The 3 Tippecanoes
In Search of a Name - And the Fun Places Found Along the Way
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
There have been three towns named Tippecanoe, one in northern Indiana and two in Ohio. This includes the town where I grew up, Tipp City, Ohio. In grade school, we learned that Tipp City was first named Tippecanoe and then Tippecanoe City. The latter name can still be seen on several buildings in the community, including an old school. The changes occurred because the U.S. Postal Service wanted to avoid confusing the two towns and their post offices.
Both communities were founded in 1840 and, for reasons unknown, the Tippecanoe in Miami County was chosen to have its name changed to Tippecanoe City. It was referred to by this name until 1938 when the post office once again intervened and abbreviated the name to Tipp City. In school, we learned that our town was named in honor of the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, whose 1840 campaign song “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” helped him win the presidency. Harrison was given the nickname “Old Tippecanoe” after defeating a confederacy of Native American tribes during the Battle of Tippecanoe in northern Indiana in 1811. The victory gained Harrison national fame and, ultimately, the presidency. It also gained him the admiration of a man named John Clark, who, in 1840, needed a name for his new town in Miami County.
Apparently, at roughly the same time, the person who named the “other” Tippecanoe in Ohio also admired Harrison. Both founders chose the name Tippecanoe for their towns, either out of admiration for Harrison himself, or because of the popularity of the song. It would be the equivalent of a top radio hit today. Harrison County, Ohio, in which Tippecanoe is located, is also named in honor of the president, or the song.
Like a number of people from Tipp City, I have always been fascinated by the original name of the town, and the history behind it. I also wondered if the other Tippecanoes were anything like the place where I grew up. So, starting in 2017, I set out to learn more, including visiting the “other” Tippecanoes, as well as the Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum and Tippecanoe River State Park, both located in Indiana. The Tippecanoe River meanders through northern Indiana and, as we’ll see, plays a role in the origins of the name, “Tippecanoe.”
During a trip through Indiana to visit these sites, my then six year-old daughter, Penny, and I discovered a number of unexpected tourist attractions along the way. This included Indiana Beach, where a vintage amusement park sits next to a lake and offers cabins, boating, camping, go-carts, arcades, and other family fun and Indiana Dunes National Park, where massive sand dunes tower above Lake Michigan. They’re the closest dunes of this magnitude to the Miami Valley. It’s only 4 hours away.
Also, as featured in the spring 2019 issue of This Local Life (see HERE), this trip passes through Fairmount, Indiana, which is the hometown of acting legend James Dean and Garfield creator, Jim Davis. This eclectic and charming town is a destination unto itself. It’s only 2 hours away.
During a solo trip to Tippecanoe in eastern Ohio (pictured below), the experience was much different. The town has less than 120 people and is located in the Appalachian foothills in one of the least populated counties in Ohio.
When I arrived there in the summer of 2017, it was so quiet that I could hear a radio playing on someone’s porch from the other side of town. I never did see another human being except drivers passing by on rural and rugged Ohio Route 800. Many of the homes and buildings in the community are abandoned and boarded up. Some have fallen over. It seems almost stuck in time. Even the Tippecanoe Post Office, which is the reason Tipp City had to change its name, closed its doors for good in 2011. But, it’s not all bad. The seclusion of the area, which includes several lakes, state parks and the Camp Tippecanoe YMCA, is more interesting than the town, and worth exploring. Quiet country roads in the area circle around a number of lakes and streams. They offer access to fishing, boating and bird watching and wildlife viewing. Several high points in the area, including at Camp Tippecanoe, offer scenic views of Clendening Lake from above. This is the lake that Tippecanoe Indiana Beach backs up to. A park at the lake provides a closer look at the scenery.
The Buckeye Trail also passes through the area and by many of these lakes and waterways. There’s an interesting way to reach Tippecanoe from the northern Miami Valley. Simply drive east on U.S. Route 36 until it dead-ends in Uhrichsville. Then follow Ohio Route 800 a few miles south to Tippecanoe. This is a total distance of about 190 miles from most of the Miami Valley. U.S. 36 is lined with dozens of roadside attractions and points of interest. When visiting “other” Tippecanoes, travelers can also experience an often forgotten part of United States history and see many lesser-known parts of Ohio and Indiana.
BUFFALO FISH IN INDIANA
If you go back far enough, you’ll find that the word “Tippecanoe” comes from the Miami Indian word for “buffalo fish,” which is the largest sucker fish in North America (depicted here at lower left). It remains a popular meal in Memphis and St. Louis to this day and was likely a staple food for Native Americans who lived here. It is said to have a similar yet superior taste to catfish. The Tippecanoe River (pictured below right) in Indiana was named after this fish. It starts near Warsaw and flows southwest toward Lafayette, where it joins the Wabash River.
The Battle of Tippecanoe (depicted above in miniature at the museum) took place near the confluence of these two rivers and was named after the Tippecanoe River. This is also why Harrison received the nickname “Old Tippecanoe,” which led to the campaign song, the presidency, and eventually the names of two towns in Ohio, including my hometown. In northern Indiana, there are many things named after the river, including the small, quiet village of Tippecanoe. Surprisingly, of the three towns named Tippecanoe, this one was founded last, in 1882. This is 42 years after the towns in Ohio were founded.
Unlike the rugged hills that surround Tippecanoe, Ohio, or the river valley that shapes the land in Tipp City, Tippecanoe, Indiana (pictured below) is located on flat farmland. It’s also a very small town. I never did find an accurate population count, but it’s probably well under one hundred people. It’s certainly smaller than Tippecanoe, Ohio. The town consists of only a handful of streets. It has a post office, a fire department, a city building, and a small grocery store, but not much else. The community is surrounded by vast stretches of farmland in Tippecanoe County. It’s very quiet and many roads in the area are made of gravel.
A railroad line that runs on the outskirts of town provides the only background noise. Other than that, it’s just the wind blowing and the crops rustling in the sunlight. Silos are the tallest buildings around. A small park on the edge of town offers access to the Tippecanoe River, which is about the same size as the Stillwater River in Ohio. Fishing is very popular here and it is still possible to catch buffalo fish in the river. On the north side of the river is a small group of streets with the name Old Tip Town. I could not determine if it was founded before or after Tippecanoe. About 35 miles west of Tippecanoe is Tippecanoe River State Park.
The park is popular for camping and canoeing. There is even a series of canoe-exclusive campgrounds located along the banks of an 11-mile stretch of the Tippecanoe River. This is what brings most visitors to the park. Although this region of Indiana is mostly farmland, Tippecanoe River State Park is heavily wooded and known for its old growth white pines and abundant wildlife. The state park is located about 50 miles north of Tippecanoe Battlefield Park.
This National Historic Landmark features a great museum and the Tippecanoe Monument, pictured below right. It is 85-feet-tall and contains a statue of Harrison within it. Visitors can tour the battlefield and monument and also pay a small fee to see the museum. It contains exhibits about the battle, the histories of the Native Americans that lived in the region, and Harrison and his presidential campaign. It’s a very well-done museum that captures the attention and imagination of visitors. To the north of the battlefield is a very retro, fun place called Indiana Beach. It’s home to the Indiana Beach Amusement & Water Park, which sits on a lake formed by the Tippecanoe River.
It features roller coasters and other big rides and water slides. It is open May through October. Visitors can also enjoy camping, cabins, bicycling, boat and jet ski rentals, a drive-in movie theater, lots of arcades, and endless restaurants. Indiana Beach was a surprise destination for Penny and me. We had planned to reach Tippecanoe Battlefield earlier in the day and then travel to Tippecanoe River State Park to camp or find a hotel. However, we ended up spending most of the day in Fairmount exploring the life of James Dean. After visiting the battlefield and museum, we were hungry and ready to settle down for the evening. Indiana Beach was a great place to do this.
Indiana Route 26
We had reached Indiana Beach after starting our trip on a clear summer morning in 2017. Penny and I left home and headed through rural Indiana toward Lafayette. The plan was to visit Tippecanoe Battlefield and then travel north to Tippecanoe River State Park, followed by the town of Tippecanoe, and then home. We were also open to whatever else might happen along the way and planned to be gone for several days. One of the great things about touring this part of Indiana is that it consists of mostly rural routes. There is very little traffic to worry about. Yet, there are plenty of attractions and towns to visit along the way. Many contain shops, restaurants and points of interest.
Indiana Route 26 starts at the Ohio/Indiana border near Fort Recovery and travels almost in a straight line to Tippecanoe Battlefield Park & Museum in Lafayette. It is completely rural. This is about 180 total miles. It’s the route that Penny and I took. After passing through some very wonderful small towns, the first major attraction on Route 26 is Fairmount. It contains dozens of sites related to James Dean and Garfield, including the amazing James Dean Museum & Gallery. Other highlights include Dean’s gravesite, his childhood home, a water tower with his and Garfield’s likeness on it, and many other points of interest. Dean’s birthplace marker and additional attractions can be found in nearby Marion.
After passing through Kokomo, which contains a number of antique shops and restaurants, Route 26 cuts through 40 miles of rural Indiana farmland. It then reaches Layfette and the home of the Tippecanoe Battlefield Park & Museum.
The Tippecanoe Battlefield Park and Museum
Although mostly forgotten by the general public, the Battle of Tippecanoe played a major role in United States history. It is considered the primary catalyst for the War of 1812, which was fought between the United States and Britain, as well as the different Native American tribes that sided with each nation. It is sometimes referred to as the “Second Revolutionary War.” The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought between native warriors led by Tecumseh, of the Shawnee tribe, and the United States armed forces, led by Harrison. The reason for the battle was white expansion into native territory. Tecumseh was trying to stop this expansion. The battle lasted less than one day and, as we already know, was considered a victory for Harrison’s army.
The Tippecanoe Battlefield Park & Museum stands on the very grounds where the battle took place. A loop trail circles around the battlefield and contains additional information about the event. A good two hours can be spent at the park and museum. A State Park and Very Big Things After renting a small cabin at Indiana Beach and enjoying some of the fun things to see and do there, Penny and I eventually continued on our way.
Our next stop was Tippecanoe River State Park. However, not understanding that canoeing was the main theme at the park, we realized we hadn’t come prepared. Instead, we looked at the map together and noticed two fun things. We were very close to downtown Chicago and Indiana Dunes National Park. Since it was early in the day, and because I knew there wouldn’t be much to do in the town of Tippecanoe, Indiana, which was our final stop before heading home, we decided to travel to downtown Chicago and then to the sand dunes. In Chicago we drove straight to the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) and took on The Ledge experience.
The Ledge is made up of glass boxes that extend out from the skyscraper’s 103rd floor. When you step out on the small platform, you are 1,353 feet above the ground. It’s intimidating.
The equally gigantic sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Park are not as scary, but are just as fun. The park hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. In the distance, you can see the Chicago skyline, including at night. This is surprising when you learn that the national park is a Dark Sky Zone. This means it’s among the best places in the eastern United States to view the night sky without manmade light blocking the view. There are 50 miles of hiking trails in the park. They pass through rugged dunes, “mysterious” wetlands, prairies, rivers and forests. Many rare bird species live in the area. The most popular activity at the park is sunbathing and swimming at the beach. With 15 miles of sandy coastline, if you’re willing to hike a bit from the parking lot, there is enough room for everyone to have their own private beach. The park is also popular for kite flying at the beach. The wind is perfect.
A Relaxing Drive Home
After two action-packed days in Indiana and, for a brief time, Illinois, a peaceful drive to Tippecanoe and then home sounded pretty good to Penny and me. As I had guessed, it didn’t take long for us to explore Tippecanoe, Indiana and the surrounding area, although I’m glad we did. Northern Indiana is a very peaceful place that has its own feel, but that is certainly familiar to someone from western Ohio. The people are extremely friendly and courteous. They don’t seem to know a stranger. The towns are very small. Their entrances are lined with plaques that honor the achievements of their sports teams. They all have an ice cream stand, baseball fields and basketball courts.
Just before reaching the Ohio border, Penny and I stopped in Albany, Indiana, which is one of these places. The center of this rural town consists of little league baseball diamonds. This seems to show how important the sport is to the community. Right next to the fields is the Dairy Dream ice cream shop and a car wash. Just before dusk, Penny and I stopped at the Dairy Dream for dinner and ice cream and to vacuum out the piles of sand that had accumulated in the car from the beach.
As we sat on a bench next to the ice cream shop, the lights on the baseball field came on and residents in the community began to gather to watch the kids play a night game. It was nice to see and a good ending to a fun road trip with Penny.
One Last Time Through Tippecanoe
In the fall of 2019, I once again passed through Tippecanoe. It was out of my way to do so, but I felt compelled to return one last time to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t. In fact, I later learned that the population has now dipped below 90 people, meaning it lost about 25 percent of its population since my last visit. Even more, Tippecanoe has the oldest median age of any town in Harrison County and the region. This all makes me wonder what the future has in store for the community.
Visiting the other Tippecanoes was an interesting adventure that made me appreciate my own hometown even more. While Tippecanoe, Indiana seemed like a friendly place to live, Tippecanoe, Ohio appears to have seen better days. Both are surrounded by interesting things to see and do, but neither compares to the place where I grew up, nor should they. But I’m glad I got to see them, just to make sure.