At West Lafayette, resisting is not surmounting

Photo by Tippecanoe County Historical Association

A few miles southwest of present-day West Lafayette, Indiana, is Fort Ouiatenon, a historic site on the north shores of the Wabash River. Worthy of remembrance and preservation, it is listed in the National Register of Historical Places of the United States of America.

On this site in 1717 the French erected a fortified trading post among the Ouiatenons, a Native American nation. It was the first European settlement in what is currently Indiana. This stockade community protected by a few log blockhouses enjoyed a prosperous life but it did not survive the American War of Independence and felt into ruin. In spite of this devastating fact, its rich French story deserve to be told. Here’s why…

To resist is not to overcome a difficult issue

This account of past events begins at the start of the 18th century. Following the great peace of 1701 with the Iroquois Confederacy, the Miamis who were allies of the French, gradually settled in the Wabash and Maumee river valleys. The Wabash River, a tributary of the Ohio River, had become for the French speaking voyageurs navigating between Canada and Louisiana a much preferred waterway. Everything was felt to be in place for developing in the region a lucrative fur trade in bison and beaver pelts. But first and foremost, the westerly progressions of the British in the valleys had to be kept at bay. With this strategy in mind, the French built Fort Ouiatenon on the banks of the Wabash River.

Historical reenactment at Fort Ouiatenon

The location of Fort Ouiatenon and its imposing structure had not been selected at random. The stockade settlement was established in the vicinity of five Miami villages on the south shores of the Wabash River, facing the mouth of the Tippecanoe River. From 1720 to 1760, the trading activities flourished, as expected. The French, the Miamis, and several other allied Native American nations traded and lived in perfect harmony. But this pleasing state of affairs was not to last for ever.

After the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France, the Native Americans resisted for a long length of time both the British occupation and then the massive migration of white settlers into the Old Northwest, the Old Southwest and the Far West. In 1786, fearing for their lives, the last French inhabitants of what is now West Lafayette were forced to abandon the site they had chosen with great care. Five years later, after the departure of the French, President George Washington ordered the withdrawal of the Miami villages of Fort Ouiatenon.