Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who’s a Hoosier?

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – February 2016, No. 133)

Who’s a Hoosier?

How many times has some one from Indiana been asked, what is a Hoosier?  Not the nickname for a state university, but that seemingly indefinable term Indianans have been branded. One survey seeking the solution produced a list of thirty-eight possible explanations. 

A 1995, Indiana Magazine of History published by Fisk University History Professor William D. Pierson’s gave his take on the issue.  In 1848, John Bartlett suggested in the Dictionary of Americanisms that “Hoosier” was a term that started way down in New Orleans coming from a word spelled “Husher” a rough and tumble sort not to be crossed.  Since there was no evidence for “Husher” it had been dismissed.

Bartlett presents the notion that maybe it was “who’s yere” the reply a stranger heard after a knock on the door of remote settler’s cabin.  Although popular as a definition it did not line up with how some one would approach their arrival of the day.  Then came the suggestion of “hussar” since some thought it a corruption of a European term to honor the fighting spirit of river boatmen. Or, perhaps it came about because the boatmen who enjoyed leaping into the air and bellowing “huzza,” Both have not been taken too seriously by historians as the source of the term.

Historian Jacob Piatt Dunn noted a similar word, “hoozeer” for “anything unusually large,” believed that the expression “Hoosier” could be explained standing a test of three common attributes.  It must apply to a rough class of people. It came from the South. It was created to designate Indiana people.  Dunn’s third test had to be eliminated since the word existed before it was used in reference to one from Indiana, however, it was intended to denigrate as well having come up from the South.  As early as 1833 the Indianapolis Journal published John Finley’s poem titled, “The Hoosier’s Nest.”  Dunn was even able to trace the word from southern Virginia and the Carolinas then west to Tennessee as derogatory before moving north to Indiana. 

Dunn also tracked down a rumor that a contractor for the Louisville & Portland Canal on the Ohio River named Hoosier was hiring men from Indiana who became “Hoosier Men”.  However, no such contractor was found so that idea was dropped.

A term from the 1899 edition of William Dickinson’s Dialect of Cumberland suggested a similar word “hoozer.” From the Anglo Saxton it came through Cumberland and as mentioned above meant something or somebody unusually large. However, “hoozer” was considered different from “hoosier” pronounced “hoo-zher.”

During the years “Hoosier” was finding its way on the then-frontier, there emerged a likely source.  Among the Methodist preachers was the African-American evangelist Harry Hoosier.  Born about 1750, he had gained his freedom and became a popular circuit rider among other white ministers. Hoosier was a gifted speaker and Benjamin Rush said that even though he was illiterate, “he was the greatest orator in America.” As such, the preacher said he knew only the sound of his name not the spelling.

History Professor Pierson wrote that some scholarly historians believe the term “Hoosier” was a reference to back country primitive followers of Harry Hoosier who fought for the anti-slavery position. Of all the speculation, Dunn’s suggestion of the “hoozeer” and the Harry Hoosier best qualify for the terms movement from the Appalachian frontier. Other theories depend on origins that cannot show the place and ways the word was used.

A condescending and disparaging word ‘Cracker” directed toward poor white folks in the South was displaced by “Hoosiers” in the upper regions of the South.  Even the rubes of North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky may have been embraced as Hoosiers, but the geographical dividing line between “Hoosier” and “Cracker” marks the southern limit of Harry Hoosier’s circuit tours.  So it remains, whose-sure with any certainty where the moniker came from is yet to be determined.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

John Kinzie

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – December 2015, No. 131)

John Kinzie

Anyone traveling in and about Chicago is likely to encounter Kinzie Street.  John Kinzie is reputed to be the “father” of the City of Chicago having earned the title as one of its early settlers. John Kinzie once lived in Miamitown, the site of present-day Fort Wayne and at the request of Father Louis Payet stepped in to play his violin for the small Catholic community gathered in December 1789 for the Christmas Eve midnight Mass.

It was during the early 1790s a few years before the U.S. fortress was dedicated as Fort Wayne. In the journal of Henry Hay, a visitor to Miamitown from Detroit, who on February 17, 1790, wrote that the frozen rivers created ice jams which, in turn, caused the water to rise partially flooding Miamitown. To get around, folks used canoes and pirogues and by February 24th the water had surrounded John Kinzie’s house forcing him to move out.

Eight months earlier when Harmer’s army came up from Fort Washington – now the Cincinnati area – suffering a defeat at the hands of the Miami Confederation, John Kinzie was in Miamitown along with George Sharp and Antoine Lasselle. Sharp wrote to Col. Alexander McKee from Defiance on October 17, 1790, before he heard of Harmer’s loss.  “I left the Miamies the 15th. The people in general had then saved a considerable part of their property but the village was burned to ashes by the Indians, lest it offer shelter to their enemies.  Messrs. Kinzie and Lacelle (sic) were to remain in the environs of the Miamis four days at last after my departure and promised to send me every intelligence of consequence to this place.” (

In 1792 Kinzie was described as “a Scot, who, in addition to merchandizing, followed the occupation of a silversmith, exchanging with the Indian his brooches, ear-drops, and other silver ornaments, at an enormous profit, for skins and furs.”

In 1804, Kinzie moved to Chicago, where Fort Dearborn had been constructed during the summer of 1803 making his home opposite the fort on the north bank of the Chicago River.  He was in his new town when General William Hull, governor of Michigan and commandant of the American force at Detroit, ordered Captain Nathan Heald at Fort Dearborn to abandon his command and take refuge back at Fort Wayne.  John  Kinzie also was there when William Wells and his band of Miami warriors arrived in 1812 to escort the occupants out of Fort Dearborn and return the garrison to the safety of Fort Wayne.  Among the caravan travelers were Well’s niece, Mrs. Rebekah Heald and Mrs. Margaret Helm the wife of Lt. Linai T. Helm. Mrs. Heald witnessed her uncle William Wells cut down by the mostly Potawatomi attackers as he attempted to escort some ninety-six officers, enlisted militia as well as women and children, many in covered wagons exiting the fort. American losses counted fifty-three dead along with many wounded, and about fifteen warriors were lost.

During the attack, Chief Black Partridge rescued Margaret Helm.  After the conflict the Potawatomi Black Partridge along with Waubansee, protected Mrs. Helm as well as John Kinzie’s family.   Mrs. Heald, Mrs. Helm and Sergeant Griffith, brother of Mrs. Alexander Ewing of Fort Wayne were saved through the good offices of Black Partridge, Sau-gan-ash and Topenebe. 

These were days of great importance. John Kinzie was one of the colorful characters who witnessed the struggles of the wilderness at places which grew to become the city of Fort Wayne and the mega city of Chicago.  Raids on Maimitown and the War of 1812 at Fort Dearborn – America’s second war of Independence from Great Brittan control – found John Kinzie as an eyewitness. He was at his home when he died in 1828 and is buried in Chicago, where he brought a piece of Hoosier with him to found the city of Chicago.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lambdin P. Milligan

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – November 2015, No. 130)

Lambdin P. Milligan

During the American Civil War, southern sympathizers known as Copperheads, (meaning snakes) living in Indiana had joined states including Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky in what became known as the Northwest Conspiracy.  The most serious of their followers formed the Knights of the Golden Circle in 1854, which was the catalyst for the Sons of Liberty. Among this group’s leaders was Lambdin P. Milligan of Huntington County. Born in 1812, he had grown to a commanding height of six-feet four inches during which time he also developed a love for reading.  He became a lawyer and at the time of the Civil War believed it was a New England concern motivated by New England Yankees worried about making money.  He openly advocated for the doctrine of a states’ rights to separate from the Union.

Archivist Stephen E. Towne writing for Indiana Magazine of History stated that shortly after Milligan had been rejected for a gubernatorial nomination by Indiana’s Democrat Convention delegates, he was in Fort Wayne on August 13, 1864, speaking to, “a sizable minority of the party who clamored for an immediate end to the war against the Confederate states.” That fall Milligan was part of a group who planned sabotage, releasing and arming Confederate prisoners in Indianapolis and overthrowing state governments. The group was uncovered, arrested and tried for treason.

About the time the South was ready to quit the Rebellion, it was reinvigorated when learning the Sons of Liberty were planning to liberate some 40,000 Confederate prisoners of war held at Camp Douglas at Chicago and other northern locations including Camp Morton at Indianapolis. With the releasing of prisoners and seizing the arsenals at Camp Douglas and Rock Island, they planned to march the prisoners south to join up with rebel armies. Historians mention that Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s daring raid into southern Indiana to pillage her counties was perhaps a part of the scheme intended to signal a start of the Sons of Liberty’s action.
If their plot had succeeded, the Sons of Liberty believed that they could control of the supply lines to the South thus weakening the Union's cause. Although the plan was set to take place, a spy had revealed their strategy to Indiana's Governor Oliver P. Morton.  Milligan, along with of other Sons of Liberty members were arrested and thousands of arms were seized.  Milligan, Dr. William A. Bowles of French Lick, Ind., and Stephen Horsey of Shoals, Ind., were tried by a military commission found guilty of all charges brought against them and sentenced to hang.  After Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson ordered the executions to take place, but Indiana’s Governor Morton stepped in to plead for the lives of the condemned prisoners.  When the request was turned down by President Johnson, Morton appealed to the federal district court in Indianapolis and the case was sent up to the Supreme Court.
In 1866, a verdict was rendered by the High Court, known as ex parte Milligan, that the military trial of a civilian in a place where the civil courts remained open was unconstitutional.  The Court’s decision is one which protects civilians from being tried in military courts, even in time of war, if the civil courts are open and functioning. In a separate Indiana Magazine of History analysis by Peter J. Barry, Justice David Davis is quoted as saying: “When peace prevails, and the authority of the government is undisputed, there is no difficulty of preserving the safeguards of liberty…but if society is disturbed by civil commotion – if the passions of men are aroused and the restraints of law weakened, if not disregarded – these safeguards need, and should receive, the watchful care of those entrusted with the guardianship of the Constitution and laws.”

   An Indiana Historical Bureau marker stands on the west lawn of the courthouse in Huntington, Indiana, which honors the decision stating in part, “In a landmark decision on April 3, 1866, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conspiracy against the national government conviction of Huntington attorney Lambdin P. Milligan (1812-1899).”  This High Court decision guaranteed by right of the Constitution meant Milligan was able to return to continue practicing law. He died on December 21, 1899, at age eighty seven and is buried in Huntington, Indiana’s Mount Hope Cemetery.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Judge William Polke

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – September 2015, No. 128)

Judge William Polke

History has recorded that William Polke was born on September 19, 1775, in Brooke County, Virginia.  As a boy in 1782, he with his mother and three sisters were captured by raiding Indians. Handed over to the British at Detroit, the family was held as prisoners for a year before being released in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Later the Polke family moved to Knox County, Indiana, and as an adult, William established a career in public service.  He was with Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, helped build the original stronghold at Fort Wayne, and was wounded during the Battle of Tippecanoe. In 1814 he served as a Knox County associate circuit court judge as well as won election to the Territorial Legislature.  Polke became one of the forty-three delegates to the Constitutional Convention responsible for writing Indiana’s first state constitution in 1816. He served two terms as the state senator of Knox County, but he lost his bid for Lieutenant-Governor in 1822 which apparently ended his quest for elective office.   Polke was appointed in 1830 by an act of the Indiana General Assembly one of the three commissioners for the construction of the Michigan Road.  Historians have recorded that Polke served a critical role in the success of that project, which established a road extending from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan.

During 1838 Superintendent, Emigration of Indians, Able C. Pepper assigned Polke as a conductor of the Potawatomi peoples’ removal from their northern Indiana homeland on their grueling march to Kansas. Cecil K. Byrd, professor, Lilly Library, at Indiana University in 1979 wrote in, “The Papers of William Polke, 1775-1843” found on-line at scholarworks.iu.edu that, “Polke was genuinely concerned with the welfare of the Indians and, disclaimers to the contrary, personally did everything he could to supply food, clothing and render medical assistance in the exercise of his official duties.”

 It was a forced march of over eight hundred Potawatomi known to history as “The Trail of Death.”    When reaching Danville, Illinois, the tribe was handed over to William Polke. Paul Wallace Gates noted in The John Tipton Papers that Polke, “was convinced that his prompt action had prevented bloodshed between the two races. That he regretted the haste, the lack of preparation, and the suffering is equally clear. And once they reached Kansas he was certain the tribe would be protected… from the encroaching aggression.” In 1841 President William Henry Harrison in recognition of patriotic services appointed Polke to serve at Fort Wayne as register of the land office.  

When Polke died, his April 29, 1843 Fort Wayne Sentinel obituary ends with these lines: “He was buried with military honors; and a large concourse of citizens followed his remains to their last camping ground.” However, the cemetery name is not mentioned.  In the year 1860, the interred in the McCulloch Cemetery along Broadway − present-day McCulloch Park − were to be removed and re-interred in present-day Lindenwood Cemetery.  

All but one grave is marked and that is Indiana’s seventh Governor Samuel Bigger’s remains in present-day McCulloch Park.  For years, questions persisted as to whether or not all the burials were found, and surviving family members located for approval to conduct the graves’ removal. Since there is no record of Polke having been removed to Lindenwood, perhaps he continues to be interred in McCulloch Park.

  During a research project conducted to identify the burial site of each of the Constitutional Convention delegates, Indiana State Archivist, Jim Corridan led an effort and identified Polke’s long forgotten grave located, “in an early Fort Wayne cemetery.”  Through a diligent search of records in Polke’s estate filed at the County Clerk’s office by SuzAnn Runge, Jim Corridan was able to confirm that William Polke, in fact, was buried in the Old Broadway Cemetery and is interred there today.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Babe Ruth

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – August 2015, No. 127)

Babe Ruth

Among the highlights of the 1927 baseball season in Fort Wayne was an exhibition game played at League Park by the New York Yankees against the Lincoln Lifers. Blake Sebring in his Fort Wayne Sports History wrote that the Yankees who were in first place had stopped off in Fort Wayne on their way to take on Chicago.  Now at what is Headwaters Park between Calhoun and Clinton streets, League Park had erected a wooden structure in 1883.  Rebuilt several times, the place received a major overhaul in 1908 with new grandstands and a grass infield.  After the damage caused by the great flood of 1913, additional restoration was required. It was readied as a host park for semi-pro Central League teams including the Lifers when they moved up to a minor league status. Bob Parker writing in, Batter Up: Fort Wayne’s Baseball History, mentions the “Chiefs” as another local team that went up to become a St. Louis Cardinal farm team.

League Park’s grandstand was filled with more than three thousand fans, as was all the available standing room, that 1927 exhibition season. Enthusiastic Fort Wayne fans came streaming in, eager to see high drama from George “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other Yankee legends. The fans were not disappointed. All in the stands were sensing the Babe’s charge into the annals of American history. During the regular 1919 season, playing for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth established what was dubbed an, “unreachable mark” of twenty-nine home runs.  However, the very next year, the “Bambino” as his fans nicknamed him, crushed his record by knocking out fifty-four homers.  A year later, in 1921, he hit fifty nine.

On October 26, 1926, Babe Ruth had come to town on a personal visit.  After putting on a show during batting practice, he joined the Lincoln Lifers’ squad in a game against a very good Kips team.  Ruth proceeded to put on a demonstration by playing every position except catcher.  He topped the game off by hitting two balls out of the park.  The Lifers won 11 to 1.

Returning to the Lifers-Yankee exhibition game of May 6, 1927 the regulation nine innings was played.  The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3 – 3 tie in the tenth, with two out and a runner on first when “The Sultan of Swat,” another of Ruth’s appellations came to the plate.  He took two strikes and then in classic style belted the next pitch over the center field wall landing on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street.

 The stands emptied as The Babe was mobbed by adoring fans. A newspaper illustration appeared of Ruth blasting a mighty tenth inning home run enabling the New York Yankees to defeat the Lincoln Life team 5 to 3. It has been said that the Babe often referred to that blow as possibly the hardest hit ball of his career.

Later that year on September 30, 1927, facing St. Louis Browns’ pitcher Zack Walton, Babe stood waiting in the batter’s box on a ball he liked.  When it came, it was in the eighth inning and a two-run, game-winning, record-setting homer which marked Ruth’s 60th of the season. It was a record that stood for thirty-four years from 1927 to 1961. Baseball historian Don Graham, however, has made the observation that in 1961 “Ruth hit his 60 home runs in a 154 game regular season schedule. Roger Maris hit his 61 in a 162 regular season schedule. It took every one of those 162 games to hit both number 60 and 61. Maris ‘set’ a record, but did not ‘break’ a record.”

John Ankenbruck wrote that after citing the official long hits by Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and others, one sportswriter declared that, Ruth hit a longer one in Fort Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version.  He was on a barn storming tour after the 1927 season and played a game at League Park on North Clinton Street. Ruth belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed that the ball landed in a freight car which was passing the park at the time.  Local baseball historians are quick to note that if true the ball would have had to clear the fence then make a right angle, travel another six hundred feet to land on the railroad tracks.

Even so, 1927 was a memorial year for baseball and stamped with the name of George Herman Ruth, the “Babe,” the “Bambino,” “the Sultan of Swat.” It was a year to remember baseball in Fort Wayne and Babe Ruth was on hand to help to make it more than just a big hit.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

News Sentinel Building

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2015, No. 126)

News Sentinel Building

The News-Sentinel Building was constructed in 1925 by Oscar Foellinger, publisher of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Tracing its history to the first newspaper in Fort Wayne, The Sentinel, which began publication as a weekly on July 6, 1833, its first editor of this Democrat newspaper was Thomas Tigar.  Living in Indianapolis at the time, Tigar was a native of Beverly, Yorkshire, England born there in 1807. He came to America in 1826 as an experienced printer and landed in Ashtabula, Ohio. He met his partner S.V.B Noel in Indianapolis and the two came to Fort Wayne to establish the original press for the paper on West Columbia Street. Tigar continued with the paper until 1865. He died in 1875 and is buried in Lindenwood cemetery.

   Bert Griswold relates the story of how the paper acquired its first press.  A used hand-press for the printing of the Indiana State Journal at Indianapolis was purchased and delivered to Fort Wayne. The way was difficult taking six days to transport the load over muddy roads and across swollen streams on rafts.   Type was set and in its July 6th first edition appeared the Declaration of Independence. Its first editorial recapped an oration given on the Fourth of July celebration of 1833 by Hugh McCulloch.

The Sentinel became a daily newspaper, while still publishing a weekly edition, and later merged with the Dawson Times to become the Times and Sentinel.  Under new ownership in 1866, the newspaper was known as The Democrat until 1873 when the name was changed back to The Sentinel.

By 1874, another paper began publication under the name Fort Wayne Daily News.  It was first published as a Republican newspaper which emphasized local news.  Known as “The people’s paper,” the Daily News was a financial success at the turn of the last century and in 1917 purchased The Sentinel.  The new company issued the first edition of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel on January 1, 1918.

According to author Jim Sack’s chapter in The History of Fort Wayne and Allen County Oscar Foellinger began his newspaper career as a junior accountant at the News Publishing Company during the mid 1890s. In about a decade, Foellinger advanced to the position of business manager.  In 1920, Oscar Foellinger assumed control of The News-Sentinel, which became a leading voice for Republican politics in the region and a strong advocate for civic improvement.  Journalist and historian Scott Bushnell noted in, Hard News and Heartfelt Opinions about the history of the Journal Gazette that Foellinger became president and general manager of the News and Sentinel taking it to prominent heights. On an autumn hunting trip to Canada in 1936, Oscar died unexpectedly.  Upon his death his daughter, Helene Foellinger, became publisher and remained active until her death in 1987.

Author Sack noted that Helene Foellinger and her mother Esther established the Foellinger Foundation in the aftermath of the loss of father and husband. Financing directed to community projects such as Foellinger Outdoor Theater, Foellinger-Freimann botanical Conservatory were among the substantial contributions.

Since 1958, the News-Sentinel Building has been known as the Foellinger Center and later served as the headquarters of the United Way of Fort Wayne as well as other not-for-profit organizations.

In 1950, The News-Sentinel entered into a joint operating agreement with the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette to share common printing and other business activities.  Fort Wayne Newspapers broke ground in 1956 and both papers began publishing from a new facility at 600 West Main Street in 1958. A new pressroom and paper storage facility was completed during 2007.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An Old Apple Tree of Fort Wayne Lore

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – June 2015, No. 125)

An Old Apple Tree of Fort Wayne Lore

Miami “Chiefess” Tacumwah gave birth to Pechewa or Richardville in 1761 near an old apple tree somewhere west of the Saint Joseph River, in the village of Kekionga.  This fruit-bearing tree, with its trunk alleged to have measured twelve feet in circumference, became a part of local tradition.  It was an early example of a European tree foreign to North America and played an interesting role during the siege of Fort Wayne in 1812.

The tree is suspected to have sprouted from an apple seed accidentally dropped or deliberately planted by an early French trader or priest visiting the Three Rivers region. It was destroyed during a heavy spring storm in 1866, however, its main trunk was left behind for some time.  It produced fruit said to be small and usually ripened in October.  Jesse Lynch Williams, of Indiana Internal Improvements renown, was quoted as saying, “We need not question its identity. There are specimens of the hardier varieties in this country now bearing fruit at the age of 150 to 200 years.”

 According to a story recounted from the Siege of 1812 an Indian warrior climbed the ancient apple tree every day for several days to harass the soldiers in the fort. From high in the tree he would throw his arms about like a fowl flapping his wings, and would crow out like a rooster.  Finally, a marksman in the garrison knocked the taunting brave out of the tree with an amazingly well aimed shot which may have been three hundred fifty yards away.

 So popular were the local legends about the tree that George Winter, an important itinerant painter of the 1830s and 1840s, was enticed to include a sketch of the tree in his collection.  Author and historian Wallace Brice saw fit to include a drawing of an old apple tree as one of a very few illustrations in his 1868 History of Fort Wayne book.  A reproduction of Winter’s drawing is found in the exhaustive work titled, Indians and a Changing Frontier The Art of George Winter with a caption reading, “Sketch of the Apple Tree noted for being over 100 years old and the reputed birth place of chief Richardville. St. Joseph River, June 19th 1848.”

In 1962, the Dow Jones & Company’s National Observer published a column about the old tree.  The Observer reported, “The item cited the ‘famous apple tree’ of Fort Wayne, about which ‘Little Turtle, Indian leader, and his followers had their dwellings clustered’ in the late 1700s.” It continued noting that the tree was, “more than three feet in diameter at the time the print was made and was said to have been bearing fruit for more than a hundred years.”

 Wesley Bashore writing for the Journal Gazette mentioned the National Observer’s reference and attempted to locate the site of the legendary tree. At that time he consulted with a number of local historians who suggested, “a spot about four houses down from Columbia on Edgewater.” Bashore was not satisfied and ended his story by saying that there simply was not enough evidence to locate precisely the positioning of the tree and that he, “was more than willing to hand this flaming torch over to others hands.”  One day reliable evidence may surface.  Meanwhile, an approximate location of the “Old Apple Tree” has been remembered along the 1994 Fort Wayne Bicentennial’s Heritage Trail at a marker found on Edgewater Avenue’s park strip.

During the years before Richardville died in 1841 he often pointed out the old apple tree to settlers. He recalled that it was there when he was a boy and that it was then a “bearing tree” and that the “hut” in which he was born stood very near.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.