(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Jul 2012, closes May. 2012, No. 91)
Have you noticed the historical marker on North Wells Street near the Imagine School? Even though scores of cars pass by each day, it’s not too well recognized that this sturdy aluminum cast sign ranks with others around the nation that draw attention to ancient traces and roads. For example, some of the other markers found around the country listed with the likes of the Fort Wayne Fort Dearborn Trail are The Pony Express Trail in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, the King’s Highway, El Camino Real marker in San Antonio, Texas, Potomac Path/King’s Highway in Triangle, Virginia, the Natchez Trace with markers in Madisonville, Mississippi and in Hohenwald, Tennessee citing the 444-mile trail or the Wilderness Road through Fort Chiswell, Virginia.
|Fort Dearborn Historical Marker|
There are sites just as interesting and just as colorful that describe the ancient migratory pathways of grazing animals found useful by the aboriginal people who used the paths to hunt the animals as well as travel throughout their territories. Early explorers and military expeditions took advantage of these established routes as did the first settlers as they moved into new territories. Some became the modern-day roads and highways we drive over in our cars and trucks going about our commercial and leisurely way.
Standing on the north side of Fort Wayne located along the 1915 route of the Lincoln Highway is the Fort Wayne-Fort Dearborn Trail marker that reads: “An ancient Indian trail, through Pottawatomie country, variably called the Dragoon, White Pigeon, Great Northwestern and Fort Dearborn Road. After 1795 used for mail delivery between Fort Wayne and Fort Dearborn, Captain Wells, Wayne spy, was slain along this route.”
Perhaps the William Wells’ story is the most remarkable. Wells, the boy captured by the Miami and eventual son-in-law of Chief Little Turtle, became the first Indian Agent stationed at Fort Wayne.
As a result of aggressive US treaty demands between 1803 and 1809, new Indian resistance developed under the leadership of the Shawnee Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet. In 1811, William Wells was ordered to go to Fort Dearborn, present-day Chicago, and escort the small garrison back to the stronger Fort Wayne. Painted in the tradition of Miami war paint, Wells led a small group of warriors from Fort Wayne to Fort Dearborn to the rescue. Though sensing great danger, Wells obeyed orders and on August 15, 1812 led a small troop of soldiers accompanied by the endangered women, and children back toward Fort Wayne. After traveling only a short distance from the fort, the wagon train was attacked by a large band of Potawatomi. Defending a wagon filled with children, William Wells was cut down by musket fire. The Indians cut off his head and, as a show of honor for the great warrior, ate his heart on the spot.
As we pass a sometimes unnoticed historical marker, time is too short to digest the depth of the story related in the few words the space provides. Here on North Wells Street stands one marker that, to comprehend all it has to share can be incomprehensible.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi © is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.