(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Jun 2012, closes. Apr 2012, No. 90)
The small stream in southwest Allen County that empties into the Little Wabash River holds the unusual name of the Aboite River. Thomas B. Helm wrote the term “Aboite” refers to the 1780 battle which took place between the Indians and French soldiers led by Lt. Col Augustin Mottin de LaBalme. Further he wrote that the name “Aboite” comes from a corruption of the French word abattoir meaning “slaughter house”.
Other historians attribute the word Aboite as developed from the French a Bouette for “river of minnows” or boit that refers to a box in which fish are kept. The two different derivations – a slaughter or a fish story – seem normal enough, however, they signal that perhaps there might be something else behind the name.
Was this place the site of LaBalme’s “Waterloo” or a marshy area with a lot of aquatic life or both? The venerable historian John B. Dillon described the LaBalme expedition, which started out from Kaskaskia with 20 or 30 men against British-held Detroit and came up the Wabash River from Vincennes. On the way they made what became an infamous stop at the British trading post Kekionga we now call Fort Wayne.
Eyewitnesses told Charles B. Lasselle about the incident and gave a much more graphic report which can be read in a 1964 History Center Old Fort News article. LaBalme, a Frenchmen, came with Lafayette in 1779 and landed in Kaskaskia with the assignment of raising an expedition to raid Kekionga and extend his operations against Detroit. While in Vincennes, he added a few volunteers and by the fall of 1780 LaBalme could count 50 to 60 men in his party. Coming up the Wabash and across the marsh portage, the expedition surprised Kekionga causing the inhabitants to flee the scene. Lasselle was quoted as saying, “After remaining a short time and plundering the goods of some of the French traders and Indians, he retreated to a place near the Aboite River and encamped.”
|Colonel Augustin Mottin de LaBalme. |
Read more about the LaBalme's defeat in 200@200 - Contention for th Confluence.
Jean Baptiste Bruno, a French trader, experienced the raid saying that the troops took the place without resistance and then, “About noon the enemy marched into the village. They numbered about sixty men, mostly Frenchmen and half-breeds, a dirty set of ragamuffins. Only a few had guns; the others were armed with knives and tomahawks. They ordered the British officer to take down the British flag. The order was promptly obeyed. They broke into the trading house of Antoine Beaubien…Here they found some whisky, of which they drank freely. …a large number of them had become drunk and quarrelsome…The commander, who was himself badly intoxicated, did not try to control his men.”
The invaders spent the night assaulting the community keeping “the village in a great uproar by their orgies and committing some infamous outrages upon the women of the place.” When the liquor ran out the raiders demanded whisky from Bruno who “never dealt in it. But of course they did not believe me.” Bruno told the raiders that he would give his keys to LaBalme, “…while the priest and I stood guard at the entrance...Soon he returned and reported that there was no liquor of any kind in the house.”
Bruno said that he spoke with LaBalme who claimed he had arrived from France two years prior and that he held a commission in the French army. Further that he had been authorized by the United States government. “This I subsequently learned was not true. He did not even have the sanction of Colonel Clark; he was an irresponsible adventurer.’
Finally, LaBalme and his raiders departed and Bruno wrote, “Reaching the Aboite River some twelve miles away, the marauders encamped for the night.” Exhausted, and while the invaders fell into deep sleep, they were attacked by Miami War Chief Little Turtle’s warriors, traders, and others whose families had been maltreated by them. As Bruno’s story concluded in his April 7, 1892 Indianapolis News report, “LaBalme and his entire command were put to death just where they had lain down to sleep.”
|Items found at the site of LaBalme's Defeat.|
These eyewitnesses and prominent historians such as Wallace Brice and Thomas B. Helm place the massacre along the Aboite River in western Allen County. However, it should be noted that there also is a tradition that places the event on the Eel River in Union Township, in Whitley County where weapons and human remains have been found. Wherever the bloody event occurred we know the LaBalme party got their comeuppance, and we in Allen County got our Aboite.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi © is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.