Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

New time! ... Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

Jan. 26 show

Pioneer music in early Indiana

Erik Peterson holding a banjo.The jaw harp was popular. So were the fiddle and dulcimer. Community bands played flutes, whistles and drums.

There even were pianos before 1840 in Indiana, despite the significant challenges of transporting them to frontier communities via horse-drawn vehicles and river boats.

Musical instruments that weren't widely seen (or, in some cases, not present at all) in the Hoosier state of the 1820s, '30s and '40s: the guitar, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele and accordion.

"Keep in mind that, during the pioneer era, Mozart had not been dead for as long as Buddy Holly has been gone today," says Erik Peterson, an Indianapolis-based musician and historian who has performed at Prairietown at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and at other history-focused sites.

Erik has been researching pre-1840 music of central Indiana for a postgraduate degree, thanks in part to a fellowship from the Society of Indiana Pioneers. Adept at various instruments, Erik often performs traditional Irish, American folk and Celtic music with various ensembles, including Hogeye Navvy, an Indy-based band known for sea chanteys.

To share insights about the music cherished by early Hoosier settlers - and to perform a few musical interludes to convey a flavor - Erik will join Nelson in studio for what is certain to be a lively, memorable show. Erik has been gaining insights by tracking down diaries, letters and journals of pioneer families.

"People in that era were incredibly musical," he says. "Music was a daily part of their lives, and it served as a way to build community among neighbors."

This ad for singing instruction appeared in the Indiana State Journal on Jan. 20, 1838.The jaw harp, a hand-held instrument about the size of a harmonica, was played frequently. Erik, who notes that the jaw harp primarily is relegated today to the soundtracks of cartoons, will play a rendition on the instrument during our show.

"The fiddle was the king of instruments here during the pioneer era," he says. "It's loud, and it's portable."

According to Erik, reliable accounts indicate the presence of a piano in Switzerland County in 1814, two years before Indiana even became a state. The extraordinary effort undertaken to transport pianos here decades before railroads underscores the importance of music in the lives of pioneers. Many towns in early Indiana, Erik notes, even had community bands.

Like later generations, early settlers differed along gender lines when playing musical instruments. But the gender preferences often were reversed from those that unfolded later, Erik says. Many men tended to play flutes and violins, while  women played guitars and banjos once they finally made their way to Indiana, primarily after the Civil War.

A guitar once owned by folk musician Woody Guthrie is in the “Guitars!” exhibit that will open March 9 at the Eiteljorg Museum. Image courtesy EMP museum.Before that, advertisements for academies such as the Indianapolis Female Institute touted instruction in piano for young women.

In analyzing journals and letters of early settlers, Erik has combed through the extensive diaries of Calvin Fletcher, an attorney, banker and civic leader in Indianapolis. Fletcher (1798-1866) wrote about hearing an Irish bagpiper in the Hoosier capital early in the city's history. Fletcher moved to the  newly developing city during the 1820s.

During our show, Erik will play a few verses of a song that would have been played frequently in early Indiana: Hail, Columbia!, the unofficial national anthem of the era. (The Star Spangled Banner was not adopted as the official national anthem until 1931, about 100 years after the era that will be the focus of our show. Since then, Hail, Columbia! primarily has been played to introduce the American vice president.)

In addition to researching Indiana pioneer music for a master's degree at IUPUI, Erik is serving as a historical music consultant for an upcoming "Guitars: Roundups to Rockers" exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum. He also has worked at the Children's Museum.

Erik also recommends the following "learn more" websites:

  • There are a few pages on the history of the banjo. Music Folk, a guitar shop in St. Louis, has a nice and readable summary.
  • About.com's music education project has a pretty good page on the history of Hail, Columbia!, as well as a sound sample of its melody.
  • There are pages upon pages of material on music from the Civil War, but the University of Houston's Digital History project has one of the few summaries of pre-Civil War American music. UNC-Pembroke also has a page on the subject.

Roadtrip: Hiking and history in Delphi

Wabash and Erie Canal Park in Delphi, Ind., has many hiking trails for exploring. Pictured is a red bridge.With Roadtripper Chris Gahl of Visit Indy really on the road this week, our Guest Roadtripper will be the glorious Glory-June Greiff, Indianapolis public historian. She has made the day trip more than once up to the old canal town of Delphi in Carroll County, which is about 15 miles northeast of Lafayette.

There's plenty of hiking and history at the Wabash and Erie Canal Park in Delphi, which is open year-round and includes an Interpretive Center, lots of trails for hiking and biking, and canal boat rides (in season, however!).

Don't miss the Latrrope and Ruffing Opera House and adjacent shops. Glory-June also has an eye for great small-town restaurants; she says Delphi has the Stonehouse Restaurant and Bakery, and for your dining pleasure either coming or going, there is Treece Restaurant in Rossville. If you go, tell them Hoosier History Live! sent you!

History Mystery

The Crown Hill Cemetery Tour includes the National Cemetery, which is located within Crown Hill. It is called the "Field of Valor Veterans Section.” These tombstones recently were cleaned and restored. Harps of all kinds are built in a factory that has become a tourist attraction in a small Indiana town. Located in a former speakeasy, the factory building also includes a venue for concerts of harp music. The family-owned business makes instruments ranging from large symphonic harps to smaller harps, which they call "harpsicles," that are made in an array of colors. The former speakeasy-turned-harp factory is located on Main Street in its scenic hometown.

Question: Name the Indiana town.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is two tours of Crown Hill Cemetery presented by Crown Hill Heritage Foundation, and two tours of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. These prizes are courtesy of Visit Indy.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


Indiana Historical Society logo.

Story InnAvant Garb logo.

Aesop's Tables logo.Lucas Oil

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Aesop's Tables | Avant Garb | Indiana Historical Society | Lucas Oil | Story Inn.

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

You're invited!

Hoosier History Live! fifth-anniversary party is Feb. 21

Hoosier History Live! has been on the air for five years. Let's celebrate!

We have a new (larger!) location this year:

  • Where: Cook Theater, Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 N. Central Ave. in Indianapolis.
  • When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 5 to 8 p.m.

Another new treat this year: We will be having a History Mystery Game Show live from the Cook Theater stage, hosted by Nelson Price.

The event includes soft drinks, appetizers and a cash bar and is hosted by Indiana Landmarks. This is a free event; however, contributions will be accepted at the door.

Please click here to RSVP, or send an email to molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

Feb. 2 show

Major Taylor, world's greatest bicyclist of early 1900s

The Loving Cup trophy, presented to Major Taylor in 1901 after his victory at Parc des Princes in Paris, is on display at the Indiana State Museum. From the collection of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.Amid the international controversy swirling around Lance Armstrong, Hoosier History Live! will explore the dramatic life of the Indianapolis native who was the world's top bicyclist during the 1890s and early 1900s - and whose amazing victories were accomplished without performance-enhancing drugs.

Even so, Major Taylor (real name: Marshall W. Taylor) coped with a mountain of challenges, including extensive racial prejudice in Indiana and elsewhere. Despite achieving wealth - and meeting the kings and queens of Europe - Major Taylor (1878-1932) died in poverty and was buried in a grave without a marker.

This show about one of the first African-Amerian athletes to become famous around the world will kick-start our salute to Black History Month.

Nelson will be joined in studio by guests including Kisha Tandy, assistant curator of social history at the Indiana State Museum, which has an extensive collection of Major Taylor artifacts. They include lettters, rare photos, postcards and nine scrapbooks kept during his heyday by family members.

Kisha has been the local escort for Major Taylor's descendants, who live in Massachusetts but have visited sites in Indy connected with their legendary ancestor. Those sites include a historic marker erected on the Monon Trail near East 38th Street, the location of a bygone track where Taylor had been banned after setting a record.

Of course, the best-known Hoosier site named in honor of the former world champion is the Major Taylor Velodrome, a cycling track on Indy's westside. Built for $2.5 million, the velodrome opened in 1982 and helped accelerate belated recognition for Taylor, who died in obscurity in the charity ward of a Chicago hospital.

Major Taylor on bicycle, circa 1900.Our studio guests also will include Judy Keene, an Indy-based editor and writer who, beginning in the 1970s when Major Taylor's triumphs had been forgotten, started writing articles about the athlete who once had been internationally acclaimed.

Taylor was just 16 when he won his first race in 1895, even though spectators yelled racial slurs as he pedaled the 75 miles from downtown Indy (the route took the cyclists northbound up Massachusetts Avenue) to the Grant County town of Matthews.

During that era, many bicycle tracks in Indiana were open to whites only. Even when Major Taylor was setting world records in other countries, he was not spared from prejudice. Gangs of white cyclists often worked together during races to box him in or force him to wreck. In many American cities on the racing circuit, he had to hunt to find places to eat and sleep.

In addition to exploring Major Taylor's dramatic life, Nelson and his guests also will delve into Hoosier cycling venues and competitions during an era before the ascendancy of the car, when bicycle racing was a wildly popular sport. Our guest Judy has written about the Newby Oval, a track located on Indy's near-northside that was said to be matched only by Madison Square Garden in New York City for excellence as a bicycle racing venue. Major Taylor competed at the Newby Oval in 1898, 1899 and 1900.

Some recommended "learn more" websites:

© 2013 Hoosier History Live! All rights reserved.

Hoosier History Live!
c/o WICR at University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46227
(317) 927-9101