History of White River Township, Gibson County, Indiana
From: History of Gibson County, Indiana
BY Gil R. Stormont
B. F. Bowen & Co., Inc.
Indianapolis, Indiana 1914


This township is in the northern portion of the county. and when first organized contained all that part of the county north of the Patoka river. The present boundaries of the township are: On the north by White river, on the east by Washington township. on the south by Patoka and Montgomery townships and on the west by the Wabash and White rivers. The land. although broken in places, is very suitable for agriculture. all varieties of grain being raised in full quantities The Wabash. White and Patoka rivers both drain and water the land throughout. Heavy timber originally covered the township, but agriculture has compelled the clearing of nearly all of it.

The advantage of river operation caused several grist mills and sawmills to he built here in early times. The logs were floated to these mills from other parts of the township and county. and the lumber afterward loaded on flat boats and shipped down to Southern ports. Other mills were in the interior of the township The water in these rivers was at times very sluggish. and consequently frequent malarial trouble occurred among the settlers. In 1813 and 1814 there was a pestilence known as the "black plague." which resulted disastrously for the people of this portion of the county. It was equal to the cholera in its fatality. Wild game was plentiful in this portion and bears. panthers. wolves. wild cats. elk. deer and wild turkey were all hunted by the frontiersmen. Fish in the streams was a source of much of the meat supply. Potter's clay was found and was a source of great profit in early times.

The first grist mill constructed in White River township was of round logs and was built by Keen Fields. It was run by horse power and was provided with one set of buhrs. Each customer furnished his own power during those days and provided his own bolt. The first style of bolt was a box shaped invention, with straight handle and wire bottom, and was termed a "sarch." The ground grist was placed in this sarch and was pushed by hand back and forth across the top of an open trough. a hollowed log. which held the flour after being sifted out.

The town of Smithfield, now Patoka, probably had the first church and cemetery. The "Forty Gallon Baptists" held meetings here in log houses. John Severns, Sr., was one of the first settlers in this township, and was followed by such men as Gervas Hazelton, Keen Fields, Major David Robb, James Robb, Abraham Spain, B. K. Ashcraft, Joseph Milburn, John Milburn, David Milburn, Robert and William Milburn, Robert Mosely. Abraham Bruner, Patrick Payne. Charles Routt, the Gordons, John Adams, Joseph Adams, Samuel Adams, James Crow, Sr. and Jr., Andrew Cunningham, William Price, Eli Hawkins, Jonathan Gulick, John W. Grisam, Simon and Thomas Key, Thomas H. Martin, Armstead Bennett, William Hardy, Frederick Bruner, John Hyndman, William French, James Sproule, Robert and William Philips. Robert and Stephen Falls, C. and Joseph Hudspeth, John Robinson, James Favis, James Skidmore, Andrew Harvey, William Matdent, Stephen Lewis, Edmund Hogan.

Severns' ferry on the Patoka river was the first in the township. The second was on White river, where Hazelton is now located, and was called the Hazelton ferry. The first bridge in White River township was built in 1813 by Edward Hogan and Thomas Neely. It was a toll bridge, built of logs.

Azariah Ayres was the first blacksmith; John and Joseph Adams were the first merchants. Distilleries were scattered around on most of the farms. It was an universal custom among the settlers to manufacture apple and peach brandy.


The town of Patoka is three miles north of Princeton and twenty one miles south of Vincennes. It is located on sections 24 and 25, township south, range 10 west, on the Evansville & Terre Haute Railroad and the Patoka river. Patoka is an Indian name, and means "log on the bottom," applying to the many logs that had settled in the mud at the bottom of the Patoka river. The town, which was platted and recorded as early as 1813, was first called Smithfield, then Columbia, and then by its present name. There is no doubt that it is the oldest town of the county, many having lived there before it was platted. For years it was a stage station between Evansville, "Stringtown" and Vincennes.

Thomas H. Martin is believed to have been the first hotel keeper and minister in the town.

In the early eighties the following was written of Patoka:

"Patoka has a population of eight hundred and has seen better days. Distilleries first made her prosperous, then crooked whisky sheared her golden locks, nipped her pristine vigor, made her prematurely gray and hurled her on the down grade of the stream of time from which she is not likely to soon recover; and also this disgraced and bankrupted several of her own citizens and made criminals of other residents of the county, only a few of whom were made to feel the power of the law which they had violated. Whisky has ever been one of the staples of this town; two saloons are here now and the time was when merchants and hotels all kept it on sale. A business man here today says that on looking over his grandfather's old bills of purchase he found the average about thus: One barrel of molasses, two barrels of whisky, showing a double demand for the 'necessary tangle foot' over luxurious treacle. Patoka has three churches. Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist. The school facilities are excellent, having the graded system.

"The manufacturing interests of Patoka are represented by two steam saw mills, with a combined capacity of from three thousand five hundred to four thousand five hundred feet of lumber per day; one steam planing mill, capacity from three thousand to four thousand feet per clay; two flouring mills, one steam and one water, with a combined capacity one hundred barrels per day, and three blacksmith shops and three large wagon and carriage repair shops. The steam flouring mill has attachments for making the 'patent process' flour. The water mill has a combination of buhrs and rollers, being the 'gradual reduction process of making flour and is said to be the best system yet discovered."

In a great many respects the Patoka of today is very much different from the Patoka as described in the publication from which the foregoing is quoted. A great many of the business industries noted have disappeared, some of them for the town's betterment, but there are still a goodly number of substantial business men in the town and there has been a great improvement in the character and conduct of its citizens since the days of its unsavory record.

The following was written for the centennial issue of the Clarion News, in March, 1913, concerning this place:

"Patoka, the oldest town in Gibson county, was formerly called Smithville. The town was in existence a number of years prior to the organization of the county. In fact, when John Severns, the first white settler in Gibson county, settled, in 1789, on the south bank of the Patoka river, at a place now known as Severns' bridge, the town of Patoka sprang into being. Other settlers naturally followed the path made by Severns through the wilderness and when he pitched tent they did likewise. Severns was the recognized leader and explorer. His business was not that of founding towns and villages. He left this work to others and at this particular time, 1789, one John Smith conceived the idea of inducing the handful of settlers to join him in establishing a permanent village to be called Smithville.

"However, in 1813, when the town of Smithville was platted, the name was changed to Columbia, in honor of the discoverer of America.

"The records concerning this remarkable town shed no light as to the causes which contributed to the desire to change the name of Smithville for that of Columbia, nor why at the last moment the name of Patoka was finally agreed upon as having more charm than either Smithville or Columbia. All we know is that the oldest inhabitant of the county cannot remember when Patoka was known by any other name than Patoka. And this same Patoka might have been the first if not the only county seat of Gibson county had not a 'black plague swooped down upon it in 1813-14 and carried off many of its citizens. The epidemic appeared about the same time steps were taken to organize the county and when Patoka manifested a strong inclination to bid for county seat honors. However, the 'black plague' wrought such havoc as to completely preclude anything Of this sort. Patoka was a long time recovering from her serious losses. Despite this hindrance. Patoka became an important and probably the principal stage line station between Vincennes and Evansville. This line carried many passengers in its day and Patoka gained much prestige and fame as the result of being the only relay station along the route. And in the days of early steamboating Patoka became a town of much note. Patoka river, though not now a navigable stream, was at an early day the scene of much traffic by boats of small tonnage, especially during high waters which made it possible for boats to run up as far as the town of Patoka. Two small boats were built on the river above Patoka, one for steam trade, the other for moving flats and barges. They operated several years. This river traffic, although quite limited, brought the town into renown among river men far and wide.

"The portion of the land near Patoka was divided by the general government into Militia Donations, locations and surveys. These surveys were made between the years 1794 and 1802. Buckingham, a surveyor in 1804, in his field notes running certain boundaries, states that the blazes and marls on the trees indicated that the last locations were made about two years previously. These donations were originally made to a company of one hundred and twenty eight militiamen, of a hundred acres each to a man and were laid off in lots of a hundred acres. These lands were given for services rendered in the Indian wars. The persons who received the warrants were allowed to either locate or dispose of the same.

"Patoka being the oldest town in the county, was, as a matter of course, first in everything pertaining to the needs and requirements of an advancing civilization, such as schools, churches, mills, etc. The first grist mill was erected near Patoka by Keen Fields. The first school house in Gibson county was built in Patoka in 1815 and for several years was used as a house of worship. The first minister to preach there was Rev. Thomas Martin, of the Baptist faith, and it is claimed by one writer that he was the first in the county. The first two story log house in this county was built in Patoka 1w James Robb. The first merchant was John Smith, in whose honor the town was first known as Smithville. Patoka was incorporated in the early nineties.

"It was David Robb, of Patoka, who organized a company of soldiers and participated in the famous battle of Tippecanoe. His volunteers comprised a number of Patoka merchants."


The town of Patoka, at present, has a population close to eight hundred. The town officers are as follows: Trustees. L. F. Alvis. G. B. Bingham, W. W. Witherspoon, C. C. Jones: treasurer, L. F. Riley, and clerk, C. W. Stermer.

The general stores are owned by J. W. Myrick, W. P. Casey, Preston Milburn, the Field brothers and T. T. Boerke: F. O. Milburn runs a drug store: Wilkerson & Martin have a dray line: Paul Kuhn & Company and A. Waller (Sr Company deal in grain: John Duncan has a livery; L. F. Alvis operates a blacksmith shop; Colonel Lynn and Thomas Patterson are the barbers: the hotel is conducted by L. F. Alvis and is named the Alvis House: hardware and implements are sold by Stermer & Jones; harness is kept by C. Reneer; lumber by R. P. Lockhart; Henry Watson manages a mill. There are no resident attorneys in Patoka. The physicians are M. L. and S. I. Arthur, Earl Turpin and Fred Boerke keep restaurants and confectionaries combined; Whiting & Hollis deal in live stock.

The Patoka National Bank was organized in 1909 and chartered the same year. There were thirty three charter members and the first officers were: Alex D. Milburn, president; David W. Hull, vice president, and William F. Parrett, cashier. The present officers are: D. W. Hull, president; J. W. Adams, vice president; W. F. Parrett, cashier, and Eldon E. Field, assistant cashier. The capital stock is now the same as in the beginning, $25,000; the surplus is $7,000, and the deposits amount to $90,000. The bank building was erected in 1908, at a total cost of $3,088.


This place was situated on section 3, township 2 south, range to west, on the south bank of the old canal. It was surveyed in the spring of 1852 for proprietors Elisha Embree and Samuel Shannon. It has long since been numbered among the defunct places of this county. J. R. Strickland, of Owensville, a local historian, has described its rise and fall in the following language:

"The history of the rise and fall of Port Gibson is closely interwoven with that of the Wabash and Erie canal, a water way project horn in 1827. In that year the United States government granted to the state of Indiana every alternate section of land along a proposed canal route from Fort Wayne to Evansville, through Lafayette and Terre Haute. In 1830-32 the Indiana Legislature offered these government land grants for sale. The land sold from one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars per acre. the money to be used in digging the canal. The only stipulation was that the government boats and agents be allowed to travel along the canal free of cost.

In 1832 work began on the canal at Fort Wayne. The canal was completed to Evansville in 1852. The entire length of the canal was four hundred and sixty miles, eighty seven of which were in Ohio. The total cost of the Wabash and Erie canal was six million dollars. Along with the completion of the canal came the railroad as a means of transportation, with the result that the canal became useless before many years. From Evansville to Terre Haute, the canal followed a route that afterward became the right of way of the Evansville & Indianapolis railroad.

The Wabash & Erie canal extended through the eastern part of Gibson county and furnished a highway for the transportation of much of the products of this county. The little town of Port Gibson, on the southeast bank of the canal, thrived and waxed strong. There were also two reservoirs at Port Gibson, built as feeders to the canal. One of these covered an area of two thousand four hundred acres, the other being much smaller. The canal also built locks at Port Gibson and altogether the little settlement became an important station, in fact, the principal canal point in Gibson county.

In 1851-52 Elisha Embree, an attorney of Princeton. and Samuel Shannon platted the town of Port Gibson and otherwise prepared for a permanent village. By that time Port Gibson boasted of having a store, a blacksmith shop and a flouring mill, the latter being promoted by Mr. Iglehardt of Evansville. Later on "Dud" Campbell started a saloon. For a time after the completion of the canal passenger traffic was quite heavy and the boats always stopped for an hour or two at Port Gibson.

Had the railroads been a few years later in coming into the county, the town of Port Gibson would have blossomed into a small city. The arrival of the railroad sounded the death knelt of the Wabash and Erie canal and Port Gibson.


This is the second oldest town in Gibson county. It was named in honor of Gervas Hazelton, the second white settler in the county to permanently locate. Genas Hazelton first lived in a "camp," the back of which was an immense walnut log and sides of poles covered with bark, the front open to admit the heat and light of large log fires. Hszelton was famed far and wide as an entertainer and his camp was always open to the struggling settlers.

The town of Hazelton was surveyed and platted by Lucius French in 1856. T. S. Fuller erected the first frame building in Hazelton. In about John Breedlove built a blacksmith shop. Being located on the south bank of White river, the town became a very important port in the days of flat and keel boats. Numerous cargoes of corn, wheat and pork were shipped from Hazelton every week. New Orleans was then the best market for farm products raised at that date, around Hazelton. The highway of travel was via the Patoka. Wabash. Ohio and Mississippi rivers and five or six weeks were required to make the round trip. A complement of five men was the usual number required with each boat. And it was no trouble to get hands, as many young men were anxious to make the trip and would do it for little pay. Imagine men shoving a keel boat loaded with merchandise from New Orleans to Hazelton or Patoka and you will get a better idea of Gibson county's situation in its infancy. The first steamboat of any note to pass up White river was the "Cleopatria"; she made fast at the ferry where Hazelton stands and attracted big crowds of people.


The present town of Hazelton is a very substantial one. considering the misfortunes that befell the town in earlier years. The town was incorporated about twenty five years ago and the present officers are: Trustees, James M. Phillips, Henry Thorne and John D. Milburn; treasurer, H. N. Weer; clerk, B. I. Rumble; marshal, Elijah Gilbert. The physicians are H. D. Gudgel, H. M. Arthur and U. B. Loudin. There is a town water company, the plant being owned by the city and supplying water from White river. This plant was erected in 19o9 at a cost of six thousand eight hundred dollars. Other business interests are as follows: Blacksmiths, L H. Ferguson & Son, T. F. Thomas & Son; barbers, T. T. Phillips, F. D. Steelman; general stores, C. J. Snyder & Company, D. L. Bonner, John H. Briner and T. T. Thorne; drugs, A. C. Sisson, H. C. DePriest; livery, William Morrison; furniture, H. Clement; groceries, C. H. Peppers, C. Y. Henderson; grain. Paul Kuhn, Princeton Milling Company, A. C. Heise; hotels. F. Knight, Marcus Wellman, and the Westfall House; hardware and harness. Wolff & Shawhan: lumber. H. P. Phillips; millinery, Mrs. T. T. Thorne; meat, Adam Kline; restaurants, H. N. Johnson, Frank Purkiser, J. H. Bryant; live stock, John W. Ford; veterinary, W. F. Thorne; coal. James M. Phillips, J. A. McFetridge; poultry, Ivy Triplett; photographer; ferry, M. O. Decker; oil, John Knaube.

There are three congregations in Hazelton. the Presbyterian, the Methodist and the Baptist, but none of the denominations have a resident pastor. They are composed of about a hundred members each and have existed since the early fifties. There are three main lodges. the Masonic, the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias, besides numerous insurance and beneficiary lodges.

The Citizens State Bank of Hazelton was organized in May. 1903. and reorganized and rechartered in December. 1910. The first capital stock was S25,000. and the first officers were: Josiah Kightly. president; Lawrence Wheeler, vice president; Charles L. Howard. cashier; Frank L. Steelman, assistant cashier. The present officers are: H. M. Arthur, president: Aaron Trippet. Sr., vice president; F. L. Steelman, cashier: Chas. W. McFetridge, assistant cashier. The present capital is $40,000, the surplus and undivided profits, $24,000. and the deposits, $150,000. The bank building was erected in 1913 and cost the sum of $6,000.

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