Banta, Indiana, was named, in 1883, for Johnson County historian, Judge David Demaree Banta. Before the community had a post office and was formally named, it went by Dresslarsville. In this century, it has gone by the nick-names of Banty and Hen-peck.
The village is located at the intersection of Banta Road, (950E) and Big Bend Road, (650 N). Banta Creek runs just north of the town and Crooked Creek is to the west. Banta is divided by county and township lines into four sections.
Northwest = Harrison Township, Morgan County
Southwest = Green Township, Morgan County
Northeast = White River Township, Johnson County
Southeast = Union Township, Johnson County
Landmarks are, the Banta General Store and Beekeeping Supply, the Banta Community Center, in Johnson County, and Banta United Methodist Church located in Morgan County. The largest nearby town is Waverly, Indiana.
Around 1820, a branch of the Port Royal trading post was built of logs on the northeast corner of what is now the intersection of Banta Road and Big Bend Road. Port Royal was the trading center for a settlement of Delaware Indians which spread across Harrison, Madison and White River Townships in Morgan and Johnson Counties. The village was on the east side of White River with 200 or more acres of cultivated farm land on the west bank. Most of the inhabitants moved west after a treaty was signed giving the tribe $4,000 per year and land on the west side of the Mississippi.
Jacob Whetzel was instrumental in the settlement of the area by cutting in the road, "Whetzel Trace". He and his family settled in the area of Waverly, Indiana, just northwest of Banta. By 1826, wagon traffic had so damaged the roots of trees along "The Trace" that it was obstructed by fallen trees and no longer in use.
Dense forests filled with plentiful game covered the land the pioneers entered. Wild turkey, grey squirrel and venison were staples of the their diet. One man reportedly killed 370 deer in the year of 1821. There were also wolves, bears and panthers. The months of August through October were known as the "time of sickness". Malaria struck the White River Valley during these months annually. Quinine and whiskey were used to treat the disease, but when supplies ran out, Boneset and Gentian were used as herbal home remedies.
Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1829 at the home of Sarah and John Taylor in Johnson County and later moved to the home of Thomas Mitchell in Morgan County. A log school, probably the old trading post, at the crossroads was used by the church in 1830. The Salem Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1834 or 1835 in Johnson County at the home of Anthony Brunnemer.
The 1842 Poll Tax record for Harrison Township lists: Barlow Aldridge, J.D. Bromwell, J.F. Brenton, Joseph Baker, James Duke, Daniel Etter, Thomas Mitchell, W. Prescot, Aaron Prescot, George Smith, Robert Smith, I.W. Tacket, Drury Trusty, and Jesse Wharton.
After the Civil War, about 1870, George A. Dresslar moved to Harrison Township, Morgan County from White River Township in Johnson County. He purchased the trading post and started a business selling general merchandise. The surrounding community became known as Dresslarville.
On the evening of Saturday June 30, 1877, severe storms and tornados struck Morgan and Johnson Counties. Rueben S. Aldrich, Peter Morningstar, Samuel Musser and Thomas Murry suffered property damage, and families of Armstrong and Drake sustained personal injuries as well. Stott's School was destroyed, as was the home and stables of John H. Dresslar, near Crooked Creek. Mr. Dresslar's wife was seriously injured. Farms of George Paul and A.T. Wiley were damaged, and Shiloh School, one quarter mile west of Dresslarville was "shattered to atoms:". Pieces of debris blew holes in the neighboring home of John Graves and scattered into Johnson County. A.K. Taylor's farm suffered damage to a smoke house.
By far the hardest hit in the area was the home of George A. Dresslar. Mrs. Martha Dresslar, Emma Florence, age 6; Guilford T., age 3; and the family dog were killed outright. Lillie L. age 11, died of her wounds the following morning. Mr. Dresslar and his eight year old daughter, Effie, were severely injured, with their survival in doubt.
The following is a portion of the Martinsville Republican's report, published July 5, 1877.
"Mr. Grave's family were quietly getting ready to retire for the night, all unconscious of the impending tornado, when it struck and passed his house. It was by in a few moments and Mr. G. went out to see if everything was right. He noticed by the glare of lightning that his out houses were gone and his horses, which a few minutes before he had put into the stable, were out in the yard and he told his family of the destruction and passed out, when the family heard a cry of distress from Mr. Dresslar, and Mrs. G., who is a sister of Dresslar, noticed that the school house and residence of Mr. D. were gone. "
"Mr. Dresslar was found in the potato patch, 40 yards from where the house had stood, and conscious, although he did not seem to know what the trouble was; he did not know that the house was blown away or the fate of his family. Upon the approach of the wind he had got out of bed to shut the kitchen door and while trying to shut it the house was carried away. When discovered, he kept repeating, "I held the door as long as I could". Both of Mr. D.'s feet were crushed as though struck by the end of a falling timber, his face was bruised and battered and he received serious internal injuries. His recovery is doubtful. Not far from her father, the eight year old daughter was found, moaning. She had an ugly scalp wound."
Shiloh School was rebuilt in 1878 of brick. In 1880, a new store building was built on the northeast corner of the crossroad by the local Order of the Redmen and leased to storekeepers.
George Dresslar left town for a time, after recovering from his injuries, and returned in 1883. On November 22, 1883, he be came the first post master in Banta, Indiana, which was named in honor of justice and local historian Judge David Demaree Banta, of Johnson County.
In 1884, the population of Banta, Indiana was 55. Some of the businessmen in the 1880's and 1890's were: Lee Brunemer, who was a blacksmith; William Brunemer, a wagon maker; Robert Duke was the barber; Frank Graves was a book agent; Henry B. Greenwood II was a house mover and shoemaker; Frank Wilkins was the butcher; and O.E. Throckmorton was a farmer and poultry breeder. Carpenters in Banta were: F.C. Wilkins, Henry Wright and George Mallow. James A. Duke and A.K. Taylor are listed as general storekeepers. The postmaster was George A. Dresslar, and a sawmill was operated by Eli Warren and Thompson Sanders.
By 1900, Banta consisted of a new church which was built in 1899, and re-named Banta Methodist Episcopal Church, a sawmill, butcher shop, carpet weaving shop, maple syrup camp, blacksmith, the general store called the "Village Grocery", the post office, and 60 to 70 residents.
The Banta Bluejays baseball team was formed in 1914 and played locally against church and community groups. They were known for their bright blue uniforms which were a sharp contrast to the gray uniforms worn by most other teams. The Bluejays disbanded in 1920.
During the 1920's and up to World War II, Banta boasted an orchestra which consisted of 15 to 20 musicians. It died as the "Great Depression" wore on and the members were forced to drop out.
Through war and peace, poverty and prosperity the Banta General Store has survived and stands as a land mark for the town of Banta, Indiana. It is currently owned by Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Musgrave.
The Banta Community Center on Big Bend Road was an army barracks at Fort Harrison before being brought to Banta in the 1940's. It is still in use. Signs announcing pitch-in dinners are a common site along the roads surrounding Banta, Indiana.