Original publish date: October 25, 2018
George Pogue, a 54-year-old Carolina blacksmith, had no idea he was making history when, on March 2, 1819, he settled on a hill overlooking a stream that connected to the White River a short distance away. George had simply followed a trail blazed by Native American Indians and wildlife through the wilderness made long before him. Pogue is widely regarded as the first white settler in Indianapolis and that trail he followed is now known as Brookville Road. As more and more white settlers arrived in the area in the months to follow, the shallow waterway became known as “Pogue’s Run.” Pogue migrated to the area now known as the eastside of Indianapolis from Connersville. The cabin he built for his family of seven sat roughly where Michigan Street crossed Pogue’s Run. The waterway that bears his name is as mysterious as the man himself.
Some historians argue that Pogue simply moved into an existing cabin that had been built and briefly occupied by Newton “Ute” Perkins. Others claim that John Wesley McCormick accompanied Pogue to Indianapolis from Connersville and deserves to be mentioned as the first settler in the Capitol city. But Perkins moved to Rushville “on account of loneliness” and McCormick settled near Bloomington where he later had a popular state park named in his honor. But for this historian, George Pogue is the man. Why? Because one day, George Pogue simply vanished from the face of the earth.
Whether Pogue was the first white man to settle here or not, he was certainly the first white man to die here. According to one contemporary account, George Pogue was a large, broad shouldered, stout man with dark hair, eyes, and complexion. His appearance was that of a Pennsylvania Dutchman; colorless, functional clothing with no ornamentation, a broad brimmed felt hat and a mustache-less beard stretching from ear-to-ear. One look at George Pogue would make anyone think twice about challenging him. He was one of the few in the area unafraid of the indigenous Delaware warriors that roamed the woods encircling them. After all, Pogue was one of the first to leave the comfort and safety of Fort Connersville in search of new lands to settle.
One evening at twilight, an Indian brave known as “Wyandotte John”, stopped at the Pogue family cabin asking for food and shelter for the night. Although wary of the request, some of Pogue’s horses had been recently stolen and he was determined to track down the thieves. The Indian had a bad reputation and the rumor was that he had been banished from his own tribe in Ohio for some unknown offense and was now wandering aimlessly among the various Indiana tribes in the area. Wyandotte John had spent the previous winter living rough, but comfortably, in a hollowed out sycamore log perched under a bluff just east of the area that, a decade later, would become the spot where the National Road bridge crossed the White River. On the inside of the log he had fashioned hooks by cutting forks from tree limbs, on which he rested his gun. At the open end of the log near the waterline he built his fire, which kept the wildlife away while heating the enclosure at the same time.
After Wyandotte John was fed, Pogue, aware that his guest was known to travel from one Indian camp to another, asked him if he had seen any “white man’s horses” at any of the camps. The Indian Brave said he had left a camp of Delaware’s that morning about twelve miles east at a settlement on nearby Buck Creek (Near present day Southeastern Avenue) where he had seen horses with “iron hoofs” indicating that they had been shod. Wyandotte John’s description of the horses led the blacksmith to believe they were his missing mounts. However, George Pogue was nobody’s fool. He began to think that Wyandotte John had described the horses so accurately that it might be a ploy to lure the blacksmith into the woods. He shared his suspicions to his family who begged him to let the matter go. George Pogue was not that kind of man.
When the Indian left the next morning, Pogue grabbed his gun and his dog and followed as Wyandotte John walked towards the river and the pioneer settlement. Pogue followed for some distance waiting for the Indian to turn towards the native camps, but the Indian kept walking towards the white settlers. The two men disappeared over a rise and George Pogue was never seen or heard from again. The settlers formed a company of armed men to search all the Indian camps within fifty miles of the settlement looking for some trace of Pogue, but his fate remains a mystery to this day. The conclusion is that he was killed by Indians. Locals claimed to have seen his horse and several of his possessions in the hands of local tribes. The dog was purportedly killed, cooked and eaten.
Pogue’s Run occupies a strange place in our city’s history. The creek almost continuously alternating between the pride and the pest of the city. Starting as a large reed-choked puddle of water resting between a railroad track and a construction business near the intersection of Ritter and Massachusetts on the eastside of Indianapolis, Pogue’s Run meanders 11 miles through, alongside and at times beneath downtown streets and under some of our most famous buildings. And like old George Pogue, many lifelong Hoosiers have no clue about it.
As every Circle City student knows, Indianapolis was laid out in 1815 by Alexander Ralston, an assistant to French architect Pierre L’Enfant, the man who designed Washington D.C. Ralston chose to design the city in a grid pattern, similar to the District of Columbia. There was just one problem; Pogue’s Run. The swampy little creek named after the ghost of an enigmatic city pioneer, called a “source of pestilence” because of all the mosquitoes it attracted, disturbed the orderliness of Ralston’s master plan and required him to make contingencies for it.
Soon the decision was made to move the state capitol from Corydon to Indianapolis (then known as the “Fall Creek Settlement” an area sparsely populated by fur traders) but not before the state government paid a local $ 50 (roughly $ 750 today) to rid Pogue’s Run of the nuisance mosquitoes. Pogue’s Run was too small to be a canal, too unreliable to be an aqueduct and too big to be a latrine. Ralston had no choice but to incorporate the twists and turns of the wayward wandering waterway into his master grid plan. Pogue’s Run cut diagonally southwest through the original plat of Indianapolis, necessitating changes in the original layout of streets. Starting near what is now 34th Street and Arlington Avenue, it crosses Washington Street (the National Road) and drops below downtown Indianapolis before joining White River.
Since much of Pogue’s Run downtown path was diverted underground via hidden tunnels, it is hard for us to imagine today what it must have looked like to the eyes of Indianapolis’ earliest residents. However, the atmosphere of the original waterway was perhaps best captured in an 1840 painting by Jacob Cox. Titled “Pogue’s Run, The Swimming Hole”, this tranquil and pastoral landscape depicts a pair of cows drinking from a stream under a bridge where Pogue’s Run crosses Meridian Street. The image presents a realistic portrayal of the location as it appeared before it became the site where Union Station (which was originally built on pylons over Pogue’s Run) rests today . Although relatively unknown by today’s Circle City denizens, Antebellum Pogue’s Run was the subject of many works of art and poetry by our forefathers.
Today, as the waterway runs south it most closely resembles its original creek form as it winds through a housing development fronting Massachusetts Avenue and continues through Brookside Park. Skirting the south edge of the Cottage Home neighborhood, between 10th and New York Streets , it disappears into an underground aqueduct. It continues flowing under Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, and empties into the White River at 1900 S. West St. near Kentucky Avenue.
Some Eastsiders (like my dad who went to Tech and was born and raised on Oriental Avenue) recalled Pogue’s Run as a tributary stream (he called it a storm sewer) that originally started near the old RCA plant north of Michigan Street, headed south through the Michigan / Rural Street intersection near Rupp’s subdivision & Lange’s nursery, down to East New York Street and Beville Avenue before veering off through the State Women’s Prison before following the Sturm Esplanade and entering Noble’s Subdivision. My dad went to junior high school in the old arsenal building on the Tech campus in the 1950s. He remembered playing football outside at recess after lunch on the southern end of the campus near a brick arch at the campus boundary. He claimed that arch was the spot where the Crooked Run tributary entered an underground pipe to join up with Pogue’s Run.
I grew up near the left-hand tributary of Pogue’s Run known as Brookside Creek just east of Sherman Drive north of 16th Street near Brookside Park. There, the creek still flows above ground. So as a child, I could easily conjure up images of wild animals, Native American Indians and buckskin clad pioneers roaming the ancient waterway. The spirit of the spectral pioneer waterway occasionally bubbled up to the surface within the concrete jungle of modern day Indianapolis.
When Union Station was refurbished in the mid-1980s, the original architectural drawings didn’t reflect the creek running underneath the station’s sub-basement. It had been a typical rainy season in the Circle City. As the construction crew dug deeper, the heavy equipment caused the floor to cave in and water came pouring into the work area like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure. The subterranean work crew barely escaped before the waters from Pogue’s Run filled the area. It can be assumed that the mistakes were not replicated when Lucas Oil & the Fieldhouse were excavated above Pogue’s Run.
For my part, I can remember sneaking into the massive mysterious concrete tunnels built to accommodate Pogue’s Run. Historically, most of them were created in 1915 with near continuous updates every decade or so since. There are some great photographs available on the net of that 1915 excavation (particularly underneath Meridian Street) for the Pogue’s Run tunnels that are well worth looking up. My memories revolve around massive oval shaped tubes that could easily accommodate the height of an average sized man. In spots, the tunnels were filled with ankle deep water (at least I told myself it was water) that could mostly be avoided by using a hybrid crab walk posture, but many areas of the tunnels were bone dry.
What I remember most was the darkness. I’m talking pitch darkness. You might enter thinking a match, candle or lighter would suffice, but you quickly availed yourself of that notion and returned later armed with a trusty flashlight. Inside the tunnels, you were greeted by the remains of civilization: shopping carts, empty beer cans, mattresses, graffiti of every imaginable type, discarded clothing and the sounds of scurrying little animals that you could never quite seem to fix your flashlight beam on. No matter how many times you ventured down there, you never really knew where you were. The scariest moment always came whenever a large truck drove over one of the many manhole covers above your head. It sounded like the scream of a Banshee from Irish mythology to me and I must confess that it drove me out of the tunnels in panic on more than one occasion.
As a kid, I imagined the mattresses were placed down there by make out artists who brought their girls down there for some “alone time” and that the clothing and beer cans were remnants left by teenagers having fun. The graffiti was their way of marking the scene of their glorious triumph. I could never figure out how the shopping carts got there. But now, as an adult, I realize that it is far more likely that the refuse I inadvertently stumbled across was more likely left by those less fortunate Hoosiers among us who descended into the underground tunnels in search of a warmer place to spend the night. If so, I’d like to think that the Pogue’s Run homeless might have a patron saint that protects them down there. A bearded former blacksmith with arms like Popeye dressed in clothing from a long time ago named George Pogue.
Next Week…Part II…The Ghost of old George Pogue.