiana State Library.
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Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1872-73 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1873), Indiana State Library.
Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1873-74 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1874), Indiana State Library.
Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1874-75 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1875), Indiana State Library.
Chicago Weekly Post and Mail, November 26, 1874, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.
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While Sarah Morrison’s Father John I. Morrison was an IU Board member 1874-75, he was not the president.
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Transcript of Tenskwatawa: The Rise and Fall of a Nation
Beckley: I just wanted to drop in here at the top of the episode to give a little bit of a disclaimer. We are currently working from home due to COVID-19, so the sound quality of this episode might be a little bit different from what you’re used to hearing from Talking Hoosier History, since I’m using different equipment than usual. And now, on to the show.
Written by Lindsey Beckley, produced by Jill Weiss Simins, sound engineering by Justin Clark.
Beckley: This is the second of a two-part series covering the life of Indigenous leader Tenskwatawa. If you haven’t listened to the first part, I highly recommend you go do so now and come back after listening. Otherwise, you might be a bit lost coming in at this point in the story.
In “Tenskwatawa: The Making of a Prophet,” we explored the years leading up to and immediately following the birth of Tenskwatawa into the Shawnee tribe. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there was a cycle which played out all across North America. Colonial, and later American, settlers invaded Native Land, Native People fought to keep their land, but were forced to settle elsewhere only for white settlers to once again violently invade, restarting the cycle.
We also followed Tenskwatawa’s transformation from a relatively obscure figure into a political and spiritual leader for thousands of Native Peoples. We left off just after Tenskwatawa received his directives in a vision from the Great Spirit – he was to eschew all European customs, not only to return to the old ways, but also to start a new chapter in the Native story, one in which all Native People are united under the teachings of The Prophet.
Tenskwatawa’s village near modern-day Greenville, Ohio, was structured to reflect this idea of a pan-Indian identity, at least ideally. When people came to Greenville, they were to leave behind their tribal affiliations and become part of the greater whole.
And we left off with Tenskwatawa summoning Native People to gather at Greenville to witness a demonstration of his power. He was going to “put out the sun.” When the appointed day came and the sun did indeed disappear from the sky in a total eclipse, the Prophet sat in his tent while his followers observed the fulfillment of his prophesy. When he finally emerged from his tent, he spoke:
Voice actor: “Behold! Did I not prophesy correctly? See, darkness is coming.”
Beckley: With those words, the sun returned, illuminating his wisdom and power.
I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.
From our vantage point, it may be easy to think about the Prophet’s attempt to create an autonomous pan-Indian nation as being doomed to fail. But putting yourself in the shoes of those living through these events might change how you see them. To Tenskwatawa and his followers, and to the white settlers of the area, the Prophet’s movement looked formidable, because it was. And it was this threat, as well as the unpredictability of settler-Native interactions that intimidated U.S. leaders.
In the early 1800s, Tenskwatawa led the largest population center in the region, and his following was only growing larger. And Native People had governed themselves and the land they lived on for millennia before European contact – why would it seem implausible to think a version of that could be restored?
Today, we look at a moment many historians view as the tipping point of Tenskwatawa’s power –the Battle of Tippecanoe. Before the battle, anything was possible. After it, all was lost. This narrative has been repeated in books and classrooms for decades. But is that really the case? Could it really be that cut and dry? No, of course not. And let’s explore why.
After Tenskwatawa’s prophesy was fulfilled, cementing his followers’ faith in him and lending further credence to his movement, many indigenous people traveled to Greenville. In the months after the eclipse, white settlers from as far away as present-day Wisconsin reported that:
Voice actor: “The Indians are crowding down upon us from the Green Bay on their way as they say to see the Shawonese at Greenville.”
Beckley: With so many Native People on the move, the white authorities of the Northwest began to grow uneasy. They questioned whether the mass of people gathering around Greenville were there just to hear the teachings of the Prophet and, indeed, if those teachings were purely religious in nature.
Playing on rising tensions between England and the United States, conspiracies of an impending British-backed Native assault on nearby American settlers swirled among the white communities, but it never came to fruition. In fact, Tenskwatawa had already received another message from the Great Spirit commanding him to move his followers away from Greenville. So, in the spring of 1808, Tenskwatawa and his people arrived just north of present-day Lafayette, Indiana. This new settlement would be called Prophetstown.
This move, ordained by the Great Spirit, was also quite advantageous to the prophet and to his followers. Prophetstown was situated at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers – meaning that it could only be approached from two sides. It was also a very fertile area, an important feature, as the Prophet’s followers had nearly starved at Greenville in 1807.
Prophetstown featured European-style houses, wigwams, a large storehouse, a central structure where any visiting Native person could stay called the House of the Stranger, and possibly even a blacksmith shop. All trees around the town were cleared, a strategic move, which stripped the land of any concealment for an oncoming army.
The Prophet had plenty of reason to prepare for that eventuality. Prophetstown was a mere 150 miles from Vincennes, the seat of government in the Northwest Territory. William Henry Harrison, the territorial governor and future U.S. president, was wary of his new neighbors, who numbered somewhere between three and six thousand people. By comparison, Vincennes, the capitol of the territory, had an approximate population of 1,500 around the same time. Harrison was convinced that Prophetstown was more than a holy city – he thought it was a rising political and military threat. And he wasn’t completely mistaken.
While Tenskwatawa was a religious leader, many of his teachings, such as his assertion that all land occupied by Native Peoples was owned collectively and without tribal distinction, as well as his advocacy of a pan-Indian nation, were inherently political. Success in these endeavors would have undercut European power in the area, making it impossible for government officials to exploit tribal differences when conducting negotiations or going to war. Eventually, this could stop the encroachment of white settlers on Indigenous peoples’ lands. Tenskwatawa and his warriors would defend their border, but it’s important to note, he was not intending to launch an offensive attack. In fact, he was offering peace. In a message delivered to Harrison in June 1808, Tenskwatawa said:
Voice actor: “It never was my intention to lift up my hand against the Americans . . . We had determined to follow the advice of the Great Spirit, who has told us that our former conduct is not right: that we ought to live in peace upon the land he has given us.
. . . I am now very much engaged in making my new settlement but as soon as it is completed, I will pay you a visit and hope to remove every bad impression you have received against me.”
Beckley: Harrison accepted the Prophet’s offer of a summit and in August of 1808, Tenskwatawa and William Henry Harrison came face to face for the first time in Vincennes. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the two kind of hit it off. The Prophet stayed in Vincennes for several weeks and the men spoke of religion and politics. By the end of the visit, Harrison’s fears of an attack from Prophetstown seemed to have been quelled. He wrote to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn:
Voice actor: “I am inclined to think that the influence which the Prophet has acquired will prove rather advantageous than otherwise to the United States.”
Beckley: Harrison also agreed to send funds for provisions to Prophetstown – a much needed break for the settlement as drought had destroyed the majority of their crops. Resulting food shortages caused many followers to lose faith and return to their home villages.
The goodwill that resulted from this meeting didn’t last long, however. And it wasn’t enough to dissuade Harrison from his mission of expanding the United States’ land holdings in the Northwest. Just over a year later, Harrison gathered representatives of the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, Wea, and Kickapoo at Fort Wayne. Conspicuously absent was the leader of the largest population center of the Old Northwest – the Prophet hadn’t even been informed of the proceedings.
Harrison had strategically chosen who to invite to the negotiations – all leaders he thought he could coerce to sign a treaty. And he was right. After days of cajoling, bribing, threatening, and supplying a few hundred gallons of rum, coupled with the ever-present threat of military and economic pressure, the leaders at the summit were compelled to sign the Treaty of Fort Wayne in September of 1809, ceding 300,000 acres of land to the U.S. government.
Tenskwatawa was furious at this perceived betrayal. Although the land didn’t include Prophetstown, he believed that all Nations were one and so no land belonging to any Indigenous group could be sold without the consent of the leader of the pan-Indian nation – him. The Prophet wasn’t the only one upset, either. People flocked to Prophetstown after the news of the treaty spread. They came from many nations – Miami, Wyandot, Sac, Iowa, Winnebego, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Ojibwe, and Ottawa. But once they arrived in Prophetstown, Tenskwatawa declared them one people.
In the aftermath of the Treaty of Fort Wayne, Tenskwatawa’s older brother emerged as the military leader of Prophetstown, while The Prophet continued his role as political and religious leader. Tecumseh, who up to this point had widely been known simply as “The Prophet’s brother,” began to travel to tribes affected by recent white expansion and recruit them to his brother’s cause, with considerable success. In 1810, his diplomatic role expanded when he attended what was supposedly a peace summit with William Henry Harrison. Harrison, however, had already made up his mind – he wanted to eliminate Prophetstown for its resistance to the Treaty of Fort Wayne. Unsurprisingly, the peace summit, which began with threats of a shoot-out, didn’t go well. Relations were, if anything, more strained by the end of the “peace talks.”
Harrison wanted to attack Prophetstown but leaders in Washington declined to give their permission, saying he could only act defensively. So, Harrison did the one thing he knew would provoke Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh into action. He sent surveyors into land which had been ceded to the U.S. government in opposition to Tenskwatawa’s wishes. One day into the mission, the surveyors were kidnapped by members of the Wea tribe, allies of the Prophet. Although the men were released the next day, the damage had been done. Harrison, with this “proof” of aggression from Prophetstown, wrote to the Secretary of War asking for approval of his war plans multiple times in the following months. Finally, he got the answer he wanted – he could attack Prophetstown.
And there was no better time than the present. Tecumseh, the war leader of the settlement, was away on a diplomatic mission, a vulnerability known to Harrison. So, on September 26, 1811, American troops set out from Vincennes in the direction of Prophetstown. In early November, Harrison and his troops arrived just outside of Prophetstown and set up camp.
Tenskwatawa, hoping to avoid battle, asked for peace negotiations. Harrison, although resolute in his decision to attack, accepted. The meeting was set for the following day, November 7, 1811. The meeting would never happen though, and while we know the broad strokes of the events that followed, it’s impossible to know the exact sequence of events leading up to the battle.
Traditionally, historians have relied on a mixture of Harrison’s account of the events and that of Shabonee, a man from the Ottawa tribe who was a follower of Tenskwatawa’s teachings but later allied himself with the Americans.
In this version of events, the request for negotiation was nothing but a ruse by the Prophet, who ordered a sneak attack on Harrison’s camp to be carried out two hours before sunrise, when Harrison’s men would be blinded by their camp fires. In this account, the Prophet’s forces snuck soundlessly out of the dark to fire upon Harrison’s men.
This narrative is often recited as fact, but historian Adam Jortner raises questions about the veracity of the sources. Harrison had political motivations for casting Tenskwatawa as carrying out a sneak attack after requesting peace under false pretenses. And Shabonee, while he was a follower of Tenskwatawa during the battle, didn’t give his account until decades later, after adopting an accommodationist ideology and while employed by the United States government.
Jortner, along with historian Alfred Cave, propose a different sequence of events, this one based on reports given to American Indian agent Matthew Elliott by an unnamed Kickapoo chief just weeks after the battle. So, not a perfect source as it’s still secondhand and relayed by a white agent, but its proximity in time to the events makes it a little more trustworthy.
In this second version, American sentinels panicked and accidentally shot two Native warriors patrolling in the night. The news spread through Prophetstown and their forces attacked the next morning, either with the reluctant consent of Tenskwatawa or against his wishes entirely.
It’s quite possible that neither version is wholly accurate. And considering that neither of these accounts came directly from Tenskwatawa, and neither are free of a white lens, it’s almost guaranteed they are not completely accurate. Even if we did have access to an account of events directly from the Prophet, the events probably would have looked different depending on which side you were on, and the search for an “objective truth” is often futile.
What we do know is that fighting broke out and what followed was what we know today as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison labeled the battle a great victory and used it very successfully to bolster his political reputation, eventually becoming a top U.S. military leader and then president.
As is so often the case, the victor, even if he was but a self-proclaimed one, wrote the story. Shabonee’s and Harrison’s version of the story would be recounted by historians for much of the next 200 years. But were the outcomes of this battle as clear as Harrison led the country to believe? Absolutely not.
Looking at casualty counts alone would suggest Tenskwatawa was the victor. He lost approximately fifty soldiers to Harrison’s 180. However, Tenskwatawa retreated, abandoned Prophetstown to Harrison, and watched as Harrison burned it along with all the crops surrounding it.
This was certainly a blow, but even so, Prophetstown was reconstructed in less than a month. Additionally, an unprovoked American attack earned the Prophetstown movement more followers in the immediate aftermath of the clash, further discounting the assertion that the Battle of Tippecanoe itself was a devastating and ultimately fatal blow to Tenskwatawa’s movement.
Perhaps the most impactful outcome of the battle was actually Harrison’s portrayal of the battle and its effect in Washington. Members of Congress concluded that the Native Peoples wouldn’t have fought against the Americans, risking annuities provided by the government, simply to preserve their land. No, there had to be more to it. They decided that the only plausible explanation was that Tenskwatawa and his warriors were in league with the British, who were surely promising annuities of their own. There was no evidence to support this besides Governor Harrison’s long-standing accusations that Prophetstown was working for the British.
Nevertheless, the U.S. government held it as a fact. This belief – that the British were conspiring with Native forces to launch attacks on American forts and other holdings – was one in a string of complaints against Britain. The American belief that the British were inciting Native attacks, along with ongoing naval issues regarding freedom of the seas, economic sanctions, and American sovereignty led Congress to declare war on June 18, 1812 against Great Britain. Today, we call this the War of 1812.
During the War of 1812, Tenskwatawa took a back seat to his brother, who was a better warrior with more experience. Just as the war was starting, Tecumseh established an alliance with British forces – an unsurprising move given the prolonged tensions between Prophetstown and the American government. After battling to preserve the land the Prophet had claimed for his people in present-day northern Indiana during the early war, a devastating blow for the movement came when Tecumseh died in battle in October 1813. After that battle, Tenskwatawa fled the pursuing American forces to Upper Canada, where he and a small group of followers stayed for over a decade, well past the 1815 end of the war.
Following these years of exile in Canada, the Prophet returned to the U.S. in 1825 to lead a contingent of Shawnee to Kansas, where he set up the last, much smaller iteration of Prophetstown. He lived there until his death in 1836.
Beckley: While his movement ultimately failed, Tenskwatawa and his followers at Prophetstown represent a piece of history often overlooked – organized resistance to white settlement. Many look back at history and see the eventual removal of Native Peoples to the west as an inevitability. However, in the aspirations of Tenskwatawa, we see another possible outcome – one in which an autonomous pan-Indian nation could succeed and coexist adjacent to the United States, something which the Prophet advocated for, saying:
Voice actor: “I hope what I now say will be engraven on your heart. It is my determination to obey the Great Spirit and live in peace with you and your people. . . . This is what the Great Spirit has told us repeatedly. We are all made by him, although we differ a little in colour. We are all his children and should live in peace and friendship with each other.”
Beckley: I want to reiterate the importance of remembering that this outcome – the dwindling of the Prophet’s power – was by no means inevitable. The failure to establish an autonomous pan-Indian nation was also not inevitable. In fact, part of the terms of the wartime alliance between Prophetstown and the British forces was the establishment of a “buffer state” between Canada and the United States. This agreement put the Prophet and his followers in the best position for success and autonomy after the war, as the “buffer state” was to be an independent Indigenous nation, a possibility that remained as feasible, if not likely, right up to the end of the war.
Considering the outcomes of historical events to be pre-ordained – especially when discussing something as complicated as this – erases the agency of the people involved. It erases the fact that these were real people fighting for a real cause with real reason to hope for success. And who are we to take that away?
The story of Prophetstown is not by any means the entire story of Native resistance to white encroachment, and removal and resistance is not the entire story of Native People in the Hoosier state. There are Indigenous people living in and making history in Indiana today. And we at IHB have committed ourselves to preserving this history. If you are an Indigenous person living in Indiana, we want to hear from you. We are looking for the stories that have been left out of the textbooks and have not been commemorated by historical markers. What stories did you grow up hearing? Who did you look up to? We’d love to listen to your recollections and do what we can to help you preserve your history. Email me at email@example.com with any questions, suggestions, or stories you’d like to share.
Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. The music in this episode was written and performed by multi Native American Music Award winner and Indian Summer Music Award winner Golaná from the Echota Cherokee tribe. All tracks used were from the albums “Meditations for Two” and “Path to the Heart.” You can learn more about Golaná’s music and purchase his albums at oginali.com. You can find a link in the show notes. I used the book The Gods of Prophetstown by Adam Jortner as my main secondary source for this episode. If you would like to see all of my sources, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Sound engineering on this episode was by Justin Clark with help from Jill Weiss Simins. Join us in two weeks for the next installment of Giving Voice, where we’ll be talking to Shawnee Chief Ben Barnes. Until then, catch us on social media as Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks for listening!
Show Notes for Tenskwatawa: The Rise and Fall of a Nation
All music in this episode was produced by award-winning Native artist Golaná from the Echota Cherokee tribe. Listen to and purchase Golaná’s music here: oginali.com.
The tracks heard in this episode are from the albums “Meditations for Two” and “Path to the Heart.”
Calloway, Colin, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016).
Calloway, Collin, The Shawnees and the War for America, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007).
Cayton, Andrew, Frontier Indiana, (Bloomington: IU Press, 1998).
Dubar-Ortiz, Roxanne, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).
Edmunds, David, Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership, (New York: Pearson Longman, 2008).
Edmunds, David, The Shawnee Prophet, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983).
Gugin, Linda and St. Clair. James, Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society), 346-348.
Harrison, William Henry, Messages and Letter of William Henry Harrison, 1773-1841, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922).
Jortner, Adam, The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Kinietz, Vernon, and Voegelin, Ermine, Shawnese Traditions C.C. Trowbridge’s Account, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1939).
Madison, James, and Sandweiss, Lee Ann, Hoosiers and the American Story, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014).
McNemar, Richard, The Kentucky Revival, or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Outpouring of the Spirit of God in the Western States of America: Agreeably to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Latter Day: with a Brief Account of the Entrance and Progress of What the World Call Shakerism among the Subjects of the Late Revival in Ohio and Kentucky : Presented to the True Zion-traveler as a Memorial of the Wilderness Journey, (New York: Reprinted by Edward O. Jenkins, 1846).
Michigan Historical Commission, Michigan Historical Collections, vol. 40, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2006), 127-133.
Sugden, John, Tecumseh: A Life, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997).
Warren, Stephen, The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795-1870, (Illinois: University of Illinois, 2005).
You’ve been (hopefully) sticking close to home and avoiding crowded stores for over three weeks now. If, like us, you’re peering into your pantry to find naught but potatoes, rice, and stale bread, we have just the thing for you: historical recipes!
Our ancestors were exceptionally skilled at making food last. They weren’t able to flit to the corner store to pick up a few staples or summon UberEats deliveries. Largely, they had what they had until they could grow more. Have stale bread? Make bread pudding or breadcrumbs. Have chicken bones or vegetable scraps? Make broth. Have a 10 lb. bag of rice but your significant other suddenly doesn’t like rice even though you’ve been making rice for years and he never complained before?
Anyway, when I look into my barren refrigerator and think, “what would my ancestors have made?” my next stop is Hoosier State Chronicles, which has nearly 1 million pages of freely-accessible digitized historical Indiana newspapers. Some of these include thousands of time tested recipes! Plugging in any given pantry staple brings up dozens of recipes. Granted, some are more useful than others (sadly, I think few of my loved ones would be tempted by a recipe for Tongue Toast), but by and large, these recipes are simple, economical, and delicious! Let’s take a tour through 19th century papers, using search terms for a few items I still have left in my house.
As the sage hobbit Samwise Gamgee once said, “Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” One of the best things about potatoes is their versatility. That, and the fact that they can last for months if stored properly, make them the perfect pantry staple. Let’s take a look at several potato recipes from the April 15, 1876 issue of the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail.
This fairly basic recipe for mashed potatoes takes a wild turn towards the end when the author casually suggests making a mashed potato custard! Similar to the filling of a sweet potato pie, this recipe calls for boiled potatoes, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, and nutmeg. After consulting some modern recipes, I’ve made an educated guess as to the amount of each since, as with so many historical recipes, this one leaves much to be desired in the way of specificity.
These potato fritters are – as advertised – absolutely delicious! I haven’t made every recipe in this post, but I have made these and I highly recommend them. They get even better if you add in a little bit of bacon, cheese, jalapeño, or anything else you have around the kitchen.
This “potato cake” recipe is basically just a recipe for delicious, always soft, and surprisingly healthy potato bread.
Remember the 10 lb. bag of rice I mentioned earlier? Despite what my husband has to say about it, I’m going to be making a lot of rice in the coming days. Luckily, I was able to track down some alternative uses from the 19th century that may help in this endeavor.
This simple rice pie can be enhanced with any number of additions. Add in raisins, prunes, and brown sugar, for a sweeter dish, or bacon bits, chives, and cheese for a more savory breakfast item. This recipe from Martha Stewart even adds in a bit of brandy into the mix.
Rice . . . but make it waffles! This interesting take on waffles will mix things up at your breakfast table. I think since this recipe is on the simple side, it would be a great base to build upon. Top it with gravy. Or go the sweet route and top with fruit and syrup. Or go for the all-out savory dish and make these loaded rice waffles with sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. Since this recipe uses some outdated measuring terms (1 gill is roughly 1 cup), I’ve modernized it a bit below to make it easier to follow.
Do you eat the heel of your bread loaves? If not, what do you do with them? Consider this – a typical loaf of bread contains twenty to twenty-four pieces including the heels. If you are in the habit of throwing away the heels, that means you’re throwing away 10% of every loaf of bread you buy. If your family eats a loaf of bread per week, you’re throwing away over five loaves of bread a year! Never waste a piece of bread again with these historical hacks for using even the hardest bits of stale (or unwanted) bread.
Breadcrumbs are an ever-useful thing to have around the kitchen. From coating your rice croquettes or chicken tenders for frying to filling out your meatballs, you’ll always find a use for these crumbs.
These coffee fritters use up your stale bread at double time – the fritters themselves are made of strips of stale bread and they’re coated in stale bread crumbs before being fried. Delicious with your morning coffee or afternoon tea, I’ve made this recipe and it’s mouthwatering just as it’s written.
My favorite thing to make with stale bread is bread pudding. Traditionally, like many English puddings, bread pudding is boiled in a pudding basin or a tightly woven cloth. See an example of this done with 18th century plum pudding here. More popular in America, though, is the baked version of this delectable dessert, so I’m including an example of each. Below is each recipe broken down and translated for the modern kitchen.
Want more recipes? From dried beans to pigs feet, there are recipes for just about any food item waiting to be found in the pages of historical Indiana newspapers. Show us what you make on twitter by tagging us @in_bureau!
Many dismiss movies made during the silent film era (1885-1930) as farcical or irrelevant. However, this period of great discovery and innovation laid the foundation for modern film-making techniques. One early contributor to this burgeoning new art form was Hoosier actor John Bowersox. He made over ninety films during his career and was among those first honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His versatility and athleticism enabled him to become a leading man in a variety of roles and genres. Off-screen, Bowersox was an extreme sports enthusiast who enjoyed racing his automobile, airplane, and yacht during a novel time for those sports.
Born circa 1884, John Bowersox grew up in the small town of Garrett, Indiana, not far from Fort Wayne. Six feet tall and naturally athletic, Bowersox played football on a local Garrett team. As a young man, he could often be found sailing his boat on nearby Lake Wawasee, the largest natural lake in Indiana. As early as fifteen, he began acting locally in amateur plays. His parents encouraged him to become a lawyer and John enrolled in nearby Huntington Business College. However, John Bowersox was destined for something completely different.
Bowersox continued to act while attending college and he caught the eye of local stock company owner, C. Garvin Gilmaine, who took Bowersox under his wing and eventually recommended him to a touring company performing A Royal Slave. Turning his back on college, John signed an acting contract and left Garrett for rehearsals in Coldwater, Michigan in July, 1904.
As a demonstration of support, his father equipped him with $450 worth of clothes and a trunk that his co-workers joked was worth more than all the show props combined. Bowersox recalled his father’s parting words in an interview with Photoplay Magazine, “If you don’t make [a go of it], come home.” That $450 investment George Bowersox made in his son turned out to be a good one.
The part he played as a Mexican soldier in A Royal Slave introduced Bowersox to a world he could have only dreamed of as a small-town kid. It led to more roles and bigger parts and, by 1912, Bowers had dropped the “ox” from his name and worked as an actor in New York City.  Many of his early performances came by way of his relationship with William A. Brady, a prolific producer of both stage and screen. Under his guidance, Bowers made his Broadway debut in Little Miss Brown on August 29, 1912.
When Bowers was working in New York theater, film studios in and around the city dominated the American motion picture film industry. By today’s standards, “silent era” films can seem campy and amateurish. The acting was often melodramatic and unnatural, a by-product of stage performances. However, a century ago this entertainment medium was every bit as creative and innovative as modern day modes of expression like virtual reality and TikTok.
As the scale of production increased, the larger studios on the West Coast began dominating the film industry and Bowers eagerly followed the work, moving back and forth between New York, Chicago, and California. It’s impossible to know precisely how many films Bowers made. Early film stock contained highly volatile nitrates that were subject to deterioration at best, and combustion at worst. Some sources estimate that seventy-five percent of early films are forever lost to either decay or disposal. Bowers’s first known credit appears in the short film The Baited Trap (1914), in which he played a criminal. He made two more films that year including one with Tom Mix. It wasn’t long before “John Bowers” was a leading man. He is officially credited with appearing in over ninety films, including Lorna Doone (1922), The Sky Pilot (1921), When a Man’s a Man (1924), and Chickie (1925). His rugged good looks and natural athleticism allowed Bowers to play many different roles.
Although often the love interest, Bowers played heroes, gangsters, cowboys, businessmen, soldiers, and lawyers. He acted in many genres including drama, musical, comedy, romance, crime drama, adventure, action, and westerns. He worked with most of the early silent film stars, such as Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Richard Dix. In 1960, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored him with one of the inaugural stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, acting did not define John Bowers.
Always a bit of daredevil, Bowers took pride in doing his own stunts, believing the audience would appreciate him more if they saw him risking life and limb. Early in his stage career, while acting in A Royal Slave, his over-enthusiastic dueling performance resulted in a sword-jab to his eye, causing serious injury. Years later, while making the film When a Man’s a Man (1924), he broke his leg trying to bull-dog a steer.
He was always athletic and believed that staying physically fit was essential to happiness. As a teenager, he built his own 21’ sailboat that he sailed around Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana. Bowers became so adept at maneuvering it that he would sometimes “turn turtle” just to exasperate his parents watching from shore. Sailing would become central to Bowers’s life. After achieving some success in New York, he purchased a 70’ racing schooner, the Uncas, which he enjoyed sailing up the Hudson River. Sometime in the early 1920s, his friend Doc Wilson sailed it from New York to California in ninety days. Later, Bowers would take his Hollywood friends out for weeks at a time.
An early adopter, Bowers embraced new technology. He became enamored with automobiles and was a known speedster around Los Angeles. In 1924, he took racing lessons from professional driver Ralph De Palma and even entered the 250-mile Thanksgiving Day race at the Ascot Speedway in LA. In addition to sailing and racing cars, Bowers became an accomplished pilot and even customized his own racing plane. In 1927, Bowers won first place on both days of the Santa Anna air races with his plane, the Thunderbird.
In the early decades of the 20th century, the Western genre began to take off and many film roles required athleticism. Bowers, who was reportedly, “an excellent horseman, can swing a mean lariat, and can bull-dog a steer like a hardened plainsman,” landed many plum roles. The exuberance in which he lived life made for great press. Publicists, either on behalf of the studios or hired by actors for a percentage of their income, carefully crafted the images of movie stars. They arranged appearances, set up photo shoots, and provided copy to trade magazines and newspapers eager to report the off-screen lives of the Hollywood elite. 
His third wife Marguerite De la Motte was also a silent film star.  De la Motte and Bowers co-starred in the film What a WifeLearned (1923), where they developed a friendship. For quite a while, fans and media speculated about their relationship and, according to most sources, Bowers and De La Motte married in 1924. The couple often entertained and sometimes amused their guests with an exhibition of Bowers’ shooting prowess. De La Motte would place an object on her head and John would shoot it off, an offer he made to anyone willing to participate. It is unclear how many reports about John Bowers are true. Many newspaper accounts reported what he was going to do rather than what he actually did. It’s possible that some accounts of Bowers have been exaggerated. Self-promotion and exaggeration were just as common then as they are today. One thing is certain; John Bowers embodied the spirit of carpe diem.
Bowers worked steadily during the 1920s, but like many silent film stars, he was unable to make the transition to “talkies”. Actors struggled to succeed in the era of sound for many reasons. Sometimes their voices did not match their screen persona, possibly due to an accent or the pitch of their voice. Some actors relied on constant direction that was not possible with the introduction of sound. For whatever reason, by 1927 Bowers’s film career was in decline. To make matters worse, around 1930 John and Marguerite likely separated.
The last movie Bowers made was Mounted Fury (1931). By then his drinking had become a problem. Bowers was only forty-five-years-old, but his life was unraveling. A few years later, he returned to Indiana and wrote a weekly fictional serial for the local newspaper, the Garrett Clipper.  The serial was a lighthearted coming-of-age story of a small town kid who made good. The protagonist, John Wright, was affable, ambitious and, “If he had fallen into a sewer he would have come out with a bouquet in his hand.” Many of the characters would probably have been familiar to Garret residents, and the serial ran from March until August of 1936.
While in Indiana, John had been caring for his long-ill mother, Ida, in nearby Syracuse when she passed away in July of 1936. Given the new void in his life, John decided to give acting another try. He heard that his old friend Henry Hathaway was directing a film with Gary Cooper and hoped there might be a part in it for him. So, he went back to LA one last time.
The morning after finding out that Hathaway was unable to offer Bowers a part in his movie, Bowers rented a small sailboat in Santa Monica. Two days later, on November 17, 1936, his body washed ashore in Malibu. The coroner reported the cause of death as “Drowned as a result of suicide – jumped off sail boat.” The boat was later recovered adrift. His sister, with whom he was staying at the time, reported that he had recently become despondent.
Although nobody knows what was on the mind of John Bowers when he went overboard, most believed he died by suicide. His mother had recently passed away, his acting career was floundering, and his drinking had become problematic. Despite such a tragic ending, this Hoosier left behind a legacy as a prolific film actor and adventurer.
 The exact date of Bowers’s birth is questionable. Census records, newspaper articles, and magazine stories report his date of birth differently, but generally around 1885. The DOB from his death certificate is the only official record. “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9SF-P9BR-Y?cc=2001287&wc=SJ5X-JWG%3A285174601%2C285330201 : 22 August 2018), Los Angeles, Death certificates 1936, no. 10100-12041, image 31 of 2142, California State Archives, Sacramento.
 “Local and Personal,” Garrett Clipper (Indiana), October 15, 1903, 5, Newspapers.com.
 “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald (Indiana), May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.
 “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald, May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.
 “He Hasn’t Been Home Since,” Photoplay, August, 1919, 61, Internetarchive.org.; “The Right Bower,” circa 1920, Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.
 “He Hasn’t Been Home Since,” Photoplay, August, 1919, 16: 3, 61, Internetarchive.org.
 Brady produced both plays and films. IMDB credits him for producing forty-three films from 1897-1920. Here are some examples of Brady-produced plays in which Bowers was a cast member: “At the Brady Playhouse,” Brooklyn Citizen, November 30, 1913, 17, Newspapers.com.; “The Family Cupboard” Chat [Brooklyn, New York], January 3, 1914, 16 Newspapers.com.; “Attractions of Current Week in Leading Washington Theaters: Family Cupboard,” Washington Herald [Washington, D.C.], January 18, 1914, 18, Newspapers.com.; “Belasco: The Family Cupboard,” Evening Star [Washington, D.C.], January 20, 1914, 8, Newspapers.com.; “This Week in the Theaters: Alvin,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, January 25, 1914, 23, Newspapers.com.; “Attractions at the Theatres: The Decent Thing to Do,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1914, 150, Newspapers.com.; “Surpasses Drury Lane,” Brooklyn Citizen, October 8, 1914, 6, Newspapers.com.; “Plenty of New Productions Listed for Future Appearance,” Variety, October, 1914, 36, 10, Internetarchive.org.
 David L. Smith, “John Bowers: A Tragedy That Became a Legend,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2017, 4, Indiana Historical Society.
1920 Census, Los Angeles Assembly District 63, Los Angeles, California; Roll: T625_106; Page: 12B; Enumeration District 167, FamilySearch.org.
 “Notes from Movie Land,” Knoxville Journal and Tribune (Tennessee), August 10, 1924, 17, Newspapers.com. This article establishes that he began taking racing lessons.; “Famous Driver Adopts Novel Training Stunt,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1924, 11, Newspapers.com.; “Floyd Roberts Adds to Fame,” Van Nuys News (California), September 16, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com. The previous two articles establish that Bowers became involved in the professional auto racing world in 1924.; “50 Daredevils Gamble Lives Against Time in 250-Mile Speed Battle,” Los Angeles Evening Express, November 27, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com. This article reveals that Bowers did not race in the Thanksgiving Day race but rather contributed as an track official.
 “Planes are Hobby of Bowers,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1927, 46, Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.
 “Yachts and Autos His Hobbyhorses,” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1924, 48, Newspapers.com.
 “Hollywood’s Halls,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1927, 136, Newspapers.com.
 Solid proof of the separation of John and Marguerite may not exist. Exactly when they married and when they separated is uncertain. “Romance of Screen Pair Disrupted,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1930, 8, Newspapers.com.
 “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, March 9, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, July 6, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, August 10, 1936, 3, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, August 17, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com.
 “Mrs. Ida Bowers,” Garrett Clipper, July 16, 1936, 1, Newspapers.com.
 “Body of Former Film Star Found,” Cushing Daily Citizen (Oklahoma), November 19, 1936, 12, Newspapers.com. After his death, a local newspaper reported that Bowers had been depressed and wanted to get back into movies. “John Bowers,” Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.
 “How Bowers Met Death,” Hammond Times (Indiana), November 19, 1936, 4, Newspapers.com.
Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice, from Talking Hoosier History.
Today on Giving Voice, I talk with Chris Newall, co-founder and Director of Education for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. In our last full episode, we covered roughly the first half of the life of Tenskwatawa, or The Prophet. Throughout the episode, we talked about danger of relying on sources produced in large by white colonizers to tell Native history, and how IHB and other history organizations are learning to broaden our ideas of what a source can be to include more Native voices in Native history.
To give you some more information on this topic and some context about why it’s so important, we knew we wanted to speak with someone who is working to bring these issues to light every day, and Chris Newall and the Akomawt Educational Initiative are doing just that.
Newell: Hi, Lindsey, hi everybody! My name’s Chris Newell and I’m a cofounder – one of three cofounders – of the Akomawt Educational Initiative. We’re located in the southeast corner of Connecticut, based out of Ledyard, Connecticut but we have roots all over Indian Country. I am originally Passamaquoddy from [place name], which is known as the Indian Township Preservation in Maine and live in Mashantucket and work at the Pequot Museum and do a lot of work – a lot of the focus of what we do is working with the Indigenous histories, helping with places that want to teach them in a culturally competent fashion to do so and hopefully create some resources, change some thinking in the future and make sure that when we talk about Indigenous histories that we include the voice of Indigenous people. So that’s the focus of what we do at Akomawt.
And just a little background – Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word. It comes from my language. It translates in English to the snowshoe path. It’s the symbol of our mission. Essentially, in the winter time, up in my territory, the snow shoe path was how you got out to where you needed to do work. When you needed to get back home, you found it again and traversed back on it. The more you used it, the easier it becomes to use and every season it renews. So that’s what we think about when we think about the educational initiative that we have brought forth here, is creating new learning paths for people to engage with Native content in a way that will be impactful as well as culturally competent, you know, trying to erase some of the old habits of Indigenous history in colonial spaces that have crept up and are still pervasive to this day.
Beckley: That’s great. And I know that we really admire your work. I know that one of the people here at the Historical Bureau saw you at the National Council on Public History and came back and we had a lot of really good conversations from that so, thank you for the work you’re doing and you continue to do and thank you for being here, of course.
Newell: Oh yea, absolutely love being here.
Beckley: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about those old habits you had mentioned. What are some of the habits that you were seeing and still see that you want to address with your initiative?
Newell: So, when it comes to museums, you know, essentially museums are places that were created by the colonization of America so when it comes to Indigenous histories told in museums, museums are essentially really colonial artifacts. Places of public history are oftentimes colonial artifacts and oftentimes tell the history of Indigenous people through that lens. American anthropology has a long history from the time it was founded of doing things like collecting human body parts, collecting material culture, and portraying a myth of saving the idea of the vanishing Indian, back in the early days of anthropology. Thoughts have changed over time but, you know, that’s kind of the basis of how these spaces were created in the first place and how a lot of these earlier books were created. And, so, there are some things that – some habits that were created back then. A lot of times, the use of generalized terminology – so Native, Native American, American Indian – to kind of put all Native peoples under one umbrella oftentimes appears and it’s not clear enough to a lot of people that there are literally, in existence right now in America, 573 separate, sovereign Native communities recognized by the government and over 1000 Native communities just in general in America – we’re not talking Canada and other places.
So there’s a really complex – there’s a serious complexity when it comes to Indigenous histories and when it comes to Indigenous contemporary issues and things of the sort. And unfortunately, museums generally still give the kind of general impression that we can put everything under the box of American Indian or Native American. If you visit a fine arts museum that has collections of fine art from around the world, literally all the Americans – the art of Americas – are usually places in one small room. So all of these 1000 different communities being represented in one small room. You know, it’s just – it give the general idea that we can put everything in one box and everything fits there when in fact there is no box that can contain the complexity of Native existence as well as our history and our arts and our cultural ways. So those old habits still exit today. We see changes happening when we see places like the MET have gotten rid of their Native American collection and have incorporated their Native American find art into their American wing. That was a big move there from a major museum of kind of rethinking how we present Native art as simply art, rather than cultural artifacts.
Also, the idea at a lot of public historical places, of presenting Native peoples as only existing in the past. That’s another old habit that is kind of pervasive today. I work at a major Native museum, and it’s not uncommon for a 4th grader to come into our museum, have a Native educator in front of them, and the first question they ask is, innocently, “When the Natives were alive …” and that’s how they begin their question. So there is literally a section – a significant portion of the population – that sees us as all dead and gone and vanished. And it’s largely due to the way public history is taught and the way it approaches Native Histories as if we are still having to be saved from being vanished, rather than incorporating the very vibrant ways that we have found ways to exist in the modern times and kept our culture alive and been very dynamic through history. And also, involved with all of American history.
That’s another thing with the story of America is that Native people are often so left out. And yet, the American Revolution was largely aided by Native peoples. All the way from that time – the industrial revolution was largely aided by work efforts in Native communities and things of that sort. And military times – you know, Native people have participated in the military in higher numbers per-capita than any other ethnicity in the United states and as a result, Native cultures were actually used in military structure and strategy to overcome things such as the code talkers from about 33 different tribes during World War II, which was a big part of the success of America in that war. So, in the story of America, Native people are, unfortunately, often let out as if we are a separate part of something else. And those are things that we at Akomawt are looking to address and looking to bring all together, so when we’re talking about the history of this land, we don’t just start at the time of colonization and think of it as only 400 or so years old. But rather, we think about people living on this land back 13,000 years at least, which includes Indigenous history as well and not erase that part of the history of this land here. Because Native people did exist here and thrive and subsist in a sustained fashion well – for millennia prior to any colonization. So, the idea that colonization saved Native people in some form is also something that we look to address as well. You know, so we really want to give Native perspective to a lot of these things. And that includes bringing Native voices and changing the framework by which Native history is taught inside of these colonial artifacts of public history such as museums to present them in a different framework that would expand the thinking outside of that box that we are constantly put inside of.
Beckley: That’s great. I know that we at the Historical Bureau have been thinking a lot about that and trying to come to terms with what we’ve done in the past and how we can improve ourselves going forward. And I think one of the major, I wouldn’t say blocks, but one of our – something that intimidates us about going forward is that, as public historians, we’ve gone through school. We’ve gone through, you know, some of us up to PhD level and all of it is learning how to use primary sources and how to read primary sources. And when we think of primary sources, we primarily think of written materials, weather that be documents or newspapers – things like that. Obviously, a lot of Native history isn’t written down in the same way European history was. And if it is, it was probably written by a European person. What are some of the sources that you turn to, to look at Native history?
Newell: Ok, so, the sources that I look forward to are really those conversations that I have in Native communities talking to people that have history there through multiple multiple multiple generations. And oftentimes, there are a lot of stories – a lot of oral histories that you can delve into that can really teach you a lot, especially when it comes to Native perspectives. So things like the name of the land, prior to colonization. Prior to the renaming of it. How did Native people name different aspect of land or the land that they live on? What was the lens that they viewed land through? So language is an important tool – so important for the view into the Native perspective. Native languages are so different from the English language. And that’s one of the things that I’ve delved into the most. So that requires from people that are language speakers and people that have that frame of mind of thinking through and Indigenous lens though language. And those are oftentimes elders, but not always, so sometimes you’ve got to spend some time and you’ve got to search out who is the respected person and who has these stories. Have conversations and just kind of let things come out as naturally as they would.
So oral histories for me are a bit part of what drives me because a lot of what they tell is not written down and what writing it down would do is kind of photograph it and freeze it in time because the stories do change over time, but that’s also part of the history. Viewing how to stories do change over time as well. So there is a way to view oral history that you can gain knowledge from that can be factual. But there is a method for viewing oral history that really takes some experience. You really need to be able to talk to a lot of people that have these histories and kind of get a sense of what a broad swath of how they’re viewing things, rather than just talking to one single person, which is the same as looking at one single primary – a piece of paper – a primary source document. It’s really the perspective of one person. So it’s kind of a failure of a primary document is that it does give an accurate photograph of that person’s view at that time. But it’s only that person and we’re not getting the swath of information across a broad perspective of people. So that’s why for me oral histories are one of the ways that I go and also I pay attention to the particular language. And just to give you a window into how different that is – the English language, when it was introduced to this land when the English arrived – has the blueprint of England. The ideas of land improvement – and I’m gonna put quotes around that word improvement – in 17th century English knowledge meant cutting down trees, planning crops, raising cows, chickens, and pigs – which are very different from the 13,000 years of sustainable farming and hunting practices and fishing practices that Native people had done for millennia. And would actually destroy the environment, upset the natural balance of things. And we’re currently still living under that and so that’s not sustainable here. You know, we’re seeing America return to Indigenous ways of knowing. So the Indigenous language has words that – of viewing land as property, and even viewing people as property. In the Algonquin language, at least in my language, land is not considered something that we can possess as an object. In fact, when we pick up a handful of dirt, the way we translate what would be the English equivalent of dirt really translates to “the molecules of our ancestors,” which shows Indigenous knowledge of the cycle of life and the science of all of that. And under that framework, with that translation, we see land as literally life. So if you pick up a handful of what would be in English dirt and you let that to fall out of your hand, that’s literally in our viewpoint, the molecules of your ancestors falling to the earth or literally life falling out of your hand and back to the earth. Therefore, how can you own life – if your framework, you cannot. And the land sustains everybody, not just people, but all animals, all life, is sustained by the land. Therefore, in our viewpoint, it cannot be owned. A lot of Native languages have similar kinds of concepts in them in that land is oftentimes considered in some shape or form alive. Or a version of substance. So elders, oral history, and language especially. Very very important to pay attention to the language of the people that lived on that land for thousands of years and have an intimate knowledge of it and developed a language around the way the land required them to live – to really have a knowledge of that history there. So please be sure you include knowledge of language and language keepers when talking about Native history there because of the importance of the framework.
Beckley: That is incredibly interesting. I have, of course, heard through my traditional education all about “Native people didn’t believe in land ownership,” but I never heard anybody, I don’t think, explain why they didn’t believe that. It’s always kind of a given of “of course they didn’t believe that. We believed that and they were different so that’s why.” Thank you for explaining that. That’s incredibly interesting to me.
Beckley: I wanted to ask if you think that our current methods of historiography are adequate for doing Native history. They’re just so based in a Eurocentric worldview and they’re roots are in Europe. So I want to know if you think that we just need to rethink the very foundations of how we’re doing history or is there a way to make our methods fit in with doing Native history?
Newell: Yea, so we really do need some radical thinking amongst historiographers and the way that we retell histories. And sometimes, in historical tellings we really try to achieve objectivity, which has its own merit and is valuable in its own right. However, there is something to be said for the subjective history. So to tell a story from a Native perspective completely is going to have a completely different ring to it than the primary source document history that was likely written by early Americans or people of European ancestry. And so, that’s one of the ways that we can rethink the way that we do these things. And technology is really affording us ways to bring back or to rethink how we do things. Some of these old things – one of the things that would often happen is that a lot of these things that were kept in collections were actually kept in the collection and you had to have special access to get to a collection to get that knowledge. And guess what? Some of that knowledge that was recorded by Europeans and early Americans is actually really factually and very valuable to Native communities who, through colonization, have in some way shape or form maybe have been forced to lose that knowledge. And by keeping it from native communities, you’re actually putting a block in front of them from getting a sense of sovereignty for themselves. Which includes not just self-governance, but also sovereignty in the way they tell their history.
For them to be able to look at those documents and then for them to be able to frame that information through their lens now allows historiographers who are largely translating it from one point of view, to see an opposing point of view, and when it comes to objectivity – that’s how we’re going to get to a more objective route there is by hearing both sides, which sometimes are opposed to one another. Which is totally find because not all things in history are very clear cut and we should discuss and debate. But we should also make sure that we are including all perspectives while we’re doing so and be aware when we’re not. So those are all things to consider for going forward there. And also creating long term relationships with tribal communities. For these colonial spaces of public history telling, that is such an important thing as well because when you bring a Native perspective into your museum, you can – there are ways to re frame the work essentially, decolonizing your museum. I know we use that term a lot these days, “decolonizing,” that’s really a way of re framing things back to an Indigenous perspective. My preferred word, when it’s applicable in actually re-indiginizing. So, what we’re doing is we’re taking a colonial space telling a story from a colonial perspective, and we’re going to take that history and then re-indiginize it because prior to colonization, this is the way the history was told was through an Indigenous lens, just not in a museum. So we’re taking that history and we’re re-indiginizing it through that fashion.
Beckley: So, for our last question, I think it might be a little bit redundant, but I keep on – I hear you talk about the importance of community engagement and including Native perspectives. Can you just elaborate on why it is so important to do these things and why it’s important for everybody who’s listening to be thinking about some of these questions?
Newell: Absolutely, So, in native communities, there is a lot of knowledge that gets passed down through the generations, and these types of things – that type of knowledge being passed down – doesn’t get a degree passed with it. There’s not a piece of paper that goes with that knowledge and these people become respected knowledge keepers in their communities. And when we approach these communities and we find these knowledge keepers and we’re going to bring them into these academic or public history spaces – the common thing is, if we were to bring in another academic, we would pay them for their service of research or knowledge in helping that institution to accumulate – we should also think of Native knowledge keepers who don’t have a master’s degree of a PhD to be on the same level of knowledge as somebody with a masters or PhD. It’s just that they have that level of knowledge on their own community and therefore, we should compensate them appropriately when we do involve their knowledge. Too often, one of the old habits of old anthropologists was to go into a Native community, extract knowledge, not give any compensation to the people they extracted the knowledge from, and then leave the community, write books, and develop careers based on what they have extracted from that community. And that really needs to change. There really needs to be some collaboration. Some equity. If we go back to the presentation that we did for NCPH, there really needs to be some equity in the collaboration and these colonial spaces really need to recognize Native knowledge keepers on the same level as the PhD’s that they have in their institutions and make sure that we treat their knowledge equally as well as compensate them properly because in this modern day world, unfortunately we cannot live necessarily off the lands we used to, and therefore, the use of money to get food and things – that’s what we all live under these days. Therefore, we should consider these traditional people with that compensation or, possibly maybe doing something for the community if they would choose not to have money because some of these people don’t want money. So when that happens, there should be some sort of give and take going with the community as well to acknowledge what is that, to make sure we’re lifting it up and putting it on the same level as those that would write about it that come from outside the communities.
Beckley: Thank you. I think, Chris, I think we’re running up against our time limit here but I wanted to give you an opportunity to say anything that you wanted to say that I’ve left out – address any concerns that you have, or just promote yourself or your institute.
Newell: So, yes, once again we are the Akomawt Educational Initiative. You can find our website at www.akomawt.org. That’s the Passamaquoddy spelling. I know that the “k” sounds like a “g,” so that Akomawt, but it is a “k” in there. So, you can find out more information about what we’re doing and what we’re up to. We’re also on social media at Akomawt, on twitter at Akomawt as well as on Facebook, and those are the places that you can really see an up-to-date of what we’re up to in real time. And we have some other things that are coming up in the near future so follow our social media and keep an eye on our efforts – one of the things that we’re looking to do in the very near future is provide a database for Native American mascots for people who want to have conversations about that and to see the data about those schools and which ones have changed and all of the information. And in the future, possibly, a Native sourced website on treaties. So, once again, a very subjective history – we’re going to let tribes tell their own view of how treaties were historically signed with the U.S. government or with British government history. So, get a different side of the story as well. So that’s things you can look forward to from Akomawt. We look forward to this work – this is really something we’re all impassioned about, endawnis, Jason and I feel very strongly about this work and thank you so much for having us here to bring our voice to your podcast.
Once again, I want to thank Chris for taking the time to talk with us for this segment. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or Native history in general, we will include a link to a great reading list compiled by Akomawt in our show notes, which you can find by going to blog.history.in.gov and clicking on Talking Hoosier History at the top.
We’ll be back next month with another episode of Talking Hoosier History. In the meantime, follow IHB on Facebook and twitter for daily doses of Indiana History tidbits. Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks for listening!
Show Notes for Giving Voice: Chris Newell:
Learn more about the Akomawt Educational Initiative at their website: akomawt.org.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or Native history in general, Akomawt has put together a phenomenal resource list, including websites, books and more. Find it here.
In the episode, Chris mentioned a database for Native American mascots that Akomawt was working on. In the intervening time since we spoke, that database has gone live and is a greats resource to learn about the history surrounding Native American Mascots, the conversations going on about the topic and ways to approach conversations on the topic. You can see that here.
As a researcher, few things are more disheartening than coming across that blemish on an otherwise inspiring legacy. But it happens more often than not in the messiness of human history. Events and actors often occupy an ambiguous position between right and wrong, progressive and stagnant, heroic and indifferent. We wish the loose ends of the stories could be tied up into one neat moral bow, but often it’s more complex. In wrestling with this phenomenon, I concluded two things: that context is everything and that we must remember that the historical figures we idolize—and sometimes demonize—were, in fact, evolving humans. The visionary and controversial leadership of Indianapolis Rev. Oscar McCulloch and Gary, Indiana Rep. Katie Hall inspired these conclusions.
In the early 20th century, Oscar McCulloch’s misguided attempt to ease societal ills was utilized to strip Americans of their reproductive rights. Born in Fremont, Ohio in 1843, McCulloch studied at the Chicago Theological Seminary before assuming a pastorship at a church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He moved to Indianapolis in 1877 to serve as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, situated on Monument Circle. On the heels of economic depression triggered by the Panic of 1873, he implemented his Social Gospel mission. He sought to ease financial hardship by applying the biblical principles of generosity and altruism. To the capital city, Brent Ruswick stated in his Indiana Magazine of History article, McCulloch “brought a blend of social and theological liberalism and scientific enthusiasm to his work in Indianapolis.” He also brought a deep sense of empathy for the impoverished and soon coordinated and founded the city’s charitable institutions, like the Indianapolis Benevolent Society, Flower Mission Society, and the Indianapolis Benevolent Society.
In 1878, McCulloch encountered the Ishmael family, living in abject poverty. He described them in his diary :
composed of a man, half-blind, a woman, and two children, the woman’s sister and child, the man’s mother, blind, all in one room six feet square. . . . When found they had no coal, no food. Dirty, filthy because of no fire, no soap, no towels.
Disturbed by the encounter, McCulloch headed to the township trustee’s office to research the Indianapolis family, who lived on land known as “Dumptown” along the White River, as well as in predominantly African American areas like Indiana Avenue, Possum Hollow, Bucktown, and Sleigho. He discovered that generations of Ishmaels had depended upon public relief. According to Ruswick, McCulloch came to believe that the Ishmaels, “suffering from the full gamut of social dysfunctions,” were not “worthy people suffering ordinary poverty but paupers living wanton and debased lives.” Over the course of ten years, the pastor sought to discover why pauperism reoccurred generationally, examining 1,789 ancestors of the Ishmaels, beginning with their 1840 arrival in Indiana.
The blemish. McCulloch’s nationally renowned 1888 “Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation” concluded that heredity and environment were responsible for social dependence. He noted that the Ishmaels “so intermarried with others as to form a pauper ganglion of several hundreds,” that they were comprised of “murderers, a large number of illegitimacies and of prostitutes. They are generally diseased. The children die young.” In order to survive, the Ishmaels stole, begged, “gypsied” East and West, and relied on aid from almshouses, the Woman’s Reformatory, House of Refuge and the township. Assistance, he reasoned, only encouraged paupers like the Ishmaels to remain idle, to wander, and to propagate “similarly disposed children.” In fact, those benevolent souls who gave to “begging children and women with baskets,” he alleged, had a “vast sin to answer for.” McCulloch’s sentiment echoes modern arguments about who is entitled to public assistance.
In addition to revoking aid, McCulloch believed the drain on private and public resources in future generations could be stymied by removing biologically-doomed children from the environment of poverty. Ruswick noted that McCulloch, in the era of Darwin’s Natural Selection, believed “pauperism was so strongly rooted in a person’s biology that it could not be cured, once activated” and that charities should work to prevent paupers from either having or raising children. This line of thought foreshadowed Indiana’s late-1890s sterilization efforts and 1907 Eugenics Law. The Charity Organization Society, consulting McCulloch‘s “scientific proof,” decided to remove children from families with a history of pauperism and vagrancy, essentially trampling on human rights for the perceived good of society.
But McCulloch had a change of heart. He began to rethink the causes of poverty, believing environmental and social factors were to blame rather than biological determinism. Ruswick notes that “Witnessing the rise of labor unrest in the mid-1880s, both within Indianapolis and nationwide, McCulloch began to issue calls for economic and social justice for all poor.”* To the ire of many of his Indianapolis congregants, the pastor defended union demonstrations and pro-labor parties. He no longer traced poverty to DNA, but to an unjust socioeconomic system that locked generations in hardship. McCulloch believed that these hardships could be reversed through legislative reform and organized protest. To his dismay, McCulloch’s new ideology reportedly resulted in his church being “‘broken up.'”
In a nearly complete reversal of his stance on pauperism, McCulloch wrote a statement titled “The True Spirit of Charity Organization” in 1891, just prior to his death. He opined :
I see no terrible army of pauperism, but a sorrowful crowd of men, women and children. I propose to speak of the spirit of charity organization. It is not a war against anybody. . . . It is the spirit of love entertaining this world with the eye of pity and the voice of hope. . . . It is, then, simply a question of organization, of the best method for method for the restoration of every one.
But after McCulloch’s death, Arthur H. Estabrook, a biologist at the Carnegie Institution’s Eugenics Research Office, repurposed McCulloch’s social study (notably lacking scientific methodology) into the scientific basis for eugenics. Historian Elsa F. Kramer wrote that Estabrook revised McCulloch’s “casual observations of individual feeblemindedness” into support for reforms that “included the institutionalization of adult vagrants, the prevention of any possibility of their future reproduction, and the segregation of their existing children—all to protect the integrity of well-born society’s germ-plasm.” McCulloch had unwittingly provided a basis for preventing those with “inferior” genetics from having children in the name of improving the human race. Kramer notes that co-opting the Ishmael studies for this purpose reflected “the changing social context in which the notes were written.” In fact, Estabrook resumed the Ishmael studies in 1915 because “of their perceived value to eugenic arguments on racial integrity.”
McCulloch’s work influenced Charles B. Davenport’s report to the American Breeders Association and Dr. Harry C. Sharp’s “Indiana Plan,” an experimental program that utilized sterilization to curtail unwanted behaviors of imprisoned Indiana men. Sharp also promoted Indiana’s 1907 Eugenics Law, the first in the U.S., which authorized a forced sterilization program “to prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists” in state institutions. Twelve states enacted similar laws by 1913 and approximately 2,500 Hoosiers were sterilized before the practice ceased in 1974. Even though McCulloch moved away from his problematic beliefs, for decades they were utilized to rob Americans of the ability to have a family. His legacy proved to be out of his hands.
The complexities of African American Rep. Katie Hall’s legacy could not be more different. In 1983, Rep. Hall, built on a years-long struggle to create a federal holiday honoring the civil rights legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday. Each year since Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, U.S. Representative John Conyers had introduced a bill to make Dr. King’s January 15 birthday a national holiday. Many became involved in the growing push to commemorate Dr. King with a holiday, including musician Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow. But it was the Gary, Indiana leader who spent the summer of 1983 on the phone with legislators to whip votes and successfully led several hearings called to measure Americans’ support of a holiday in memory of King’s legacy. Hall was quoted in the Indianapolis News about her motivation:
‘The time is before us to show what we believe— that justice and equality must continue to prevail, not only as individuals, but as the greatest nation in this world.’
Representative Hall knew the value of the Civil Rights Movement first hand. In 1938, she was born in Mississippi, where Jim Crow laws barred her from voting. Hall moved her family to Gary in 1960, seeking better opportunities. Hall trained as a school teacher at Indiana University, and she taught social studies in Gary public schools. As a politically engaged citizen, Hall campaigned to elect Gary’s first Black Mayor, Richard Hatcher. She broke barriers herself when, in 1974, she became the first Black Hoosier to represent Indiana in Congress. Two years later, she ran for the Indiana Senate and won. While in the Indiana General Assembly, Hall supported education measures, healthcare reform, labor interests, and protections for women, such as sponsoring a measure to “fund emergency hospital treatment for rape victims,” including those who could not afford to pay.
The blemish. In 1987, voters elected Hall Gary city clerk, and it was in this position that her career became mired in scandal. In 2001, suspended city clerk employees alleged that Hall and her daughter and chief deputy, Junifer Hall, pressured them to donate to Katie’s political campaign or face termination. Dionna Drinkard and Charmaine Singleton said they were suspended after not selling tickets at a fundraiser for Hall’s reelection campaign. Although suspended, the Halls continued to list them as active employees, which meant Drinkard was unable to collect unemployment. The U.S. District Court charged the Halls with racketeering and perjury, as well as more than a dozen other charges. At trial, a federal grand jury heard testimony from employees who stated that the Halls forced them to sell candy and staff fundraisers to maintain employment. Allegedly, the Halls added pressure by scheduling fundraisers just before pay day. Investigators discovered cases of ghost-employment, noting that employees listed on the office’s 2002 budget included a former intern who was killed in 1999, a student who worked for the clerk part time one summer two years previously, and Indiana’s Miss Perfect Teen, who was listed as a “maintenance man.”
According to the Munster Times, the Halls alleged their arrest was racially motivated and their lawyers (one of whom was Katie’s husband, John) claimed that “the Halls only did what white politicians have done for decades.” Josie Collins countered in an editorial for the Times that “if they do the crime, they should do the time. This is not an issue of racial discrimination. It is an issue of illegal use of the taxpayers’ money.” Whether or not the Halls’ allegation held water, it is clear from phone recordings between Junifer and an employee, as well as the “parade of employees past and present” who testified against the Halls, that they broke the law.
In 2003, the Halls pled guilty to a federal mail fraud charge that they extorted thousands of dollars from employees. By doing so, their other charges were dropped. They also admitted to providing Katie’s other daughter, Jacqueline, with an income and benefits, despite the fact that she did not actually work for the city clerk. The Halls immediately resigned from office. In 2004, they seemed to resist taking accountability for their criminal actions and filed a countersuit, in which they claimed that Gary Mayor Scott King and the Common Council refused to provide them with a competent lawyer regarding “the office’s operation.” The Munster Times noted “The Halls said they wouldn’t have broken the law if the city of Gary had provided them sound advice.” Instead, they lost their jobs and claimed to suffer from “‘extreme mental stress, anxiety, depression, humiliation and embarrassment by the negative publication of over 500 news articles.'” For this, they asked the court to award them $21 million.
The City of Gary deemed the Halls’ Hail Mary pass “frivolous,” and a “‘form of harassment,'” arguing that “the Halls had no one to blame for their troubles but themselves.” The countersuit was dismissed. Junifer served a 16-month sentence at the Pekin Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois. Katie Hall was placed on probation for five years. According to the Munster Times, one observer at her trial noted:
‘We are seeing the destruction of an icon.’
Thus ended Katie Hall’s illustrious political career, in which she worked so hard to break racial barriers and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This leads to the perhaps unanswerable question: “Why?” Maybe in the early 2000s no one was immune from being swept into Gary’s notoriously corrupt political system. This system arose from the city’s segregated design, one which afforded white residents significantly more opportunities than Black residents. Possibly, the Halls sought to create their own advantages, at the expense of others. Either way, it is understandable that some Gary residents opposed the installation of a historical marker commemorating her life and work.
In many ways, McCulloch’s and Hall’s stories are not unique. It seems almost inevitable that with such prolific careers, one will make morally or ethically questionable decisions or at least be accused of doing so. Take African American physician Dr. Joseph Ward, who established a sanitarium in Indianapolis to treat Black patients after being barred from practicing in City Hospital. He forged professional opportunities for aspiring African American nurses in an era when Black women were often relegated to domestic service and manual labor. In 1924, Dr. Ward became the first African American commander of the segregated Veterans Hospital No. 91 at Tuskegee, Alabama. With his appointment, the hospital’s staff was composed entirely of Black personnel. Ward’s decision to accept the position was itself an act of bravery, coming on the heels of hostility from white residents, politicians, and the Ku Klux Klan. The blemish. In 1937, before a Federal grand jury he pled guilty to “conspiracy to defraud the Government through diversion of hospital supplies.” The esteemed leader was dismissed “under a cloud” after over eleven years of service. However, African American newspapers attributed his fall from grace to political and racial factors. According to The New York Age, Black Republicans viewed the “wholesale indictment of the Negro personnel” at Veterans Hospital No. 91 as an attempt by Southern Democrats to replace Black staff with white, to “rob Negroes of lucrative jobs.” Again, context comes into play when making sense of blemishes.
If nothing else, these complex legacies are compelling and tell us something about the period in which the figures lived. Much like our favorite fictional characters—Walter White, Don Draper, Daenerys Targaryen—controversial figures like Katie Hall and Oscar McCulloch captivate us not because they were perfect or aspirational, but because they took risks and were complex, flawed, and impactful. They were human.