FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — From the first team to play a professional baseball game to the current names of libraries and nonprofits, the Native American impact on Fort Wayne’s history and culture can be seen far and wide.
With November being Native American Heritage Month, WANE 15 decided to look back at a prominent Native American – one whose legacy may be complicated depending on who you ask – in Fort Wayne’s history:
Miami Chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville.
Born around 1761 to a French fur trader and a woman with the Miami tribe, Richardville first became notable in northeast Indiana after amassing considerable wealth through trading goods, according to the Allen County-Fort Wayne (ACFW) Historical Society.
Richardville and his mother controlled a key stretch of water between the St. Marys and Little rivers that allowed for trade from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, according to the ACFW Historical Society.
According to ARCH, a historic preservation society in Fort Wayne, Richardville eventually became chief of the Miami tribe in 1816 and led the tribe until his death in 1841.
“History of Fort Wayne,” an 1868 book by Wallace Brice about Fort Wayne’s early history and historical figures, recounted how Richardville “frequently” told Fort Wayne founding father Allen Hamilton the event that eventually led to him attaining chieftainship.
According to the text, the Miami tribe had planned to burn a captured prisoner at the stake, but with the help of his mother, a leader in the Miami tribe at the time, Richardville freed the prisoner.
Due to his mother’s standing with the tribe, Richardville likely would have become a future chief anyway, but Richardville earned the respect and esteem of the tribe, eventually leading to him becoming a Miami chief, according to “History of Fort Wayne.”
After becoming chief, Richardville served as a negotiator who had a hand in treaties that allowed for many Miami tribespeople to remain in their homeland long after the U.S. claimed the territory, according to the National Park Service.
Although the treaties allowed Richardville to obtain land that he used for himself and other Miami tribespeople, the treaties also ceded large amounts of land to the U.S.
The Indiana Historian, a magazine published by the Indiana Historical Bureau, noted in 1993 that some historians and Native Americans have debated Richardville’s role in history.
According to the November 1993 issue, some believe Richardville only used his position to enhance his own wealth, while others believe he did everything he could for his people, and some think he was just “a man in the middle” of difficult times.
“I think his legacy is a mixed legacy,” said Dani Tippmann, a descendant of Richardville and a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. “He was there during a lot of changing times as a leader for our people. He strove to keep our land, but our nation was surrounded by a nation that was intent on siphoning off our land, and he wasn’t able to entirely keep our land for the tribe.”
Richardville’s Impact of Miami Tribe in the Present Day
Roughly 200 years later, various pieces of Richardville’s history and legacy can still be found across northeast Indiana.
Constructed in 1827, a treaty house built for Richardville and partially funded by the U.S. government still stands in Fort Wayne off Bluffton Road in Fort Wayne.
According to the ACFW Historical Society, Richardville reportedly entertained Hamilton and other Fort Wayne founding fathers including Samuel Hanna and William Rockhill.
The house stayed with numerous generations of Richardville’s descendants until 1901, and the ACFW Historical Society purchased the property in 1991.
The Chief Richardville House has also been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Tippmann said the Chief Richardville House serves a meaningful purpose for people today.
“It means a lot to us as a family, but more than that, I think that non-native people can see that home and what it represents, [which] is that we are still here,” Tippmann said.
Another house Richardville owned can be found in Huntington County at the Historic Forks of the Wabash.
In downtown Fort Wayne, a plaque commemorating Richardville sits on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception off Calhoun Street.
Richardville’s remains are believed to be buried on the cathedral’s grounds, according to ARCH.