Heroes, Changing Times, and the Indiana Magazine of History, 1905–2005

James H. Madison


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 101, Issue 4, pp 328-338

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Heroes, Changing Times, and the Indiana Magazine of History, 1905-2005


It was so long ago that there really were buggy whips for sale when the first issue of the Indiana Magazine of History appeared in 1905. We live in a different world, of course, and there are many ways to see those differences. One way is to think about the heroes of that generation of 1905, to think about whom the people of this state placed on pedestals, and then to move forward in time to consider how our generation today chooses its heroes.

Indiana's heroes in 1905 were mostly political and military leaders and mostly white men. Hoosiers at the beginning of the twentieth century studied and revered William Henry Harrison, George Rogers Clark, William Conner, and many others less well known today. School children learned that these men created a civilization in an untamed wilderness by defeating the Indians and the British and then by laying the foundation for prosperity and democracy. Their achievements remain laudable today, and it is appropriate that Indiana's fourth graders and adults learn about these great men.

  • James H. Madison is Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor of History and director of the Liberal Arts and Management Program, Indiana University Bloomington. From 1976 to 1993 he served as editor of the Indiana Magazine of History.
  • Author's note: The scholarship cited below is intended as only representative of a much larger body of writing. For further reading, see the pages of the Indiana Magazine of History (hereafter IMH) and Robert M. Taylor, Jr., ed., The State of Indiana History 2000: Papers Presented at the Indiana Historical Society's Grand Opening (Indianapolis, 2001).

General George Rogers Clark Statue, Monument Circle, Indianapolis, 1907 Celebrated in stone nearly a century ago, George Rogers Clark is remembered today not only as a hero but also as a symbol of the violence that accompanied much early White-Indian contact in Indiana.

Courtesy Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company Collection, C115

It is good that we continue to visit Harrison's home at Grouseland, the Clark Memorial in Vincennes, and the Conner House in Hamilton County.

But our generation has the eyes to consider these heroes in a different light from that of Hoosiers one hundred years ago. We can no longer ignore the fact that some of the workers at Grouseland were Harrison's property, slaves, even if the preferred term for a long time was "servants." We know now that along the banks of the Wabash River, Clark ordered his men to murder in cold blood bound Indian captives. We know that when it became more economically and culturally profitable to abandon his Delaware Indian wife and children, Conner moved with the speed of a modern entrepreneur, which is what he was.1

In the early 1990s, as part of the so-called "culture wars," some Americans labeled such troubling sides to the lives of their heroes as "politically correct" history or "revisionism." Some accused historians of "tearing down" American heroes. Such arguments have little validity, regardless of political or ideological views. People past and present have always been real human beings and have never been perfect. People have never lived in simple black-and-white worlds of good and bad, right and wrong. In trying to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, we have not always served our best interests as responsible citizens in a democracy. If we see our past now as more ambiguous, more troubling, it is also more real, more interesting, and more important. How we see Harrison, Clark, and Conner is part of how we see ourselves.

While great men such as Harrison, Clark, and Conner stood on the pedestal of history in 1905, these leaders did not stand alone. Joining them was a certain sort of ordinary people-the pioneers. The pioneers who settled Indiana at the end of the eighteenth century and in the first decades of the nineteenth had become, by 1905, objects of ancestor worship. As with the great men, there remains good reason to study the achievements of the pioneer generation. They did build a state by hard work and family values; by swinging axes, churning butter, and planting corn; and by worshiping their God. They professed ideals that remain today among the best the world has seen, embodied in the Indiana Constitution of 1816, with its claims that "all men are born free and equally independent" and that "all power is inherent in the people."2 No finer words have yet been written on Hoosier soil.

The downside of having put Hoosier pioneers up on a pedestal in 1905 was that, as with the great men, we denied them their humanity. It should not be so difficult to accept today the possibility that while some pioneers were honest and hard working, some were not. Some were faithful to

  • 1 Andrew R. L. Cayton, Frontier Indiana (Bloomington, Ind., 1996); Reginald Horsman, "William Henry Harrison: Virginia Gentleman in the Old Northwest," IMH, 96 (June 2000), 125-49; Bernard W. Sheehan, "The Famous Hair Buyer General’: Henry Hamilton, George Rogers Clark, and the American Indian," IMH, 79 (March 1983), 22-23; James Fisher, "A Forgotten Hero Remembered, Revered, and Revised: The Legacy and Ordeal of George Rogers Clark," IMH, 92 (June 1996), 109-32; John Lauritz Larson and David G. Vanderstel, "Agent of Empire: William Conner on the Indiana Frontier, 1800-1855," IMH, 80 (December 1984), 301-28.
  • 2 Charles Kettleborough, ed., Constitution Making in Indiana, Vol. 1: 1780-1851 (Indianapolis, 1916), 84.

Thomas Hart Benton, Indiana Murals, cultural panel 3, "Frontier Life" Benton's murals elevated ordinary Hoosiers to a prominent place in the state's history.

Photograph by Michael Cavanaugh and Kevin Montague. Copyright 2005 Indiana University Art Museum

their spouses; some were not. Some contributed to the building of community values; some did not.3

And then there are fundamental ideals of democracy. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner firmly argued for reciprocal relationships among pioneers, the frontier, and

  • 3 There was occasional recognition of pioneer shortcomings. See, for example, Edward Eggleston, The Hoosier School-Master: A Novel (1871; Bloomington, Ind., 1984).
democracy.4 It was a version of the past that the generation of his day very much liked: pioneers brought democracy to America. But it was only partly true. As much as they professed freedom and justice for all, many pioneers had little regard for people who were different, a characteristic of this first generation little noticed in 1905. Those very unusual people, for example, who followed George Rapp and then Robert Owen to their Utopian settlements at New Harmony sparked strong distrust and antipathy from neighbors. Jews, Catholics, and many immigrants usually remained outsiders in pioneer Indiana. Native Americans had either to become like white pioneers or exit the state, quickly. African Americans, most thought, should not be allowed to enter the Hoosier promised land at all. Indeed, in 1905 the clear fact that some pioneers were black was hardly noticed. Nor did the generation of the early twentieth century much comment on the myriad ways in which whites had restricted freedoms of black Hoosiers with increasingly harsh laws and customs that everywhere drew lines of color. The culmination of their restricted notion of democracy came in Article XIII of the state's 1851 Constitution, which prohibited African Americans from entering the state.5

There were always exceptions. Some pioneers saw the humanity in those who were different. Some applied laws of justice to Indians, for example, as in the 1824 trial of the accused murders of Indian women and children following the Deer Lick Creek massacre. In handing down death sentences for four white men Judge William W. Wick said:

By what authority do we hauntingly boast of our being white? What principle of philosophy or of religion established the doctrine that a white skin is preferable in nature or in the sight of God to a red or black one? Who has ordained that men of the

  • 4 Compare the neo-Turnerian John D. Barnhart, Valley of Democracy: The Frontier versus the Plantation in the Ohio Valley, 1775-1818 (Bloomington, Ind., 1953), with Nicole Etcheson, The Emerging Midwest: Upland Southerners and the Political Culture of the Old Northwest, 1787-1861 (Bloomington, Ind., 1996).
  • 5 Robert M. Taylor, Jr., and Connie A. McBirney, eds., Peopling Indiana: The Ethnic Experience (Indianapolis, 1996); Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority (Indianapolis, 1957); Andrew R. L. Cayton, "Race, Democracy, and the Multiple Meanings ol the Indiana Frontier," in The Indiana Territory, 1800-2000, ed. Darrel E. Bigham (Indianapolis, 2001), 47-70; Richard E Nation, "Violence and the Rights of African Americans in Civil War-Era Indiana: The Case of James Hays," IMH, 100 (September 2004), 216-30; James H. Madison, "Race, Law, and the Burdens of Indiana's History," in David J. Bodenhamer and Randall T. Shepard, eds., The History of Indiana Law (forthcoming, 2006).
white skin shall be at liberty to shoot and hunt down men of the red skin, or exercise rule and dominion over those of the black?"6

Some Hoosiers urged freedom in its fullest sense. A few whites argued for racial equality; a few more were willing to question slavery. Some Hoosiers even disobeyed the law of the land in counteracting enforcement of the notorious Fugitive Slave Act. Indianapolis lawyer Calvin Fletcher offers one example. Most nobly, there was the Hoosier boy who grew up on the Indiana frontier to lead the nation in its war against slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the exception above all exceptions, the Indiana youth who read, observed, and thought, and who arrived at his own deep understanding of the human condition. No other person from Indiana's pioneer days is his equal. Here, on Lincoln's greatness, many of the generation of 1905 and of today might agree, though for rather different reasons.7

By 1905 another everyday hero had joined the pioneer. The Civil War veteran rose in status and veneration as he aged, assisted by the publicity work of the Grand Army of the Republic, the most successful veterans’ organization in American history. A half-century after Appomattox, parades, monuments, commemorations, and written histories presented the Civil War veteran as hero. Although generals such as Lew Wallace and Benjamin Harrison held more of the spotlight, there remained plenty of room for the ordinary soldier. Across the state he rode at the front of the parade as it moved past the statues and monuments on the courthouse lawn.8

Civil War veterans and pioneers together became the best evidence that ordinary people should have a place in history. Their inclusion by 1905

  • 6 Brian M. Doerr, "The Massacre at Deer Lick Creek, Madison County, Indiana, 1824," IMH, 93 (March 1997), 37; David Edmunds, "Justice on a Changing Frontier: Deer Lick Creek, 1824-1825," IMH, 93 (March 1997), 48-52.
  • 7 David Brion Davis, "The Significance of Excluding Slavery from the Old Northwest in 1787," IMH 84 (March 1988), 75-89; Emma Lou Thornbrough, "Indiana and Fugitive Slave Legislation," IMH, 50 (September 1954), 201-28; Thomas D. Hamm, April Beckman, Marissa Florio, Kristi Giles, and Marie Hopper, "‘A Great and Good People’: Midwestern Quakers and the Struggle Against Slavery," IMH, 100 (March 2004), 3-25; Randall T. Shepard, "For Human Rights: Slave Cases and the Indiana Supreme Court," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, 15 (Summer 2003), 34-41. A notable exception to the tendency to ignore slavery and race was Jacob Dunn. See Dunn, Indiana: A Redemption from Slavery (Cambridge, Mass., 1888), and Ray E. Boomhower, Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr.: A Life in History and Politics, 1855-1924 (Indianapolis, 1997). Notable in the vast literature on Lincoln is William Lee Miller, Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography (New York, 2002).
  • 8 James H. Madison, "Civil War Memories and ‘Pardnership Forgittin,’ 1865-1913," IMH, 99 (September 2003), 198-230; Glory-June Greiff, Remembrance, Faith, and Fancy: Outdoor Public Sculpture in Indiana (Indianapolis, 2005).
meant that the past was not just about notable leaders, that the pages of history might hold room for other ordinary people as well. A wider door to our past opened gradually at first and then more quickly in the latter half of the twentieth century. Today's Indiana heroes are such a varied lot that few generalizations are possible. Heroes now come in both sexes and all colors and from all walks of life.

Plenty of room remains on the pedestal today for presidential candidates, governors, senators, and other political leaders. And there is room as well for some political leaders judged as unsuccessful in their own day. Eugene V Debs was never a Hoosier favorite; his outspoken socialism and opposition to American entry into World War I made him a Hoosier to be ignored, at best. Yet many today, whether agreeing or not with his views, would put him among the state's greatest citizens. Wendell Willkie never won an election. Yet his prescient global vision, embodied in his 1943 book, One World, and his willingness to work hard for racial equality raise him higher in public esteem today than in his own day. And there is still room for military heroes, especially ordinary soldiers of World War II. Those who lost their lives in that war-including John Bushemi, the Marine photographer killed on a Pacific Island, and Ernie Pyle, the reporter who best told their stories-became special heroes to most of us.9

Leaders from a variety of fields other than political and military life have become part of our past and, for some, our heroes. Such a list might include Herman B Wells, who created a modern and global state university in Bloomington; Eli Lilly, who led a small pharmaceutical company into the forefront of scientific research and profitability; Paul Moore, of Christ Church in Indianapolis, who advanced social reform within a system of Christian belief; Alfred Kinsey, whose pioneering research on human sexuality reminds us to consider that even Indiana pioneers engaged in sexual intercourse and that some might even have loved pioneers of the same sex.10

There is far more room today for women, often ignored in 1905, even in histories of ordinary pioneers."11 Examples include Ada E. Schweitzer,

  • 9 Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana, 111., 1982); James H. Madison, ed., Wendell Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist (Bloomington, Ind., 1992); Ray E. Boomhower, "One Shot": The World War II Photography of John A. Bushemi (Indianapolis, 2004); James Tobin, Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II (New York, 1997).
  • 10 Herman B Wells, Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections (Bloomington, Ind., 1980); James H. Madison, Eli Lilly: A Life, 1885-1977 (Indianapolis, 1989); Jason Lantzer, "Crisis on the Circle: Christ Church Cathedral Confronts the 1960s," Anglican and Episcopal History, 68 (December 1999), 468-492; James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Life (New York, 1997).
  • 11 See, for example, Howard Johnson, A Home in the Woods: Oliver Johnson's Reminiscences of Early Marion County (Indianapolis, 1951). This otherwise fascinating memoir is notable for the near absence of females.
who pioneered in infant care and public health in the 1920s; Albion Fellows Bacon, an energetic housing reformer from Evansville; May Wright Sewall, advocate for women's rights; and Elizabeth Richardson, from Mishawaka, who lost her life while working for the American Red Cross in France during World War II. And there were thousands of ordinary women on the war home fronts who did more than just carry on in times of stress. Across our past many ordinary women worked as homemakers and community leaders to make the quiet contributions essential to well-lived lives.12

There is a place, too, for heroes who are not white: black lawyers in the 1930s and 1940s who fought on the front line before the modern civil rights movement; Flossie Bailey of Marion, who stood up to racism with a courage seldom matched; and the many ordinary African American citizens, in Evansville, Gary, Madison, and Indianapolis, and in rural communities such as the Roberts Settlement in Hamilton County, who challenged the color line.13

Along with possibilities of new heroes there were new villains and more room for the troubling ambiguities they raise. Few chapters of the state's history compare in notoriety to the tempest of D. C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. In the last two decades historians have opened up this dark subject, one barely written about as late as the 1970s. Recent scholarship connects the Klan's particular form of narrow-mindedness and hatred to larger themes and issues. We can now know a Klan of the

  • 12 Alexandra Minna Stern, "Making Better Babies: Public Health and Race Betterment in Indiana, 1920-1935," American Journal oj Public Health, 92 (May 2002), 742-53; Robert G. Barrows, Albion Fellows Bacon: Indiana's Municipal Housekeeper (Bloomington, Ind., 2000); Ray E. Boomhower, "But I Do Clamor": May Wright Sewall, A Life, 1844-1920 (Zionsville, Ind., 2001); Thomas E. Rodgers, "Hoosier Women and the Civil War Home Front," IMH, 97 June 2001), 105-28; Barbara J. Steinson, "Rural Life in Indiana," IMH, 90 (September 1994), 203-50. For the great needs in women's history research, see Nancy Gabin, "Fallow Yet Fertile: The Field of Indiana Women's History," IMH, 96 (September 2000), 213-49.
  • 13 Stanley Warren, "Robert L. Bailey: Great Man with a Thirst for Justice," Black History News & Notes, 55 (February 1994), 6-7; James H. Madison, A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America (New York, 2001); Darrel E. Bigham, We Ask Only a Fair Trial: A History of the Black Community oj Evansville, Indiana (Bloomington, Ind., 1987); Don Wallis, ed., All We Had Was Each Other: The Black Community oj Madison, Indiana (Bloomington, Ind., 1998); Ronald D. Cohen, "The Dilemma of School Integration in the North: Gary, Indiana, 1945-1960," IMH, 82 Qune 1986), 161-84; Richard B. Pierce, Polite Protest: The Political Economy oj Race in Indianapolis, 1920-1970 (Bloomington, Ind., 2005); Emma Lou Thornbrough, "Breaking Racial Barriers to Public Accommodations in Indiana, 1935-1963," IMH, 83 (December 1987), 301-29; Stephen A. Vincent, Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900 (Bloomington, Ind., 1999); Emma Lou Thornbrough and Lana Ruegamer, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington, Ind., 2000). And of course there was Madam Walker, the successful businesswoman: A'Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times ojMadam C.J. Walker (New York, 2001).

Oscar Robertson, March 12, 1955 Robertson's historical legacy extends beyond his performance on the basketball court.

Courtesy Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis Recorder Collection

past that causes uneasiness about the ambiguities of our own times as well as the 1920s.14

Artists and novelists have joined lists of those seen as worthy contributors. Not only the men of T. C. Steele's generation, but Ada Walter Shulz, Mari Goth, the Overbeck sisters, Marie Webster, and other women have become part of our artistic past. Writers moved into the light, too, even

  • 14 Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991); Allen Safianow, ‘"You Can't Burn History’: Getting Right with the Klan in Noblesville, Indiana," IMH, 100 (June 2004), 110-54.
those such as Ross Lockridge, Jr., and Kurt Vonnegut, who challenged traditional notions.15

A mixed consequence of this wider door to public visibility and standing is the rush of celebrities into our lives, especially those in sports and entertainment. Even in Indiana, which has proudly claimed a quiet modesty as a defining quality, we put celebrity names in headlines and name highways and buildings for them. Some will likely endure beyond their lifetimes. Hoagy Carmichael is surely one. James Dean is now a global figure of significance a half-century after his death. People who never saw them play basketball talk about Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and, of course, the Milan basketball team of 1954. But many other celebrities who are today considered so important and so worthy of attention may fade.16

By using our brains rather than the remote control, by reading good history, we can make distinctions between celebrities and heroes. We can see more clearly the larger contexts that shape lives and cultures, past and present. We can see differences between real heroes and flashes in the pan. We can understand the great lessons of history, that nothing is constant and permanent, that change has always been the order of the day, and that even heroes are human.

Central to the process of thoughtfully selecting and knowing our heroes is the work of historians. Historians in universities, schools, museums, and historical societies have been going about digging in primary sources and doing the hard thinking that enables them to create new knowledge and share that knowledge with others. So have independent writers, filmmakers, genealogists, and researchers who often work with little financial reward to bring light to a subject that interests them. This ongoing historical research creates the foundation of what we know about the past and about the kinds of heroes we select.

Much of this research has appeared in the pages of the Indiana Magazine of History. As times changed, as history changed, so did the IMH. Four times a year for a hundred years its pages broadened and deepened our understanding of the past. Even in the early years, its authors reminded

  • 15 Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann Weiss, Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana's Historical Women Artists (Indianapolis, 2004); Jeanette Vanausdall, Pride and Protest: The Novel in Indiana (Indianapolis, 1999); Larry Lockridge, The Shade oj the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lochridge Jr. (New York, 1994).
  • 16 Richard M. Sudhalter, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael (New York, 2002); Wes Gehring, James Dean: Rebel with a Cause (Indianapolis, 2005); Randy Roberts "But They Can't Beat Us": Oscar Robertson and the Crispus Attucks Tigers (Indianapolis, 1999); Aram Goudsouzian, ‘"Ba-ad, Ba-a-ad Tigers’: Crispus Attucks Basketball and Black Indianapolis in the 1950s," IMH, 96 (March 2000), 5-43.
us that pioneers were ordinary people worthy of our attention and human beings subject to frailties and achievements not entirely unlike our own. In recent decades, readers of these pages came to see ranges of human beings, behaviors, and ideas still wider than those glimpsed in 1905. We have the capacity to select heroes of our own choosing, men and women who fit our particular sense of what we want to be and what we want Indiana to be in the twenty-first century. In its second century the Indiana Magazine of History will introduce us to new possibilities for choosing heroes and for deepening our appreciation of who we were and who we are as Indiana citizens.