Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Historic View of the Deadly Atlatl

The following is a guest post from Erik Vosteen, who has long been a popular presenter at the Chief Richardville House. From flint napping to bark baskets to weaponry, Erik has brought many of these lost arts back to life for his audiences. Erik says, "My interest in the atlatl stems from a general interest in ancient technologies, processes, and resources of the Eastern Woodlands. I have been fascinated with people's interaction with nature and use of local resources since I was a child, and have explored many ancient technologies through the years." Erik will be demonstrating the atlatl on Saturday, June 4, 2011 from 1 to 4 p.m.

By Erik Vosteen

The atlatl — pronounced "at-latl" — is an ancient projectile weapon system that utilizes a light spear called a "dart" and various types of "throwers" (the atlatl) to cast darts much further than is possible with the bare hands. In North America, there is no historic evidence of this system being used to hunt large land animals.

Historically, they were being used by various cultures including the Inuit up north and the Aztecs down south to pursue animals associated with water — marine mammals and fish, and surprisingly, ducks in Peru. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that pre-historic people of North America did use variations of this system to hunt large land animals — most notably caribou.

The Aztec people did quickly begin using atlatls and darts against the conquistadors — it being the only weapon capable of penetrating the Spanish armor. The Spanish noted that the Aztecs were able to cast darts on the run, which the Spanish could not do with firearms, that they could load and cast them faster than firearms could be loaded and fired, and, surprisingly, that the Aztecs could cast darts as accurately for as far as the firearms of the day could be shot.

While the atlatl appears to have been used by many cultures worldwide, not all cultures used them — such as in Africa where the hand thrown spear was preferred. It is worth noting that when dangerous animals like large cats are encountered, a hand held spear is still considered more effective protection than a firearm. To quote a native Jaguar hunter in South America, "he who hunts the Tigre with a gun doesn't return, he who hunts them with a spear brings the Tigre home..."

There are many variations of both darts and atlatls designed to utilize the available resources for the intended result. For instance, Inuit atlatls have handles designed to be an emergency paddle while hunting in a kayak, while Peruvian duck darts were designed to skip across the water when cast into flocks of sitting ducks.

No matter the specific design, there are some features that recur — like a groove to guide the dart to the tine in the thrower, and a tine that is recessed in the grove to protect it from impacts that might break the tine rendering the atlatl non-functional.

We will be using atlatls that mimic the most notable features of historic atlatls. To learn more and to try your hand at casting some darts, come to the Richardville house June 4th.

For more information on Erik's activities, visit www.burntmud.com. For photos of our activities, please visit the History Center's Facebook page. For information on the Chief Richardville House, please visit the History Center's web page at www.fwhistorycenter.com/chiefRichardvilleHouse.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Celebrating 90 years of history

On June 21 during our annual dinner, we will celebrate the founding of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society. See our website at www.fwhistorycenter.com for more information.

The Historical Society was founded in 1921 on February 12. About 141 residents of the community, among them prominent business and social leaders of Fort Wayne, met in the auditorium of Wolf & Dessauer to enjoy an historical revue of the Wabash and Erie Canal and to officially enroll as charter members of the Historical Society.

You can find the names of those charter members on our Facebook page.

Two days later, on February 14, an organizational meeting was held in the Director’s Room of the Lincoln National Bank. The meeting was called by Samuel M. Foster and Floyd Neff acted as secretary.

On March 23 an open meeting for all of those in the community interested in joining the Historical Society was held at Central High School. Membership dues of $1 were paid by 208 persons who signed the constitution of the organization.

The first officers were

William Peltier, president
Bert Griswold, vice president
Margaret Crankshaw, secretary
Ross Lockridge, treasurer

Beginning in 1902, the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution displayed relics on the top floor of the Allen County Courthouse. These artifacts were merged with those of the Historical Society in 1925 and moved to the Swinney House in 1926.

The Swinney Homestead, located just east of Swinney Park on West Jefferson, was willed by Thomas Swinney along with 240 acres of land to the city of Fort Wayne as a park in 1874. A stipulation of the will was that his children would be allowed to continue to live at the Homestead until the last of his survivors had died.

The Historical Society leased the Swinney Homestead from the city in 1924 and with financing from the county and Society members, established the first permanent museum. The formal opening of the museum was on January 17, 1927 with over 200 people enjoying an open house that afternoon.

Information for this blog post comes from the Old Fort News, Volume 58, Number 2, 1995. This edition highlighted the history of the Historical Society on the occasion of the 75th anniversary. Our next blog post for the 90th anniversary will highlight some of the challenges and accomplishments of the Historical Society during its history.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Physicians, Suffrage, and History

In June the Allen County - Fort Wayne Historical Society will celebrate its 90th anniversary. Among the Fort Wayne citizens who came together in February 1921 to form the Society were two women physicians, Dr. Carrie B. Banning and Dr. Jessie C. Calvin. Both had been practicing medicine and leading public health efforts in Fort Wayne since the turn of the century. In 1921 women had just won the right to vote. Drs. Banning and Calvin were strong role models for what women could do.

Carrie Banning moved to Fort Wayne soon after graduation from Cleveland University of Medicine in 1894. Like a number of other physicians of her day, she was licensed to practice homeopathic medicine. Although the American Medical Association frowned on homeopathy, Dr. Banniing was respected for her medical skills. She was the first medical examiner for women employees at General Electric, the largest empoyer of women. She gave free medical checkups at the Y.W.C.A. to all women. At the beginning of World War I, she recruited nurses to serve with the Red Cross.

Dr. Banning was a passionate worker for improved public health. Supported by the Women's Club League and parent teacher clubs, in 1916 she won appointment as one of the first three medical inspectors for Fort Wayne public schools. In this role, she examined hundreds of school children, calling attention to their need for medical care. Concerned about the spread of disease, she appeared before city council to protest the city ordinance that prohibited wrapping garbage.

Twenty years before women won the right to vote, Dr. Banning championed suffrage and greater women's rights. She knew Susan B. Anthony well enough to call her "Aunt Susan." In 1912 Dr. Banning helped Fort Wayne women organize a suffrage club. She spent years winning public support for the cause that often seemed hopeless. Once the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in August 1920, she helped organize the League of Women Voters, advocated for the right of women to serve on juries, and joined in political campaigning.

Dr. Jessie Carrithers Calvin, a contemporary of Dr. Banning, graduated from Northwestern University Medical School for Women in 1895. Winning a very competitive internship, she served at the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane for the next two years. In 1897, now married to Dr. Warren Calvin, a graduate of Rush Medical College in Chicago, she moved to Fort Wayne.

The Drs. Calvin shared a medical practice from offices on the 200 and 300 blocks of West Wayne Street. Dr. Jessie specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, regularly visiting patients in their homes. Dr. Warren Calvin was known for his treatment of skin diseases and as a faculty member of Fort Wayne Medical College. He was also an active supporter of woman suffrage.

In her first years in Fort Wayne, Dr. Jessie became largely responsibile for the organization of the Visiting Nurse League. She recruited church women, raised funds and drew support from local physicians. As a result of her efforts, the Visiting Nurse League was able to hire nurses to visit need people in their homes. She crusaded for better nutrition, safe drinking water and better care for victims of tuberculosis. Dr. Jessie worked through the Women's Club League to educate others on the prevention of contagious diseases.

As the 90th anniversary of the Allen County -Fort Wayne Historical Society draws near, Drs. Carrie Banning and Jessie Calvin would be delighted to be remembered as charter members. They would remind you that Dr. Warren Calvin also shared this honor and they would like you to know something about their future years. In less than a year, Warren Calvin would die. In the dark Depression years 1935 - 1938, Dr. Jessie would proudly serve as president of the society. She and Dr. Banning would continue to look after the health of Fort Wayne for many years to come.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Today you can ride the Wabash Erie Canal line in your car west through Allen County. Here are the driving directions with the few historic markers that now attempt to tell its story. Allen is but one county that was once connected by water to a series of many communities inspired by the Canal and today connected by roads, streets and highways that share a common heritage. The Wabash Erie Canal, once the world’s second longest canal completed in the 19th century, pleasantly located through a unique wilderness and now offers a rich history we can enjoy through the windshield of our car. If you want to follow the old canal route all the way to Lafayette, Indiana, go to:

http: /wecanalcorridortour.blogspot.com/2008/11/take-motor-tour-on-wabash-erie-canal.html.

For now, to get started, begin in downtown Fort Wayne at the History Center, 302 East Berry Street on Fort Wayne’s “Bicentennial Heritage Trail.”

● Departing the Allen County Fort Wayne History Center parking area to the north, turn west (left) on Berry Street and immediately turn north (right) again at the stoplight at Barr Street. Advance one block to Main Street and turn west (left) and go two blocks to Calhoun Street at the Allen County Court House. Move ahead one block passing Columbia Street on the west (left) which is the “The Canal Landing.” Structures on the north side of The Landing are the reminders of the backs of warehouses and mercantile buildings that served the Canal. Continue south on Calhoun passing under the railroad tracks that replaced the Canal and since elevated marking the Wabash Erie route.

● At the Superior Street stoplight, look to the east (right) across the south east corner parking lot and to the two-story structure at its east end. Known as the Canal House (pictured above), it has survived since 1852 when it was built of sturdy limestone. Another block east on the north side is Headwaters Park where a Canal historical sign is included with several Bicentennial Heritage Trail markers.

● At the Superior Street stoplight, turn west (left); the railroad line on the south side is the route of the Canal, and in one block’s distance cross over the now filled-in turnaround Orbison Basin. Follow Superior Street about one half mile to the 4-way stop at Van Buren Street and turn to the south (south). Cross back over the railroad tracks – and site of the Canal line – under the Fort Wayne Newspapers walk bridge to the Main Street stop light.

● Turn west (right) on Main Street passing Orff Park on the south (left) is a monument commemorating the Aqueduct Club, which was formed in the early 20th century by men who as boys swam in the old aqueduct.

● Crossing the Saint Mary’s bridge look downstream to the north (right) and near the site of the modern rail bridge is where the Saint Mary’s Aqueduct once provided boat passage over the river.

● Continuing west on Main Street eight blocks – paralleling the Canal line to the north – at Growth Street an Historical Marker relates the story of the Saint Joseph River Feeder’s junction with the main line of the Canal two blocks to the north and now buried under the railroad elevation.

● About three blocks ahead is a fork in the road (to the north it becomes Leesburg Road) follow the old Canal line which is present-day West Main Street as it leads south past Lindenwood Cemetery (on the right) to U.S. 24.

● Turn west (right) on U.S. 24 and watch for Rockhill Park on the south (left) side. Here in the park is the beginning place of the River Greenway Towpath Trail and features three Bicentennial Heritage Trail Markers. At the U.S. 24 and Freeman Street stoplight turn south (left), Rockhill Park is on the east, and travel to the junction of Portage Avenue. Turn west (right) on Portage and the site of the Canal towpath to the stop sign where it joins with Taylor Street and continues west to the intersection of Ardmore Avenue.

● Turn to the south (left) on Ardmore to Covington Road and turn west (right) on Covington. At about 4/10ths of a mile the flat place in the road is the site of the intersection of the long abandoned Canal line. Another 6/10ths mile at the Smith Road stoplight, turn left heading south. At 6/10ths mile cross the Towpath Trail at Glendale Road and proceed another 4/10ths of a mile to Engle Road.

● Turn west (right) on Engle Road and pass Eagle Marsh on the left side of the road and look beyond to a part of Fox Island County Park that preserves a sand dune that developed during an era of glacial drainage. Between cycles it was filled with water and when it was dry wind activity deposited sands in such a way to create present-day Fox Island.

● Ahead the road crosses the Canal bed and on to U.S. 24. Turn west on 24 (left). Canal will be on the south (left) side of U.S. 24. As the longest manmade waterway in America, the remains of the Wabash Erie Canal are buried under the highways, farm fields and buildings of our towns from Toledo, Ohio to Evansville, Indiana. A marker once noted:

“The old ditch may still be traced as it parallels U.S. Highway 24 most of the distance between Antwerp, Ohio and Logansport, Indiana.”

● Pass under Interstate I-69 and at 1 mile watch for East Woodland Ridge entering U.S. 24 on the left. This is the addition known as the “Hamlets” with its homes set atop the bluff offering a scene to the south. It overlooks the traces of Marias du Perches, the course of the Little Wabash River, the Maumee-Wabash Portage and the Wabash Erie Canal line in the glacier plain. Today, it marks line of the railroad once the domain of the Wabash Cannon Ball. Woodland Ridge west re-enters U.S. 24. Turn west (left) and continue through the stoplight at Homestead Road and approximately in one-half mile turn to the south on Redding Road.
● Redding Road curves sharply to the west (right) and about 8/10ths of a mile joins the Canal bed in evidence on the south (left) berm of the road. The old channel’s prism is visible past a number of houses that have been erected. Unfortunately, there are places where the channel has been filled in and the historic remnant has been lost. Farther west Aboite Road joins Redding Road from the south. Here across from the junction of the two roads standing on the north (right) side is the VERMILYEA HOUSE dating to 1839. This extant structure was a favorite stopping place for Canal boats and the first post office in Aboite Township of Allen County. Rumors persist of its role as an underground Rail Road station during the days that fugitives from slavery followed the towpath from southern Indiana on the Ohio River moving north to Canada and their freedom.

● To the west of Vermilyea House on the towpath was Ruffner’s Basin, a turnaround point and site for loading and unloading barges. Farther along Redding the road makes a sharp turn to the north to avoid Aboite River and the site of Aboite River Aqueduct No. 2 where Canal boats continued westward. Abutments of cut stone on each bank and during low water level in the river, a minimum of 25 foundation timbers are visible.

● Return to U.S. 24 turn west and pass along a large stone quarry at the Allen Whitley County Line Road. Prior to Canal construction this was the site of the Miami’s White Raccoon Village.

Here the Canal continued west on its route to Evansville on the Ohio River where Canal commerce communicated with the American West with its connection to the Eastern Seaboard. It represents but a fraction of the original 468 miles of Wabash Erie Canal, but this tour has traversed the highest level of the old Canal that gave Fort Wayne its moniker “The Summit City.”

To return to the History Center, turn around and follow U.S. 24 back to downtown Fort Wayne or turn north (right) on County Line Road and travel north to Indiana 14 intersection, turn east (right) and head for town.