Fulton County Historical Society

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Fulton County Historical Society was founded in 1963 with its first location at the old Rochester Depot. Incorporating in 1972 as non-profit, FCHS started its first festival, the Trail of Courage in 1976 which led to Rendezvous: Trail of Courage Living History Festival, Fulton County Historical Power Show and Redbud Trail purchased acreage along U.S. 31, which is its present location.

Through the years, donations to the Fulton County Historical Society of a round barn, print shop, chicken house, 1832 Polke house/stagecoach inn, windmill, the relocation of the Rochester depot and log cabin, and building projects such as a foot bridge and blacksmith shop have formed the nucleus of a Living History Village called Loyal, Indiana, which portrays the period of 1900-1925. Additions to the village are planned in the future.

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Three branch groups of the Fulton County Historical Society meet several times a year: the Genealogy Section, the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association (see www.potawatomi-tda.org), and Fulton County Historical Power Association. FCHS seeks to preserve history through publications, displays, special events, drama, music, and monthly meetings.

Fulton County Historical Society Honors Original Inhabitants
In 1976 as a Bicentennial project, members of the Fulton County Historical Society conceived of a special event to honor the Potawatomi Indians who had been the original inhabitants of northern Indiana but had been forcibly removed to Kansas in 1838, an event that became known as the Trail of Death. They called that first event the Trail of Death Rendezvous. Allen Willard, son of Bill and Shirley Willard, earned his Eagle award by leading his local Boy Scout troop to erect a historical marker at the second night’s camp site on that removal, where the first death occurred. In 1977 the name of the event was changed to Trail of Courage in order to focus on life before the removal when this was still Potawatomi territory. Allen joined the Order of the Arrow and performed the buffalo dance and other Indian dances at the Trail of Courage for the next few years.

The first year, 1976, the event was held in a soybean field owned by Clyde and Opal Neff, because the field was located on the Trail of Death route and was close to the camp site of the second night on the journey west, where the first death occurred. It was on Indiana 25 about 6 miles south of Rochester. The next year the event was moved to the Tippecanoe River to a pine woods owned by Bob Kern, which was located on Olson Road between Old 31 and New US 31, about 2 miles north of Rochester. The Trail of Courage was held in the pine woods for 9 years, and grew to be a major festival. Thanks to the generosity of Bob Kern, who never charged rent, FCHS was able to save money to purchase land for a permanent home for the Trail of Courage and a site for a museum.

Today the Trail of Courage is a big festival attracting 12,000 to 18,000 annually. It has historic camps set up by re-enactors in these areas: French & Indian War, Voyageurs canoe camps, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Western Fur Trade, Plains Indian teepees, and Woodland Indian wigwams. There is also a re-creation of Chippeway, Indiana, the first white settlement in Fulton County, of which William Polke was the postmaster in 1832. Over 35 wooden booths house demonstrations and vendors of crafts, foods, plus educational displays. Several log cabins have been constructed. Canoe rides are offered on the Tippecanoe River. All foods are cooked over wood fires: buffalo burgers, ham & beans, fish and chips, vegetable soup, venison stew, barbecue, corn on the cob, apple sausage, turkey legs, and popcorn. For the sweet tooth there are apple dumplings, fudge, cookies, and ice cream. Even the drinks are historic: cider, coffee, sassafras tea, iced tea, homemade root beer, etc. No coke allowed! Everything is pre-1840 to portray frontier Indiana. There are two stages with music and dance from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Indian dances are held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Indian dance arena, outlined by teepees. Crafts include spinning wheel, basketry, flintknapping, fingerweaving of Indian sashes, weaving of rugs, pewter casting, blacksmithing, tin-smithing, rope making, bow making, and much more. Competitions for muzzle loading shooters, tomahawk throws and other sports are held.

View Rosebud Trail Rendezvous Details

View Trail of Courage Living History Festival Details