Fort Ouiatenon and its Cultural Influences
Fort Ouiatenon (12T0009) was constructed in 1717 near what is now Lafayette, Indiana and holds the title of Indiana’s first European construction. The fort primarily served as a base for French settlers in opposition to the British, but is also remembered for its role in fur trade and the close interactions between fort occupants and local Native American populations, particularly the nearby Wea Village. These populations maintained a stable relationship until the outbreak of the French and Indian War, an event which transferred the fort, along with most other French-American lands, into the hands of the British. The British hold on these lands was temporary, however, and the Fort changed hands once again shortly after this initial exchange when Ottawa Chief Pontiac led a siege on the Fort and captured Lieutenant Jenkins on June 1st, 1763. The settlement continued to be associated with both French and Native Americans for some time. Later, the Native populations used the site as a staging ground for raids against nearby settlers in Kentucky after the Revolutionary War, until they were forced to evacuate in 1786. The Fort was destroyed by fire just a few short years later in 1791, and was replaced by a white settlement, its true location forgotten until rediscovered in the 20th century. The cultural heritage of the Fort is celebrated today through the annual Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, educating and entertaining over 60,000 patrons per year through reconstructions and reenactments of both French and Native American ways of life (“Fort Ouiatenon History”).
The Archaeology of Fort Ouiatenon
The Fort itself grew over the years to encompass 2,000-3,000 residents (“Fort Ouiatenon History) who left behind a variety of artifacts reflecting the nature of the fort as well as the daily lives of its inhabitants. These include glass, pottery, animal bones, musketballs, gunflint, triangles, etc. Many of the recovered artifacts demonstrate the longevity of the site’s occupation, some dating back to the Woodland and Late Mississippian phases of history. The discovery of these artifacts, and of the site itself, was thanks in part to a revived interest pursued by Del Barlett, Dr. Robert Mulvey, Dr. William Sholty, and the GBL’s first director, Dr. James Kellar.
Fort Ouiatenon at the GBL
As a historically important trade site, Fort Ouiatenon was a space in which artifacts of various natures and origins intersected and influenced each other. With a trade practice established between the Native population and the French population, goods were passed not only between the local communities but between more distant European ports. Some of these also reflected a tradition of creolization, an acceptance for inter-marriage between the peoples residing there. This range of artifacts, as reflected in the Glenn Black Lab Fort Ouiatenon collection, includes decorated ceramics, textiles, coinage, bone tools, and weaponry pieces such as cannon balls, flint lock gun parts, and trigger parts. These artifacts were retrieved and passed on to the GBL by James Kellar, through IU field-schools in 1968 and 1969.