Source: THE RIVERS OF INDIANA, by Richard Simons (Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 14-17:
The Indians called the river Ke-na-po-co-mo-co, which in the Miami tongue means “snake fish,” and so the first settlers translated the name to Eel, by which it has been known ever since. This quiet, picturesque northern Indiana stream could more properly be called the embattled Eel, for more warfare raged along its banks than on any similar-sized stream in Indiana. …
Rising as an insignificant ditch in a flat, barren swampy area in northern Allen County, two and a half miles southeast of Huntertown, the Eel strikes out westward toward its rendezvous with the Wabash, 110 miles away. Almost immediately it begins to cut a shallow but noticeable valley, threading its way through miles of rich, black farmland. Gradually it becomes a forest stream rippling between tree-bordered banks and in the early days providing water power for numerous grist mills.
Long before the white man drained its swamps and put its water power to work, the Potawatomi, an upper Great Lakes tribe related to the Ojibwa of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, had swept into Indiana pushing the Miami southward to the Eel. Here the Miami dug in and held fast. They halted the Potawatomi at the north bank and the stream became the uneasy boundary between these powerful nations.
…Although the Eel skirts a moraine throughout its course, the valley deepens appreciably only below North Manchester, where bluffs sometimes reach seventy-five feet. Geologically it is a young valley and bottomlands are few. Its waters drain from less than 800 square miles and are regulated by the flow from several lakes so that flooding is minimized.
Mills were numerous below South Whitley and several dams remain to impound the water and add placidity to the longtime turbulence of the valley. Stockdale Mill below Roann was one of the state’s last operating water-powered mills. Covered bridges, at North Manchester and Roann, add a rustic touch.
Since the valley is fairly straight, it was a natural rail route and by 1873 trains were puffing their way regularly between Logansport and Butler on the Eel River Railroad. Six years later it was leased to the Wabash Railroad, which soon converted it from a local farm-to-market line into the middle link of a vast transcontinental system. Fourteen passenger trains daily steamed the length of the valley, including a luxury train, the Continental Limited, which connected St. Louis and New York City.