News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

September 1, 2009

Terre Haute's Top 40: From a trickle in Ohio to the Valley’s signature waterway, the Wabash River is forever a part of Terre Haute

Editor's Note: Terre Haute’s Top 40, a series of stories on people, places and things that are unique or special to Terre Haute, originally was published in the Tribune-Star in 2005. The newspaper is brushing up that list with five new entries. The spotlight today, Aug. 30, focuses on the Wabash River. The final spotlight will be published Sunday, Sept. 6.

TERRE HAUTE — The Miami Indians called it Wabashike (pronounced Wah-bah-she-keh), the word for “pure white.”

French traders named it Ouabache.

Pioneer settlers translated the French word to the English spelling, Wabash, the name the river carries today.

From Huntington to the Ohio River, the Wabash River freeflows about 475 miles, making it the longest stretch of freeflowing river east of the Mississippi.

According to information detailed by river historian and author Jerry Hay, the actual root of the Wabash River begins as a trickle under some rocks at a turkey farm near Fort Recovery, Ohio. Once outside the Buckeye State, the Wabash River passes through 18 Hoosier counties and serves as the dividing line between Indiana and Illinois near Terre Haute before ending up in the Ohio River.

Looking back

As Vigo County historian Mike McCormick points out, the river’s accessibility was as important to the French and American settlers as it had been to the Native Americans.

“A lot of people forget that the Wabash River was navigable for eight to nine months a year,” he said of the stretch near modern Terre Haute. This was in contrast to other rivers farther north.

The river’s line served as the unofficial boundary between the French provinces of Canada and Louisiana during the 1700s, and it was during this time that its higher east banks came to be known as Terre Haute of the Wabash, meaning “highlands of the Wabash.”

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