Indiana is not India. But, unknown to most Indians and Americans, the Hoosier State proudly sports a historic town of Hindostan, a Hindostan Falls, a Hindostan Church and a Hindostan Park, all of it connected by, you guessed it, a Hindostan Road.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology is scouring for details of people and events surrounding the lost town of Hindostan. And so are locals like Ragen Pruneau, Bill DeCoursey, and Diana Craig Busche, co-ordinator for Martin County heritage society. They feel that there are missing pieces to the puzzle that is Hindostan, Indiana.
Oral history and archival records suggest that in the 1820s Hindostan was a flourishing town with sawmills, whetstone quarries, a County Courthouse, a school, and even a jail. Then, by a strange quirk of fate, the people of Hindostan disappeared - 90% of them wiped off by cholera. The handful that survived did not have the heart to rebuild. They moved on to build homes elsewhere. Soon thereafter, floods in the White River submerged the deathly debris that was Hindostan. Remnants of wood from the sawmills that flourished in Hindostan provide another telling clue.
We have another clue in the nearby village named Mt Pleasant. The name is commendatory. According to local tradition, "The people who settled Mt. Pleasant came there from a place called Hindostan whence they had been forced to leave on account of a plague which infested that vicinity. The settlement of Mt. Pleasant is located on a hill and the surroundings were a very agreeable change to the first settlers over the plague-ridden Hindostan they had left. Hence the name."
Ragen Pruneau, a librarian and amateur historian, gives us this perspective: "When I was younger, I used to sit on my grandfather’s lap and listen to many stories about how life used to be. He would tell me of his childhood, although some of his stories were ones that were told to him by his father. These stories would entail very intense descriptions of the past. Some of the stories that he told me were about a nearby town of Hindostan, Indiana.
"He told me of the great town of Hindostan. He said that this town sprang up very quickly and died just as fast. He explained that the reason for the demise of the town was a “great sickness” that spread over the land. He said that no one was completely sure what the disease was that could wipe out an entire town. He claimed that, in his opinion, the disease was probably Yellow Fever. He said that because of the location of the town, mosquitoes were probably a large problem. I also remember hearing about how the disease is still in the area. According to him, there is a story that the disease got buried under ground.
"Another story involved the town treasurer. My grandfather claimed that when the treasurer of the town learned of the great disease that was spreading across the land, he took all the money of the town and buried it. Many people still speak of this story today, and some have tried to find the buried treasure of Hindostan Falls."
Pruneau is quick to add: "Before these stories, I had no idea that there was even a town located at Hindostan. I always listened to my grandfather tell me about the great town of Hindostan Falls, but I could never understand how a town could have existed at that spot on the White River. Because of some of the questions I had about this great town, along with the legends that I had heard, I decided to investigate the town in greater detail. The things that I came across were astounding!"
In 1998 William H Smith of Pearce, Arizona wrote a short history of Hindostan: "Within twelve years of its founding in 1816 the settlement was devastated by plague, several times, until finally it was relocated farther from the river at Mt. Pleasant. Many homes had already been burned as whole families died. This was an attempt to control the plague. You can still tell where the original settlement was located by recognizing the cuts in the land. These vague traces in the weeds and trees covering the old streets, and the site of the mass burial ground are the only traces of the once thriving community. Mass burial was used when survivors could no longer handle the large amount of deaths. At the time of the settlement, a flat rock was situated along the falls. It has shifted but the square holes in the rock used to support the mills are still there. All in all, very little to show of the settlement that once was. According to Smith, part of the oral tradition is the mystery of what happened to the estimated $15000 in gold and silver that was part of Hindostan’s treasury. When the town succumbed to disease the treasury was to have been transferred to Mount Pleasant and thence to Shoals, the present County Seat. But it never arrived!"
Hindostan began as a result of political patronage secured by Frederick Sholts of New York who arrived in the region as Deputy Sheriff and laid claim to the first tract of land in the area in 1814. Four years later the enterprising Shoultz owned the ferry, a tavern, and was in possession of over 1,000 acres of land.
The following year a company known as “The Proprietors of Hindostan" was founded. The members were Frederick Shoultz, Cabel (or Caleb) Fellows, Henry Thomas, John Prentiss, Gordon Newell, John Merian, William Gardinger and Jesse Sheimire. The Proprietors of Hindostan platted the town site with 355 lots. The lots were 27 x 160 feet (originally the ground was purchased from the government for $2.00 an acre). When the town of Hindostan was laid out it had a lot going for its future. The surrounding hills were chock full of game, the river allowed for good fishing and trapping, and settlers stopped there while on the way westward.
But why the name Hindostan? As it turned out, Captain Caleb Fellows had served the British East India Company in India, earning a fortune. According to INDIANA MAGAZINE of HISTORY VOL.XVI, NO.4 (December 1920), p.285, “Captain Caleb Fellows, one of the company, gave the town its name. Captain Fellows had resided in India many years. Things now looked so bright for a fortune, he said, 'let it be Hindostan'."
The most reliable early report of Hindostan was made by John Scott in the Indiana Gazetteer for 1826. It reads as follows: ‘This town (Hindostan) contains 18 dwelling houses, 100 inhabitants, 2 stores, two taverns, 1 blacksmith, 1 cabinetmaker, one saddler, 1 wagon maker, 1 mill wright, 2 shoe makers, 2 tailors, and one carpenter.’” At the time of Scott’s report, many had either died from the sickness or left the town out of fear. At one time, there were as many as 1200 residents in the town.
Hindostan was a very promising town with people flocking from every direction. They were drawn to the beautiful falls and the scenic hills of the area. The falls provided a great source of power, so it seemed that such a place would be a great place for a town.
There were many stories written by people who passed through the town. In October of 1819 while passing through the town, William Faux wrote a passage about it. “Breakfasted at the infant ville Hindostan, on the falls of the White River, a broad crystal stream . . . The baby ville is flourishing, much building is in progress, and promises to become a pleasant, healthy town before I see it again. The land, too, is rich and inviting.”
Richard Lee Mason wrote the same year: “Traveled over an extremely mountainous country to White River (east fork) where town was laid out last May [Hindostan]. Promising little place. Several houses building together, with the industrious appearance of saw and gristmills, give it the appearance of a place of business. Little town is called Hindostan. In this part of the country the woods are large, the hills bold and lofty, and there is an abundance of bears, wolves, wildcats, panther, etc.”
Hindostan reached its peak in 1820, when the town was seriously struck by Cholera. This started a chain of events leading to the decline and death of Hindostan - a town that boasted many dwellings, 2 General Stores, 2 Taverns, Blacksmith shop, a Carpenter, and outside of town, 2 large Grist Mills, numerous Sawmills, a Whet Stone factory known as The Hindostan Whit, and a Tannery.
The quarries near Hindostan were first mined in the year 1825 by the people settled there and the first stones were shipped to New Orleans by riverboats through the White, Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Later there was a flourishing trade in Hindostan whetstones that were shipped to New York and England. But in England it was condemned as a fraud, because it bore the name Hindostan, eventhough its origins were in the United States.
While there are no persons of Indian origin living in Hindostan or Hindostan Falls, as far as I know, the surrounding towns of Bedford, Loogootee, Paoli, Shoals and Jasper have a few Indian families including several physicians. Two high-schoolers, Meera Ramanathan and Trusha Patel, are known locally for their tennis prowess during the 2004 school tournament.
See You in Hindostan, 391829N and 0862900W
for rare photos of Hindostan, contact the author at email@example.com
(Francis C Assisi is passionate about tracking Indian-American history. He was the first researcher to identify the first Indian-American, a slave - Mary Fisher born in 1680 in Ann Arundel County, Maryland. http://www.indolink.com/Analysis/a121403-021037.