Think traveling is tough?
Today's road trip wasn't so simple in 1821
Five years after Indiana gained statehood, then 17-year-old James Polke made the trip from his home in Vincennes to Fort Wayne. The journey was on horseback with his uncle, Judge William Polke, one of the delegates to the 1816 Indiana State Constitution convention. Their party included William Polke’s sister, Mrs. Christiana McCoy, and McCoy’s four small children. At the time, McCoy’s husband Elder Isaac McCoy was using the fort’s barracks for missionary work. Here is a portion of James’ words taken from his 1886 memoir:
“All the northern portion of Indiana was wilderness from Parke Co., Indiana on the waters of Raccoon Creek to Fort Wayne 150 miles distant. We were five days in this wilderness country — camping out of nights. We would put bells on our horses and hobble them of nights to feed on the wild pea vine and blue grass patches along the trace way. We traveled the Indian trace up the Wabash, by way of La-do-ga, old Thorntown on the head waters of the Sugar creek, crossing Wild-cat, Door and Pipe creeks to Massunaway (sic) at the old town…and crossing the Wabash River near the mouth of the Salamama (sic) near Lagro, thence up to the Forks of the river at Huntington, Roanoke to the portage, or dividing of the waters of the Wabash south and the waters of the Maumee of Lake Erie north.
“We arrived safely at the fort and found all alive, it be the time of the payment to the Indians of some $20,000 and other goods the Miamia and Putawatimes (sic) Indians. And here I saw the last grand rally of the Indians about 700 were encamped around the village of Fort Wayne.
“Benjamin Kirchval was the Indian Agent. He resided in the fort. The village consisted with a few log houses outside the fort and some cultivated lands. The Indian traders Ewings and Cooquelards (sic), [and others], had goods in log houses for the Indian trade.
“After a few days stay, my uncle, Judge William Polke and I returned. I had enjoyed a fishing party down the Maumee two or three miles – with the Indian boys in a large canoe with gigs; we took in some nice fish. Our journey through the wilderness afforded much to talk of for many years.”
A remarkable historical figure, William Polke, after the Battle of Fallen Timbers, went with General Anthony Wayne to the Three Rivers to help erect the fort. Wounded at the Battle of Tippecanoe, Polke survived to become a Knox County associate circuit court judge and serve as one of forty-three delegates to the Indiana Constitutional Convention. He became a state senator and in 1830 was appointed one of the commissioners to help construct the Michigan Road through northern Indiana. Selected to be a conductor of the Potawatomi peoples’ removal from their home in Indiana to Kansas, Polke was rumored to have been a caring supervisor. President William Henry Harrison appointed Polke to serve at Fort Wayne as register of the land office in 1841. Polke died two years later and is buried in Fort Wayne.
Reflecting on the 150-mile journey from Vincennes to Fort Wayne, which took five days camping in the wilderness overnight and cooking meals made over open fire, William Polke’s nephew James could not have known of our present-day automobile travel. Today, the time to drive from Fort Wayne to Vincennes following GPS-recommended highways is something over four hours. When it’s time to eat, there are restaurants at most exits and camping overnight generally is not necessary. If Polke could envision highway routes and travel accommodations of today — a trip that now takes less than five hours and not five days — would he even bother keeping a journal about a Vincennes-to-Fort Wayne trip?