The Wabash River

If you’re heading East right on your right hand side is the Wabash River. Normally, we say rivers take forever to form. The Wabash River is an exception to that rule. The Wabash only took around a month to form during the last ice age. The river was cut very rapidly. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to kayak or canoe on the river, you’ll find it’s rather shallow in places. The name Wabash is derived from the Miami word waapaahshiiki siipiiwi – siipiiwi being the word for river, and waapaahshiiki meaning “it shines white” or as it’s often explained water over white rocks. The white rocks are the limestone bluffs and bottom of the river, particularly around Huntington, Indiana. The modern English rendering of “Wabash” is almost entirely due to the derivation from the French rendering of the Miami word, Ouabaché. It was not uncommon for the river to be called “Wabashee” well into the 1700s. The French and the Miami also understood the Wabash to be a much bigger river. By their reckoning, the Wabash River overtook the Ohio River at their confluence and thus the Ohio River stopped where it meets the Wabash. The English and thus today’s Americans cancel out the Wabash River in favor of the Ohio River. The river was filled with fish and freshwater mussels at one time. The fish were overfished – early pioneers claim it was entirely possible to fill a wheel barrow in an afternoon, the mussels were badly impacted by a boom in the pearl industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s that saw teams of people scouring all of the rivers in the Midwest for mussels. A local factory turned the excess shells into shirt buttons. 

2018001088.jpg

From the 1890s - children play in the Wabash River with the Wabash Street covered bridge in the background.

Support the Museum!