Piankeshaw Village Discovered

A Piankeshaw village, obscure to most historians and scholars may be a major player in the history of the Wabash tributary, the White River. Some evidence from historic military records and Indian Claims Commission Reports definitely links a Piankeshaw Village to a White River, Indiana location. The earliest historical accounts include a reference to Fairplay Township that state very clearly, “On the site of the old town of Fairplay, a flourishing Piankeshaw Village had stood in former years before the white man came…” “Scattered over the ground there, especially in early years were the implements of warfare and of domestic usefulnees…and were tracts of land from which the brush and sod had been cleared, and upon which the former inhabitants had grown their crops of corn, and perhaps vegetables The village had contained several hundred wigwams, judging from the extent of open ground where it stood and the statements of the earliest white settlers… The Indians often came to the cabins of the first white settlers for ammunition, whiskey or food and brought with them to barter–furs, wild meat and curious trinkets of their own manufacture.”

A British fort was promised by the representatives of the Crown to the Piankeshaw led villages if they relocated to the White River. The Piankeshaw, Wea, Illini and Miami who had been living in the Wabash valley for decades became easy prey for British envoys who only wanted to entice them to their side with empty promises in order to gain a military and political advantage over the French at Vincennes. https://wabash.ca/ The British suggested they might even build ‘forts” further into the White River Valley. Le Enfant, a Piankeshaw leader was the only known active anti-French “rebel” in the region. He was convinced that the British would keep their promises and stirred other Native indian groups to join with the British. Piankeshaw and many Miami broke with their French alliance and began to exert random attacks on the French. They established a village or villlages along the White River in what is now Fairplaly Township. According to the Indian Claims commission reports, these villages held as many as 600 inhabitants between 1751-1753 as they awaited the full support of the British.

The British never fulfilled their promises and by the end of 1752 after the destruction of the English trading houses at Pickawillany on the Great Miami River in Ohio and the withdrawal of the English from the area, “the rebel Piankeshaw led by Le Gros Bled sent a collar of wampum to the Wea asking them to intercede with de Ligneris for them and most of the White River Village Indians returned to the western edge of Indiana and the Wabash corridor.

An Anthropological Report on the Piankashaw Indians, Dockett 99 (a part of Consolidated Docket No. 315; Dr. Dorothy Libby) Summary of Piankashaw Locations (1708- ca. 1763)(pages 58 – 62)

“Piankashaws may have been located on the Wabash River as early as 1708, and were certainly living in a village in the vicinity of Ouiatenon, near the location of the present-day city of Lafayette, Indiana, by 1718. An effort was made by the French to attract the Piankashaws to settle on the Kankakee River in 1720 and 1721, but only a few of them moved there and these stayed only a short time.

By 1726, the Piankashaws had moved some distance downstream from Ouiatenon and were established in a village near the mouth of Vermilion River, a western tributary to the Wabash River. This village was called “Mercata or Piankashaw” and it was estimated that at least 150 men, representing approximately 600 persons resided there. By 1730 a French officer, Vincennes, moved to the lower Wabash, taking with him some Vermilion River Piankashaws, who settled near the post he established in the vicinity of the present-day town of Vincennes, Indiana in the First Street neighborhood. At the same time, a larger number of Piankashaws remained in their village on the Vermilion River.

Despite a smallpox epidemic which killed a number of them some Piankashaws took part in French-inspired attacks on Chickasaw Indians in 1732 and 1733. In 1734, the Piankashaws of Vincennes’ Post were reported to have invited those of the Vermilion River village to settle with them, an invitation which was not accepted. Vincennes’ Piankashaws /pg. 59/continued their intermittent raids on the Chickasaws, but after his death in 1736 while taking part in one of these attacks, the number living at the post diminished for a while. The Piankashaws remaining at Vincennes were described as having decreased to 15 or 25 men (representing a population of ca. 60-100 persons) in June of 1737; other Piankashaws returned to the older village at Vermilion River.

Piankashaw Indians are specifically referred to as being located at Vermilion River between 1743 and 1747. That some also continued to live in the Vincennes area during the 1740’s is indicated by the fact that in 1749 Piankashaws were reported to have left Vincennes completely. This was probably due in part to British efforts to win the trade of the Wabash Indians and also in reaction to various attacks on them by other Indians. During the winter of 1749-1750 some Piankashaws traded with the English at Pickawillany on the Great Miami River and this group of Piankashaw Indians may have wintered in that area. A number of Piankashaws including several of the Vermilion Piankashaw chiefs joined the pro-English Indians. During the winter of 1749-1750 an epidemic again killed a number of Piankashaws, and they burned their village (probably the Vermilion River one) to drive away the bad medicine which they thought the French had sent them. All during 1750 rumors and reports of Piankashaw activities and collaboration with the English were circulating among the French on the Wabash and in the Illinois country. And, in fact, some Piankashaws did meet with George Croghan and sign a treaty of friendship with the British in November of 1750.

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