Chief Five Medals
His Dream Come True
Near old Baintertown on the Elkhart River, before Indiana was a state, before Elkhart County was platted, stood the village of the Potowatomi war chief "Five Medals" whose Indian name was "Onaska". This decorated Indian chief ceased hostilities against the United States government after signing the Greenville Treaty in 1795. He met with presidents George Washington, in 1796, and Thomas Jefferson in 1801, to discuss living at peace with white settlers, separate but side by side. Five Medals remained peaceful toward the U.S. Government even though his village was destroyed by U.S. troops in 1812 and again in 1813. His remains are forever embraced nearby by Mother Earth which the Potowatomi so cherished.
Five Medals never saw his dream come true, but not long after his death another community of people came to live near the river, who also wished to remain separate yet live side by side others. Their beliefs were forged during the Reformation in Switzerland. These were the Anabaptists who remained unwelcome in Europe until none were left. For the last century and a half these prosperous people have forged a home in Elkhart County, living among yet separate from their neighbors. They have been seminal in creating the character of Elkhart County's unique personality. Now another wave of immigrants of Hispanic decent has come to find economic opportunity in Indiana in the last decade of this century. They two wish to remain separate, maintaining their own lingual and family traditions, while becoming contributors to the economy. How their assimilation is handled will define much of the area's history into the next century.
Elkhart County, Indiana, bisected diagonally by the Elkhart and
St. Joseph Rivers, was made square by Thomas Jefferson's penchant for geometric shapes in his political designs for the Northwest Territory. This simplicity continues to hide a most unique and diverse community of men and women.
From this heritage comes a tolerance for others and a work ethic that has created one of the most entrepreneurial economies in the nation. Few political entities can claim leadership in more than one economic field. Elkhart County is listed on the first page of agricultural, industrial and tourism economic indicators in Indiana, ranking first and second in numerous measurements.
The county today maintains the smallest average farm size in the state. Elkhart County ranks first in the state in the production of milk and hay and hosts the second largest county 4-H fair in the nation. Many of these statistics can be attributed to the strong agrarian values held by the Anabaptist community and its descendants. These farmers include Old Order (simplified to those driving horse drawn vehicles) Amish, German Baptists (Dunkards) and Mennonites. Other derivatives of Anabaptist tradition include Brethren in Christ (River Brethren)--Indiana's first congregation--owners of the Evangel Press Publishing House, headquartered in Nappanee, and sixteen Christian Light Bookstores across the country. In addition, the only Dutch migration of a Mennonite congregation to the United State came to Elkhart County from Holland (today's Salem Mennonite congregation) and the Missionary Church, formerly Reformed Mennonites (again, the first congregation in Indiana) add uniqueness to Elkhart County. Goshen College holds the world's largest collection of Anabaptist artifacts, literature and genealogy. It is recognized around the world as a leading Mennonite college. Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Oaklawn, Mennonite Mutual Aid and the Mennonite Foundation are all church related institutions that play an important in the unique vibrancy of the county.
Elkhart City's Municipal Airport handles the second largest corporate aviation in the state. If Elkhart County was a state, it would rank in the top ten counties in the country in the number of steel buildings used for industrial purposes. Per capita industrial indexes may rank first in the nation.
The newest economic engine in the county developed over the last quarter of a century is tourism. The focus of the tourism industry in Elkhart County and adjacent Lagrange County is the Amish society with its picturesque and nostalgic lifestyle. Attractions like Amish Acres, Essen Haus and the Shipshewana Flea Market are major Indiana Attractions. The second largest number of professional tour company motor coach visits to destinations in Indiana is Nappanee. The Amish Acres Arts and Crafts Festival is the only event in the state of Indiana ranked in the Top 200 festivals in the nation by Sunshine Artist Magazine.