PATH TO THE PAST
Settlement born of simple beginnings
The area's earliest residents were hunter-gatherers a millennium ago.
By CONNIE HAAS ZUBER of The News-Sentinel
If you were a Fort Wayne-area resident at the turn of the last millennium, you would have hunted, gardened and gathered nuts and wild plants for food.
When the weather turned cold, you would have moved to a camp to hunt for bigger game that would feed your family during the long winter months.
Researchers believe this is how people of 1,000 years ago lived in this part of Indiana, which has been called Kekionga, Kiskakon, Miami Town, and finally, Fort Wayne.
Fox Island County Park, on Yohne Road west of Smith Road, the Bicentennial Woods on Shoaff Road, and the area along Cedar Canyon Road between Coldwater and Auburn roads look today as they did when Woodland Indians inhabited this area.
Native Americnas left many clues how they lived. But not enough to provide researchers with anwers to many questions that linger today.
If big cities had been here instead of the smaller villages like Kekionga, it would have been easier for archaeologists to learn exactly what life was like here 1,000 years ago.
But the difficulty of the search didn't stop Noel Justice, 36, who, like many, grew up finding Native American artifacts all over Fort Wayne. Today Justice is associate director and curator of collections for the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University in Bloomington.
"Downtown Fort Wayne probably has some really major archaeological sites buried beneath the city that nobody knows about because the town grew up so fast," he said.
One site that could hold archaeological treasures is an area near Superior and Clay streets, where Three Rivers Apartments was built in the 1970s, Justice said.
Native Americans here did not stay only among themselves. They traded with other Native Americans over surprisingly long distances, Justice said.
"Three thousand years ago, copper from Isle Royale (in northern Lake Superior) was traded all the way down to Kentucky. Flint originating in the St. Louis area was traded in the Fort Wayne area," he said.
Foot trails here went east to Lake Erie, west toward the Wabash and Mississippi rivers, northwest toward the Kankakee River and present-day Chicago, southeast toward Cincinnati, and directly north along what today is U.S. 27, all the way to the Straits of Mackinac.
"There are probably as many prehistoric trails as (roads) you see on a contemporary (highway) map," Justice said.
The Native Americans who now live in Fort Wayne and elsewhere in northern Indiana are descended through their Miami and Potawatomi ancestors from those Woodland peoples of 1,000 years ago.
"The groups that were first seen by the white man and that are known to us today by their tribal names were derived, for the most part, from a prehistoric Woodland cultural base," Robert E. and Pat Ritzenthaler say in their book, "The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes."
There are two theories about how one tribe of Woodland Indians, the Miamis, settled in the Fort Wayne area. One is Miami people were encouraged to move here by the French in 1695. The other is they had ties here.
Justice sees how both stories could be true.
"Some stories refer to Kekionga as an old town," he said, "but that may mean the Indians knew about it before they got here, that they knew the significance of the place," rather than that they had lived here continuously for a long time.
"But they apparently had some connection to Kekionga," he said.
Archaeologists date the end of the Woodland era and the beginning of the Mississippian era at A.D. 900, though Woodland ways continued to dominate people's lives here.
The Mississippian era lasted until about 1500, when the first Europeans arrived in America.
By the mid-1600s, Native Americans would have been introduced to black people brought by the French as slaves. Some of the slaves would move with bands of Native Americans to escape slavery and would be owned by or intermarry with Native Americans.
Many Native Americans here would meet Native Americans displaced from the east by colonists pushing west. With different cultures, customs and alliances, they would go to war.
And finally, in 1795 Native American chiefs signed a treaty ending Native American control of Kekionga, opening the way to full-scale European and American settlement of Fort Wayne.