White River seen from Oliver's Woods

The Late Woodland People of Oliver’s Woods

Part 2 of a series for Native American Heritage Month

Archeological records reveal the presence of very early residents on what is now Oliver’s Woods. Thanks to the Indiana Historical Society, we know that around 1060 AD, Late Woodland people lived at the site. (“Woodland” is the name archeologists use to classify a period of North American pre-Columbian cultures from roughly 1000 BCE to European contact in eastern North America.)

This discovery predates the land trust’s involvement with the property. In 1959, according to the Indiana Historical Society, American Aggregates Corporation was contracted to remove gravel at the site. The site had been on the radar of Indiana archaeologists since the 1930s. So the IHS requested to salvage artifacts before the gravel was mined.

Amazingly, the contractors halted operations and did not resume until 1965, allowing over half a decade for the archeological exploration.

Indiana Historical Society report on the Bowen site

The Bowen site, as it was known then, lay on the north bank of the White River’s west fork. The dig revealed evidence of a settlement about 100 yards away from the river’s edge. Pottery analysis indicated that the site was occupied by people with mixed cultural characteristics of Late Woodland and other late prehistoric peoples. Most likely they were seasonal occupants of the land, feeding themselves by growing maize, fishing, musseling, hunting, and foraging.

While the site was disturbed by 100 years of plowing, the archeologists salvaged tools made of bone, stone, and antler. Artifacts made of mussel shell, burned clay, and copper also provided hints of what life was like here in the 11th century.

Tree species that predominated mirrored those of today’s floodplain forest: silver maple, sycamore, American elm, cottonwood, hackberry, cork elm, box elder, black willow, white ash, and red elm. The understory featured small trees like hawthorn and hop hornbeam, as well as shrubs like elderberry, spicebush, wahoo, and pawpaw.

Animal remains found on the site included mammals one might expect: an abundance of deer and turkey, as well as many raccoons, squirrels, mice, and woodchucks. A small number of box turtles and snapping turtles were present. Intriguingly, 32 dogs were among the remains.

The site also revealed evidence of mammals no longer found in the region—17 elks, six black bears, four gray wolves, and even one mountain lion—and of birds that have gone extinct (three passenger pigeons).

The researchers suspect that the site was the seasonal home for 50 people for three to five years, or perhaps 100 over a generation, around the year 1060 AD.

There was no evidence of house structures, but the dig revealed refuse pits, burned areas, and several burials. In fact, the archeological team discovered and studied nearly 40 human remains.

It can be disturbing to look at the past through the lens of the present, knowing that academic researchers were unearthing and analyzing human bones from the land that is now Oliver’s Woods. This is also part of the history of the property, and Native American Heritage Month prompts us to honor and recognize these early dwellers.

We hope to keep broadening our understanding of the original people whose lives were bound up in these places, and to honor them along the way.

More about the Bowen site can be found here, including a photograph of reconstructed pottery. 

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
White River view in winter

Honoring the Myaamia, the “Downstream People”

Part 1 of a series for Native American Heritage Month

When we talk about CILTI nature preserves, we often focus on very recent history. We note names of individuals or families who had the foresight to work with the conservation community. We are indebted to all those who contributed to the effort to permanently protect these special places.

However, we know that the history of land stretches back so much farther. The tribal nations, people whose lives were inextricably linked to the land, often go unmentioned.

Myaamia were early stewards of much of our service area here in Central Indiana. The anglicized name for this tribe is the Miami Nation.

The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma notes that Myaamia means “the Downstream People,” reflecting the riverine origins of the tribe’s history.

According to Scott Shoemaker, a member of the Miami Tribe, the tribe’s origin story references a confluence along the St. Joseph River. The ancestors emerged from the river and grasped tree limbs to pull themselves out. “We became the Miami people through this transition of lifting ourselves out of the river,” he said during a recent interview.

The exact place is unknown. It may have been the St. Joseph confluence with the Elkhart River or with Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor, MI. From there, the people moved down the Wabash River valley and built communities at major confluences from Fort Wayne southwest to Vincennes.

Shoemaker, who is the former curator of Native American art, history, and culture at the Eiteljorg Museum, appeared on a recent White River Alliance podcast. He joined George Ironstrack, citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, who serves as assistant director of education in the Myaamia Center at Miami University.

Ironstrack noted that the Myaamia began to cede their homelands in the 1790s. For the next 50 years, they were forced west of the Mississippi, a removal that fragmented the people. About 150 people were allowed to remain in Indiana while many more were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory (now Kansas). Eventually they were forced to move again, into present-day Oklahoma, while some stayed behind in Kansas.

This forced removal unfolded alongside the altering of land and water, as wetlands across the region were drained, rivers channelized, forests clearcut, and canals dug. Colonization caused irreparable harm both to the native people and to the land they had stewarded since time immemorial.

The Myaamia language, which weaves relationships into place names, emphasizes how crucial water is to the people.

As Ironstrack says, “The flow of water carries living things… We live in a landscape you could call a waterscape, and the rivers are like veins or arteries moving through our homelands and our people.”

Situated as it is along the White River, it’s a safe bet that Oliver’s Woods was home to the Myaamia after the people moved south from Lake Michigan. Historians place this southward movement in the early 1700s.

But because of archeological records, we have documentation of very early residents from hundreds of years before that. In Part 2, we will explore that earlier history.

Further Exploration:

History of the Miami People (Miami Nation of Oklahoma website)

A Myaamia Beginning, by George Ironstrack

Miami Nation of Indiana 

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Carmel Creek

Visitors to Oliver’s Woods Nature Preserve can share photos for timelapse project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Visitors to Oliver’s Woods Nature Preserve on the northside of Indianapolis can participate in a citizen science project that will show changes at the preserve over time.

Participants can take a photo of Carmel Creek from the designated spot in the nature preserve and email it to Chronolog, the platform that is creating the timelapse using the submitted photos. View the timelapsed photos here.

Over time, looking at multiple photos taken from the same spot will reveal seasonal changes, as well as changes in water levels and, potentially, wildlife population.

“Changes in the environment are sometimes difficult to see and understand because they happen gradually,” said Cliff Chapman, executive director of the Central Indiana Land Trust, Inc. (CILTI), which owns and manages Oliver’s Woods. “This project helps connect people with the subtle changes.”

Located at 8825 River Road, Oliver’s Woods features 16 acres of woods, 37 acres of prairie-savanna restoration, and a mile of White River frontage. Many volunteers have helped build trails, plant native plants and trees and remove invasive species from the property. This special care is allowing native species like wild ginger, rare butternut trees, waterleaf, wild hyacinth and trillium to flourish. The southern half of the popular Town Run Trail Park is encompassed within this property.

Watch our own Grace van Kan, White River Steward, share more about this project on Fox59!

Jen Schmits Thomas

Media Relations

An award-winning communicator and recognized leader in Central Indiana’s public relations community, Jen helps us tell our story in the media. She is the founder of JTPR, which she and her husband John Thomas own together.
Hikers at Fred and Dorothy Meyer Nature Preserve

More Trails to Trek in 2022

It warmed our hearts to see people out enjoying our nature preserves in our inaugural Trek our Trails Challenge last year. This year, there are a few more trails to trek, and the challenge continues! We’ve expanded from five preserves to six, and extended a trail at one of our most beautiful preserves. Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Birds and poetry at Oliver's Woods

A Year in Nature

In 2021, we offered a variety of ways to get out in nature throughout the year. From guided hikes to volunteer days to special events, it was a great year to get outdoors.

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Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Grace leading a hike at Oliver's Woods

White River Docent Program Seeks Volunteers

Have you ever attended one of CILTI’s guided hikes and thought that you might enjoy leading a hike yourself? Have you been inspired by a guided hike or program that you’ve participated in? Consider becoming a White River Docent! Continue reading

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.
Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler Visits in Spring and Fall

Our spring newsmagazine featured Cliff’s top ten hidden gems of birding. Here is the ninth of a blog series on these birds, by guest blogger Ed Pope.

The Tennessee warbler appears in Indiana only as a transient. It breeds in Canada and in the northern portions of some states along the U.S.-Canada border. During the winter, it inhabits southern Mexico, Central America and the northernmost part of South America. In Indiana, you are most likely to see this bird during April/May and September/October.

Continue reading

Ed Pope

Guest Blogger

Ed Pope is a retired engineer from Rolls-Royce and a CILTI member since 2002.
Photo by Greg Hess

The Wonder of the Monarch

(This piece was originally published in the September issue of Urban Times)

That monarch butterfly winging through your neighborhood has a whole story to tell. It’s a story of habitat loss and endangerment, but also wonder. Weighing less than a gram, this iconic species will take an incredible journey this fall. Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Dr. Elizabeth Barnes explains the difference between Brood X cicadas and other insects

Fact and Fiction: An Entomologist Talks Brood X

The arrival of Brood X periodical cicadas—while patchy in Central Indiana—has given us all something to talk about. Love them or leave them, hate them or taste them, their 17-year emergence is a memorable one.

Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Early Brood X Cicada

Brood X is coming (but please don’t believe it’s an “invasion”).

by Traci Willis, Outreach Specialist

Many headlines have begun to default to negative metaphors such as “invasion” or “infestation” when reporting about the upcoming periodical cicada emergence called Brood X. It’s true that at their highest concentration, there may be 1.5 million cicadas per acre in some areas. While that can feel overwhelming, cicadas aren’t harmful to people or pets, and they don’t bite or sting. In reality, they’re nearly defenseless! Continue reading

Traci Willis

Outreach Manager

Traci has always loved nature, channeling her passion into creating habitat for bees and butterflies (and taking stunning photographs of them). She coordinates our outreach efforts.