News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Top Story

July 28, 2013

500 Miles of Wabash Part I: The Wabash has humble beginnings

The Ohio Miles: Birthplace of a river

Editor's Note: The Wabash River affects lives far beyond Terre Haute. Tribune-Star journalists Mark Bennett and Jim Avelis tell the stories of people and places embracing the river in unique ways in a series "500 Miles of Wabash."

FORT RECOVERY, Ohio — The Wabash River reaches its romantic stage far downstream from here.

It begins amid a homely, isolated patch of tall grasses and weeds at the edge of a farm field four miles south of the tiny village of Fort Recovery on the western edge of Ohio. Huge poultry barns, grain silos and neat rows of corn and soybeans fill the landscape. In a corner of John Will’s 110-acre plot, just a few hundred feet from a wooded fence row and 500 yards off the nearest county road, water flows from a pair of unmatched drainage pipes encased in the west wall of a three-sided concrete culvert.

This murky pool, a mere foot deep on a warm, windy May morning, constitutes the source of the Wabash River.

Candlelights gleaming through the sycamores seem unlikely in this setting. This is Ohio, not Indiana. The Hoosier state — which calls the Wabash its state river and “On the Banks of the Wabash (Far Away)” its state song — lies a mile and a half west.

“You live on that side of the state line, and [you see] how big the Wabash is,” Will said, standing on the steps of his house. “And here, it’s just a couple [drain] tiles in the woods.”

Yet, it is indeed the Wabash. Nature chose an unheralded spot for the headwaters of a fabled waterway.

The river originates from rain water seeping through the soil of the vast countryside, running downhill and eastward toward the culvert. A modern system of field tiles aids the drainage. From this point, the Wabash continues in anonymity for a half-mile before making its first public appearance at a small roadside park at the intersection of Ohio 49 and the Darke-Mercer countyline road. A historical marker, newly repainted this summer, depicts the river’s serpentine path as it grows from this ditch-sized stream to its massive conclusion south of Mount Vernon, Ind., where it intermingles with the Ohio River, a course of nearly 500 miles.

“We pretty much consider this a creek here,” said Randy Diller, Fort Recovery’s village administrator, “but we know what it turns into.”

Actually, the Wabash makes a significant transformation between the headwaters and the nearby village. Like a restless adolescent, the river wanders aimlessly before it finds its destiny, starting less than two miles from the state line but snaking back and forth for 28 miles before crossing into Indiana. From its origin, the Wabash rolls almost due east, away from Indiana, for six miles, then does a hairpin turn west back toward Fort Recovery, where it bisects the community of 1,430 residents.

Here, 12 miles into its run, the Wabash stretches to 50 feet wide, big enough to carry canoes and water activities such as the annual Mad Run. That 5-kilometer race sends runners through an obstacle course and into the muddy Wabash at Fort Recovery Ambassador Park, a greenspace on the east bank, owned by a local nonprofit group.

A run through the river isn’t particularly perilous at Ambassador Park, though. “For a good portion of the year, you could walk across the Wabash without getting the tops of your shoes wet,” Diller said.

The past two days, Ambassador Park hosted the popular National Tractor Pull Association Fort Recovery Grand Nationals. Each June, the village celebrates its Harvest Jubilee at the park as farmers reap their wheat crops. On the west bank side, a park dedicated to the village’s namesake features 18th-century-style structures and artifacts, and the Fort Recovery State Museum.

“And the river happens to run through the middle of it,” Diller said.

Unfortunately for one American general, it wasn’t the river he expected.



Small as it is here, this stretch of the Wabash loomed large in military annals. The two largest confrontations between the U.S. Army and Native American forces raged on these shores. The first etched the river into a dubious spot in U.S. Army history.

“The Battle of the Wabash” turned into a disaster for the Army.

On the night of Nov. 3, 1791, Arthur St. Clair — a general in President George Washington’s Army — set up camp on the bank of what he thought was the St. Mary’s River. It was the Wabash, instead. The mistake separated the Kentucky militia from the rest of the Army troops. Chief Little Turtle and 2,000 Native American warriors surprised St. Clair’s poorly equipped regiment, killing 900 of his 1,200 men. It remains the worst battlefield defeat ever for the U.S. Army, according to the Fort Recovery Historical Society. A 101-foot tall obelisk, resembling the Washington Monument, was erected 100 years ago this month in the heart of the village, overlooking a cemetery where the casualties are buried.

The Wabash incident triggered the nation’s first presidential cabinet meeting and first congressional investigation. Embarrassed, Washington called retired Revolutionary War veteran Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne into duty to replace St. Clair, build a fortress on the same Wabash River site, and lead a better-supplied Army unit. In 1794, his contingent repelled Little Turtle’s warriors, avenging St. Clair’s defeat and validating the name of Wayne’s outpost, “Fort Recovery.” That outcome helped lead to the settlement of the Northwest Territories.

Milk chocolate look starts early

Two centuries later, Fort Recovery is a quieter, more peaceful place.

“Everybody knows everybody, and it’s just a nice community,” said lifelong resident Leo Hart.

The 80-year-old farms 40 acres of land near the headwaters of the Wabash. His older brother, George Hart, owns ground around the roadside park marking the river’s source. Leo and George grew up in a family of nine children. The youngest, Leo is the third generation to live and work on his acreage, dating back to his family’s original log house.

“I just came home from the Army and took over the farm,” Leo said of that moment a half-century ago.

Of his siblings, Leo said, “They all farm.” Most of his neighbors do, too. In fact, nearly 85 percent of the land in the region — officially the Grand Lake-St. Mary’s River-Wabash River Watershed Alliance — is used for agriculture, said Laura Walker, watershed coordinator. Family farms are not uncommon.

“Some of them have grown, but we still have the family farm,” Walker explained.

A civil engineer, Walker’s duties include educating farmers, landowners and the general public on water management and quality, soil erosion, and the impact of ecological problems such as outdated septic systems. “That’s obviously a big deal,” Walker said.

The primary pollutants of the Wabash in the Fort Recovery region mirror those in other communities along the river and other American streams.

“It’s the same problem everybody has in the rest of the United States — sediment and nutrients,” Walker said.

Erosion from farm fields gives the Wabash its chocolate milk complexion, which is present even as it emerges from the culvert at the source.

Armed with a plat map, Walker gamely guided two Tribune-Star journalists to the remote Wabash headwaters last month, traversing the wet, black soil of Will’s cornfield, a shoulder-high thicket and horseweed. Wildlife peeked out of the secluded site. A hefty toad sat atop one of the drain tiles. A dinner-plate-sized snapping turtle, crawling through the grass, wound up between the photographer’s feet. Ticks leaped from plants to the human visitors’ shoulders and ankles.

The creatures seemed undeterred by man. Likewise, water often ignores human attempts to control its path.

“We’ve added to Mother Nature to make it do what we want it to do,” Walker said, “and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The Wabash remains largely untamed. Its only control dam stands at Huntington, Ind., 89 river miles from the headwaters. By contrast, in its initial Ohio miles, the Wabash meanders to the northeast, then north, then — finally — west toward Indiana. After building up its current over 28 miles through rural Buckeye state areas, dotted by turkey, chicken and layer hen barns, the Wabash leaves Ohio and crosses into Indiana.

The river turns Hoosier with no fanfare as it ripples under State Line Road Bridge, leaving Mercer County, Ohio, and ambling into Jay County, Ind. No signs mark its entry. A yellow “Watch For High Water” sign stands beside the bridge. A white “Do Not Disturb” sign hangs from an electric fence guarding the adjoining field. The banks appear free of litter. Afternoon sunshine reflects off the water between streaks of shade from a canopy of maples and sycamores arching over the Wabash.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or


Text Only | Photo Reprints
Top Story
  • firstcarphotoforweb copy.jpg Remember Your First Car?

    Tell us about it! Your memories could be part of an upcoming story in the Tribune-Star. Click on this story to find out how.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mushroom2 (2).jpg Morels: Foragers can now go off-trail

    Rain that pounded Brown County State Park in early April dampened the number of hikers and mountain bikers in Indiana’s largest state park, but foragers of the property’s 15,000 acres of forest welcomed the weather.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • APTOPIX California Bu_Ter (2).jpg 10 killed in California school bus crash

    ORLAND, Calif. (AP) — A FedEx tractor-trailer crossed over a grassy median on a Northern California freeway and slammed into a bus carrying 44 high school students in an explosive crash that left 10 people dead, authorities said.

    April 11, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ukraine_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 8:

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 040714 SEX HOTEL.jpg Where we house released sex offenders

    A convicted sex offender who reportedly grabbed a 5-year-old child last week and allegedly molested the child at a Terre Haute motel faces multiple felony charges.

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • Fort Hood_Tayl.jpg UPDATE Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.

    April 2, 2014 4 Photos

  • barbour No shows escaped death by Craigslist killer

    Miranda Barbour says other central Pennsylvania men responded to her Craigslist ad before murder victim Troy LaFerrara of Port Trevorton, but they dodged death when they failed to appear for her promise of female companionship.


    March 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysia Plane_Ter .jpg UPDATE: Relatives sob as Malaysia confirms plane is lost

    BEIJING (AP) — Relatives shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably. Men and women nearly collapsed, held up by loved ones. Their grief came pouring out after 17 days of waiting for definitive word on the fate of the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Chicago Train_Ter .jpg Train derails, climbs escalator at Chicago airport

    CHICAGO (AP) — An eight-car Chicago commuter train plowed across a platform and scaled an escalator at an underground station at one of the nation’s busiest airports early today, injuring 32 people on board, officials said.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Film Casting Jesus_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, March 7:

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • US Obama Ukraine Russ_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, March 4:

    March 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • 86th Academy Awards -_Ter (2).jpg ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture at Oscars

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama “12 Years a Slave” best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.

    March 3, 2014 2 Photos

  • Planet Bonanza_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 27:

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nets Lakers Basketbal_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 24:

    February 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Protests_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 21:

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Winter Weather Michig_Morg.jpg After short break, winter returns to central U.S.

    CHICAGO — After a brief respite of sunshine, winter returned to much of the nation's midsection on Thursday, bringing a chilly mix of rain, sleet and snow, and at least one tornado.

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • ice sign.jpg Sheriff's deputies reporting several accidents due to 'black ice'

    Vigo County Sheriff's deputies have responded to several crashes due to icy road conditions this morning.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Switzerland Plane Div_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 17:

    February 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • TeenKiller.jpg Teen admits killing Craigslist contact, claims to have slain at least 22 more

    A Pennsylvania woman who is charged, along with her newlywed husband, with killing a man they met through Craigslist admitted to the slaying in a jailhouse interview with a newspaper and said she has killed more than 20 other people across the country, claims police said they are investigating.

    February 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obit Shirley Temple_Ter .jpg Shirley Temple, iconic child star, dies at 85

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Shirley Temple, the dimpled, curly-haired child star who sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers, has died. She was 85.

    February 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET100214igloo allen.jpg VIDEO: Rosedale igloo

    Keaton Allen checks one of the rooms in the snowy structure he and friends Noelanie Loomis, Gabe Whitford and Isaiah Bowman are building at the park in Rosedale.

    February 10, 2014 4 Photos 1 Video

  • 107518.jpg Church presents ‘Love Languages’ author’s video seminar on Valentine’s weekend

    Gary Chapman wrote the original edition of “The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted” in 1979.
    Now a nationally known author and relationship counselor, with a radio program heard on more than 100 stations across the United States, Chapman first published the book under the title, “Toward a Growing Marriage,” 35 years ago.

    February 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • gold 1 OLYMPIC ROUNDUP DAY 2: Grim talk turns to gold for now at Olympics

    All the gloom and grim talk leading to the Sochi Olympics at last gave way to more uplifting things.


    February 8, 2014 5 Photos

  • SPT 020514 ODUM LOSS.jpg UPDATE: No. 4 Shockers hold off Indiana State 65-58

    The deal was on the table for Indiana State. The stakes? The chance to end Wichita State’s perfect season and to earn a signature win that would earn national notice and possibly more.

    February 5, 2014 10 Photos 2 Stories

  • MET020514snowzimmerman.jpg Vigo schools on 2-hour delay Thursday

    Vigo County students will be back to school Thursday.
    According to Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Danny Tanoos, schools will be on a two-hour delay on Thursday.
    Due to inclement weather, schools were canceled today in Vigo and surrounding counties.

    February 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • CVS Caremark Tobacco _Ter .jpg Obama praises CVS for pulling tobacco from shelves

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is praising CVS Caremark for its decision to stop selling tobacco products at its drugstores.

    February 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT010114ISUgeneral odum.jpg Odum, Van Vleet two of Valley's best playmakers

    Point guards do so many things for a basketball team, but the most important thing the best of them do is embody grace under pressure.
    That grace is tested when the shot clock gets below the 10-second mark. Every decision they make takes on more urgency. The good decisions have a high reward, the bad ones can carry the weight of sinking their team.

    February 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Winter Weather Pennsy_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 4:

    February 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Prisoner Escape-Michi_Ter .jpg UPDATE: Indiana State Police nab prison escapee

    A convicted killer who peeled a hole in two fences with his hands to escape from a Michigan prison before abducting a woman and fleeing to Indiana was captured Monday evening after a chase, authorities said.

    February 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Deadly Sugar_Ter .jpg Sugar tied to fatal heart woes; soda’s a culprit

    CHICAGO (AP) — A big national study says too much sugar could be deadly, at least when it comes to fatal heart problems.

    February 3, 2014 1 Photo

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Raw: Man Fatally Shot During Police Standoff Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Stowaway Teen Forces Review of Airport Security Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers Raw: Royal Couple Tours Uluru in Australia Pipeline Opponents Protest on National Mall 'Miss Meadows' Takes Holmes Back to Her Roots Raw: Tesla Delivers First China Cars Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named Raw: Sinkhole Swallows Part of Fla. Yard David Moyes Out As Manchester United Manager Hagel Gets Preview of New High-tech Projects Hong Kong Residents Help Create Green Roofs Biden: Russia Must Stop Talking, Start Acting New Yorkers Celebrate Cherry Blossom Blooms Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener
NDN Video
Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Jenna Dewan-Tatum Strips Down Rise of the Milkbots TRENDING: Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice' on ‘Tonight Show’ Middle School heroes rescue students from burning bus WHOPPER OF FISHING STORY: Florida man catches massive Mako shark Maks Chmerkovskiy's "DWTS" Meltdown The many faces of Mike Woodson Ape Builds A Fire And Toasts Marshmallows In Amazing BBC Video Manchester Utd sack manager David Moyes "RHOA's" Dramatic Brawl High school, College Drug Ring Busted In Montgomery County High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Raw: Keflezighi, Jeptoo Win Boston Marathon Teen hitchhikes in wheel well of flight from California to Hawaii Lindsay Lohan's Jaw-Dropping Secret President Sends Message To Boston And Marathon Runners LA Pastor Attracts Churchgoers with Pot Lauren Stoner Shows Off Her Incredible Bikini Body

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010