Tag Archives: Buffalo Trace

Take a ride on the Sauk Trail

I enjoy driving across the Sauk Trail where it crossed Indiana through Dyer, Merrillville, Valparaiso, Westville, LaPorte, and New Carlisle. This was something I’ve wanted to cross off my bucket list for a couple of years.

Lincoln Highway Kiosk
Lincoln Highway Kiosk
In New Carlisle

For some time, I’ve been interested in the trails used by the Indians in Indiana. The Buffalo Trace in southern Indiana and the Sauk Trail in the northwest corner are the most well known. I find it particularly interesting that buffalo and deer first used these trails, followed by Indians on foot, fur traders, and finally by settlers in wagons from the east.

The Sauk Trail ran from Rock Island, Illinois, through northwestern Indiana, up across southern Michigan to Detroit. The Indiana portion today follows the early route of the Lincoln Highway. With this in mind, we gathered up our maps and other resources to use roadside archaeology to get some idea of where early Indians traversed our state.

Geographically in Indiana, the Sauk Trail follows where the prairie meets the eastern deciduous and northern conifer forests at the southern end of Lake Michigan. For centuries, Indians traveled along paths in single file until they had beaten a narrow trail into the soil. They went around hills, lakes, swamps, and thick underbrush. Thus, an original trail was quite crooked. Later, when surveyors were laying out the United States Road from Detroit to Chicago, an early successor to the Sauk Trail, some of this crookedness was straightened out. Again, when the original Lincoln Highway was platted through the area, the trail’s direction received further smoothing.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I enjoy touring on Indiana’s two-lane highways. The western part of the original Lincoln Highway in Indiana provides a realistic impression of the Sauk Trail of yesteryear. If you want an in-depth look at this section of the Lincoln Highway, I invite you to visit the Lincoln Highway Association website.

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.

Driving Indiana

Do you enjoy travelling on Indiana’s backroads? I do and suggest a book that should aid in planning your excursions around the Hoosier state. Scenic Driving Indiana provides in-depth looks at 28 drives in all areas of the state. Author Douglas Wissing describes the physiographic features and history of the regions to weave you through the journey. Here are three examples.

Scenic Driving Indiana

Drive 1: The River to River Scenic Drive follows Indiana Highway 150, the historic path formed by the buffalo herds’ migrations across Indiana from the Illinois prairie to the Falls of the Ohio at today’s Falls Cities, where they crossed in low water to the Kentucky salt licks. The Buffalo Trace was the first natural highway in the region, beaten six feet deep into the earth in some places. History abounds in many places along this route in places like Vincennes, Fredericksburg, Greentown, and Clarksville. I enjoy driving along the Trace and imagining travel in the frontier days.

Drive 10: I like to take this route, Columbus to Bloomington along Indiana Highway 46, most any time of the year. The route goes through Gnaw Bone, Nashville, and Belmont as it traverses south central Indiana’s hills. In addition to the architectural and historical highlights, country charm and art are the draws along this tour. The stretch from Gnaw Bone to Nashville slows down in season. The T. C. Steele State Historic Site is just south of Belmont. Steele was one of Indiana’s most beloved painters.

Drive 20: Sugar Creek from Thorntown through Shades and Turkey Run State Parks is one I plan to take in the near future. The drive begins in Thorntown on Indiana Highway 47 where the confluence of Sugar and Pine Creeks provided exceptional hunting grounds for the Miami Indians. Further west in Montgomery County the flat prairie gives way to the heavily forested areas as you proceed southwest. In Darlington, the Toll Gate House on Main Street served in the 1880s as a gatehouse for the corduroy toll road made of felled timbers laid across the road providing a bumpy ride. Crawfordsville serves up many architectural highlights, including the buildings at Wabash College, the Lew Wallace Library and Ben Hur Museum, and the Old Rotary Jail Museum. The drive proceeds further southwest to Shades and Turkey Run state parks, which are both popular destinations.

Douglas Wissing’s knowledge and research produced a resource that sparks an interest in touring across Indiana. My copy of the book is well annotated for my next scenic drive in Indiana.

Peruse Scenic Driving Indiana at Amazon.com