Fort Wayne resident, Jim Pickett, a retired school teacher and driver’s education instructor has been fascinated with local history since he was a boy.
Reading about Native American warriors, French traders and militia soldiers no older than his student drivers had captured his imagination for years, but it wasn’t until he retired in 2011 that he considered channeling his passion for local history into a book.
In 2016, he finally put pen to paper and in 2017, he published The Bones of Kekionga. The historical fiction about the 1790 Battle of Kekionga takes the reader to Fort Wayne before it was Fort Wayne.
At that time, there was a settlement of Native Americans called Kekionga in what is now Lakeside neighborhood. Kekionga was a center for the Miami nation.
In 1790, General Josiah Harmar was on a mission to destroy Native American towns, including Kekionga. President George Washington had ordered the battle against the Miami settlement because it was the center of Native American resistance to U.S. migration across the Ohio River.
On the morning of Oct. 22, 1790, Harmar sent a force to try to entrap the Native Americans at Kekionga by crossing a ford in the Maumee River. However, the ambush was bungled and the Native Americans, led by Chief Little Turtle, attacked first.
Outnumbered, the American forces eventually fell back to join the rest of the army and retreated back to Fort Washington (Cincinnati). It was a victory for the Miami Confederacy, which held its town. About 180 Americans lost their lives in the battle with the Miami suffering similar losses. It was the worst defeat of U.S. forces by Native Americans up to that time.
Remnants of the battle, a 1768 Charleville flintlock musket and bayonet, were discovered along the bank of the St. Joseph River in 1893. Today, it’s housed at the History Center.
“As I’m reading all this, I’m thinking I bet there’s not too many people who know about this stuff,” Pickett said.
As a drivers education instructor, he often points out sites of historical significance (as long as the commentary doesn’t distract his student drivers, he adds).
Pickett said he chose the genre of historical fiction because it helps people relate to the characters. About 80 percent of the characters are based on real people and about 20 percent of the characters are inspired by real people.
“The idea is to help our kids around Fort Wayne learn a little bit more about our history. A lot of it is dialogue. I want the reader to feel like they’re experiencing the adventure, the campaign,” Pickett said.
The Bones of Kekionga follows the adventure of a young man and his uncle, who have joined the militia.
“Back then, the militia was drafted by everyday citizens,” Pickett said, adding that they weren’t especially well trained.
At Fort Washington in modern-day Cincinnati, militia soldiers from Pennsylvania and Kentucky joined and formed an army of about 1,500 men under Harmar.
Pickett said he tried in earnest to capture both sides of the conflict and the book goes back and forth between the perspective of the Native Americans and the perspective of the American forces.
The book is the product of extensive research. Pickett lists 16 sources in the back pages of the book, but he drew from more than 60 sources, which included consulting with historians and reading old journals that describe life in Kekionga.
To learn more about The Bones of Kekionga, visit facebook.com/BonesofKekionga. Pickett will also make appearances at two upcoming festivals: Grabill Country Fair, Sept. 6-8 and Johnny Appleseed Festival, Sept. 15-16.
CORRECTION: The caption for the story in the September edition of IN|Fort Wayne “Book brings local history to life” is inaccurate. It should read: “Jim Pickett, author of ‘The Bones of Kekionga,’ points to the approximate site where some of General Josiah Harmar’s forces were killed crossing the Maumee River ford. After extensive fighting through Kekionga, the Americans were turned back by a Confederation of Native Americans led by Miami Chief Little Turtle, just north of the Tennessee Avenue bridge.” We apologize for the error.