The year is 1816 and Major John Whistler, inside his residence in Old Fort Wayne, speculates on Indiana’s chances for statehood. He shows visitors a map of 1816 Indiana and explains his reasons for believing Indiana will become a state this year. It turns out that Major Whistler is right….
I want you to get a good look at something I found the other day. You know my old friend, Google™—you know, that trusty search engine that never bats an eye at search requests, no matter how unusual the juxtaposition of the terms you have just entered in its dialog box? Well, the other day in puzzling over the Jackson-Ijams-Whistler story, I thought I’d just sit down and cut to the chase. I pulled up the Google site, and entered the two key words I’ve been wanting to know about: Ijams and Whistler.
I wanted to see if there were any other hidden bits of information to reveal more on that story of why widow Ijams traveled through frontier territory to meet and marry a military man in Missouri.
Of course, the documentation itself has eluded me. That, alone, is frustrating. But if others, online in self-published genealogy sites, are stating that that is what happened, then I’ll cautiously accept the tie between those two surnames.
My goal in entering those two search terms was simply to flush out any other trivia-in-hiding. And trivia I did find—though not quite of the type that I would have expected.
My result leaves me wondering whether to take the report as fact. After all, it is, first of all, a report from a newspaper. You know my take on that.
Then, while it is a news story on an actual fort—Fort Wayne in, well, Fort Wayne—it is, after all, a story about a story.
It is a story of a re-enactment of a historical vignette. The date is set as 1816. The location is, of course, the old fort at what is now the city of Fort Wayne. The key players, at least in this newspaper article, are—now, get this—John Whistler and William Ijams.
No, I am not making this up.
I am fervently hoping that the good people running the historical display at Fort Wayne are also not making it up.
The staff of Fort Wayne is dressed in detailed 1816 costumes and speak to all as if it is the year 1816. Because of its authenticity, you begin to feel like a settler contemplating putting down roots in this Northwest territory.“The Indian problem has died down a bit—it’s mostly Miami around here,” says William Ijams, a gunsmith. “But the purpose of our fort is to make you settlers feel secure, that’s why we are here.”
If this museum portrayal is based on fact, I need to find out who chose the details for this re-enactment, and learn what basis there was for this little bit of history. I’m especially keen on finding out more about this over twenty-year-old display because it mentions one more twist: the contemporaneous service of Elizabeth Howard Ijams’ soon-to-be-deceased husband William, and her future second husband, John Whistler. All, strangely, in that very year of the re-enactment’s setting: 1816.
This is definitely a twist in the research trail I hadn’t been expecting.
Above right: hand-drawn map of Fort Wayne, circa 1795; courtesy Wikipedia from original held by the Library of Congress; in the public domain.
The newspaper report on the Fort Wayne historic display, written by travel columnist Fred Nofziger, was originally published in The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), section D, page 7, on Sunday, August 5, 1990.