Fort of Mystery
County’s First Fortification
Along the Kankakee in Pleasant
Township, Porter County, Indiana there is a four-acre fortification
made of high dirt walls with 14 gun emplacements.
Trees growing on the embankment indicate that the fort was
built between 1717 and 1750. Prior
to the present tree growth the area was apparently a high prairie
occupied by a landscape, or hedge marked Normandy type cultivation
area. The sites of
which there are several in the Kankakee Valley, called Indian
archaeologists and historians have visited this fast disappearing
fortification, attempting to form some theory of its period and
have been made 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.
It was big enough to house a garrison of three or four
hundred defenders and since there are no borrow-pits, depressions or
ditches, it has been logically suggested that there was a good-
sized hill nearby which the builders utilized.
The one theory that has not
been accepted is that it was built by the mound builders or Indians.
It apparently took years to build and was erected in
anticipation of an attack. It
is located just a mile or so from the old Indian Gardens of current
history, and near two old fords.
The De Soto, La Salle, and
Spanish theories have long ago been ruled out by scientists.
Since the first white
settlers of 1830 it has been a thing of wonderment.
It is classified as an unsolved riddle.
Professor W. A. Briggs, who
has made a study of the fortifications for many years, agrees that
perhaps the following article has finally come pretty close to the
It's just barely possible
the mystery of this old fort on the Kankakee has been cleared up by
the translations of the French documents of 1717 to 1755.
The work was done by Miss Frances Krauskopf, (now Dr., if you
please) when she was a graduate student in history at Indiana
documents show that the French had many minor forts throughout the
interior, and one of them was apparently named Kankakee.
In volume 18, number 2 of
the Indiana Historical Society's publications is shown that the
French had three major forts, Miami on the St. Joseph River, and
Fort Quiatanon, and Vincennes, with numerous unlisted forts
scattered elsewhere, they were called tiny outposts and some were
listed as itinerant. Those
north of Lafayette were under the jurisdiction of a Canadian
governor, and those South, under the administration of Louisiana.
Between the two encroaching British traders were nibbling
away at the French trade. Which
the French claimed for themselves.
The French system of selling permits for traders to deal with
the Indians made it necessary for the French traders to charge more
for their goods than was charged by the free-enterprise English, and
as a result many Indian tribes, or parts of tribes, including
Potawatomi, Weas, Miami, and Illini, steadily removed themselves
from the French-Canadian jurisdiction, and joined the Louisiana
District. From there,
locations along the Wabash, the Indians who had deserted the
Kankakee site, began trading with the English towards the east.
The French authorities made
several efforts to get them to return.
They promised to send a missionary to them at Kankakee and at
St. Joseph. They offered protection from the Iroquois, they offered a
much wider range of trade goods and better fur prices. Several
families did return, numbering 40 or 50 in all but they refused to
remain when it was evident that the others were not going to join
Governor M. the Marquis de
Vaudreuil sent several well-outfitted traders in many canoes to the
Kankakee to entice the Indians back.
The documents show the agreement signed by each trader, the
names of the traders and the crews, and the value of trading goods
carried. Not only was
the governor attempting to bring the Indians back to their former
site, but he was also trying to block English expansion.
Later, not being successful in bringing the departed Indians
back Governor Veudreuil sent his traders to the upper Illinois to
trade. Of course there
was no settlement in Illinois called Kankakee at that time, so
students are now convinced that there was such a designated site in
what is now Porter County. In
that area prior to 1717 there had been hedgerows, orchard plantings,
landscaped areas and cleared sites, which the Indians called an
Indian word meaning gardens, and by the settlers and traders
There was one of these sites
on the Kankakee about midway between the two Indian fords, now known
as Baum’s Bridge, and Kahlers Bridge.
In those days the Kankakee Valley was divided into two
sections, the upper Kankakee, being that part above Momence, and the
lower Kankakee for the other part. In the early documents the upper or lower Kankakee is spoken
up when a part of the river is mentioned, but when one definite spot
is indicated it is Kankakee. The
only possible site for such a settlement is that Indian Gardens.
There the French built a
fort. In 1717, and up to 1760, there was apparently no timbered
there, it was all prairie. All
the trees cut since show tree growths of only 230 years at most. With no timber the French were forced to construct their fort
with earthen walls. It
was during this period in French-Canadian history that small cannons
were being sent out from France for the impending attack by the
English, so the dirt fortifications had gun emplacements provided.
When there was a sawmill at Indian Island the tree rings were
counted on one very old tree. It
shows 143 years growth in 1898.
One tree, which N S Amstutz measured, was 18 inches in
diameter. It was
growing atop the old wall. Compared
with other once-standing trees, where rings have been counted, this
tree on the embankment was probably 200 years old.
Figuring the usual deterioration of dirt structures, the wall
was probably just as old as the trees indicated.
According to the translated
documents 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 (not the Miami of the St. Joseph River in Michigan)
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.
It's very definite from
these documents that the French had a fortification on the Kankakee,
and that the Indians settled around it, that they departed, and
returned, and that it was close to fording places to give egress
north and south.
Where else could such a fort have