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.