There Wasn’t a Chief Munsee. Really, There Wasn’t.
Let’s bust a few myths. The guy on the horse at the point of Granville and Walnut Avenues isn’t the non-existent Chief Munsee, the Indian depicted in the statue didn’t live in these parts, and the city of Muncie isn’t named for that same non-existent chief. So who is he, what is that statue doing here, and why was Muncie named “Muncie?”
The nameless American Indian of the Appeal to the Great Spirit statue was the fourth and last in sculptor Cyrus Dallin’s Indian Cycle. The statues in the series showed the Indian’s relationship with the white man and also included The Signal of Peace, The Medicine Man, and The Protest. The figure in each of these sculptures is a Plains Indian, most likely Sioux. Dallin, a native of Utah, grew up near members of the Ute tribe and had great respect and admiration for Native Americans.
The statue is here in Muncie, on this site, because, after the 1925 death of Edmund Burke Ball, one of the five brothers who formed Ball Brothers Company, his widow and children wanted to establish a suitable memorial. Bertha Crosley Ball had seen the original Appeal to the Great Spirit in front of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She worked with the sculptor to bring a full-scale replica to Muncie to be erected on a site just east of the Ball family homes on the north side of the White River in Muncie.
Mrs. Ball put her college-age son, Edmund F. Ball, in charge of the project. He worked closely with the landscape architect to develop a suitable setting for the sculpture. Many years later, Ball reminisced, “I remember the event very well when Cyrus Dallin came to Muncie, approved the setting on the triangle north of Walnut Street bridge and the setting of his sculpture on the sixteen ton solid limestone base….” At the time the statue was installed, Dallin said, “I am pleased to see my work in such a true setting. The designs are perfect, the entourage is splendid.”
Plains Indians didn’t live in Muncie, or Indiana for that matter, but there were definitely Indians here. As in right here, on the site where Minnetrista now stands. The area was home to Delaware Indians in the late 1700s until government removal in the early 1800s. A statue depicting an Indian, though not a Woodland Indian, must have seemed entirely appropriate to the Ball family.
According to Indiana Place Names, Muncie was settled around 1818. It was called “Munseetown or Muncey Town because so many Delawares of the Munsee clan lived here.” Delaware County, of course, was named for the Delaware Indians.
The Appeal to the Great Spirit appears on the City of Muncie’s web site, the masthead of The Star Press, on the official city flag, and other places. Why did it become the symbol of Muncie? I don’t know. Perhaps because of the majesty of the sculpture, its prominent place near downtown, or its connection to the Ball family. Perhaps it became the symbol because people heard stories about the Indians who once lived here and made a connection.
What do you think? Why did the statue become a symbol for Muncie?