The History Center in Fort Wayne

I visited the Jean Baptiste de Richardville house, which is overseen by the History Center. It seemed only fitting that I visit the actual History Center, which resides in a former City Hall that was built in 1893.

As I wandered through the History Center, I was struck by the fact that the revered early settlers were what I would think of as scoundrels. Of course, history is usually written by the victors. (An exception would be the history of the Mongols who established the Yuan Dynasty in northern China.) I have a decidedly different feeling about these revered early settlers. They are portrayed as the bedrock of early (white) civilization in the US, but when I read about their lives, I see mostly exploitation of other people and the environment.

With no sense of irony, early settlers who made names for themselves (= amassed wealth) are invariably called land speculators. In my eyes, land speculators = someone who benefited from the robbery of Native American lands and the misery inflicted on the Native Americans through their removal of their traditional lands.

I read about Chief Turtle, the War Chief of the Miami tribe who led the Miami to victory over the Americans in 1780, 1790, and 1791. But then he signed the Treaty of Greenville.

Chief Turtle was followed by Chief Richardville, the Peace Chief of the Miami from 1816 to 1841. He signed six treaties with the US government, which by 1840 gave more than 950,000 acres to the US. His wealth, the History Center explained, came from farms, control of a portage, and land sales (= selling out his brethren for profit, though I suppose what else could you do in the face of sure defeat by the US government?).

The Center next discusss Allen Hamilton. In my blog post about Chief Richardville’s house, I mentioned that Chief Richardville had the equivalent of $23 million when he died but that his descendants were quickly destitute. The reason given on the tour of his house was that they made bad business deals. You want to know why they made bad business deals? Thank Allen Hamilton.

Hamilton, who lived from 1798 to 1864, was a land speculator (of course!). He founded two banks (hmmm…early banks were shady and in Indiana went under due to corruption). He was also the personal legal and financial advisor to Chief Richardville—and the executor of Richardville’s estate. According to the History Center, Hamilton depleted the wealth that Richardville had amassed, leaving Richardville’s heirs destitute. So it was not so much that the heirs made bad business deals as they made a bad choice about whom to trust with the inheritance.

And then there is Sam Hanna, another one of those white men presented as the movers and shakers, a respected icon in the community who is anything but respectable. Hanna lived from 1767 to 1866 and was a land speculator. He was also involved in milling, the Wabash Erie Canal (which almost bankrupt the state), banking (corrupt in its early days), and railroads (which ironically were behind the demise of the canal).

The History Center also contains a lot of displays about German immigrants and the heritage that they brought. Interestingly, I learned that the powers that be in Allen County intentionally targeted certain immigrants. Not just any immigrant would do. They needed skilled German workers who had a strong work ethic.

Down in the basement, you can visit the old jail. This area includes an interesting exhibit about the history of the police force in Fort Wayne. Although originally only volunteers filled the ranks of the police, in 1863 an official force was established. As a transportation hub, Fort Wayne saw its share of crime. In 1875, the Chicago Tribune called Fort Wayne “the most lawless town in Indiana”. (Given Chicago’s reputation as a corrupt city, this is kind of the pot calling the kettle black.) In 1913, women joined the police force.

The History Center was a welcome taste of the culture and background of Fort Wayne and Allen County. I had the place nearly to myself on the sole Saturday that it was open for the month. (Normally, it is only open Monday through Friday.) If you find yourself in downtown Fort Wayne, check out the Center, the exhibits, and the drunk tank in the jail. And then cross the street for a visit to The Hoppy Gnome.

Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

It was with some trepidation that I headed to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. It’s not that I don’t like zoos. I do. I love animals. But I wasn’t looking forward to the crowds. And after seeing the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, I suspected that the zoo might be a bit of a downer.

But AAA marks the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo as a hidden gem—out of all the places to see in Fort Wayne. Hmmm. Must be special. So I girded myself and headed to the zoo.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is a decent zoo. There is nothing particularly wrong about it though after Monterey Bay Aquarium, no exhibit on saltwater fish seems that good. (I miss the flamingo, primate, and gopher exhibits at the San Francisco Zoo too. And the mouse house.)

I made the best of my crowd-phobia for the day and perused the zoo. (And the zoo was PACKED.)

I encountered mongoose sleeping in a huge pile on top of one another. I don’t think have seen mongoose before. And how, I thought, are they different than meerkats? They looked suspiciously similar. (The San Francisco Zoo had a perfect setup for photographing their meerkats…and gophers. I miss that.)

After meeting them in the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, I noticed the radiated tortoises, purported to be one of the most beautiful tortoises. I thought of the story I heard at the sanctuary about the males fighting each other. Clearly, these at the zoo weren’t all males. None of them was on their back.

I passed by de Brazza’s monkeys and read how they have cheek pouches to hold food—something I learned about monkeys at the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary. (Kind of like hamsters, I thought, who squirrel away food in their cheeks.)

A group of black and white colobus monkey was lounging in the treetops, their shaggy fur hanging down. The colobus monkey, I read, eats 1/3 of its body weight in leaves each day, and then takes long naps to digest the food. (Oh, kind of like pandas with their bamboo diet.)

I passed the ostriches and looked down at their toes. Huh. The ostrich has two toes. Weren’t the emus I saw recently three-toed? Or am I misremembering? (Nope. I checked on this physical characteristic. Strangely ostriches have two toes, emus three.)

I passed by a working carousel and was tempted but didn’t want to wait. This carousel is special—an Endangered Species Carousel. Yup, the animals on the carousel are all endangered species: babirusa, manatee, stork, asian elephant, leopard, panda, Sumatran tiger, sloth bear, tapir, etc. This beauty was built in 1994 by Carousel Works of Mansfield, OH. (A quick search reveals that Endangered Species Carousels are by no means endangered. They seem quite common in fact.)

My favorite exhibit was the gibbons. The gibbons have a large enclosure that allows them to do their typical acrobats and swings from “virtual” trees. I stood and watched two gibbons swing around for quite some time. The gasps from the onlookers attested to the entertainment value of the gibbons. Gibbons are deceptively strong, able to hang from one arm for several minutes without seeming taxed. I tired out before they did.

As I left the zoo I was surprised to see a quote from Edmund Burke (not one you see quoted a lot, especially at public venues like a zoo): Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. Hmmm, I thought as I left the zoo, perhaps it is time to read Burke again.

But first I need to look up the differences between meerkats and mongooses.

Castle Gallery

I walked through the front door spellbound. I sensed that I was on the verge of stepping into a very special place.

Castle Gallery is an art gallery set in a historic house—an inhabited historic house. I have never been to an art gallery in an inhabited home that happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places. The house itself was such a treat to wander through.

B. Paul Mossman built the house in 1905 for his wife. In 1949, Mossman gave the house to the city to be used as a municipal art museum. In 1983, the art museum moved and the house became residential again. The Smiths later purchased it and through much love, restored it to its original grandeur and opened it in 1995 as an art gallery.

The house is stunning. Simply stunning with woodwork, a Juliette balcony with stained glass windows overlooking the foyer, and three floors of breathtaking rooms. A chandelier in the foyer reminded me of Tiffany lily lamps. The fireplace in the main room is a beautiful mosaic fireplace, possibly by Tiffany.

Brooke, the woman manning the art gallery when I visited, mentioned that the house originally had Tiffany glass throughout but that it had been thrown out over the decades. (Gasp!) She showed me the remaining Tiffany glass—a pocket door with glass inlay. The house by itself is worth viewing.

But it has the benefit of being an art gallery too. Literally in every room, every nook and cranny art is on display—paintings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture, jewelry. The art is by artists from all over the US. I wandered through all three floors making sure I caught all pieces of art.

Be forewarned. The gallery is home to a dog and cat. The collie wanders around hoping for an escape out the front door. The cat—well, I was warned—was a bit peculiar. I accidentally encountered the cat, quite literally.

I was agog, wandering through the rooms and looking at the art around me. In one room, I felt the side of my foot come in contact with something that gave. That something was the cat, which jumped up on the bed to get away from my foot. The cat had its back to me and swished its tail, as if to express its displeasure. It wouldn’t look at me. I decided that it was probably best not to pet it.

A lot of artwork caught my eye but the first one was in the living room. A painting by Jason Sacran called to me—a sunset over the ocean. It moved me because it reminded me of sunsets at the coast in California. I walked closer to see if information about the painting indicated the subject. Carmel sunset. (Can I call a painting’s locale or not? Oh, California coast. You haunt me still.)

And to think, I almost didn’t stop by the Castle Gallery—I was having a disappointing day. I’m glad that I did. Wandering through a beautiful historic home, looking at art, was just the relaxing atmosphere I needed. I’ll be back.

Chief Richardville’s house

I looked in puzzlement at a photo of a Native American chief’s house—a two-story brick Greek Revival house. Why would a Native American chief be living in a two-story brick Greek Revival house?

That’s how I found myself in front of Chief Richardville’s house in Fort Wayne. His house is set off a way from a busy street facing away from the road. The turn off is easy to miss; it’s a narrow gravel road immediately next to a bank. (I missed it twice.)

Chief Richardville was the Peace Chief for the Miami tribe during a crucial time in their history in Indiana (1812-1841). He signed several treaties that ceded Miami lands to the US government. One of these treaties, the 1826 Treaty of Mississinwas, resulted in compensation for each of the chief signatories: $600 for the chiefs to build what came to be known as treaty houses. Chief Richardville’s house is the only one that still exists.

Perhaps one reason why Chief Richardville’s house is the only existent treaty house is because of its construction. Richardville not only used the $600 from the US government, but also contributed his own money, another $1,600 to construct this brick building. Built in 1827, the house cost a total of $2,200.

Where did Richardville get such wealth? He was born into a fur trading family and along with his mother, built a successful trading empire in the Fort Wayne area. They controlled an important portage that carried boats between navigable rivers in the river-wealthy area. (Fort Wayne is located at three rivers, a perfect site during the fur trade.)

Basically, Richardville held a monopoly on trade in the area, which relied on the rivers for transportation. If you wanted to use the portage to get from river to river, then you had to pay him to do so.

I have mixed feelings about Chief Richardville. The various treaties that he signed gave away lands to the US and ultimately helped lead to the removal of Native Americans from Indiana. According to the docents, Richardville owned land along the Wabash River down to Logansport, land where the Miami could live. (Hmmm. Until, I thought, their forced removal in the 1830s and 1840s that was documented in paintings by George Winter.)

After Richardville’s death, the house stayed in the family until 1894. Then the house had a variety of owners: a quarry company, a construction company, and lawyers. Finally, in 1991, the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society acquired the house and remaining property.

From the outside, the house looks well maintained. The Historical Society spent $125,000 on exterior renovations in the early 2000s. (Marks on the bricks attest to the stucco that decorated the house in later years and was removed in the renovation.) The interior hasn’t fared so well.

The two front rooms have fared the best: the East parlor (a formal area for meetings and funerals) and the West parlor (a more functional room).

In the East parlor, the first docent (there were two: one for downstairs, one for upstairs) pointed out architectural oddities: special corners in the fireplace and mantel (“ears”) and around the windows (“shoulders”). The fireplace, he noted, is shallow, which would emit more heat into the room but also be more of a fire danger. A painting over the fireplace is of Richardville holding a treaty, one of the many that he signed. The floor is the original tulip popular, a plentiful wood in Indiana (and the state tree).

In contrast, as a functional room, the West parlor had changed a lot, especially in the years from 1915 to 1950. The floor in this room is maple. No ears or shoulders grace this room.

The dining room is in pretty bad shape. A fire ripped through this part of the house in 1881. Walls are torn open. The only item of note in this room is the large metal safe sitting in a glass case in the corner. The safe was Chief Richardville’s. (How did the safe not disappear over the years, especially after the house left the family?)

When Richardville died, the safe contained $200,000 worth of gold and silver in the form of Spanish pieces of eights. The docent passed around a replica of a Spanish piece of eight. (Memories stirred. I vaguely recalled learning in the last year that Spanish pieces of eight were used in the early US before US currency was established. Interesting.)

That $200,000 was the equivalent to $23 million today! Clearly, Chief Richardville did quite well with fur trading and portage tariffs. Kind of mind-blowingly well. So his descendents were well off for several generations, right? Nope. They ran through that money very quickly due to bad business deals. (More on this in a later post. Spoiler alert: Perhaps it’s not that they were so bad with business deals but that their financial advisor was better at fraud.)

A door in the dining room led to a kitchen (which we didn’t see…though most cooking was done outside) and stairs to the second floor where servants lived.

At this point, we were mysteriously handed off to a second docent who took us from the foyer to the second floor. The staircase is original and in beautiful condition (either black walnut or oak, depending on the docent describing it).

The upstairs houses two bedrooms as well as the back quarters for the servants. One bedroom contains an old-fashioned cord bed, accompanied by the compulsory story about the origin of “sleep tight…don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The room includes closets, in the early 1800s sense of the word. (I really do wonder what early American kept in these closets…they are too narrow to really hold anything.)

The servant quarters are one big room accessed through the second bedroom or from the stairs that lead to the kitchen and dining room. The only heat source would have been a chimney from one of the downstairs fireplaces. All in all these quarters would have been a pretty miserable place to inhabit.

The tour was interesting, but the information from the docents sometimes conflicted. The History Center renovated the exterior well, including the roof (replaced with oak shingles). I hope that they will be able to devote as much attention and money to the interior soon.

I feel ambivalent about Richardville. Was he a good chief who led his people as well as he could through their removal from their homeland? Or was he an opportunist who profited because of or in spite of their misfortune? I suspect the truth is somewhere in the between.

As for the modern-day Miami, as of the 2010 census, only 1,432 lived in Indiana.


I wandered into the middle of a demonstration about how to make lacrosse sticks…the Miami Native American way. Pardon me? Lacrosse? Native American way?

I don’t think I have ever seen a lacrosse game in action except snatches on TV at some point in my life. I couldn’t begin to explain the rules of the game. (Is it like field hockey? I had a passing experience with field hockey in my youth.) I certainly don’t associate lacrosse with Native American culture.

But I got a history and cultural lesson. I had stopped by the Chief Richardville House in Fort Wayne, where a descendent of the Miami tribe was giving a mini-lecture and demonstration.

According to this lecturer, lacrosse started several hundred years ago with the Eastern tribes and fanned west until it hit the mountains. (Rockies, I presume.) Males and females of all ages played on teams with no limit to the number of players. They played for a variety of reasons: to settle disputes, to honor people, to build community.

Traditionally, lacrosse players used a wooden ball and sticks with nets at one end to catch the ball. They scored points when they hit a pole with a ball. The shape of the nets on the sticks varied slightly among the different tribes. For the Iroquois, the nets were tear-shaped. For the Miami, the nets were round.

I watched this descendent of the Miami tribe demonstrate how he makes his lacrosse sticks. He showed us the straight hickory tree, about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, that he felled and how he splits the trunk. Then he cuts off the bark, but before he invests any time and energy into fashioning a handle, he bends one end into a circle to hold the net.

How, he asked us, do you suppose that I form the wood into a circle? The stick that he cut from the hickory tree tapers at one end, but hickory is a hard wood. To bend it would break it. Instead, he showed us, he places the stick in a wooden box that he heats with steam. The steam makes the tapered end of the stick pliable. Sometimes he is able to curve the heated tapered end into a circle. Other times it breaks.

Only after he successfully bends a tapered end into a circle does he start to fashion the handle. (Otherwise he would have wasted time on handles for sticks that ultimately break.) How long does it take to make one lacrosse stick? One to two days. Not a quick endeavor. But he is still learning and perfecting his technique.

Other questions crossed my mind, but I was pulled away by a tour of the Chief Richardville House. How long had he been making the lacrosse sticks? How did he get into this hobby? How did he learn to make them? When did he start playing lacrosse? Do area Native Americans play regular games? And why, I wondered, did Native Americans first start playing lacrosse?