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Title: Prophetstown will protect land's Native American spirit
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Community first settled by Tecumseh, Prophet being reclaimed

Daryl Baldwin stands in a prairie near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers, listening to the wind that pushes silently through the tall grass.

There's a spirit in the peaceful waves that roll across the field, a quiet that makes him understand why his Miami Indian ancestors settled here. In the early 1800s, they called this stretch of riverside land Prophetstown.

It's been nearly 200 years since the native people were chased from this area, or died trying to defend it. But the spirit that made up Prophetstown, the spiritual energy of the confluence and the bond that brought various Midwestern tribes together, is still alive.

"All our stories are tied to the land," Baldwin says.

And he and others involved with a project called the Museums At Prophetstown are trying to ensure that those stories live on, creating a living history museum on 300 acres where Prophetstown once stood.

What's happening today along the banks of the Wabash in many ways mirrors what happened nearly 200 years ago. It was in 1805 that Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee Indian prophet, had a vision that native people could regain their land by returning to traditional ways and abandoning all European influence.

He and his brother, Tecumseh, helped form a confederacy of different tribes to live out this ideal. They first settled in Greenville, Ohio, but then chose a more remote location on the fertile banks of the Wabash near Lafayette.

The river served as a main food source and a transportation route that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The confluence with the Tippecanoe River provided additional waterway access to northern Indiana, and the tribes believed the merging of the two rivers held a spiritual significance.

Could've been different

A village of between 1,500 and 2,000 people formed, named Prophetstown after Tenskwatawa, who was known simply as The Prophet. Outside the main village, the different tribes clustered together along the river for a mile in each direction.

"It was just a major gathering place, aside from the spiritual significance," said Nick Clark, executive director of the Museums At Prophetstown.

As the riverside community prospered, its refusal to accept European ways or cede additional land to the U.S. government made it a target for William Henry Harrison, governor of the Northwest Territory.

In 1811, The Prophet's warriors met Harrison's soldiers in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison's army, outnumbering the Native Americans two to one, was victorious and burned Prophetstown to the ground.

Since that time, the land has remained undeveloped and has been used primarily for farming. A reservoir proposal could have put the whole area underwater. A bid by a French paper company could've turned it into an industrial space.

But instead, Indiana is turning the area into a state park and the Museums At Prophetstown organization is leasing 300 acres of that park to rebuild a piece of the river's history.

Ready by 2005

A consortium of tribes from the Great Lakes region came together to assist with the project, forming what Baldwin sees as a modernday confederacy.

"Prophetstown kind of represented a confederacy of tribes, coming together to protect their homeland," said Baldwin, the property manager for the project. "In a sense, that's what the Museums At Prophetstown is doing today, but now more than the land, we're protecting the language and the culture."

When the project is completed in 2005, it will consists of a partial re-creation of the Prophetstown village, a living history farm, an educational center and an environmental center focused on returning the prairie land along the Wabash to its natural state.

Baldwin says the area, and the river, is at the heart of his people's culture. Nearly every tributary that comes off the Wabash in this part of the state, he says, has a name rooted in the Miami language.

"There are certain aspects of our culture that have to be taught in this environment," he says, pointing to the oak trees that scatter between the prairie and the river's edge. "What we lost was the right to use that land in traditional means, which is what kept our communities together.

"Prophetstown, in a sense, gives us an opportunity to come back to that."

Clark hopes the privately funded project will act as a permanent reminder of the people who once dwelled where the rivers meet.

"I think it'll be here forever," Clark said. "That's why we're building it."

[Quote: "There are certain aspects of our culture that have to be taught in this environment. What we lost was the right to use that land in traditional means, which is what kept our communities together." -Daryl Baldwin, property manager, Museums at Prophetstown]

Date: 12/24/1999
Origin: Jounrnal And Courier
Author: Rex W. Huppke
Record ID: 00002395
Type: Periodical
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Collection: Court House
Entered By: Leslie J. Rice

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