Along the Heritage Trail

All about ‘Aboite’

The battle, or fish story, behind the name

By Tom Castaldi
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 that the term “Aboite” refers to the 1780 battle between the Indians and French soldiers led by Lt. Col. August Mottin de LaBalme. Further, he wrote, the name “Aboite” comes from a corruption of the French word abattoir, meaning “slaughterhouse.”

Other historians attribute the word “Aboite” as developed from the French a Bouette, for “river of minnows;” or boit, which 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 there might be something else behind the name.

Was this place the site of LaBalme’s “Waterloo,” a marshy area with a lot of aquatic life or both? 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 Frenchman, 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.”

Jean Baptiste Bruno, a French trader who experienced the raid, said the troops took the place without resistance. 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.”

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. He also said 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.”

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.

Tom Castaldi

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, a retired Essex vice president, hosts "On the Heritage Trail," which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and "Historia Nostra" heard on WLYV-1450 AM.

Posted: Thu, 06/14/2012 - 1:33 pm
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:45 pm