November in Hoosier History
Writer / Jeff Kenney
It’s November in the lakes area – a month most people associate, appropriately enough, with the Thanksgiving holiday, or perhaps (due in large measure to said holiday) Native American history, football, or the sometimes unpleasant topic of elections. Poor November tends to be a rather brown or gray month. It’s not quite the time for Christmas excitement, and the sunnier pleasures of autumnal harvest events or Halloween have passed.
Readers have likely ascertained by now that these pages in your Lakes Magazine, particularly when this author’s name is attached to them, tend to focus on history-related matters. And as it turns out, November has some pretty interesting offerings in terms of Hoosier history. Below is a look at just a handful of highlights.
1778 (November 2): Frances Slocum, one of the best-known people of European descent to be abducted and raised by Native Americans, is taken from her home in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, at age 5 by three Delaware warriors, and eventually taken to today’s Ohio and Indiana. Slocum married a Miami chief known as Deaf Man and, taking the name Maconaquah, settled at Deaf Man’s village along the Mississinewa River near present-day Peru, Indiana. Later in life, Slocum’s siblings learned of her whereabouts and sought to bring her with them, but by then she had become completely assimilated into Miami life, culture and language, and opted to remain with her Native American family and village. Many entities in the Peru area today are named in her honor.
1791 (November 4): The greatest defeat suffered by the U.S. Army at the hands of North American Native Americans takes place when forces under the Northwest Territory governor, General Arthur St. Clair, are defeated near Fort Wayne. Famous Miami Indian Chief Little Turtle led an army of Miami, Delaware, Iroquois, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Shawnee and Wyandot, which killed 623 of St. Clair’s men and wounded another 258 on the banks of the Wabash River. The event led Congress to authorize a larger army in 1792.
1806 (November 29): Vincennes University is incorporated, making it the oldest public institution of higher learning in Indiana (even if, at the time, the location’s official moniker was the Indiana Territory, becoming a state in 1816). It held the distinction of being the only such entity until Indiana University was established in 1820.
1811 (November 7): General William Henry Harrison’s forces are victorious at the legendary Battle of Tippecanoe against the Shawnee. The dramatic backdrop of the event, which took place near Lafayette, includes a warning from Shawnee leader Tecumseh to his brother Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, not to engage in the battle until Tecumseh returned from a wide-ranging campaign elsewhere in the U.S. to gather Native support for a united Indian movement. The “prophesies” of Tenskwatawa had often seemed to come true, but the U.S. victory effectively put an end to Tecumseh’s efforts and also aided Harrison in his presidential bid in 1840. A trip to Battle Ground, Indiana, and Prophetstown State Park allows visitors to walk the sites of various aspects of the story.
1862 (November 3): Dr. Richard Gatling patents the first machine gun, named for him, in Indianapolis. Gatling had a number of inventions to his name prior to inventing the gun, and (perhaps ironically) had studied medicine not long before the outbreak of the American Civil War. With the onset of that brutal conflict, he turned his attention to inventing and enhancing firearms. He conceived of the crank-operated, rapid-fire machine gun in 1861, perfecting it by the following year. The war was nearly over before the federal government authorized its use, but it was certainly integral to future developments in and out of wartime.
1880 (November 12): Crawfordsville-based author and American Civil War General Lew Wallace publishes “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.” The novel might seem a rather tough slog for modern audiences, but it was the best-selling book in the United States, after the Bible, in the entire 19th century. It would go on to be adapted numerous times for the stage and screen, including the 1959 movie version, which itself became one of the most award-winning films of all time. Parts of the novel were written in the lakes region, including Lake Maxinkuckee and Bass Lake (Wallace, after all, was an avid fisherman).
1888 (November 6): Benjamin Harrison of Indiana wins the presidential election, making him the third Hoosier to serve in that office (if one counts Abraham Lincoln, who spent part of his childhood in southern Indiana). His status also makes his father, John Scott Harrison, the only person in U.S. history to hold the distinction of being both the son of a U.S. president (in this case, the aforementioned other Hoosier president, William Henry Harrison) as well as the father of one. Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland via electoral vote (233-168), though Cleveland led in the popular vote.
1899 (November 22): Musical giant Hoagy Carmichael, who composed the music for some 50 hit recordings, is born in Bloomington. Best known for “Stardust” and the music for “Georgia on My Mind,” he appeared in numerous movies, TV shows and live productions.
1904 (November 6): Charles W. Fairbanks, an eight-year Indiana senator, is elected vice president of the United States. Besides the fact that the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, was named after him (due to his work on a commission settling the Alaska boundary dispute), he also visited the lakes area when he reviewed the corps of naval midshipmen at Culver Summer Schools in 1905.
1920 (November 2): As Hoosiers voted for the first time since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which allows women to vote, Julia D. Nelson was elected as a state representative and became the first woman to serve in the Indiana General Assembly. The Delaware County native advocated for the support of impoverished parents and children, and introduced bills involving topics such as sexual assault and regulations of movies.
1928 (November 10): Notre Dame’s football team “wins one for the Gipper.” Few scenarios in American sports history rival the legendary Notre Dame football teams of the 1920s under coach Knute Rockne, who took over as head coach in 1918. Up against the undefeated Army team and losing at halftime, team members rallied after Rockne shared what he said were the last words of former Notre Dame player George Gipp, who had died in 1920 at age 25. Among them was the encouragement to go out and “win one for the Gipper” when things looked bleak. Notre Dame proceeded to upset Army and win 12-6 (though a week later, they lost their first home game in 23 years against powerhouse Carnegie Tech).
1941 (November 21): The USS Indiana battleship is launched from Newport News, Virginia. Not long after, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place and the USS Indiana, fully loaded with ammunition and supplies, departed for the Tonga islands and joined the Pacific Fleet in 1942. The ship was nicknamed the “Hoosier Houseboat” by her crew. Though decommissioned and sold for scrap in the 1960s, parts of her are on display at various museums and other sites around Indiana.
1986 (the week of November 7): “Hoosiers,” arguably the most revered basketball movie in history, premieres at the Circle Theatre in Indianapolis. The movie is loosely based on the Milan High School boys basketball team of 1954, which won the state championship. Milan was the smallest school ever to win a single-class state basketball title in Indiana when they defeated much larger Muncie Central High School – an accomplishment known as the Milan Miracle. The movie, starring Gene Hackman, was shot entirely in Indiana.
In 1939, Hoosiers celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday on two different days. In 1839, Indiana Governor David Wallace proclaimed Thursday, November 28 as an official day of Thanksgiving statewide, asking residents to show appreciation for good harvest and health. However, in 1939, the holiday, always on the last Thursday of November, fell on November 30. This was a concern for business owners, who knew that most people waited to start Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving. That year’s late date meant fewer shopping days, which led to a concerted effort from businesses to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare Thanksgiving a week early, on November 23.
A wave of controversy followed, emanating from a variety of institutions such as schools, churches, managers of industry and many others, which left many communities opting to stick with the original date of November 30. Some communities, including the Indiana cities of Washington, New Albany and Delphi, gave workers both dates off to celebrate the holiday. All of this led to 1939 being the year of two Thanksgivings!
Today’s policy of Thanksgiving falling on the fourth Thursday in November went into effect in 1941, thus ensuring that the holiday would never fall later than November 28.