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The Wabash River is a -long river in the Midwestern United Statesmarker that flows southwest from northwest Ohiomarker near Fort Recovery, Ohiomarker across northern Indianamarker to Illinoismarker where it forms the southern Illinois-Indiana border before draining into the Ohio River, of which it is the largest northern tributary. From the dam near Huntingtonmarker to its terminus at the Ohio River, the Wabash flows freely for which makes it the longest stretch of free-flowing river in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

The Wabash is the state river of Indiana, and subject of the state song, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" by Paul Dresser.


When the Wisconsin Glacier melted 14,000 years ago, part of the meltwaters formed the proglacial Lake Maumee, the ancestor to Lake Eriemarker. Eventually the meltwaters overtopped a glacial moraine located near Fort Wayne, Indianamarker, and catastrophically drained southwestward in the Maumee Torrent. The torrent carved the wide alluvial valley that the Wabash flows through today.

The name "Wabash" is an English spelling of the French name for the river, "Ouabache." French traders named the river after the Miami Indian word for the river, waapaahšiiki, meaning "it shines white". The Miami name reflected the clarity of the river in Huntington County, Indianamarker where the river bottom is limestone. This is a historical oddity since today the river bottom is no longer visible due to water pollution and agricultural siltation.

The Wabash was mapped and named by French explorers to the Mississippi, including the sections now known as the Ohio River Although the Wabash is today considered a tributary of the Ohio, it was considered the other way around until the mid-18th century. This is because the French traders traveled North and South from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Ohio River was not considered an important trade route until France and Great Britain began fighting for control over it, sparking the French and Indian War.. For 200 years, from the mid-1600s into the 1800s, the Wabash was a major trading route, linking Canadamarker, Quebecmarker and the Great Lakesmarker to the Mississippi River and Louisiana.

Three notable battles in U.S. history: the Battle of Vincennes (1779), St. Clair's Defeatmarker (1791) and the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811), were fought near the Wabash; the last two have each been referred to as the "Battle of the Wabash".

A remnant of the old-growth forests that once bordered the Wabash can be found at Beall Woods State Parkmarker, near Mount Carmel, Illinoismarker.

In the 1800s, the Wabash and Erie Canal, one of the longest canals in the world, was built.

On July 2, 2008, it was reported that after heavy flooding over the previous several weeks the river had cut a new channel. This cut-off created a new island at Mackeys Bend. This is now the largest island on the Wabash River. Detailed information about this historic event can be found at

Major tributaries

The major tributaries of the Wabash River include:


The Wabash River is regulated by a dam operated by the Army Corps of Engineers near Huntington, Indiana. The dam creates J. Edward Roush Lake, and the surrounding property makes up the J. Edward Roush State Park. During its development, fluid mechanics students were given this problem to tackle the forces the dam would need to sustain: A dam is to be constructed across the Wabash River using the cross-section shown. Assume the dam width is w = 50 m. For water height H = 2.5 m, calculate the magnitude and line of action of the vertical force of water on the dam face. Is it possible for water forces to overturn this dam? Under what circumstances?

Other dams used when the river carried commercial traffic in the early 20th century have since been destroyed.

Cities and towns along the Wabash




See also

Further reading

Arthur Benke & Colbert Cushing, "Rivers of North America". Elsevier Academic Press, 2005 ISBN 0-12-088253-1

Rhodes, Captain Rick, "The Ohio River --In American History and Voyaging on Today's River" has a section on the Wabash River, 2007, ISBN 978-09665866-33

Notes and References

  1. Bright, pg. 537
  2. Law, 10.
  3. Derleth, 2
  4. Click here to see a detail of a French map, dated 1718, showing the Ohio River as a tributary of the Wabash.
  5. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - J. Edward Roush Lake
  • Bright, William Native American Placenames of the United States. 2004. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Law, Judge Colonial History of Vincennes 1858. Harvey, Mason & Co.

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