The River, Road & Rails

As you read the following lesson plan and complete the study questions and activities, we hope you will be excited to learn more about the people, places, and events that led to the settlement and growth of our community.


As young citizens of Terre Haute and Vigo County, it will one day be up to you to take on the future of our fine city. We believe the more you know about this community, the more you can take pride in where you live.

Settling the Crossroads of America

The River, the Road, the Rails – do you know how important they were to our history? Without the Wabash River, the National Road and the Railroads, Terre Haute probably wouldn’t be the fine city it is today…as a matter of fact, it might not exist at all. Let’s take a journey back in time and visit some special moments in Terre Haute and Vigo County history.

Long before Terre Haute was a city there was only wilderness and prairie land and a beautiful river flowing through that land. The land was good and plentiful. It was the perfect spot for the Wea tribe of the Miami Nation to build their huts upon its banks. They called the river “Wabashiki” (WAH-BAH-SHEE-KEE), a Miami word describing anything that is “pure or bright white and natural”. It was used to describe the Wabash River because of the limestone bed in the upper part of the stream.

French explorers found the Wea Villages. They named the area beside the river “Terre Haute”, a French word for “Highlands.” Early settlers preferred to build their towns on high ground that was not likely to flood. That is why many pioneers moved their families here and lived in peace beside the Wea tribes.

General William Henry Harrison was commissioned as a soldier by President George Washington to serve on the Western frontier. At that time, in the late 1700’s the Western frontier included a territory known as Indiana. It was William Henry Harrison’s duty to open up more of Indiana land for settlement, but this needed the consent of the various tribes living in this area. While some Indian tribes were peaceful, others wanted to stop the white settlement in this territory.

General Harrison met with the chief of the Shawnee tribe, Tecumseh, but they were unable to reach a peaceful agreement. In 1811 he was ordered to take troops up the Wabash near Terre Haute and build a fort for supplies and protection. The fort was named Fort Harrison.


Questions for Lesson - 1

  1. In 1811, William Henry Harrison was in charge of building Fort Harrison. What important job did he later hold?

  2. Early French traders and explorers were responsible for naming the area along the Wabash River which would become our city of Terre Haute. What is the English translation for Terre Haute?

  3. Look at the map (link to map) of the Wabash River. Where does it begin? Where does it end?

Lesson - 1

William Henry Harrison


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History Center of Vigo County

929 Wabash Avenue     Terre Haute, IN 47807     812-235-9717