Hot Air: Hoosier History & Other Nuggets

Slave Indiana?

The Loved One and I got back home yesterday afternoon around six or so after our traditional Sunday Drive. We’d gone down south, looking for the Cedar Farm mansion, another of Bill and Gayle Cook‘s rescues. It’s an antebellum house, built in 1830 by a couple named Jacob and Elizabeth Kintner. It’s described as a “plantation-style mansion,” one of only two remaining in Indiana.

Upon hearing of it Saturday — a couple I know had gone there Friday afternoon and told me about their trip — the place aroused my curiosity. Was Indiana, I wondered, ever home to slaveholders? More on that later.

The Cooks bought the place in 1984, another in their series of renovations and outright historical rebuilds for which they’d become famed in these parts before old man Bill turned in his timecard in 2011. This particular structure is not open to the public. The couple I knew who’d visited it Friday jumped through a bit of a hoop to access the place. The wife, a docent at IU’s Eskanazi Museum of Art, had met Gayle at a fundraiser for the institution. The woman’s husband’s birthday was on July Fourth so she had the bright idea to contact Gayle Cook and ask if she could take her husband to the Cedar Farm for a celebratory picnic. Gayle Cook happily agreed to let her and her husband on the grounds for the event.

I figured we’d at least be able to see the house, if only from afar. Even the Wikipedia page on the place features a photo taken from what appears to be several counties away, so I didn’t expect to get any extremely close up view.

The Kintner-Withers House on Cedar Farm.

Confident to the point of cockiness, I assured TLO we could sneak our way onto the property so as to get a peek at the mansion. The farm is on a bend of the Ohio River in Harrison County, a few miles south of Laconia, Indiana, pop. 50 (2016 est.) The area boasts lovely terrain, with rolling hills and a few bluffs and ravines, like much of southern IN as one nears the Ohio. Seemingly endless corn and soybean fields dotted with catalpa trees dominate the landscape with nary a McDonald’s in sight. Much of the area probably resembles, more than a little, the surrounding terrain when the mansion was built.

Anyway, we drove for what seemed hours over pavement that wasn’t even marked with lines and then turned onto Cedar Farm Road. Calling it a road seemed the height of presumption. It was nothing more than a pair of parallel dried mud and pebble tire ruts. At one point, The Loved One had to get out of the car to move a downed tree branch. We inched more than a mile down this path, through dense forest, until we came to a locked gate. All we could see was more trees so we never even got the slightest glimpse of the house.

Now, let’s talk slavery. The history of one of this holy land’s mortal sins in Indiana is strange and surprising. The French who settled in these parts in the late 1700s kept slaves as did some of the local Native American communities with whom the French were allied. Now that shocked me; I had no idea Native Americans kept slaves. The French slaveholders introduced the practice of slavery to the Native Americans and, presumably, engaged in slave trade with them. Some historians also hold that Jesuit missionaries persuaded Native American tribes to hold battle prisoners as slaves rather than simply execute them. Many slaves held by Native Americans were themselves Native Americans.

A set of French-inspired laws allowed slaves in what would become Indiana to live slightly better-quality lives than their counterparts in, say, Alabama. Families could not be separated, for instance, and torture and mutilation were banned. When the new United States established the Northwest Territory in 1787, slavery was largely forbidden but when Indiana became its own official “territory” in 1800, its first governor, the future President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, was himself a slaveholder. People like Harrison who’d moved to the territory from slave states were allowed to keep their slaves. The explorer George Rogers Clark also “owned” a couple of slaves when he set up shop in Clarksville, near present day Louisville. Harrison and his allies quickly drew up laws in hopes of circumventing the new nation’s slave ban in the larger territory.

After a few short years, though, abolitionists took over the territorial legislature and by the time Indiana became a state in 1816, they were in complete control here. That year, Indiana’s pro-slavery factions lived mainly in the eastern part of the state and were largely immigrants from Kentucky and points south, all slave states. But Indiana’s first state governor, Jonathan Jennings, was a staunch abolitionist and when he won Indiana’s first gubernatorial election over slavery advocate Thomas Posey, he declared Indiana a “Free State.” Jennings then led the legislature to pass iron-clad anti-slavery laws.

So, by the time the Kintners built their home on the Cedar Farm, there should have been few, if any, slaves in Indiana. I imagine, though, at least a few slaveholders continued the practice in the hinterlands which, it can be assumed, was pretty much the entirety of the state. It would have been one thing to ban slavery here in the early 19th Century and quite another to enforce the law in areas that even today are hard to get to by car.

Did the Kintners own slaves? Was their plantation-style mansion a locus fraught with all the negative connotations similar plantations in, say, Georgia carried? No one quite knows at this remove. One source holds that the total slave population of Indiana in 1830 was a mere three. Again, who can say for certain?

Ticked Off

I collapsed in my recliner when we got home and, falling asleep, I was bedeviled by an itch on the back of my leg near the ankle. Eventually, I sensed it was due to a bug and, when I took a close look, I discovered a tick slurping up as much of my blood as its body could hold.

I swatted the thing off and inspected the bite site. Sure enough, there were the two telltale mandible punctures. I made a note to inspect the site regularly for then next few days or weeks for the bulls-eye rash that might develop if this particular insect had injected me with the Lyme Disease virus. I immediately consulted the Centers for Disease Control website and found that at least half a dozen different rash presentations indicate Lyme infection. Sheesh.


I have a dear friend whose life for the last three decades has been turned into a kind of hell by Lyme Disease. She has suffered mightily and been debilitated by the illness.

Every spring and summer newspapers and websites warn us about keeping ticks off our bodies, some experts going so far as to recommend we never venture outdoors with exposed skin. It’s hard to imagine anyone wearing long pants and long sleeves even on the hottest days of July and August. Still, early onset Lyme Disease can cause fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Later, untreated Lyme can cause severe headaches, neck stiffness, body rashes, arthritis, joint swelling, facial palsy, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, shooting pains or numbness in the hands and feet, and problems with short-term memory.

Jesus Holy Christ!

All that from a little bugger no bigger than 4 millimeters across who’d attached itself to the skin over my Achilles tendon!

So, if you run into me over the next year or so and I can’t quite remember who you are, you’ll know why.

An Even Littler Bugger

The New York Times reported a week ago that scientists at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, have actually produced images of individual atoms using a combination of technologies. The uber-geeks at San Jose combined an MRI machine with scanning tunneling microscope features to create the portraits. Here’s a picture of the machine itself:

Image: IBM Research

And here’s a link to the abstract of the researchers’ paper submitted to the scientific journal Nature Physics.

Democritus, The Laughing Philosopher, back in Ancient Greece (c. 460-c. 370 BCE), was the first to theorize that all matter is composed of tiny particles, so minute as to be unseen by the naked eye. One of his A-ha! moments came when he passed outside a bakery and caught a whiff of freshly baked bread. How, he asked himself, was his nose able to sense the nearby presence of the bread?

His conclusion: Invisible particles of the bread were floating in the air and somehow stimulated the inside surface of his nose. He noodled on this for a time until he speculated that there were things called atoms (or a-toms — tom being the Greek root for cutting and a- the prefix for not). “Nothing exists,” he pronounced, “except atoms and empty space. Everything else is opinion.”

It’s said philosophers in both India and China came to the same conclusion right about the time Democritus came to his. Which makes sense: Just about every advancement in science and knowledge including inventions (the car, nuclear power, calculus, the germ theory, etc.) has come about simultaneously in several locations around the globe. Meaning all our awareness is based on the continuing accumulation of bits and pieces of data, gathered together and interpreted by many individuals unaware of each other, but reading many of the same books and synthesizing the work of learned people who came before them. Or, as Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Four Images of the Same Titanium Atom (Willke, et al)

Anyway, when I was a kid teaching myself how to read by thumbing through my family’s World Book Encyclopedia set, I came upon the entry concerning the splitting of the atom. Not able to decipher all the words in the entry, I asked my mother what it was all about. Said she: “It’s when scientists can cut an atom in half.”

My mother not being a nuclear physicist, this would have to do. I mulled this over for a long while. I concluded these scientists must have had awfully sharp knives. I even went to the kitchen drawer and pulled out our sharpest knife, a serrated blade we used to cut freshly-baked bread. Later, I watched my mother slice bread with it. I asked: “Aren’t you cutting atoms in half right now, Ma?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

I thought she was wrong. Of course she was cutting atoms in half! She was, after all, using our sharpest knife. My mother, I concluded, was doing precisely what the world’s most celebrated scientists were doing — splitting the atom. Only she didn’t even know it.

I was no Democritus but I like to think I shared with him a sense of curiosity and a need to understand why and how things worked.


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