Could it be a different William Conner?

Several years ago, when I first made the connection between Traders Point and William Conner, I sent an email to Conner Prairie’s Historian, Timothy Crumrin, to share my findings. I was disappointed but not entirely surprised when he dismissed my William Conner as being different than his William Conner.
(I assume you wish me to be frank. I well know the thrill of the initial burst of excitement of getting your teeth into research on a subject like this and that this dicovery may be a boon to your hopes for getting landmark status, but I caution you from overplaying too much at the outset. Let further research reveal the proper balance and things will work out in the end. Be careful of loaded and agrandizing terms like “land baron” and be careful not to overstate the importance of William Cnner. As I tell people during training sessions here, there was a William Conner in every county in Indiana and other states of the Midwest and if not for Lilly buying and preserving this land Old Bill woud be little more than a footnote in a local history. That is not to say that he did not live an interesting and often thrilling life, only that he was no Washington, Jefferson, or Clark. It is best to use him much as you did as exemplar of others like him.
I trust you are not offended by the above, It is not meant as a criticism. Instead I am speaking to you as I would another historian/colleage, merely offering you my professional comments.)
Having spent a couple of years of my life working at Conner Prairie, I understood the dismissal. I had circumstantial evidence but no primary source linking the two to be one in the same. Conner did not maintain a journal or a diary. Much of his life, while remarkable, was not memorialized by him or others at the time. So there is no written record that he had invested in land in Marion County, other than the land patent issued to a William Conner of Marion County in 1823. That in and of itself is not sufficient to prove that it was the same person. So for me to convince others more scholarly than myself, we have to understand the circumstances of his life, of the times and his other land patents to feel comfortable that it is the same person. We have to see a preponderence of circumstantial evidence that it must be the same person.
In order to support the theory that it is not the same person, we would prefer to find some evidence that a different William Conner lived at the same time in central Indiana. There is none. We know that Conner sold the Traders Point patent before it was improved. In fact it was nearly 30 years later before the improvement of the grist mill would be erected at the north end of the parcel. Most parcels being patented at the time were for settlement. Owing to its access to water and tillable land, the Eagle Creek valley of Pike Township was the earliest area to attract settlers. We have a public record that the subject parcel was rated second rate, unsuitable for farming, by the government surveyor who scouted land for the Indiana Territory for the federal government. Conner would have had access to this report prior to his purchase. A farmer or a settler would have no reason to buy such a parcel, especially at a time when ALL THE OTHER TILLABLE PARCELS IN THE TOWNSHIP WERE AVAILABLE! The Traders Point parcel was without doubt purchased by a speculator. Hamilton County’s William Conner can certainly be viewed as a speculator based upon what we know about his many land patents in and outside of Hamilton County. The 1823 time period of the patent also support the theory that it is the same person. By 1823 Conner had separated from his Indian wife, Mekinges, when she and their mixed children, all considered native Americans, were forced to relocate to Oklahoma. Earlier in 1823 Conner had perfected title to a land parcel on White River in Hamilton County where he was operating a Trading Post. Originally Conner had been sent to this area as a Canadian fur trader. His familiarity with native customs and languages served him well and later he was a treaty negotiator with multiple tribes. There is evidence that a settlement of Miami Indians existed at the time near Conner’s Traders Point patent. (An article published by an Indianapolis newspaper has a wonderful first person account supporting this. In 1885 Anna Wilson was interviewed. Then 80 years old, her grandson Ad Wilson lived west of the Conner patent, south of Wilson Road in an area now within the Eagle Creek Park. “I was very much afraid of the Indians, for there was a small settlement in our neighborhood. The men and squaws would frequently come in our door with articles for sale, but they gave us no trouble. Sometimes however the braves would have sham battles along the creek, and we could hear their yells for miles. Mrs. Wilson came to the area in 1825. And we know from another published account that Albert Hardin, who farmed the J.K. Lilly dairy near Wilson Road and Dandy Trail, learned from his grandfather that white men and Indians traded livestock on Eagle Creek at its bend, thus the name Traders Point. And we know that William Conner was in the site selection meetings years earlier in which Indianapolis was chosen as the location for the new state capitol. We do not know the level of influence that Conner had in these discussions but for him to have been in the room says something about his importance. I have not found records of others named Conner acquiring land in the vicinity until much later in the century. I am familiar with several of the pioneer era cemeteries in the Traders Point area and there are no William Conners buried in them, (in fact, I am not aware of anyone named Conner in the area cemeteries for this time period). For there to be a different William Conner in Traders Point we must believe that there were others named William Conner in 1823 in central Indiana acquiring land for speculative purposes, in an area known to be populated with Indians, at a strategic crossing of a heavily traveled route and a navigable waterway, with no interest in establishing a home on the site. Highly unlikely. And we know William Conner was involved in many disparate activities simultaneously. 1823 is also the year credited with the completion of his Hamilton County residence, the first brick home in Hamilton County, on display daily at Conner Prairie. And this coincidental observation about Conner: The first person to embark in the Indian trade in this county was William CONNER. His store was four miles below Noblesville. Prior to the incoming of white settlers, his trade was exclusively with the Indians, who were reported to have had great confidence in his integrity and in the accuracy of his judgment. It is related of him “that when the Indians came in to trade, they were paid in part for their furs in whisky. They were required by Mr. CONNER to pay for each article as it was sold. One gallon of whisky would be measured out to them and then paid for, and then another; and so on until the furs were all taken up.” He had long resided with the Shawanoes, and was also very familiar with the manners, customs and usages of both tribes, and with the White Water, White River and Wabash tribes generally.

About Ross Reller

I am pleased you have expressed interest in learning more about the historic Traders Point area in Indianapolis, Indiana. From 1980 to 1982 I was employed in the PR department at Conner Prairie Museum in Hamilton County. There I learned about William Conner, an important figure in Indiana's pioneer days. A decade later I became interested in the history of the Traders Point area and was surprised to learn that William Conner had been the first land owner in the area. In 1823 he acquired, through the Federal land office in Brookville, a patent for an 80 acre tract carved by Eagle Creek and an Indian trail that was about to be named the first toll roadway through the township (Lafayette Road). Thirty years later a village took shape within this tract. A grain mill on the creek, houses, churches, stores, restaurants, and two gas stations would take shape here in the creek valley hamlet of Traders Point. By 1962 all improvements (except a farmer's co-op) had been removed by the Indianapolis Flood Control Board to make way for Interstate 65 and a new reservoir. This blog is dedicated to preserving evidence of this historic area but I will occasionally use it to discuss related topics. To activate this follow, simply click the confirm button below. If you don't want to follow, ignore this message and we'll never bother you again. I am also a member of the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery, a non profit association still selling burial plots for those who would like to spend all eternity in Traders Point, and I am an officer in the Pike Township Historical Society and the Traders Point Association of Neighborhoods.
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