This weekend a small group of re-enactors will be camped out in the River Preserve County Park for the Gathering at Five Medals: Spring Campout. If you have been to the Gathering at Five Medals event which takes place each October, you’ll see some familiar faces, but the types of clothes they are wearing and the tents they are camping in will look very different. The re-encators will be interpreting life in the past, and visitors will see how little these people needed to survive, as they would rely on hunting, trapping and many other survival skills.
While this event and the larger event takes place at River Preserve County Park, one of the most popular questions we get is: What does the name “Five Medals” refer to?
The answer is that it refers to two different things: a village and also a prominent Potawatomi chief. The village’s exact location is unknown, but was located in the boundaries to what is today River Preserve County Park. The village was known, according to Elkhart County Historian H.S.K. Bartolomew, as Aubenaubee, but is more popularly known as Five Medals Village. What this Potawatomi village looked like, how many people lived in the village and the day-to-day goings-on have been lost to history. The most documented history of the town was its destruction during the war of 1812. American troops marched into this area to attack Native American villages. According to legend, the residents of Five Medals Village had gotten word that troops were coming and were able to flee their village before troops arrived. The troops, coming upon an abandoned village, decided to destroy the village and burn the crops. The Potawatomi returned to their destroyed village after the troops had left the area, rebuilt their town and returned to normalcy. Around a year later, troops returned again to destroy the village, and the Potawatomies, instead of returning, sought safety among larger groups of Native Americans. Leading the American troops was Col. John Jackson, who now is known as one of the early settlers of Elkhart County, and today Jackson Township is named after him.
Five Medals is not just a village, but is also the name of the Potawatomi chief who was the leader of the village that bears his name. Five Medals, who is also known as Onaska, was present in and signed a number of treaties between Native Americans and American troops as the Americans were swept up in “Western Fever” and began moving into what becomes Elkhart County and all of Indiana. In the historic record, Five Medals appears in 1795 where he was part of an Native American delegation that met with American troops to negotiate the Treaty of Greenville, which ended a period of fighting that culminated with the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After the treaty, Five Medals traveled to Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, and met with President George Washington, who tried to persuade Five Medals and other chiefs to adopt American agricultural practices in order to better survive in the changing frontier.
After returning from Philadelphia, Five Medals tried to take Washington’s suggestions and adopt agricultural practices amongst the Potawatomi. A project was put in place by the U.S. Government that sent agricultural tools and supplies to these villages, and a Quaker missionary, William Kirk, was supposed to travel to the number of villages to show and help Native Americans on how to properly use the equipment and integrate agricultural practices into their society. Kirk, for a number of reasons, never arrived in Five Medals’ Village, and the equipment was unused. Five Medals continued to advocate to the United States for agricultural assistance which even led to him meeting another president, Thomas Jefferson. The assistance never came and Five Medals continued to lead his people through the early 1800s and the War of 1812 and was present at many treaties which resulted in Native American tribes ceding more and more of their land to the United States. The last historical record documenting Five Medals was the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818.