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 Miller History: Native Americans and Early Exploration


When French trappers and explorers first ventured into northern Illinois and Indiana the area was populated by Miami Indians. While the south edge of Lake Michigan was unsuitable for raising crops or establishing permanent villages, it was a land fertile with wildlife and fish, making it a popular hunting and gathering land. It is recorded that there was a Wea (a Miami subtribe) village at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1653, but the Miami Indians were driven from the region during the Iroquois wars of the second half of the 17th century, replaced by Potawatomi Indians who moved into the region from the north.

Father Pere Marquette passed through the region returning from his second exploration of the water passage from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. In 1673 he and Louis Joliet had ventured through Wisconsin and down the Mississippi, returning to Sault Ste Marie via the Illinois and Chicago Rivers. The next year Marquette ventured down Lake Michigan to the Chicago River and the portage to the Illinois, entering the Mississippi in the spring of 1675. Marquette was sick, however, and returning that spring he passed along shores of Miller Beach close to death, which would come only days later at the mouth of the Marquette River in Michigan.

During the 1700's the land along the south rim of Lake Michigan was the home and hunting ground of Potawatomi Indians, who joined with most of the other tribes in resisting the gradual approach of white settlers from the southeast and east. They joined the Shawnee to inflict on Major General Arthur St. Clair's troops the worst disaster ever to befall Americans at the hands of the Indians in 1791, only to be defeated three years later by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. With that defeat came the wholesale move to force the Indians of Indiana and Illinois west of the Mississippi.

While Indiana achieved statehood in 1816, much of the land remained by treaty in the hands of the Indians. The treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832 left much of the land of northwest Indiana in the possession of Potawatomi, but only five years later much of what was to become Miller was purchased by William and George Ewing, and George Walker, for $1600 from Be-Si-ah, a part blood Potawatomi and his wife Ne-paw-wee. That land came to be called 'Ewing's Sub division' and included eventual railroad land and the central section of Miller.

There are several links which describe the native population of Northwest Indiana in further detail, as well as some very good books.

An invaluable source of information about the Indian population is the Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History edited by Helen Horneck Tanner ( University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). And for anyone interested the clash of cultures as the white man moved toward the Mississippi River in the 1700's the books of Allan Eckert are highly recommended.