News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Top Story 3

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.

Riverside

battlefield

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 mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Top Story 3
  • India Good Friday_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, April 18:

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine 10 Things to Know for Thursday, April 17

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

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Auto Show-Mustang 50t_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Wednesday, April 16

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

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • America 4 Boston Pray_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday, April 15

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

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Masters Golf 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 14:

    April 14, 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

  • jake owen.jpg Jake Owen coming to Hulman Center in September

    Nashville recording artists Jake Owen and the Eli Young Band will perform in concert Sept. 13 in Hulman Center at Terre Haute, according to the concert calendar website pollstar.com.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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

  • Rock and Roll Hall of_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, April 11:

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • China Jar of Clean Air 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 10:

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Philippines M_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 9:

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • waltmansmile Waltman remembered for integrity as much as coaching ability

    Royce Waltman — the coach who turned a 17-year drought of winning seasons into a NCAA Tournament-caliber program for Indiana State University men’s basketball — has died.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • 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

  • APTOPIX Obit Mickey R_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, April 7:

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 122213 BRETT POINT.jpg Prism of modern country on display at ACM Awards

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The new artist of the year category at the 2014 Academy of Country Music Awards is a primer in Modern Country 101 with three nominees who perfectly capture the genre’s 21st century sound: Brett Eldredge of Paris, Ill., Justin Moore of Arkansas and  Kip Moore of Nashville.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • TV-Letterman Retiring_Ter .jpg Letterman’s departure will reshape late-night

    NEW YORK (AP) — Jimmy Fallon’s fast start replacing Jay Leno on the “Tonight” show the past two months had a secondary effect: David Letterman suddenly seemed old.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Afghanistan Photograp_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, April 4:

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Chile Earthquake_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, April 3:

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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

  • CORRECTION General Mo_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 2:

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Casey's CEO Bob Myers.JPG UPDATE: Casey’s investing $30M in new distribution center

    Casey’s General Stores will locate a new distribution center in Vigo County, creating up to 185 new jobs by 2019.

    April 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Venezuela Rationing_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 1:

    April 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Australia Missing Pla_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, March 31:

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • China Malaysia Plane_Morg.jpg 10 things to know for Friday

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

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Colts Owner Arrested _Ter .jpg Police: Colts owner had $29K in cash when arrested

    CARMEL, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had $29,000 in cash and bottles of prescription drugs in his vehicle when he was arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving, according to a police arrest report.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Davies, Chris.jpg CHRIS DAVIES: Important cornerstones to fitness and longevity

    Weight loss secrets they don’t want you to know about: genius marketing. Fraudulent? Yes. Genius, nonetheless. Look at the droves of people who were betting their weight loss hopes on a quick fix. It happens all the time.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Vatican Pope 10 Things to Know for Thursday

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

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Australia Malaysia 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, March 26:

    March 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Nabors at Indy 500.jpg Nabors to sing ‘Indiana’ one last time at IMS

    INDIANAPOLIS — Beloved actor-entertainer and legendary Indianapolis 500 icon Jim Nabors will sing “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the final time prior to the start of the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25. Watch YouTube Video

    March 25, 2014 1 Photo

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Obamas Attend Easter Service Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Crowds Rally at '420' Celebration in Denver New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Transcript Reveals Confusion in Ferry Evacuation Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

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

activity