My friend Jason Arp perplexes me. He has done so more than a few times.
When he first came on council one of his earliest efforts was an ordinance to remove language from city law that prohibited carrying guns in our parks. It was unnecessary, and provocative. His latest head-scratcher was an ordinance to celebrate July 16th as Mad Anthony Wayne day. Well, superficially it seemed okay, but when you dig deeper it was insensitive and revealed the local icon to have a sordid past.
The matter of guns in the Parks was just stupid. First, city police are trained in the laws of Indiana concerning gun use, they know what’s legal and not. Secondly, somebody wandering around the parks holding a pistol should be confronted by police. Unfortunately, the NRA has made it all but impossible to keep guns out of public places until the cowboy starts shooting. Certainly, park employees are not going to confront someone caring AK-47. People on a blanket enjoying a picnic with their children are not likely to tell some nitwit waving a pistol to put it down. Most of us would flee. Jason just wanted to test us.
What Jason’s legislative action did was appease a few gun fanatics, bullies at best, thugs in their hearts, who wanted to rub our noses in their interpretation of the Second Amendment. Additionally, Jason created the kind of publicity that encourages gun waivers to test the law by coming to our parks and seeking confrontation. While cleaning up the statutes may seem superficially as admirable, Jason accomplish nothing positive, nothing.
So, it was with that in mind that I reflected on his most recent act of insensitivity and thoughtlessness when he proposed July 16 to be annually celebrated as Mad Anthony Wayne Day in the eponymous Fort Wayne.
First, there’re always many sides to a historic event or period. Wayne was known for his many courageous acts during the Revolutionary War. Some argue that Wayne ranks just below Washington in the Pantheon of American heroes of that era. It was in the years following his service to the Continental Congress that Wayne’s legacy is mixed.
In Fort Wayne and the surrounding area there are still many descendants of the Miami people who lived here long before European explorers arrived in this 1600s. After the Revolution Washington encouraged European settlers to push westward, and Fort Wayne, or Kekionga as the Miami called the area, was a prize for the Europeans. Thanks to the short portage between watersheds, one leading to the Atlantic, and the other flowing westward to the Wabash, to the Ohio, and on to the Mississippi and the Gulf, control of the area was seen as strategically important by the colonizing European powers - France, Spain, England and the Americans. Wayne was dispatched to the area to subdue the Miami and begin the confiscation of their land. The wars lead to forced deportation of most natives from this area on a long, deadly walk to Oklahoma. Miamis see Wayne as an aggressor who destroyed their culture. For some toasting Mad Anthony is to some akin to celebrating Nathan Bedford Forrest.
But wait, there is more.
Anthony Wayne owned slaves in the dozens.
For a while, he tried his hand at raising crops in the south but failed miserably. During that ill-fated time he authorized to an agent to stock his plantation with negroes, slaves, men, women and children.
For most of us, this disgusting fact would never have come to light without Jason Arp’s overtly enthusiastic patriotism.
Little did we know. Who remembers Francis Slocum, or Little Turtle? Who gives Mad a second thought.
But now, we can be fully aware we live in a town named in honor of a slaveholder. Now, thanks to Jason, we honor in the middle of every July someone who was a racist. Thanks to Jason a collection of superficial patriots in period costume can strut in the middle of town around the bronze statue that heretofore was a point of pride, but instead, thanks to Jason, now points to a callously selfish man. It seems the Miami who picture Wayne is a crop-burning, culture-destroying, murdering aggressor were right, and they can now add, thanks to Jason, that Wayne was someone when enslaved other humans for his own profit.
Perhaps, we should thank Jason and his super patriot buddies for exposing Wayne for the disgusting individual he really was. But more importantly, Jason offers us the opportunity to reflect on that period in history when conquest by force of arms was the policy of most governments. In Europe, aggressive behavior led to waves of immigrants coming to America in order to avoid war. Once they arrived in America, they took up arms against the natives and fabricated the concept of Manifest Destiny to justify exactly that which they had fled in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of “indians” were murdered, and the destruction of their various ancient cultures was US government policy.
History has many participants and equally as many perspectives. History is subjective. There is no one true history. We can thank Jason for reminding us that the losers and victims in history also have stories to tell, despite the adage that it is left to the winners write the history books.
Given our city is named after such a cruel person perhaps we might cleanse our souls by renaming the place Kekionga.