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Famous natives whose stories we are still discovering

Published on 5/14/2022

While sniffing about for story ideas recently, this writer dug up a gem on the Montgomery County website, a listing names of famous natives.

Some of these gems need cleaned, cut, and polished. For instance, two famous jazz musicians, brothers Sidney and Wilbur De Paris were born here, but almost nothing of them- how long they lived here, what their lives were like, what schools did they attend, if they lived here that long. I can’t help but hope to find family and learn more of their stories, because why so little information if we are claiming them as natives? It’s a challenge for those of us who are curious. 

The city has a number of untold histories that would enrich us. Consider what some of us know about Bishop Clarence Lee that makes us revere him and reveals truths about our community. Having learned about the Lincoln school recently, as well as the rich history of Bethel AME, it begs the question, “How much do we know about the stories of marginalized members of our community?” Wabash College offered a lovely remembrance of local Jasmine Robinson, a Wabash staff member and jazz musician who played her tunes on the radio program Cooking with Jazz. Prominent educator, John W Evans, a man who finished his degree at Wabash, was an educator at the Lincoln School and went on to prominent roles in the St. Louis, MO school system beg to be unpacked as the Lew Wallace Museum does for its namesake.

Another name on the list was worth the research: Mary Hannah Krout. She, along with her sister Caroline V. Krout (pen name Caroline Brown), were among famous authors from the county. Lew Wallace tends to overshadow other authors, not to slight Wallace. It’s hard to repeal the civic and Hollywood history Lew Wallace links to Crawfordsville. But women in the textures of these sisters’ legacy speaks to women’s long slog to autonomy. 

Mary was born in Balhinch, just outside of the city, the eldest of the eight Krout children. Both she and her sister Caroline, must have been encouraged in their educations to have become first teachers then writers. Peter T. Young, a Hawai’ian writer and activist, noted that Mary was the product of “subscription schools” and the Crawfordsville schools. At some point when they were young, they moved to College Street and their mother died. Ball State’s “Our Land, Our Literature” website reported that Caroline became the household matriarch for a period. Their father was strict. Though both became teachers, neither loved the profession. Both wrote poetry, while
Caroline wrote novels and Mary reported. Both of them earned places in literature books for poems that described native Indiana environs as they might have looked before being touched by the colonists. While Caroline strove to become a recognized novelist, Mary wrote for the Crawfordsville Journal, a Whig leaning paper, then the Terre Haute Express before moving to the Inter-Ocean, a Chicago-based business paper that had wide value in the American West. 

Caroline wrote three novels, and when the last one failed ot achieve a threshold of success, she quit writing and went to live with her father.

Mary, on the other hand, was known as a stylish woman with the ability to win entrance to the exclusive classes of London from which she reported for some time. She intrepidly traveled into the Chinese interior, and endearingly, she championed the marginalized. Consider her feeling about the Hawaiian indigenous people fighting off colonization. 
“When I visited the Islands first, in 1893, I went prejudiced in favour [sic} of the natives, deeply sympathising [sic] with them because they had been dispossessed of their lawful possessions,” wrote Mary Hannah Krout. 

What stands out about Mary is her reputation as a woman with autonomy. Caroline Krout struggled to differentiate herself in such a way that Ball State biographed her as if the criticism had haunted her back into some space where women could fulfill expectations and get that sense of a “gold star” for performance.

One wonders about the stories of other brilliant creatives in the Krout family, and those stories we have yet to crack. What we know is that Mary spoke often for suffrage, tromped the globe like a preview of muck-racking female journalists, and came home to Crawfordsville for death and burial. Caroline gave into some conflict between expectation and promise.

What shall we do with those histories, incomplete as they are? Live and explore the questions until we may own accomplishments, or discover the whole stories of those who make us the Athens of Indiana.