Native Americans

The Site's Significance to Native Americans

Based on information compiled by James Conway, Project Manager/Historian - Historic Fort Wayne

Circa 1000 CE

Site of Late Woodland Era Burial Mounds - Approximately 19 Woodland Indian burial mounds were originally present in the immediate area, as well as a larger one at the mouth of the Rouge River. "Woodland" refers to the era in Native American history from approximately 1000 BC to 1600 CE (AD). Some mounds continue to be visited by local Native Americans and are considered sacred.


Potawatomi Indian Village Site - A 1768 map in the John Askin Papers at Detroit Public Library’s Burton Collection shows the Fort Wayne site as occupied by a Potawatomi Indian village. This tribe was one of four invited by Antoine Cadillac in 1710 to settle near the fort at Detroit for the French fur trade. During the 1760s British era the village’s leader was Ninivois (Nenewas).


Potawatomi Move Away - Fort Detroit’s British Commander Arent DePeyster reports in a letter from 1780 that the Potawatomi are seeking permission to transfer their village’s land along the Detroit River and are moving away. In another letter, they leave their land and burial ground along the river to the care of former French Detroit official Robert Navarre.

August 16, 1812

Native American Warriors Help British Capture Detroit - Shortly after the onset of the War of 1812, General Brock's force of 730 men, accompanied by 600 Native American warriors of allied tribes under the leadership of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, crossed the Detroit River and landed at the Springwells sand hill shore (now the site of Fort Wayne) to capture Fort Shelby and the town of Detroit three miles to the east. Alone in the U.S., Detroit and Michigan were occupied by the forces of Great Britain for 13 months.

September 8, 1815

Site of the Treaty of Spring Wells - This treaty was made between General (later President) William Henry Harrison representing the U.S. government and eight native American tribes which had fought against the U.S in the War of 1812. Tecumseh’s brother, the Shawnee Prophet Tensquatawa, Michigan Territory Governor Lewis Cass and Judge Augustus Woodward were in attendance. Making peace with the former enemy tribes marked the official end of the war. You can view the treaty text here.


Central Burial Mound Leveled - The central burial mound on the fort property is destroyed during construction of Fort Wayne by the U.S. Army and its contractors.


Last Burial Mound Excavated - With government permission, Archeologist Henry Gillman, affiliated with Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, begins excavating the remaining Fort Wayne burial mound and writes an extensive report on his findings. Recovered items are sent to Harvard's Peabody Museum. This mound still exists and is located near Officers Row on fort grounds. 


Last Burial Mound Further Excavated - With the Army’s permission, Archeologist Carl Holmquist of the Michigan Aboriginal Research Club completes excavating the remaining Fort Wayne mound. Twenty-three burials and grave goods recovered are presented to the University of Michigan. He notes in his report that at least two burials remain untouched and are still in place in the mound. A type of pottery found there is unique to the site and is subsequently dubbed "Wayne Ware." Extensive documentation and specimens exist at U of M's Museum of Anthropology. No further excavation occurs after 1945.


Woodland Indian Museum - The City of Detroit’s Historical Museum, which then controls Fort Wayne, opens a large Woodland Indian Museum in a former double officer’s quarters near the remaining burial mound. “Fort Wayne Ware” pottery, recovered from the mound and borrowed from the University of Michigan, is placed on display. Due to lack of maintenance funds, the museum is closed in 1991 and historic artifacts removed to storage. Detroit Native Americans protest the closure at the time. The Woodland Indian Museum remains closed to the public.

For further information on Native Americans of the area, please refer to our Historical Resources page.