From the period of French trading in the 17th century to the removals of the Indiana tribes from Indiana to the west in 1838, the life of the Native Americans was dominated by the growing conflict of cultures, wars between the tribes and their part in the French and Indian War and American Revolution.
During the early 1700's, during the negotiations with the French fur traders, the deer hide was the most important item of trade for the Indians, and very unusual trade prices were listed. Thirty deer skins were needed to trade for a cheaply made gun, made specially for the market. Fourteen deer skins were traded for a small colorful Duffield blanket; 2 for a metal hatchet; 4 for a broad hoe; 2 for a narrow hoe; 1 hide for a butcher knife or for three strings of sparkling beads; 4 hides bought an axe; 8 for a cutlass. A red girdle for the waist was traded for 2 deer hides; 1 hide for a clasp knife; rum mixed with one third water was traded for 1 hide per bottle; material for clothing also traded for one hide per yard; 50 bullets, one pair scissors or eighteen flints (for gun) cost one hide; 20 hides were traded for a pistol; 4 for a shirt; 12 for a petticoat. Eight deerskins were needed in trade for a fancy hat decorated with lace.
According to a local expert, it is estimated that it would take half an hour to skin the average size deer, using the tools of the time. Add all those hours to the time and effort needed to stalk and kill the prey and return it to the tribe!
By the mid-1700's, France and Great Britain were at war, vying for control of the Ohio Valley and because of the tribe's cooperation with the French their relations with the British suffered until the French were overpowered and expelled in 1763. The British issued strict policies regarding trade and relations with the tribes. Among those policies was the open trade on furs which allowed traders to introduce whiskey into the Indian trading system. Liquor proved to be the undoing of the Indians during treaty negotiations and relationships with the white man.
In July 1790 the U.S. government mandated the licensing of anyone wishing to trade with the Indians. There were many violations, including those done by the British trades who were underselling the American trader, plying the Indians with strong drink, defrauding the tribes and threatening the peace of the frontier and the safety of the white pioneers. For many decades the Government sponsored "trading posts" would give a voucher for credit at the company store in exchange for hides. The Indian or the white trapper could then purchase needed items. The price of material for clothing was $10 per yard; new pistol, $50; Whitney blankets were $10 per point (refers to size, average was 4 points); white wool blanket, $20; generic stripped blanket $15; vermillion paint, $8 pound; finger rings, 75 cents doz.; bracelets, $1 doz.; beads (called pony beads) $6 pound; beaver traps, $20 doz.; hand mirrors, 75 cents doz.; Galena lead, $1.60 per lb; black powder, Mexican -- $2.50 lb., English -- $4.60 lb.; square axe, $3; brass tacks, 60 cents doz.; coffee (green beans) $2 lb.; tobacco, $2.80 lb.; flour, $2.65 lb.; sugar $3 pint; and pepper was sold at the high price of $7.50 lb. Many of the company owners became very rich due to the high profits on the hides as well as the profit from goods purchased at the trading post.
After removal of the British after the War of 1812, there was a growing challenge to the government operated trading posts by the private traders. The Potawatomi Indians came to Northwestern Indiana during the 1760's, and were the dominant tribe when the pioneers began to arrive in the area. Trapping, hunting, and gathering filled their days.
Well-known trader Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein (1774-1835), whose trading post was on the Little Calumet River, arrived in 1822 from Michigan. His home was an early center of culture and civilization in a backwoods wilderness, providing a meeting place for both Indians and whites, as well as being a stopping place for travelers and missionaries.
Beaver felt hats, the fashion style in Europe and the eastern United States, created a demand for beaver pelts (plews). This demand and the Potawatomi Indian's desire for trade items such as blankets, knives, metal hatchets, fabric and clothing enabled Joseph Bailly to operate a modest fur trading business. When the Indians brought their beaver pelts in the spring, Bailly shipped them to Mackinac, or to Montreal and eventually to Europe.
By 1830 the fur trading business had nearly ended. Over trapping had nearly depleted beaver population in the area and the beaver felt hat had gone out of style. Bailly then opened up a tavern for travelers to supplement his income near his homestead on the Little Calumet River. The fur trading era in northwestern Indiana had come to an end, and the government made new laws that limited trade with the Native Americans.
The Potawatomi were known to have lived in two large camps within the present limits of the Town of Lowell, one near what is now Liberty Park, the other "on a large island on the south edge of Lowell." The Driscoll family, 1835 pioneers, told about Indians living near a fine spring in the area of the present Lincoln Street. In the fall the tribe moved to their winter trapping and hunting grounds on the islands of the Kankakee Marsh.
Many of their trails crossed Lake County, with many of them leading to Wiggin's Point, a large encampment and burial ground at the present site of the Town of Merrillville. Other large trails followed the edge of the marsh to Indian Town, a large encampment that was south of the present Town of Hebron.
After many treaties with the government, the Potawatomi Chiefs gave up their land in Indiana and in 1838 the tribes were removed by force to Kansas at the time of the "Trail of Death", which is commemorated each year in September during the "Trail of Courage" rendezvous near Rochester, Indiana, sponsored by the very busy Fulton County Historical Society.
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