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Biographies & Memoirs of Indiana People – Indiana Life Stories

This webpage has links to free online biography books & memoirs of well-known people from Indiana, with book descriptions. There are also ‘Collective Biographies’; each with profiles of many people prominent in their communities.

Among the subjects of biographies and memoirs are:

  • Writers
  • Musicians
  • Journalists
  • Sports Figures
  • an Anti-slavery Reformer
  • Actors
  • a Labor Organizer
  • Political Leaders, including 2 U.S. Presidents
  • Pioneer Settlers
  • Military Leaders
  • TV News Persons & Entertainers
  • Civil Rights Reformers
  • an Entrepreneur

Skip down to Collective Biographies

Indiana Biography & Memoirs Collection

About 40 free online books at the Internet Archive, resulting from a search for books on “Indiana – Biography & Memoirs”. Some subjects are: Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., Eva Mozes Kor, Christel Dehaan, Sarah Evans Barker, Sylvia McNair, Sharon Rivenbark, Emma Molloy, Isaac Blackford, Bill Garrett, Gene Stratton-Porter, Theodore M. Hesburgh, Frank O’Bannon, Homer E. Capehart, Bobby Knight, T.C. Steele, Juliet V. Strauss, Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, Larry Bird, Scott Dixon, Abraham Lincoln. Be patient as the page loads.

‘Collections’ take longer to appear on your screen than single books.  On a phone, only about 25 books in a collection may appear.

Tales of Kankakee Land

Bartlett, Charles H.
NY: Scribner’s Sons 1904

These stories are from the author’s experiences of growing up in the vast marshlands and wilderness of the Kankakee watershed.

Bartlett, Charles Henry (1853-1937)

The Time and Place That Gave Me Life

Bell, Janet Cheatham
Bloomington: Indiana University 2007

“The Time and Place That Gave Me Life is a coming-of-age memoir that confronts race and gender issues in middle America during the pre-Civil Rights era. Janet Cheatham Bell’s riveting memoir recounts her experiences as an African American girl in Indianapolis from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s. In taut chapters, Bell introduces the reader to a life often defined by race and racial discrimination.” – Publisher

Bell, Janet Cheatham (1937-)

Larry Legend

Shaw, Mark
Masters 1999

“Larry Legend features the fascinating Horatio Alger-like story of Larry Bird — Hall of Fame basketball superstar and NBA Coach of the Year. Among the topics covered, author Mark Shaw chronicles: Bird’s early childhood and adolescent years in Springs Valley, Indiana; Why he left Indiana University and Coach Bob Knight; Bird’s never-to-be-forgotten collegiate days at Indiana State; How he led the Boston Celtics to three world championships”; Why he decided to coach the Indiana Pacers. The inside story of how he molded the Pacers into championship contenders using the same work ethic that made him one of the five greatest players in basketball history.” – Book cover

Bird, Larry Joe (1956 – )

An Accidental Pioneer: A Farm Girl’s Drive to the Finish …

Burkhart, Lorene McCormick
Carmel, IN: Hawthorne 2006

The author “was born in 1934 on a farm in southern Indiana, near Vincennes. Her childhood story is a depiction of rural and small-town life in the Midwest in the 1930s and ’40s, from local customs handed down from her parents’ families to a community enduring the impact of both the Great Depression and World War II.” – Book cover

Burkhart, Lorene McCormick (1934-)

We have old newspaper archives for the world

The Stardust Road

Carmichael, Hoagy
Indiana University 1982

“Hoagy Carmichael gave us many of the most famous tunes of the twentieth century, including Stardust, Georgia on My Mind, Lazybones, Heart and Soul, and I Get Along Without You Very Well. This is his account of his youth and formative years in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was born and where he went to college. Like the author, the book is candid, nostalgic, sentimental, tough-minded, and romantic. It is at once a memoir of the life of a gifted youth, an account of Bloomington and Indiana University in the 1920s, and a glimpse of the-early years of jazz featuring, besides the author himself, Bix Beiderbecke and Bill Moenkhaus, his college friends.” – Book cover

Carmichael, Hoagland Howard (1899-1981)

Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad:

Being a brief history of the labors of a lifetime in behalf of the slave, with the stories of numerous fugitives, who gained their freedom through his instrumentality, and many other incidents

Coffin, Levi
Cincinnati: R. Clarke. 1880

Levi Coffin (1798-1877) was a Quaker who, with his wife Catharine, sheltered over a hundred escaping slaves per year while living in Fountain City (then Newport) in Wayne County, IN from 1826 to 1847. Their home was known as ‘Grand Central Station’ on the Underground Railroad because of the scale of their work. He then moved to Cincinnati, OH where he continued to be very active in the Underground Railroad. One of the slaves they helped was immortalized as Eliza, the heroine of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
– From Indiana Historical Society

Also see: Anti-Slavery before the Civil War

For biographies of people in the American abolition movement, see:
– Swift, Lindsay, William Lloyd Garrison in Century Past Biographies: G & H
;
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe in Biographies & Memoirs in Ohio History;
Washington, Booker Taliaferro, Frederick Douglass in Century Past Biographies: D, E & F; and
Haviland, Laura S. , A Woman’s Life-Work in Biographies & Memoirs in Michigan History

Coffin, Levi (1798-1877)

Sons of the Wilderness: John and William Conner

Thomson, Charles
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 1937

The author wrote in the Preface that, “This book… is more than a record of the Conners as pioneers. It is also a story of the transformation in their lives. From their birth to mature manhood they lived among and with the Indians in the closest contacts. Later they gave up these ties, affiliated with their own race, and became active and forceful in the early development of Indiana. To depict their lives clearly it has been necessary to set out the historical background of the Ohio Valley (particularly Indiana) for a little over a hundred years.”

Conner, John (1775-1826)

Conner, William (1777-1855)

Hampton Court: Growing up Catholic in Indianapolis between the Wars

Connor, Lawrence S.
Guild Press of Indiana 1995

Connor, Lawrence S. (1925-)

James Dean: The Biography

Holley, Val
St. Martin’s 1995

Killed in a car crash at only 24, James Dean has become a tragic legend. Compared to a Marlon Brando, Dean rose to fame in the film East of Eden, based on the novel by John Steinbeck. American teenagers particularly related to Dean through his role in Rebel Without a Cause, where he portrayed an emotionally confused teen. This is the most comprehensive biography of James Dean ever written, based upon over one hundred interviews with people who have never before spoken on record. Val Holley delves into Dean’s early life and training on stage and in television using research that is astounding in its detail and frequently lets his sources speak in their own voices.
“I was drawn in by its legwork and detail, surprising interviews, sweet reasoning, and vivid characterization. This immortal of the screen stacks up as an American enigma.” – Patrick McGilligan, author of George Cukor: A Double Life.

Dean, James Byron (1931-1955)

Debs: His Authorized Life and Letters

Karsner, David
NY: Boni and Liveright 1919

Eugene V. Debs was a union leader; one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World. He ran for U.S. President five times as the candidate of the Socialist Party of America.

Debs, Eugene Victor (1855-1926)

Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs

Young, Marguerite
Knopf 1999

“To set the stage … and to trace the roots of the American labor and socialist movements, the author opens up a sweep of history and presents an epic cast of characters… Young takes us into the world of the men who led the American multitudes west before the Civil War – and shows how these pioneers were influenced by the French Revolution’s Saint-Simon and Fourier, and then by the German idealists Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, and Wilhelm Weitling, who visited secular and religious settlements across the U.S. All these threads come together in the life and personality of Eugene Debs.” -Book cover

Debs, Eugene Victor (1855-1926)

That Man Debs and His Life Work

Painter, Floy Ruth
Bloomington: Indiana University 1929

Debs, Eugene Victor (1855-1926)

Myself When Young

Detzer, Karl
NY: Funk & Wagnalls 1968

Memoir of a boy growing up in Fort Wayne. “This charming look at America sixty years ago is framed by the story of a young boy and his two totally different grandfathers. All the delightful characters of small-town America, seen through the sharp eyes of a small boy, crowd the pages of this book. Each is an individual and is distinct, colorful, and human in his observed foibles and fashions.” – Book cover.

Detzer, Karl (1891-1987)

Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr.: A Life in History and Politics, 1855-1924

Boomhower, Ray E.
Indiana Historical Society 1997

Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., Indiana historian, Journalist, and political reformer, has been called a “political man of letters” for his successful merging throughout his life of his careers in history and politics. His wide-ranging interests included campaigning to establish free public libraries across the state, working to enact a new city charter for Indianapolis, revitalizing a moribund Indiana Historical Society during the 1880s, painstakingly preserving the language of the Miami Indians, and, at age sixty-six, prospecting for mineral deposits in the jungles of Haiti. From his key role in adopting the Australian ballot system in Indiana to his ultimately failed attempt at enacting a new state constitution during the administration of Gov. Thomas R. Marshall, Dunn, working both behind the scenes and in public, did more than anyone, including elected officials, to reduce fraud and ensure honest elections in Indiana.

Dunn, Jacob Piatt (1855-1924)

Life in Early Indiana

Eggleston, George C.
Fort Wayne, IN: Public Library of Fort Wayne. 1910

Eggleston was a nationally known writer for New York newspapers and magazines, as well as a popular novelist. He was also a native Hoosier. In later life he wrote this autobiography.

Eggleston, George Cary (1839-1911)

“Reminiscences of Judge Finch”

Indiana Magazine of History Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 155-165

Finch, Fabius M.
Bloomington: Indiana University 1911

This was an address by Judge Fabius Finch in 1885, in which he describes being among the first groups of settlers in the area called “The New Purchase”. It was a large tract opened for settlement in 1819, shortly after it was acquired from local Indian tribes. Finch’s father settled on White River opposite the later site of Noblesville. The address describes many details and hardships of life on the frontier in the 1820s.

Finch, Fabius Maximus (1810-1900)

Reminiscences of a Journey to Indianapolis in the Year 1836

Life of Ziba Foote

Ferguson, C. P. (Judge); Morrison, Samuel
Indianapolis: Bowen Merrill 1893

There are three papers by three authors in this little booklet by the Indiana Historical Society.

Reminiscences is just 9 pages long, and describes Ferguson’s trip to the State Capital in 1836 as a small boy traveling with his father, who was serving in the legislature there. It is of interest mainly for its short characterizations of prominent Indiana politicians of the time.

Ziba Foote’s story is a short one, in two senses. Author Samuel Morrison needed only seven pages to tell about this young man who completed Yale College in 1805 and headed to Indiana to take an appointment as assistant surveyor. This story describes his ordeal when he arrived, and his accidental death not long afterward.

“Sketch of Samuel Morrison” (the author of Ziba Foote) is of interest as a brief biography of a very early settler in Indiana, as Morrison was born there in 1798.

Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut

Boomhower, Ray E.
Indiana Historical Society 2004

Selected as one of NASA’s original Seven Mercury Astronauts, Gus Grissom would go on to become the first man to fly in space twice and later give his life to the NASA space program. This book unearths the story of Indiana’s first astronaut by offering a more complete picture of Grissom’s life and character and the events that led up to his death. – Publisher

Grissom, Virgil Ivan “Gus” (1926-1967)

The New Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West

Woodburn, James Albert, ed.
Princeton: Princeton University 1916

“Baynard Hall, the writer of the volume, was the first and only principal of the Indiana Seminary which from 1824 to 1829 preceded Indiana College. The volume describes his trip to, and work in and around Bloomington from the spring of 1823 to the fall of 1830. The title of the book, The New Purchase, is misleading, since he only made two brief journeys into that part of the State. The towns named and referred to, Bloomington, Gosport, Palestine, Salem, Fairplay, Spencer and Vincennes, are not in the New Purchase. The history and geography of the story are so carefully veiled with fictitious names that one can only be sure of his location after careful comparisons. As a picture of pioneer life in Indiana it is unequalled, and must necessarily always remain so. Altogether the book is one of the most valuable sources on Indiana history, the more valuable because of the character of the writer and his remarkable opportunity for observation. Every library and school in Indiana should have a copy of this rare old book.”

Excerpts from an anonymous review in Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 354-355.

Hall, Baynard Rush (1793-1863)

Life and Public Services of Hon. Benjamin Harrison, President of the U.S.

With a concise biographical sketch of Hon. Whitelaw Reid, ex-Minister to France

Wallace, Gen. Lew and Halstead, Murat
Edgewood 1892

Harrison, Benjamin, U.S. President (1833-1901)

Historical Narrative of the Civil and Military Services of Major-General William H. Harrison

And a vindication of his character and conduct as a statesman, a citizen and a soldier. With a detail of his negotiations and wars with the Indians, until the final overthrow of the celebrated chief Tecumseh, and his brother The Prophet”

Dawson, Moses
Cincinnati: M. Dawson 1824

The author was the editor of the Cincinnati Advertiser. As the title suggests, he wrote this book in response to rumors spread by Harrison’s political enemies. Harrison had by this time served as a U.S. Congressman and Governor of Indiana Territory, had led troops in wartime, and had negotiated a number of treaties and land acquisitions with Indian tribes. The author admits in the introduction that Harrison had provided him documents and assistance for this authorized biography.

Harrison, William Henry, U.S. President (1773-1841)

Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison

– Volume 2

Esarey, Logan, ed.
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 1922

Historian Lew Wallace wrote that, “William Henry Harrison was clothed with power more nearly imperial than any ever exercised by one man in the Republic. He was authorized to adopt and publish such laws, civil and criminal, as were best adapted to the condition of the Territory; he could arbitrarily create townships and counties, and appoint civil officers, and militia officers under the grade of general. Most extraordinary of all, however, to him belonged the confirmation of an important class of land grants. In this regard his authority was absolute.”

In the Introduction, the Director of the Indiana Historical Commission wrote that, “In the Messages and Papers of Indiana Governors is to be found much of the material that is fundamentally essential to a proper understanding of Indiana history. In fact, the real background for the early history of the Old Northwest Territory is found in the messages, proclamations and letters penned by William Henry Harrison during the years 1800 to 1816.”

Vol 1. covers 1800-1811; Vol. 2 covers 1812-1816.

For biographies and memoirs of early 19th century governors in the Great Lakes states, see:
– Edwards, Ninian Wirt, History of Illinois, from 1778 to 1833; and Life and Times of Ninian Edwards in Illinois History Politics & Government
;
St Clair, Arthur and Smith, William H., ed., St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair in Biographies & Memoirs in Ohio History;
Alvord, Clarence W. ed., Governor Edward Coles in Biographies & Memoirs in Illinois History;
Reynolds, John, My Own Times, Embracing also the History of my Life in Biographies & Memoirs in Illinois History;
Hemans, Lawton Thomas, Life and Times of Stevens Thomson Mason in Biographies & Memoirs in Michigan History;
McLauglin, Andrew C., Lewis Cass in Biographies & Memoirs in Michigan History

Harrison, William Henry, U.S. President (1773-1841)

Bob Knight: The Unauthorized Biography

Delsohn, Steve and Heisler, Mark
Simon & Schuster 2006

Brilliant, intimidating, charming, or profane, Coach Bob Knight is an enduring contradiction who has long fascinated and repelled basketball fans, for whom he has provided as much to dislike as to respect.
“Bob Knight: The Unauthorized Biography” is the first comprehensive biography of Knight, one of the most successful and controversial coaches in the history of American sports. Detailing the entire scope of Knight’s playing and coaching career through extensive interviews — including many with people who have never gone on record about him before — authors Steve Delsohn and Mark Heisler give a candid yet balanced account of the man who will likely end up as the all-time winningest coach in college basketball.
“Bob Knight: The Unauthorized Biography” is an extraordinary look at a legendary coach with a monumental temper and an appetite for confrontation.

Knight, Robert Montgomery (1940-)

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