Source: NMHS Newsletter, February 1991

The Indians Called It Kenapocomoco  
By L.Z Bunker, M.D. Ret.

The Indians called it Kenapocomoco.  The French called it l’Anguille [an.’ghee], the Eel which is what the English and Americans called it.

One of the several rivers that drain south from the Continental Divide, the Eel begins in Allen County, Indiana, five miles south of Avilla and about five miles west of I-69 near the forgotten town of Ari.

The Indiana School Geography for 1914 states that “the Eel River rises from a great spring near Ari, Allen County, Indiana.”  The author visited the area in the early 1950’s and, alas, the “great spring” was nowhere to be found, and the river had its beginning in a large wetland with numerous grasses, cattails, watercress, arrowhead in the deeper reaches, a remote and murky place!  Large areas of land were not cultivated, and it seemed very remote indeed.

The river assumes the proportions of a creek and moves along southeast of Columbia City where it is fed by Blue River.  By South Whitley it has the proportions of a river and is spanned by a large cement bridge.  The river continues southwest through Collamer, Liberty Mills, North Manchester, Laketon, Ijamsville, Roann, Stockdale, Chili, Mexico, Adamsboro, and Logansport where it joins the Wabash.

The earliest history of Eel River comes from the geologists who tell us its basin represents a drainage area from the last glacier about 10,000 years ago.  This great ice sheet extended from the Atlantic seaboard to northern Kansas from Hudson’s Bay to Brown County, Indiana, in its midsection.  In some places it was two miles thick and carried the rocks that we find in glacial drifts.  One of these is in the riverbed south of Liberty Mills.

As the wetlands and eventually the river formed, mastodons roamed along it.  Prehistoric Indians lived near it, and then the historic Indian tribes, the Pottawatomies to the north and Miamis on the south.

Our first maps of the area were made by the French who were in the area as early as 1662-1667 and following.  By 1678 and into the 1700’s the French, explorers and missionaries, followed by coureurs du bois and the voyageurs, traversed this country.  The Eel River is marked on the earliest maps as l’Anguille, the Eel or Snake Fish which the Indians called it –Kenapocomoco.

This was beaver country, and the French hunted steadily as well as deer, otter, and mink.  The hides were removed by canoe to Detroit, then to Montreal and Quebec.  There was no birch to make canoes here, so, unless canoes were brought in, transport was by the Indian log canoe, the piroque, made from 20-foot logs.  The interior was burned and hacked out and with a shaped bow.  Three or four men could paddle these as in a lighter craft and were said to have made 110 miles per day on the river.

All the rivers were wider and deeper than we know them.  There was no drainage of the land, and the great stand of timber, reaching from the east bank of the Tippecanoe River to the Atlantic seaboard, held water in the ground.  As late as 1836 when North Manchester was settled, Eel River was 130 feet wide and 10 to 15 feet deep.  Now in the summer it is reduced to “a mere trickle.”

The English and Americans became involved in the fur trade and came into the area by 1750 or so, but there was no effort at colonization except in infrequent instances.  A few French people lived in and around the French fort in Fort Wayne in 1750.  Only after the Treaty of Greenville (Ohio) did Americans begin to venture into the area of Eel River and then slowly.  Collamer in Whitley County was settled in 1834, South Whitley 1835-1836, and North Manchester in 1836.  Settled a little earlier was Logansport where the river joins the Wabash which, of course, was navigable southwest to Lafayette and beyond to the Ohio and Mississippi.

Fords, Pontoons, and Covered Bridges
When the pioneers came, they needed to cross the rivers which they first did at natural fords.  There is a record of barrels being moved across the Eel River by a rope trolley.  Later pontoon bridges were used and finally the “rude bridge that arched the flood,” the covered bridge.  There were covered bridges at Liberty Mills, North Manchester, Laketon, and Roann.  There were grist mills at South Whitley, Collamer, North Manchester, Roann, Stockdale, Mexico, and Logansport.

In early times the river teemed with eels, hard and soft shelled turtles, bass, catfish, small panfrish, and three foot carp, which only the German settlers ate.

Great stands of timber covered the land along the Eel River and this gradually was cut and shipped away, much of it as hardwood building material and manufactured wagon parts, barrels and cooperage, tool handles, etc.  The last tool handles in the area were made of hickory as late as 1923.  Four to six-foot stumps of the early timber could be seen in old woods as late as 1915 or so. 

Canoeing is popular on Eel River now, and we hear reports of large cottonwood and sycamore trees, but the great yellow poplars, oak, and beech are no more.  The land is cut over and drained until the once formidable stream, supplying the homeland of the Pottawatomies and Miamis, is reduced to an indifferent flow.


Source: NMHS Newsletter, May 1991

The River in Art and Life  The Indians Called It “Kenapocomoco”---Conclusion 
By L.Z. Bunker, M.D. Ret.

The Eel River, the Kenapocomoco of the Miami and Pottawatomie Indians, is featured in song and story and the graphic arts.  It continues to provide inspiration in the various media.

Mrs. George Beauchamp wrote the locally popular “On the Kenapocomoco” when her husband was professor at Manchester College.  James Whitcomb Riley enjoyed and recorded the rural beauty of this area when he came to visit his mother’s relatives, the Marine and Wallace families, on South Mill Street in North Manchester near the river.

Otho Winger and Lawrence W. Shultz wrote many tales of the area, and it was recorded by photographers, J.J. Martin, A.F. Rice, Lozier Rice, Kenneth Werking, and many talented amateurs.  The covered bridge is probably one of the most photographed places in North Manchester.

Indeed, just recently as of March 10, 1991, an excellent color video presentation of the Eel River, was prepared by Prof. James R.C. Adams, a Riverside resident.  It was used to illustrate Smetana’s musical tone poem, “The Moldau,” played in concert that day by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra.  The film showed our river’s beauty in all seasons of the year.

The first inhabitants of the river basin were the mound builders, of whose beginnings and end we know nothing.  They were contemporary with the Spanish 1500’s explorations of mid-America which did not extend this far north.

We do know that the country was milder and wetter than it is today, that wild parrots migrated here in droves and that the great forests arose as the country drained from the glaciers and cooled off.

The land bridge, connecting Siberia with the Canadian land mass, allowed the migration of what we know as red Indians who infiltrated well into this area over aeons of time.  The Stone Age people hunted with the atl-atl, a sling shot, but the Indians used the bow and arrow, also flints and stone knives, and innumerable hand tools that one can still find along stream beds.  The Eel River basin was fairly populous, though the Indian population for the whole country was considered to be only about a million at its peak.

New blood appeared when the French explorations began in the late 1600’s.  Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle, 1643-1687, was dedicated Jesuit priest but also an explorer who ranged through mid-America on numerous expeditions, discovering the Ohio River and was in the South Bend-Peoria area in 1679-1680.  There was no area where the French did not go.

A few years ago a large silver scapular in the form of the Cross of Lorraine was found in a tributary of Eel River near town.  It had the touchmarks of a Montreal silversmith and had doubtless been lost by some Indian chief converted by a Jesuit priest.  The English appeared in mid-America in 1750, but much of the country was wilderness, and the first record of civilian ownership in this area is 1826.

The Indians had many legends.  One refers to the Eel as the “two-story river, “ which makes one wonder if they knew about the great underground river, the Teays, that rises in mid-Ohio and flows across Indiana at the edge of Wabash over LaFontaine and into mid-Illinois.  This river preceded the glacier.

When the pioneers came into this area in 1831, the Eel River was 130 feet wide and 10 to 15 feet deep.  It had a swift current and flooded a wide area on occasion.  Many wetlands extended beyond the river.   Fish and game were abundant.  A vast stand of timber reached to the Atlantic seaboard

No Indian ever cut a tree down with a stone ax, so oak, yellow poplar, maple and walnut abounded, often five or more feet on the stump.  Wild cherry, hickory, beech and other hardwoods were in great abundance.  Beginning with the pioneers opening up the country and the founding of towns on the Eel, flouring and saw mills sprang up and commerce was part of the new settlements.  The Stockdale mill below Roann is still standing.

A number of events was related to the river in this community and are presented chronologically:
  .1836 – Peter Ogan’s water-powered grist and saw mills, South Mill Street.
  .1837 – Harter interests buy flour mill and move it to Wabash Road.
  .1843 – Tannery on South Elm Street on the river.
  .1846-55 – Isaac Thorne’s half-mile racetrack along the river, Francis Cook farm.
  .1872 – Covered bridge build.
  .1888 – July 14.  Railroad bridge fell in while train was crossing.  A freight car of lime and oil set the river on fire.  Down-river current saved town from burning.
  .1890 – “May Eagle” excursion boat on Eel River.
  .1895 – Bridge on Market Street beside town hall.
  .1905 – Vandalia Iron Bridge built.
  .1913 – Legendary flood year.
  .1951 – Main Street Bridge build.
  . 1972 – 100th anniversary of Covered Bridge: the late Rev. James Overholt, teacher and pastor, delivered eloquent address, and newly reorganized civic band performed patriotic music for the occasion!
  .1979 – Ruth Price, member of the advisory board of the National Trust and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, in meeting with civic leaders and historical society, called the Eel River one of our most valuable resources and urged efforts to utilize the river to better advantage.

The river is no longer used for drainage.  No drownings have been reported for many years, thanks to the local community pool.  And, since the Town Forum process began analyzing Manchester’s resources and discussing the town’s future, a local committee is pursuing a plan to clean up the riverway for public use.