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These Old Fields of Indiana

THORNTOWN, INDIANA - Earlier this month I started giving tours at Newfields, it's where the Indianapolis Museum of Art is currently located. The property used to go by the name of 'Oldfields', nestled in a private little city called Woodstock, but long before then, Native Americans called the area home. The maps below will show you what I'm talking about.

The map above shows the White River running through Marion County, it runs right behind the Indianapolis Museum of Art today. Notice the pink arrow pointing up to Boone County, that will be important later. The map below zooms in on the area that the IMA calls home today. In 1910 it was rural Indianapolis, by the end of the decade it was known as a small city called Woodstock.

I show these maps during my 'Walk & Talk' through the campus of Newfields. You can see the current site of the museum pretty clearly, that's because Michigan Road, also known as US 421 has always ran right next to the property. The "Oldfields" Estate was erected during America's Country Place Era. An era which saw wealthy individuals and families move out of industrialized, densely populated cities. The automobile and interurban railroad played a huge role in this movement.

Yes!, just over 100 years ago, 38th Street (Formerly Maple Road) and Michigan was in the middle of nowhere, barely connected to the state's capitol city. Today, if you're looking for a "country place" type environment, you're going to need to keep traveling up Michigan Road, and that's exactly what I did on one afternoon this summer, I ended up in good ol' Boone County!


With proceeds from the sale of 170,580 acres of Indian land granted by the Federal Government, Indiana built its first north-south road. Surveyed 1829, passable by 1834, "completed" in 1837, its cost was $242,000.00.

Notice how Michigan Road wasn't able to be completed until the Native Americans were removed. I like all aspects of Indiana's history, but if you know me, you know I'm extremely interested in our Black history, and in our indigenous history, Boone County had plenty to offer. To be honest, every corner and crevice of Indiana has tremendous history, sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it.

That's why, despite Newfield's very recent and racial controversies, I still wanted to go there, and to strengthen our relationship. I wanted to re-introduce people to a place they may feel like they already know. I wanted to show EVERYONE that they're part of this museum's history, and that it'll be up to Newfields if everyone is part of the museum's future.

I was headed to the old Sugar Creek Settlement, a Black settlement that was established around the city/town of Thorntown in the early 1850's. The was an A.M.E. Church, a school, a Masonic Lodge (interesting), and a cemetery. I went to the cemetery, I walked through the old fields with my bare feet, I think it's good for you.


Black southerners established a thriving, free community around Thorntown in Sugar Creek Township by the early 1850s. Most became farmers and some owned property, despite Indiana’s constitutional prohibition of black settlement. By 1870, this community of over 170 residents established an African Methodist Episcopal church, school, cemetery, and Masonic lodge.....

.....With the passage of the 15th Amendment, male residents engaged in politics through voting, public speaking, and organizing a Republican club. While the community dispersed in the 1890s, the church and affiliated women’s group remained active into the 1900s. Only the cemetery, where at least one Civil War veteran of the U.S. Colored Troops was buried, has been preserved.

I want to go see all of Indiana's museums, just like I have a goal to tell a story in all of Indiana's 92 counties. I always look for myself in the stories that I tell, so I looked for myself at Newfields. I found John Wesley Hardrick, I wrote about him earlier this year. He was a painter born and raised here in Indianapolis, his art has been on display at the IMA since 1929.

The First Walk & Talk at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

The Sugar Creek Community was near a place called Thorntown, on my way back to Indianapolis, I found out how 'Thorntown' got it's name. It was the location of an old Miami Indian village, the Kawiakiungi Village. "Ka-wi-a-ki-un-gi" means place of thorns. I stopped, got out and walked around barefoot, no layers were between me and the people who used to share these old fields.

HISTORICAL MARKER - Eel River Tribe of Miamis

Ka-wi-a-ki-un-gi Village "Place of Thorns" (Thorntown) was center of 64, 000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve. Granted to Eel River Miamis in 1818, ceded to U.S. in 1828.

The Eel River Tribe is no longer an identifiable Indian Tribe, however, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, there's a possibility that descendants of the tribe now belong to the Miami Nation of Oklahoma. In 1818 the United States Government "granted" the Eel River Tribe a 10-square mile reservation near their community of Thorntown. Just ten years later, the Tribe was relocated to a reservation in Miami County, Indiana. I've done a video there as well (Facebook YouTube).

When the IMA made its move from inner-city Indianapolis to the "suburbs" of Michigan Road and 38th Street in the 1960's, many feared that the museum wouldn't be accessible to the diverse groups of people that have contributed to the history of Indianapolis. I share these graphics below on our Walk & Talk.

Slide Shown During Walk & Talk

While in Boone, I sat down in the county seat, Lebanon, and looked through some of the collections. I couldn't believe how many stories about the Miami Indians of this area had been preserved! It's also unfortunate to think about all that's been lost.

It's not uncommon for me to travel the state and be a little disappointed in the history I see represented. That's how I feel at Newfields, but I'm working to change that.

During our Walk & Talk, of course we talk about the job listing that Newfields posted, it showed the clear goals of whoever would be applying for the role, it made national news, if you're not aware of it here's what it said:

Slide Shown During Walk & Talk

If you took a look at the new residents of Boone County, and told history that only fit the "core demographic" you'd neglect the stories of those who are truly at the core of the county's history.

It's not uncommon for me to walk through a museum in Indiana and never see another Black person. I mean, who would want to go somewhere where the real story just gets skipped over? If you gave me a book to read and just ripped out the chapters you were uncomfortable reading or accepting, I wouldn't read it. The book wouldn't make any sense.

I like how at Newfields I'm allowed to say whatever I want, I wouldn't have it any other way. So as long as I'm working with Newfields, I have to tell the real history behind the racist history that rest here, and that's okay with me. That's why when one of my earlier tours at Newfields didn't go as planned, I said exactly how I felt about it.

When I write stories about the old fields of Indiana, I write about whatever I want..... like the Miami Indians and the early Black settlers in Boone County, that's what makes sense to me, they're buried within this ground that I walk on.

As I walk through the gardens of Newfields, it's not hard to appreciate the diversity of the trees, the flowers, the life. It's not quite Thorntown, but there's still some new thorns in these old fields.

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Wow! Good for you. I am impressed with your bare foot journeys, one must feel Mother Earth and what she is speaking to you about. You visited the Eel River and Wea Indians home of Kawiakiugi "Place of Thorns" Village [Thorntown, Boone Co., Indiana]. I am a Wea [Waayaahtanwa] Indian and you just said hello to some of my Ancestors! I don't know if some of your Ancestors were there as well in that black community in 1850 but if they were, cool ! If you haven't already, you must visit Fort Ouiatenon in Lafayette, Tippecanoe Co., Indiana on the Wabash River. It's also where my Ancestors lived and it was one of the biggest villages of the times.…


Aug 30, 2021

Thank you, Sampson, for teaching me about Oldfields, Woodstock, and Thorntown. I heard about the racial controversy at Newfields, and I wasn't happy about it. I decided I would avoid Newfields until I read your article. Now I will go back to attend a "Walk and Talk" at Newfield's.👣

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