A Piankeshaw village, obscure to most historians and scholars may be a major player in the history of the Wabash tributary, the White River. Some evidence from historic military records and Indian Claims Commission Reports definitely links a Piankeshaw Village to a White River, Indiana location. The earliest historical accounts include a reference to Fairplay Township that state very clearly, “On the site of the old town of Fairplay, a flourishing Piankeshaw Village had stood in former years before the white man came…” “Scattered over the ground there, especially in early years were the implements of warfare and of domestic usefulnees…and were tracts of land from which the brush and sod had been cleared, and upon which the former inhabitants had grown their crops of corn, and perhaps vegetables The village had contained several hundred wigwams, judging from the extent of open ground where it stood and the statements of the earliest white settlers… The Indians often came to the cabins of the first white settlers for ammunition, whiskey or food and brought with them to barter–furs, wild meat and curious trinkets of their own manufacture.”
A British fort was promised by the representatives of the Crown to the Piankeshaw led villages if they relocated to the White River. The Piankeshaw, Wea, Illini and Miami who had been living in the Wabash valley for decades became easy prey for British envoys who only wanted to entice them to their side with empty promises in order to gain a military and political advantage over the French at Vincennes. The British suggested they might even build ‘forts” further into the White River Valley. Le Enfant, a Piankeshaw leader was the only known active anti-French “rebel” in the region. He was convinced that the British would keep their promises and stirred other Native indian groups to join with the British. Piankeshaw and many Miami broke with their French alliance and began to exert random attacks on the French. They established a village or villlages along the White River in what is now Fairplaly Township. According to the Indian Claims commission reports, these villages held as many as 600 inhabitants between 1751-1753 as they awaited the full support of the British.
The British never fulfilled their promises and by the end of 1752 after the destruction of the English trading houses at Pickawillany on the Great Miami River in Ohio and the withdrawal of the English from the area, “the rebel Piankeshaw led by Le Gros Bled sent a collar of wampum to the Wea asking them to intercede with de Ligneris for them and most of the White River Village Indians returned to the western edge of Indiana and the Wabash corridor.
An Anthropological Report on the Piankashaw Indians, Dockett 99 (a part of Consolidated Docket No. 315; Dr. Dorothy Libby) Summary of Piankashaw Locations (1708- ca. 1763)(pages 58 – 62)
“Piankashaws may have been located on the Wabash River as early as 1708, and were certainly living in a village in the vicinity of Ouiatenon, near the location of the present-day city of Lafayette, Indiana, by 1718. An effort was made by the French to attract the Piankashaws to settle on the Kankakee River in 1720 and 1721, but only a few of them moved there and these stayed only a short time.
By 1726, the Piankashaws had moved some distance downstream from Ouiatenon and were established in a village near the mouth of Vermilion River, a western tributary to the Wabash River. This village was called “Mercata or Piankashaw” and it was estimated that at least 150 men, representing approximately 600 persons resided there. By 1730 a French officer, Vincennes, moved to the lower Wabash, taking with him some Vermilion River Piankashaws, who settled near the post he established in the vicinity of the present-day town of Vincennes, Indiana in the First Street neighborhood. At the same time, a larger number of Piankashaws remained in their village on the Vermilion River.
Despite a smallpox epidemic which killed a number of them some Piankashaws took part in French-inspired attacks on Chickasaw Indians in 1732 and 1733. In 1734, the Piankashaws of Vincennes’ Post were reported to have invited those of the Vermilion River village to settle with them, an invitation which was not accepted. Vincennes’ Piankashaws /pg. 59/continued their intermittent raids on the Chickasaws, but after his death in 1736 while taking part in one of these attacks, the number living at the post diminished for a while. The Piankashaws remaining at Vincennes were described as having decreased to 15 or 25 men (representing a population of ca. 60-100 persons) in June of 1737; other Piankashaws returned to the older village at Vermilion River.
Piankashaw Indians are specifically referred to as being located at Vermilion River between 1743 and 1747. That some also continued to live in the Vincennes area during the 1740’s is indicated by the fact that in 1749 Piankashaws were reported to have left Vincennes completely. This was probably due in part to British efforts to win the trade of the Wabash Indians and also in reaction to various attacks on them by other Indians. During the winter of 1749-1750 some Piankashaws traded with the English at Pickawillany on the Great Miami River and this group of Piankashaw Indians may have wintered in that area. A number of Piankashaws including several of the Vermilion Piankashaw chiefs joined the pro-English Indians. During the winter of 1749-1750 an epidemic again killed a number of Piankashaws, and they burned their village (probably the Vermilion River one) to drive away the bad medicine which they thought the French had sent them. All during 1750 rumors and reports of Piankashaw activities and collaboration with the English were circulating among the French on the Wabash and in the Illinois country. And, in fact, some Piankashaws did meet with George Croghan and sign a treaty of friendship with the British in November of 1750.
By 1751, forty Piankashaws were reported to be at Vincennes, but whether this was a visiting group or members of a permanent village there is not clear. It is clear that at least a few Piankashaws were living in the Vincennes area again. In this year also, at least one Piankashaw chief of the Vermilion River village was reported to have rejected English overtures of friendship. By October of 1751 the Vermilion Piankashaws appeared to be won over by the English, though they still lived at Vermilion River. By February of 1752 many of the Piankashaws around Vincennes joined the Vermilion Piankashaws, who were said to have moved, at least temporarily, to the plains between the Wabash and Illinois rivers. A rumor was reported that they, together with some Illinois and Osage Indians, were going to build a fort in the central Illinois area where the Fox Indians had been attacked by the French twenty years earlier.
It seems evident, however, that by February of 1752 many of the Piankashaws were established on White River in central Indiana about 2 days journey from Ouiatenon and from Vincennes, in a settlement inspired by English Traders, together with some Weas, Miamis, and Delawares. The Piankashaws at this White River location were reported to number 140 men, representing ca. 560 persons. By the end of 1752, after the destruction of the English inspired settlement of Pickawillany on the Great Miami River and the withdrawal of the English from the area, the rebel Piankashaws made peaceful overtures to the French commandants at Ouiatenon and at Vincennes. By the fall of 1753, the French had pardoned the Piankashaws who by this time had gone to Ouiatenon. (Goodspeed’s History of Greene and Sullivan Counties, Indiana 1884 supports this as well)
/pg. 61/ Soon after this, the errant Piankashaws probably returned to their former locations on the Vermilion River and the vicinity of Vincennes. It is possible also that a number of Piankashaws remained in the vicinity of Ouiatenon. In 1762 one hundred Piankashaw warriors (representing a population of ca. 400 persons) were reported as being at Ouiatenon. In a council held by the British at Ouiatenon in that year a Mascouten spoke for both the Mascoutens and the Piankashaws. In Hutchins’ description written in the same year, however) what probably are the same one hundred warriors were described as being dependent on Ouiatenon, rather than as located at Ouiatenon, which raises a question as to their actual location. The Indians living on the Vermilion River were dependent on Ouiatenon for trade, and it seems probable that references to Indians dependent on Ouiatenon include them. Thus the one hundred Piankashaw warriors could have lived at either location at this time.
All during the French period of sovereignty in the west, bands of Piankashaw Indians were mentioned, along with other Indian groups, by the commandants of the Illinois country as visiting them and various Illinois Indian groups. These visits involved trips for supplies, or occurred during raids on southern Indians, visits to relatives (by intermarriage), and hunting expeditions.”
One other additional source puts the Piankeshaw village on the White River. The source is Commandant, Vaudreul to Rouille, September, 1752 from the Collections fo the Illinois State Historical Library, vol 29.
“The Piankeshaw up to now have taken various step to get back their prisoners but this commandant has not judged it proper to give them back as they have given but small marks of their repentance and fearing our resentment, have retired for the greater part on White River, where the English today established with a certain number of rebels from Great Miami River. I have ordered M.de Macarty to extirpate this settlement, opposing force to force if there is need of coming to that extremity in order to forestall in that place the results from a larger settlement on account of the nearness of Vincennes, which is only about fifteeen leagues from that river. As to the location of their tribe, the young men told Le Chat they were two short days’ journey from the post of M de Ligneris; they said that the majority of their people wished to come to an understanding with the French. The others would not hear of it. They had suffered much for want of food. Some English brought them goods, but very little. The English had led them to hope that they would furnish them abundantly and that in Le Petit Pat Cott, chief of the seven cabins of Illini, which left the hunt this summer to go to the rebels, gave back to St. Ange, the belt he had received, with protestations of attachment to the French which at best are dubious. “
The historical documents are clear; the evidence from reports states that there was a Piankeshaw led village with British ties in the valley of the White River located two days from Vincennes and Ouiatenon. However, with that said, what is lacking is hard archaeological evidence. Back in the 1970’s, Indiana Archaeologist, Curtis Tomak did a site survey and concluded that there was not much evidence to support the theory of a village at that location. To be fair about this, there was a town called, Fairplay that was built on the alleged former site of the village. Today, as was over 30 years ago, the area also shows little if any visible sign above ground that there ever was a town laid out on this same ground. The village site or sites were definitely disturbed by the digging of cellars and building of houses, shops and businesses. However, it is now 30 years later and new technologies and techniques have been developed and there may be a need to do another, more intense search of the site before any conclusive opinion is formed about the elusive Piankeshaw Village Site in Fairplay Township.