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21Country: An adventure into Kekionga, and Fort Wayne’s history

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - One of Jim Pickett’s favorite spots in Fort Wayne, is on the edge of the Lakeside neighborhood.

Along the Maumee River, is a marker that reads, “To the memory of Major John Wyllys and his brave soldiers who were killed near this spot in the battle of Harmar’s Ford, Oct. 22, 1790 with the Miami Indians under Chief Little Turtle”.

As a young boy, the monument sparked curiosity in Pickett, who began to research the origin of Fort Wayne.

Battles between the natives and Americans took place often, on or around the three rivers.

After the former DeKalb Central teacher retired, Pickett pursued his dream of writing a novel: The Bones of Kekionga.

As he developed fictional characters, what he describes as composites of real soldiers, Pickett immersed them in the very real history of Fort Wayne.

“I didn’t want it to be a history book with just a bunch of facts. I wanted it to be a history story,” he told us, describing his goal of bringing readers on an adventure.

His historical fiction book, turned into three, and with the release of The Siege of Kekionga: Tecumseh’s Uprising this year, Pickett’s Kekionga trilogy was complete.

Characters like EJ, Uncle Isaac, Running Deer, and Bobby Fulton, interact with people of 21Country’s past, like Generals Josiah Harmar and “Mad Anthony” Wayne, Chief Little Turtle, and even Johnny Appleseed.

Pickett took us on a tour of some of Fort Wayne’s historical sites, describing the time period his books take place.

The Battle of Harmar’s Ford - Edgewater Ave. & Dearborn St. 

General Josiah Harmar attempted twice, to conquer the Miami Indiana land, known as ‘Kekionga’, which is now the Lakeside Neighborhood.

At the time, the Maumee River was low, a ford easily crossed by soldiers on foot and with animals.

“The rivers, were like the interstate highway system,” Pickett explained.

On Harmar’s first attempt, the Miami tribe got word of the attack, and evacuated before he arrived.

“Their second approach now, coming across this ford, was right here, and instead of them ambushing the Indians, the Indians were hidden along the weeds, and ambushed them,” Pickett said, “and a number of federal troops were killed, in the middle of the river.”

Private John Smith, under Major Wyllys command, survived the attack, and witnessed the natives kill the remaining wounded soldiers.

Pickett, looking at the Lakeside Neighborhood, shared, “People I’ve talked to about what happened here, a lot of them didn’t know what happened, and didn’t know about Kekionga, the Battle of Kekionga, or Harmar’s Defeat.”

Site of the Last French Fort - Northside Dr. & St. Joseph Blvd. 

Along the St. Joseph River, reads a marker in part: “The most severe engagement of battle between Gen. Josiah Harmar and Miamis under Little Turtle fought here, Oct. 22, 1790.”

Pickett told us reminders of Harmar’s battle, were found a century after they happened.

“Evidence of the battle that took place, spilled into the St. Joseph River, was a musket that was found by somebody building their home,” he said, “they went down with a wheelbarrow to take some sand out of the river, and they uncovered a Charleville Musket which would have been used by the American Army at that time.”

Decades prior to Harmar’s Defeat, the marker also reads, “Erected, 1750, by Captain Raimond. Surrendered to the British under Lieutenant Butler in 1760. Ensign Richard Holmes and British garrison massacred by Miami Indians in 1763”.

First U.S. Fort near “Three Rivers” - Clay & Berry Streets

Fort Wayne’s first American fort, was precisely that: Fort Wayne.

Named after General Anthony Wayne, Colonel John Hamtramck took command of the garrison, after it was finished on Oct. 22, 1794.

During Wayne’s campaign, several forts were built in Northwest Ohio.

ARCH Fort Wayne reports, Wayne wanted a stronghold built by the three rivers, after the bad reputation left by Americans and General Harmar, in his defeat four years earlier.

“That fort was made mostly of earthen and timbers, didn’t have blockhouse, had bastions,” Pickett said.

The marker reads in part, “This fort commanded the shortest portage between the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi systems. A portage known to the Indians as “Glorious Gate,” and a strategic crossroads in early trade and exploration.”

The Last Two American Forts - Near FWFD #1

Outside of Fort Wayne Fire Department #1, is a well important to Fort Wayne, as it continued to grow.

In 1798, Colonel Thomas Hunt ordered the construction of a second, better fort, to replace the first Fort Wayne a few blocks away.

“This particular well was inside the fort,” Pickett told us, “it’s significant because it helped put out the fire during the 1812 siege of Fort Wayne. This was in a lot of use during that time.”

In 1815, Major John Whistler helped build the third and final fort.

It too sat near the location of the second.

Today, you can find a replica of Whistler’s Fort off of Spy Run Avenue.

It’s the structure the Historic Old Fort is modeled after to today.

The Kekionga Trilogy

“This is our heritage, this is our history. Good or bad, it’s what happened,” Pickett shared.

He hopes that his trilogy, which has more fact than fiction, will get local readers interested in asking, and learning about how the now civilized Northeast Indiana came to be.

Pickett, a driver’s education teacher, occasionally uses the opportunity to bring students through the Lakeside neighborhood, and he’ll share the true stories of what happened on Fort Wayne’s three rivers, centuries ago.

After completing the trilogy this summer, Pickett isn’t sure what’s next.

“I never dreamt there was going to be one book, let alone three,” he said, “there’s just so much that happened here, and just looking into what the lakeside neighborhood looks like today.”

“You can just let your imagination go,” he continued, “it’s pretty cool.”

You can learn more on where to get Pickett’s books on his website here.

Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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