Thursday, July 14, 2011

French Indian(a) Territory and Lincoln's Corpse Train

Gehio is about all history of the Old Northwest and on the weekend of July 9th my family and I went to visit friends in Porter County in northern Indiana which allowed me to do a little geocaching and history sightseeing in Ohio's neighbor to the West.

Part of Porter County was called Indian Island in the 17th and 18th centuries and was a high spot in the Great Kankakee Marsh. The surrounding lands were a forested swamp, which was a great area to obtain food and natural supplies for the Potawatomi (pronounced Poh-tuh-WAH-toh-mee) Indians. The name Potawatomi is derived from the name they had for themselves, Bodewadmi, which like many other Native American Tribe names meant original people in their language.

Tassinong was a French trading post in present-day Porter County near Indiana Route 49. In the front yard of a home there is a marker placed by the Historical Society of Porter County which reads:

Site of Tassinong 
Oldest Village in Northern Indiana
A French mission and Trading Post - 1673
Post Office Established - 1837
John Jones, P.M.
Incorporated as a Village 1852
by Joseph Bartholomew and Jesse Spencer

When the French occupied the area from roughly 1670 until the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, the fortified posts they used were called tassements meaning settlement and Tassinong was an English corruption of this word. This settlement would have been used to trade with the Potawatomi and other tribes living in the area at that time. Tassinong was the northern boundary of the Great Kankakee Marsh.
The Indians and the French at that time seemed to have a good cooperative relationship. The French lived among them, took Indian wives and were accepted as tribe members. The French traders, hunters, and trappers didn't seem to exploit the natural resources or the hospitality of the Indians like the other Europeans that came later. I suppose you could say that the French were the best allies that the American Indian tribes ever had. Don't get me wrong, this was very early in this time period and the French certainly were not maintaining good relations with the Indians out of sheer goodwill, but the Indians wanted European goods and the French wanted their furs which could be sold back in Europe for lots of money. I think if the French had not been trying to dislodge the British from North America, things would have been different but they were seen as allies and at least the French seemed to take a much less hostile approach than the Spanish before them and the British and Americans later. The French eventually lost control of North America, forcing the American Indians to choose allies once again.

Nearby, also in Porter County on U.S. 231 was the site of Huakiki, which was an old Potawatomi village until 1838 when the Indian Removal Act started taking effect which resulted in the Potawatomi Trail of Death and was similar to the more infamous and larger scale Trail of Tears Cherokee removal.

Site of Huakiki
Old "Indian Town" Village
Oldest and largest known village
of Pottawatomies.
This was their winter home.
Disbanded in 1838 when the Indians were moved west.

The wording of the marker makes "moved west" sound fairly benign but 40 human beings, most of them children, died of disease and exposure in this 600 mile forced removal to the Kansas territory.

Placed by the Historical Society of Porter County and also on the property of a private residence, the marker didn't say when the village was founded but the Potawatomi were in the area as far back as 1630 trading with the French. After the French mostly left after the French and Indian War ended in 1763 they mostly sided with the British and later were part of  Tecumseh's Pan Indian Confederation in the War of 1812.

Spencer Cemetery is the resting place many of the first settlers in Porter County. Like many other pioneer cemeteries, it started as a family plot, in this case for the Kautz's (later changed to Kouts) who came here to settle from Pennsylvania and Jesse Spencer who incorporates the old village of Tassinong in 1852. There is a geocache here too.

Another interesting historical spot in this region of the Old Northwest was a place I visited last summer in the town of Wanatah IN to the east in LaPorte County. Wanatah Station of the Monon Railroad once stood here. The Lincoln funeral train made a brief stop at this location on the morning of May 1, 1865. The funeral train traveled 1,700 miles on its journey from Washington, DC to Springfield, Illinois, retracing the route taken by Abraham Lincoln on his original campaign trail to Washington.
Lincoln's Corpse Train...feel free to use that as a band name if you want. Just tell everyone that you read it on Gehio.


  1. Porter county celebrated her 175th anniversary in 2011. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I live near Haukiki.