In 1717, the French selected the north bank of the Wabash, directly across from the Wea village, to build a fortified post to deter British settlement and facilitate fur trade. From 1720 to 1760, Fort Ouiatenon (wee-ah-tuh-gnaw) flourished. One visitor described it as “the finest palisaded fort in the upper country, consisting of a stockade and a double row of houses.”
A replica of the blockhouse was built in 1930 and is open to visitors on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m. May through September. Each year the site hosts the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, a re-enactment of the annual fall gathering that brought together French and Native Americans. (For more information, see www.tcha.mus.in.us/feast.htm).
After the Indians were pushed out in the 19th century, the Wabash continued to play a vital role. It was a major route west taken by pioneers. The Wabash-Erie Canal was built along it and gave farmers access to markets in the East until canals were made obsolete by railroads.
Except for 30 of its 500 miles, the Wabash is an Indiana river, forming 200 miles of boundary with Illinois.
Today the river offers water supply and recreational opportunities, but it can no longer be called pure white. Runoff from farmland has turned it muddy brown as it moves slowly but surely toward its confluence with the Ohio River below Mount Vernon.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com.