Category Archives: American Indians in the news

“The Notorious and Diamond-Bedecked Dr. Lighthall”

Dr. J.I. Lighthall (2)

Today, rural towns often have doctors with American Indian surnames.  But in the 1800s, an “Indian doctor” meant something totally different.

For decades after the Civil War, so-called “Indian medicine shows” rolled through cities and country towns across the U.S.  These shows were something like the medical version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Leading them, there was usually a wild-looking doctor — typically a white man claiming to be Native American or at least to have studied herbal healing with “Indian medicine men.”  What the shows really dispensed was exotic flare: banjo-playing minstrels, brass bands, even freak shows.

The traveling outfits also raked in thousands of dollars by touting medicinal cure-alls for common ailments, as Indian doctors announced their ability to cure practically all known ills — from dysentery, headaches and “private diseases” (venereal in nature) to dreaded cases of tuberculosis, cholera, and cancer.  Elixirs were only part of the lure. These doctors often doubled as dentists and yanked rotten teeth by the thousands.  In the days before anesthetics, brass bands covered up patients’ screams inside the wagon.  Music and entertainment also helped drown out the protests of local doctors and dentists, whose business these shows cut in on.

While the heyday of the medicine shows came after the Civil War, the “Indian doctor” phenomenon goes back farther than that, piggy-backing off the dearth of professional doctors in pioneer settlements and the primitive state of “scientific” medicine itself. Southerners who moved to the midwestern frontier had often lived for a while in Appalachia, where white settlers took an interest in traditional medicine practiced by the Cherokee and Choctaw. German and Scots-Irish settlers also had a medical heritage of their own going back to medieval Europe.


Indian Guide to Health

(This early Indian Guide to Health [1836] contains some of the often bizarre knowledge gleaned from medicine on the Appalachian frontier. The author was an early Hoosier doctor, Squire H. Selman — alias “Pocahontus Nonoquet” — who studied with the Kentucky doctor-adventurer Richard Carter.  Son of an English physician and a métis woman, Carter enjoyed one of the most thriving medical practices on the Ohio Valley frontier.  Selman went on to practice medicine in Columbus, Indiana.)


It’s a curious fact that one of the first doctors in Indianapolis was a 24-year-old “Indian doctor” from North Carolina.  The man also had an unforgettable name:  Dr. William Kelley Frohawk Fryer.  (In 1851, the Indiana State Sentinel thought his initials stood for “Dr. William Kellogg Francis Fryer,” but we sincerely hope that it really was “Frohawk.” That name appears on the cover of his own book.)

Dr. Fryer claimed to have studied medicine with Native Americans and was remembered by Indianapolis historians as an Indian doctor “of ancient memory.”  Some of his repertory of cures, however, apparently came from “pow-wow,” an old form of Pennsylvania German faith healing.  That practice was known as Braucherei or Spielwerk (spell-work) in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, and pow-wow practitioners (Brauchers or Hexenmeisters) drew on spells and folk remedies that probably go back to the world of Roman Catholic folk healing, forced underground in Germany after the Reformation. (The word pow-wow was either of Algonquin origin or a mispronunciation of the English “power” but had nothing to do with Native American medicine.)  The first book on pow-wow, published by German immigrant Johann Georg Hohman in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1820, anthologized many of these magical healings, talismans, and charms, based partly on occult “white magic” meant to ward off “black magic” or witchcraft. Pow-wow used esoteric words, sometimes from the Bible, as a form of healing and was explicitly Christian in nature, even reminding some of Jesus’ miracles accomplished via saliva.  Brauchers allegedly cured livestock by putting magical words into their feeding troughs.


powwow_3
From John George Hohman’s Der Verborgene Freund [The Long-Lost Friend], 1820. The book is still in print.

Pow-wow, which claimed to cure “both men and animals,” became an unorthodox form of spiritual medicine among Lutherans, Amish, Mennonites and Dunkers at a time when university-trained doctors were hard to come by even on the East Coast. Sometimes called “Christian voodoo,” pow-wow might even figure into the origin of the hex signs you can still see on barns.  (It led to a “Hex Murder Trial” in 1929.)  As a form of medical treatment, pow-wow’s heyday is long-gone, but it is still practiced on the sly in rural eastern Pennsylvania and was probably once part of folk medicine in the rural Midwest, wherever Pennsylvania Germans settled.


hex postcard

(Some scholars believe the hex tradition came out of pow-wow.)


In 1839, the year Dr. William Kelley Frohawk Fryer published his own Indian Guide to Health in Indianapolis, the Hoosier capitol city was just a few steps out of the wilderness.  Fryer believed in “vegetable medicine.”  He would probably have been able to find most of the roots and herbs he needed for medications in the swamps, bottomlands, and woodlands that still covered Marion County.  There’s even some evidence that he provided medical treatment in exchange for plants.  A clip from the Indiana State Sentinel in June 1886 states that he ran a place called “The Sanative House,” probably near his home on “South Illinois Street, near the Catholic school on Georgia.”  But Dr. Fryer was long gone by 1886. In the late 1840s, the young doctor moved down to Mobile, Alabama, then to New Orleans, where he advertised his manual on health (printed in Indianapolis) for sale nationwide.  Early front-page ads in the New Orleans Daily Crescent also carry glowing testimonials (maybe fictional) from his former patients back in central Indiana.


The Daily Crescent (New Orleans), July 25, 1850 (4)
W.K.F. Fryer claimed to have relieved more than 100,000 patients from ailments as diverse as stuttering, yellow fever, and cancer. He was still in business in New Orleans in the 1870s, when his name appears in the city directory on a list of physicians. This ad appeared on the front page of The Daily Crescent, July 25, 1850.

As the number of college-trained doctors and dentists back East grew after the Civil War, “Indian doctors” were squeezed out to the West and Midwest — where many claimed to have learned their trade in the first place, straight from Native American healers and shamans.  (It’s hard to say how many of these claims are true, but a few of them probably are.)  Yet “folk doctors” weren’t necessarily bad and provided the rudiments of medical care to some patients who couldn’t afford a university-trained physician, who simply had no access to one, or who (like African Americans) were even cruelly experimented on by the medical establishment.

J.P. Dunn, an early Indianapolis historian, wrote that Indiana was a “free-for-all medical state” until 1885.  During the 1800s, American doctors and state and local officials gradually began driving “quack” doctors out of business (or at least out of town) by requiring all practitioners to hold medical licenses.  The establishment didn’t always succeed at this. As early as 1831, legislators in remote Arkansas Territory tried to outlaw quackery.  Their law, known popularly as the “Medical Aristocracy Bill,” was vetoed by the territory’s one-armed governor John Pope, a former Kentucky senator.  Pope objected to it on the grounds that it violated “the spirit of liberty” and said: “Let every man be free to employ whom he pleases where he alone is concerned.”  The governor also took a swipe at college-trained “professionals,” pointing out that

many who have gone through a regular course in the medical schools are grossly ignorant of the theory or practice of medicine. They are mere smatterers in the science. With a piece of parchment in their pocket, and a little superficial learning, they are arrogant, rash and more dangerous quacks than those who adopt the profession from a sort of instinct, or a little practical observation.

Pope may have been right.  Whether educated or not, pioneer doctors sometimes killed whole families by accident.  (My great-grandmother’s grandfather, one of the first settlers of Rosedale, Indiana, was orphaned in 1846 by a doctor who prescribed a deadly concoction of some sort to his parents and one of his brothers.  As late as 1992, then, there was a Hoosier woman still living who had actually been raised by a man victimized as a young boy by pioneer medicine.)


Williams gravestone
“All died September 15, 1846.” Boatman Cemetery, Parke County, Indiana.

In 1885, Indiana finally passed a law requiring doctors either to show that they had studied at “some reputable medical college” or had practiced medicine in the Hoosier State continuously for ten years preceding the date of the act.  In April 1885, the Indiana Medical Journal endorsed this new law, saying: “It will probably make a few of the hundreds of quacks who now infest Indiana seek more congenial climes, and if enforced will prevent quacks from other states from settling within our borders.”

Yet the number of known Indian doctors operating in the state that year was low:


The Waterloo Press, June 12, 1884
The Waterloo Press, Waterloo, Indiana, June 12, 1884. “Accouchar” was a misspelling of accoucheur, a male midwife or obstetrician.

As J.P. Dunn pointed out, the tough question became: what was a “reputable medical college?”  County clerks, not medical organizations, issued doctor’s licenses.  Dunn wrote that since a county clerk only got paid if he issued a license, “he was usually liberal in his views” about the meaning of the word “reputable.”  A state examination board for licensing doctors wasn’t set up in Indiana until 1897.

By then, one of the most outrageously colorful Indian doctors had already had his day in the Hoosier State and gone to his own grave.

For a few summers in the early 1880s, Dr. J.I. Lighthall, “King of Diamonds,” crisscrossed the Midwest sporting a flashy, diamond-studded suit, selling his herbal remedies and often giving them away to the poor, while also earning notoriety as a “tooth-yanker.” Lighthall caught the interest of the press and annoyed local doctors in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Richmond, Seymour and Columbus.


The Indian Household Medicine Guide, 1883
Dr. Lighthall’s Indian Household Medicine Guide was published from his home base of Peoria, Illinois, in 1883.

At the beginning of his Indian Household Medicine Guide, Lighthall claimed he was born in 1856 in Tiskilwa, a small Illinois River town north of Peoria. He announced that he was of one-eighth Wyandot heritage on his father’s side and had left home at age eleven to go out West to study botany with the Indians. If that’s true, in the 1870s the teenage Lighthall lived with tribes in Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma, picking up ethnobotanical knowledge on the Plains.  He also grew out his hair, cultivating a look that some women, at least, found sultry and exotic.


Dr. J.I. Lighthall
This poster was printed by Cullaton & Co., Richmond, Indiana, where the twenty-something Dr. Lighthall was “Curing hundreds of people daily, at his Camp on Main St.”

By around 1880, Lighthall had set up shop in Peoria, Illinois.  His mother apparently cooked barrels-full of his herb-, root-, and bark-based medicaments, then bottled them and shipped them by railroad or wagon.  When it came to naming his drugs, he skipped the big Latin and Greek words of modern pharmacology and came up with colorful names like “King of Pain” and “Spanish Oil.”  Some were probably cut with whiskey, cocaine, opium, and morphine. Lighthall also offered an array of 19th-century popular medicine’s omnipresent “blood purifiers” and “liver regulators,” miracle liquids commonly advertised in mainstream newspapers — partly to keep journalism itself afloat when subscriptions lagged.

As his business picked up, the doctor put together a brass band and went into makeshift dentistry on the street.


Indiana State Sentinel, February 3, 1886
Indiana State Sentinel, February 3, 1886.

Educated skeptics abounded, but some of his herbal medications might actually have proven beneficial as “home remedies” for less serious ailments.  The official medical view is that some patients were probably cured by the “placebo effect.” Curiously, one of the real health benefits of Lighthall’s medicine shows was that he got sick people to laugh.

Although the “doc” gave off an aura of the Wild West, most of his short career as an “Indian doctor” was spent in Indiana and Illinois. Lighthall typically rolled into a town and stayed for a few weeks or months, long enough to garner local notoriety.  However angry the doctors and medical establishment got, “common folk” kept flocking to his medicine wagon. Dr. Lighthall’s entertainment troupe, newspapers reported, resembled a circus and was made up of about 60 “Spaniards,” “Mexicans” and “half-breeds” — and some Hoosiers from Fort Wayne.

Cleverly, Lighthall sympathized with the poor, sometimes handing out free medicine bottles wrapped in $10 and $20 bills to customers who couldn’t afford them.  While the doctor won fame for such “charity,” thousands of others forked out their nickels and dimes for entertainment — money Lighthall would throw into the air to attract an even bigger crowd.  Others came to have their teeth rapidly yanked, often for “free.”  Yet in spite of all the freebies, within a year or two, Lighthall was rumored to be worth about $150,000 (maybe ten times that much in today’s money.)  He wore clothes and a hat studded with valuable diamonds and cut an impressive appearance in public.  Women were attracted to him.  He put his gems on display at a Louisville jewel shop.  A Kentucky hat store sold a line of Lighthall-inspired Texas hats.

Lawmen and doctors tried to do him in, but usually failed.  A court in Decatur, Illinois, summoned him to appear in October 1883 for illegally practicing medicine there.  Ironically, he had just come back to Decatur from Terre Haute, where “the Philistines” and Indiana’s “sun of civilization” drove him back over the state line.


Decatur Daily Republican, July 27, 1883
Decatur Daily Republican, July 27, 1883.

Decatur Daily Republican, August 23, 1883
Decatur Daily Republican, August 23, 1883.

The Daily Review (Decatur, IL), October 17, 1883
The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, October 17, 1883. Though the doc was fined, he later produced a bogus diploma from the “University of Tennessee at Clarksville.”

The following summer, July 1884, Dr. Lighthall’s show rolled into Fort Wayne and camped out for a few months “near the baseball park. . . The joint resembles a circus.”


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 25, 1884
The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 25, 1884.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 28, 1884
The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 28, 1884.

His tooth-yanking sometimes got him into legal trouble, as when he got sued for allegedly breaking a man’s jaw in Indianapolis during a complicated dental extraction.  Lighthall’s apparent love for the ladies also turned public opinion against him.  While camped out along East Washington Street in Indianapolis in 1885, he got booked by the cops for being “rowdy” at a “house of ill fame.”  Locals accused him of trying to get two young girls near Fountain Square to run away with his troupe and “go on the stage.”

However dangerous and perhaps lecherous he might have been, Lighthall provided heavy doses of entertainment.  On a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in early 1885, the doctor got into a bloody tooth-yanking feud with a Frenchwoman engaged “in a similar line of business.”  She was dressed as an “Indian princess.” The bizarre fight that followed deserves to be restored to the annals of history.


The Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana), March 31, 1885

The Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana), March 31, 1885 (2)
The Daily Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, March 31, 1885.

Lighthall may have engaged in just such a “contest” in Indianapolis:

Decatur Daily Republican, July 14, 1885 (2)
Decatur Daily Republican, July 14, 1885.

After he left Louisville and the Jeffersonville area one summer, moving north to Seymour and Columbus, the Jeffersonsville News reported that local dentists were busy repairing the damage Doc Lighthall had done to Hoosier jaws.

For better or worse, the Indian doctor’s (and yanker’s) own days were numbered.  By January 1886, he had headed south for the winter, encamping in San Antonio, where he was reported to be successfully filching Texas greenhorns of their greenbacks. Tragically, a smallpox epidemic broke out in un-vaccinated San Antonio that month.  The 30-year-old’s medical knowledge couldn’t save him.  He “died in his tent” on January 25, 1886.  Several men from Fort Wayne who were performing with his troupe may also have succumbed to small pox.


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1886
The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1886.

News of his demise quickly flashed over Midwestern newspapers, in towns where he had become well-known in days just gone by:

Decatur Daily Republican, January 26, 1886
Decatur Daily Republican, Decatur, Illinois, January 26, 1886.

Though rumor had it that Lighthall owned an expensive mansion and a medicine factory back in Peoria, he was buried at San Antonio’s City Cemetery #3, not far from The Alamo.  Fittingly, there are bellflowers carved onto his gravestone:


Lighthall grave
Findagrave.com

He’s been forgotten today, but Dr. J.I. Lighthall’s fame briefly lived on, with at least one Hoosier writing to ask if he was alive or dead in 1888:

Indianapolis News, March 5, 1888
Indianapolis News, March 5, 1888.

“Indian doctors” weren’t yet on their way out the door when Lighthall died in Texas in 1886.  In 1900, in spite of efforts to regulate the practice of medicine, the patent medicine business was still reckoned to be worth about $80 million a year.  Several major traveling shows thrived into the 1950s.  By then, industrial pharmaceuticals and the discovery of antibiotics had launched medicine into a new era, but the entertainment aspect of the business kept it alive until radio and television killed it off.

Whatever the medicine shows did for the human body, they were definitely good for the soul, as the early 20th-century troupes helped fuel the rise of jazz, blues and country.  In 1983, folklorist Steve Zeitlin and filmmaker Paul Wagner were still able to find some old medicine show performers in a rural North Carolina town — the subject of their documentary Free Show Tonight.


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Shades State Park: What’s in a Name?

shades 3

When one of western Indiana’s most beautiful natural areas was turned into a state park in 1947, conservationists who had fought to protect it were faced by a publicity problem:  what to do about its name, the one it had been known by for about a century?

Located along Sugar Creek, 45 miles west of Indianapolis, Shades State Park sits in the “shadow” of its better-known neighbor, Turkey Run in Parke County.  But as 19th-century tourists knew, the steep, even vertical scenery in these wild gorges — atypical of Indiana’s landscapes — is a powerful lure.

The canyons and cliffs at Shades and Turkey Run stand out in this part of the Midwest, which was scoured, bulldozed, and mostly flattened by glaciers.  Ecologically, too, these unique parks are outliers, reminders of a time when Indiana looked more like Wisconsin or Canada.  Pine Hills Nature Preserve, now part of Shades, contains one of the southernmost stands of white pines in America.  Other geological vestiges of a “primitive,” ancient Indiana are the fern- and lichen-covered sandstone gorges, strewn with small waterfalls, along Sugar Creek.

In fact, as the founders of the Indiana state park system knew when they created the first parks to commemorate Indiana’s 1916 centennial, Turkey Run and Shades are among the few Hoosier landscapes that pioneers would recognize today.

Yet most pioneers avoided Shades.  Mostly because of geology:  the steep area was too difficult to farm or even log.  But partly, it could be, because of folklore and a name.

From sometime in the mid-1800s until 1947, what we call Shades was almost always known by its old pioneer name, the “Shades of Death.”  Although the spot was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1880s, and the name didn’t seem to scare many visitors away, an unknown writer in the July 22, 1888, Indianapolis Journal suggests changing it to something less ominous.

“The popularity of the ‘Shades of Death,'” he wrote, “one of Indiana’s most beautiful summer resorts, would undoubtedly be greatly enhanced by a change of name.”

shades 1
The Indianapolis Journal, July 22, 1888. Hoosier State Chronicles.

A man naturally hesitates before saying that he has sent his family to the Shades of Death, and does not find it altogether agreeable to be congratulated on his own safe return from there.  It casts a chill over otherwise fascinating society notes to read of distinguished citizens who have gone down to the Shades of Death. To be sure, they are heard of the next week as coming back, but the emotions which arise over their return are of the sympathetic sort that go out to those who have been to the gates of death. . .

The Shades of Death should become the ‘Indiana Eden,’ or ‘Montgomery County Paradise,’ or, being a Crawfordsville adjunct, the ‘Litterateur’s Retreat’ – anything to relieve the gloom.

(A stretch of Sugar Creek near the “Shades of Death” had been a favorite fishing spot of Hoosier literary giant General Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur.  Wallace lived in nearby Crawfordsville.)

In fact, a quick search through news articles digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles turns up plenty of strange mentions, like these:  “This train also available for Shades of Death and Montezuma…”  “The Odd Fellows of Indiana will hold a picnic at the Shades of Death…”  “Miss Anna Moore will go to the Shades of Death this week to spend the summer…”

What was the origin of this old Indiana place name?

In his Sugar Creek Saga (1959), Montgomery County historian Theodore Gronert thought it came from the pioneers’ morbid associations with danger (Native Americans and animals) lurking in the shades.  Few settlers, in fact, came to this part of the county.   Yet one of those who did settle in the vicinity, an Irishman named Alexander Weir, reportedly chose the area because of its wild beauty.  Weir was said to have named the spot on Sugar Creek where he lived “Balhinch” after his native village in Ireland, which this rugged place supposedly reminded him of.

Others speculate that the name “Shades of Death” actually comes from a lost Native American name for the canyons along the creek.  Miami and Shawnee bands are thought to have lived in this area just before European settlement.

Though not well substantiated, there is a Potawatomi legend about a huge pitched battle against the Miami, an event that may have taken place on the steep terrain of Pine Hills and Shades in the 1770s, when these tribes fought each other for control of the Illinois prairies and part of the Wabash Valley.  The legend alleges that nearly 600 warriors on both sides were slaughtered in these canyons, with only seven Potawatomi living to tell the tale as the last five Miami scattered into the woods in defeat.  The truth of the story is nearly impossible to tell.


devils inn shades


What is certain is that in 1836, a frightened woman-or perhaps teenage girl-went to trial in Montgomery County, the first woman ever tried for murder here.  Surviving records at the courthouse in Crawfordsville show that she was known only as “Mrs. Rush”.  She lived with her husband, a pioneer named Moses Rush, whom folklore claims was also an outlaw, along part of Sugar Creek near what became Shades.  H.W. Beckwith’s 1881 history of Montgomery County says the Rush cabin was “just below where Deer and Canine’s Mill now stands.”  (This is the Deer Mill covered bridge at the edge of the park near Pine Hills.)  The remote spot probably suited Rush, who seems to have been a wild man, a drunk, and a brutal wife beater.

Probably nothing at all is known about Moses Rush except that one night in 1836, according to his wife’s court testimony, he came back to their cabin drunk and threatened to kill her.  Fortunately, Rush decided to take a nap first.  Fearing for her life, his battered wife took an axe and split his skull open — then went to a neighbor and reported her crime.  The trial was short.  The judge and jury were sympathetic.  Moses Rush’s widow was acquitted and possibly even congratulated for ridding Montgomery County of him.

According to Virginia Banta Sharp’s History of Waveland, “The husband’s body was buried near the house where he had lived and on a tree by the grave was cut the letters, Moses Rush, 1836. For many years the words could be seen and much later, a party of picknickers unearthed the remains and found the skull with a 3-inch deep cut in it.”

W.H. Blodgett mentioned the famous braining in the Indianapolis News on June 6, 1898, in a piece on Crawfordsville folklore:

shades 2
Indianapolis News, June 6, 1898. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Another murder took place right outside the boundaries of what became Shades State Park back in 1865, as the Parke County Republican reported on February 15.  This story, too, may have reinforced the murderous association with the name “Shades of Death.”

Fearing he was going to be cheated of his inheritance, a 33-year-old farmer, Milton Wineland, brought a double-barreled shotgun to the farm of his father, Frederick.  Frederick Wineland “resided in Montgomery county, about four miles northwest of Waveland, but was murdered in this county [Parke], the county line running between his house and the field in which he was at work.” Milton “inquired of his helpless mother where his father was,” then went out in the field, hid behind a fence row, and shot his father and cousin dead.

The murderer then took off as a fugitive, perhaps finding temporary refuge in the gullies and canyons of Shades and Pine Hills.  Wineland’s own mother posted $1000 reward for his capture.  But a week later, the Parke County Republican thought he had fled to Canada. “Wineland doubtless imagines that a murderer will be safe within the realms of the Queen’s domains,” it was written from Rockville, “inasmuch as deserters, bounty jumpers, and Copperheads fleeing the draft, there find a place of safety.”


PC Republican 02-23-1865 p 2


Despite the murders, the future park was a peaceful place, considered wild and romantic.  It was probably an early stomping ground of Indiana’s most famous painter.  Though best known for his Impressionist paintings of Brown County in southern Indiana, T.C. Steele grew up in Waveland, the closest town to “Shades of Death”.  When he was given a box of paints, Steele began his formal art training at the Waveland Collegiate Institute, later called Waveland Academy, then at Asbury College (now DePauw University) thirty miles down the road in Greencastle.


T_C__Steele
A young T.C. Steele, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

T_C__Steele_Boyhood_Home_in_Waveland
Steele’s boyhood home in Waveland, a ca.-1850 cottage, was bought for restoration in 2014 for $12,500.

Newspapers digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles show the popularity of Shades long before it became a state park and the words “of Death” were dropped from its name.  Visitors from Indianapolis and Terre Haute especially were drawn here.  (Two-hundred acres of forest were owned by a Dr. Moore from Irvington, on Indianapolis’ East Side.)

Though the “gloomy” name was briefly changed to Garland Dell sometime around 1890 (as the Indianapolis Journal writer had hoped), the old name stuck.  Hundreds of city-folk came for outings, including members of the German Männerchor and Socialer Turnverein of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Botanical Club, cyclists, Shortridge High School’s zoology club, and the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur (a fraternal organization whose rituals were based on the novel Ben-Hur.)

Indianapolis physicians planned to build a sanitarium at the Shades of Death around 1890 and there was even a controversial push to connect it to an electric tram line serviced by the Vandalia Railroad.  (Waveland in those days had passenger trains.)


devils backbone
These passenger pigeons or doves were carved onto a natural rock bridge called the Devil’s Backbone at Pine Hills in the late 1800s. A portrait of the Devil himself was also graffitied here. Photo by the author.

shades 3 devils backbone
(Devils Back Bone near Bluff Mills, Ind., circa 1900. Waveland Photo Album.)

Shades of Death was mostly a happy place, but one last story from the turn of the century nearly led to a student’s tragic end.

In February 1903, a gang of fifteen freshmen at Wabash College “entered the Wells Club at the supper hour” and kidnapped a member of the rival sophomore class, a student from Iowa named Andrew Thornell (some papers call him Thornley.)  Thornell was the captain of the Wabash College baseball team.

Handcuffed, blindfolded, and shoved into a buggy waiting in an alleyway, Thornell ended up being taken at night to a lonely hut or solitary farmhouse near the Shades of Death, twenty miles southwest of Crawfordsville.  Three freshmen fastened him to a wooden block on the floor and kept watch over him.  The freshmen must have fallen asleep, since Thornell broke loose, jumped from a window, and struck out through the woods around Shades and Pine Hills.  Exposed to the elements, the “kidnapped” student got lost and “walked many miles” before he found a farmhouse where someone offered him shelter and food.

Thornley caught pneumonia that night and nearly died, leading Wabash College to investigate the prank.  The sophomore’s escape from captivity made several state newspapers.  His “brutal treatment” near the Shades of Death even appeared in Indianapolis’ German-language Indiana Tribüne.

Almost every landscape has a story or two that brings it to life.  Many will surely remain untold forever, lurking in the “Shades of Death” where old stories go.

Indiana First State to Honor Native American Indians: The Pottowotomie (The Plymouth Tribune, Thursday July 29, 1909)

Plymouth Tribune, July 29, 1909. Hoosier State Chronicles.

First Column, First Article
Gives History of Pottawatomie Indians in Marshall County.
Wm. E. Curtis Tells of Plans to Unveil Monument to Chief at Twin Lakes on September 4th.

William E. Curtis the special correspondent of the Chicago Record Herald gives the following account of plans to honor the former rulers of America, the Indians at Twin Lakes, Marshall County. He says:

The celebrations of the anniversaries of Hendrik Hudson and Sieur Champlain are serving an important purpose in reviving a interest in historical events and in stimulating the study of our own short past as a nation. In collecting material for a series of articles upon monuments which have been erected to American Indians I have found that much more attention has been paid to the subject than I had supposed, and there are historical societies supported by public appropriations in many of the states as well as private organizations which are keeping alive stories of heroism and sacrifice among the aborigines as well as the explorers of the continent and the pioneers of our civilization.

Within the last year no less than five new monuments have been erected to American Indians, the most of them have been a tardy recognition of nobility of character and obligations for services rendered the white race, while others have been erected to emphasize wrongs that cannot be otherwise redressed. The latter is particularly true of a monument which is to be dedicated Sept. 4 next at Twin Lake station on the Vandalia Railroad, in Marshall County, Ind, near the center of the former reservation of the Menominee band of the Pottawattomie Indians, who were driven from their homes by military force under the authority of the government of the United States amid circumstances of merciless injustices. The monument, which is now being put into position, consists of a pedestal of bare granite ten feet high, supporting a statue seven feet high, of an Indian chieftain in ceremonial dress. It bears the following inscription.

“In memory of Chief Menominee and his band of 859 Pottawattomie Indians, removed from this reservation Sept. 4, 1838 by a company of soldiers under the command of General John Tipton, authorized by Governor David Wallace.”

The monument will be dedicated on the 71st anniversary of the eviction with appropriate ceremonies and will be unveiled by a grand-daughter of the late Pottawattomie chief, Poka-gon of Hartford, Mich.

Plymouth Tribune, September 9, 1909. Hoosier State Chronicles.