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The following groups of Towles New Tech students will have their presentations of Fort Wayne life before Fort Wayne existed displayed at the History Center downtown:
1. Hunter Odier, Emma St. Peters, Migdalia Rustrian
2. Lois Mamani, White Dove, Kaytlon Buchs
3. Maxwell Etter, Morgan Tuckey, Keith Zellers
Source: Towles New Tech
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Randy Elliot, left, the History Center’s exhibitor, listens as Keith Zellers, 13, center left, explains the museum exhibit he and his Towles New Tech teammates Maxwell Etter, 13, center right, and Morgan Tuckey, 14, created.

Projects give students a glimpse into 1600s

It’s Friday, and the three eighth-graders are debating weapons.

Having a pistol may seem like a big advantage, but with it comes some major drawbacks. For one, you need to pack in a ball and powder as far back into the gun as you can. You need to do this for every round, between every shot. If you haven’t guessed, they’re not talking about today’s firearms.

Then, you have to worry about the possibility of blowing your own hand off if things don’t work properly – this has been known to happen.

And there are the arrows that might be flying all around you to think about.

“By the time you were done loading, you probably had an arrow in you,” Morgan Tuckey says.

Tuckey and a pair of her Towles New Tech classmates, Maxwell Etter and Keith Zellers, are now well-acquainted with the weaponry a Native American or a French trader might have had at their disposal in this area of the world during the 1600s.

Some of their classmates are now mini experts on trade routes, Native American homebuilding and French culture in the northeast Indiana region.

About two dozen groups at Towles were given the assignment to study and make presentations on life in Fort Wayne before there ever was a fort, a “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a state of Indiana or even a United States of America.

These presentations included props, models and even make-shift tools of the times made by the students.

All of it was designed to not only show what life in those times was like, but also how Europeans – mainly the French – changed Native American culture in the area.

Also on hand were judges from the History Center downtown who picked the presentations of three groups to be displayed in the museum.

Tuckey, Etters and Zellers were one of the groups chosen.

Zellers spent more than a week carving and sanding a bow, something a Native American would have done in the 1600s.

And while he and his two partners liked the bow and the poison darts that were part of the arsenal back then, they all thought the tomahawk was way cool.

Luckily, Zellers found one of indeterminate age in some woods recently.

“It’s a rock and a stick together!” Tuckey said.

Those weapons, though, immensely impressed Etter, the history buff of the group.

“We got a taste for how delicate they had to be,” said Etter, who provided real animal pelts for his group’s presentation.

The group projects were designed to allow the students to have a more authentic learning experience, according to teachers Tia McFarthing and Jon McCoy, who were on hand grading the projects Friday.

The hope was also that including their current hometown would get them more engaged and let them see what came long before.

Admittedly, many of the students weren’t thrilled at first with the assignment.

“I thought, ‘Oh, Fort Wayne,’ ” said Lois Mamani when given the assignment. “We’re just kind of … Indiana. We’re not even one of the 13 colonies.”

But the more Mamani and other students immersed themselves into the project, the more they began to enjoy what they were doing. Even if it meant learning more about 1600s trade routes than anybody probably would ever need to know.

Mamani and her partners, White Dove and Kaytlon Buchs, built a model of the Three Rivers and peppered it with animals, Native American and French trader figurines.

They showed how the people of the time traversed the rivers, included art and were able to explain – in great detail – the fur trade and how important it was to how the economy in the region worked.

“The fur trade was a big deal,” White Dove said, talking about exchanges between Native Americans and the French. “But they didn’t always think of it as trading, they thought of it as gift giving.”

Several said they were fascinated by the Native American culture and how it somewhat morphed into something else when the French came.

For Mamani, she saw how a culture then became more diverse as the French began to coexist in the area, much how Fort Wayne today has become more diverse than in the past.

And even if the students don’t remember the exact trade routes or group dynamics between Native Americans and French traders, they more than likely came away with a wealth of facts they won’t soon forget.

There seemed to be little nuggets galore to be gleaned from the past. For instance, did you know that the French fashioned Abe Lincoln-style top hats out of beaver fur?

That’s what White Dove found out researching his project.

And those, he said, “looked pretty sweet.”