Documentation is vital for historical research. Some subjects have more records than others. This column represents the later of the two, but it makes a great story.
There is a spot in south Porter County near the Kankakee River that has been noted since the arrival of the first pioneers. It has been referred to as Indian Garden by some. Others claim it is a French fort left abandoned after the French-Indian Wars.
"The Fort" was built of high earthen walls and is four acres in size. It is documented that the French built outposts along the Kankakee River. Many of the fortifications were small and likely held only a handful of soldiers.
Additionally, it has been written that a French fortified trading post was located near the old town of Tassinong. A large Indian encampment was situated near Tassinong; it is known that the French would locate near Indian camps. "The Fort" was built between 1717 and 1760 and had 14 gun emplacements. In 1935 a survey and study was performed by Professors W. A. Briggs and J. Gilbert McAllister. Vidette-Messenger reporter A. J. Bowser wrote about the study.
Over the years many — some considered wild — theories have been offered about the site. These include that it marked the northernmost penetration of De Soto, or that it was a place of defense for the invading Spaniards, or perhaps that it was built by La Salle.
The French presence in this area is well known and documented. The French had three major forts: Miami on the St. Joseph River, Fort Quiatanon, and Vincennes, with numerous unlisted forts scattered elsewhere. Those north of Lafayette were under the jurisdiction of the Canadian governor, and those south were under the administration of Louisiana. Between the two, encroaching British traders were nibbling away at the French trade.
Because of costly permits required by French traders their goods were more expensive. Soon the Indians began to relocate closer to English trading posts. The French authorities made several efforts to persuade them to return. Promises of military assistance and a wider range of trade goods were offered by the French. Some Indian families did return, but this proved to be short lived.
The following was printed in the Vidette-Messenger in the 1960s: "The first hostilities between the French and English in this vicinity began in 1743. This was about the time the British took possession of Vasta Wawter, which they renamed English Lake. It is presumed that the French expected an attack from that direction, by both water and land. The fortification was left open to the west, where a deep swamp prevented access. At this approximate period the French successfully attacked the English at Grand Miami and with that victory the departed Indians began returning to Kankakee. The French kept this fort garrisoned until 1761, when by the orders of the Canadian governor, they withdrew to Canada."
A friend of mine owns a farm adjacent to the "fort." Years ago he showed me a 2 inch iron ball he found. That would be the size of what a swivel or boat gun would fire. The mystery deepens.
John P. Hodson is founder and president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.