Two early-American history buffs attempted to paddle down the Wabash River for 200 miles to the Ohio River last week in a dugout canoe packed with colonial-era supplies and clothing.
“That was the water vessel of that time in the backcountry,” said Eli Froedge of Veedersburg, who helped carve out wood for the boat.
Froedge and Jason Jacobs of Covington set out Saturday for what was planned as an eight-day hunting and fishing excursion to recreate the primitive realities of 18th century river travel. Until the trip was cut short due to heat and dehydration, they camped along the banks, hunted for food and spotted wildlife.
The men are part of a living history group that travels to American Revolution-era sites for live-fire shooting, hunting and trekking. Jacobs, an Army veteran, said his fifth great-grandfather oversaw the continental artillery in the Battle of Yorktown, fueling his interest in the period.
“It must have been a very exciting time to be alive, you know,” Jacobs said.
Launching from Terre Haute, the men packed the 16 ft. 10 in. canoe with copper cookware, wood, flint and steel sets to make fire, hand-woven blankets, handmade flintlock guns, 12-1/2 pounds of water and other period equipment.
The end of the route was Old Shawneetown, Illinois, a village of less than 200 people that was likely a stop on the Lewis and Clark expedition and the only other town chartered by the U.S. government after Washington, D.C.
After paddling through a light rain for several miles on the second day of the trip, temperatures continued rising, slowing their progress. They battled stiff winds, as the river got wider, with mile-long bends to navigate.
The landscape was dotted with numerous eagles, deer, herons and wood ducks. Jacobs killed and harvested a squirrel for dinner one day and ham and soup beans, cornmeal and root vegetables were also on the menu.
Dressed in a linen shirt, leather leggings and a bandana, Froedge walked to a nearby town to fill up on drinking water.
“You talk about getting some looks,” he said. “Nobody really talked to me.”
By the fifth day on Wednesday, Jacobs wrote in a Facebook post, “someone cracked the door to hell” and the heat and wind combined with long curves and straightaways began taking a toll on their mental stamina. They spent less time in the canoe allowing them to hunt and fish.
With their drinking water dwindling and Froedge suffering from dehydration, the pair called off the rest of the trip Thursday in Mount Carmel, Illinois after 120 miles. They crossed paths with a man and his son, who canoed alongside them on the last miles of the trip. Froedge and Jacobs returned home by car.
Froedge plans to set off from Mount Carmel once the weather has cooled off next fall to finish the trip.
“I don’t know if Jason will go with me,” he said with a laugh.