ANDERSON — They came on foot, on horseback, in wagons and on flatboats. The lands that the tribes like the Miami, Delaware, Kickapoo, Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians had long called home in Indiana transformed in the early 1800s as pioneers moved in and settled.
“Indians moved out of Madison County in 1821. As soon as they left, the pioneers moved in behind them,” said local historian Bill Knepp. He explained that it was the signing of the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818 that spurred the departure of the native Americans. Indeed, period maps included in the display call out the changing Indian territory.
It’s that period of 1820 to the 1850s that the Madison County Historical Society’s current exhibit explores. It’s an exhibit that goes beyond the hand-hewn tools and butter churns we might expect to some surprising niceties that pioneers brought along or created.
Some of those finer things include a wide variety of glassware, china, and redware pottery of which the current exhibit has an ample display. There's even an ocarina bird, a musical instrument otherwise known as a sweet potato.
MCHS volunteer Emilie Isenhour pointed out that some of the fragile items might have come to the pioneer frontier in a barrel packed with straw.
“They enjoyed having these things,” said Knepp. “As soon as they got here, they started organizing schools, churches. They started changing things as soon as they could.”
At the same time, the life of the pioneers demanded the basics including tools with which to build a home or work the land. Knepp’s collection includes items like axes, adzes, shingle froes, wooden pegs and augers with which pioneers crafted their early homes.
Knepp has even built a large diorama showing what an early pioneer cabin and surrounding property looked like – right down to the tiny stalks of corn and the pumpkin patch. The roof of the cabin lifts off to expose the interior of the sparsely furnished pioneer life.