During a recent midday walk, I spotted a sign in the right-of-way of W. Jefferson Blvd in Fort Wayne. I have driven past the sign hundreds of times, perhaps even thousands of times. But I don’t remember ever seeing it. Perhaps I saw it from my car but couldn’t make out what it said. As I walked by it (passing within just a few feet of it) I realized it was a historical marker. I read it, then took this photo of it.
The text is “MAUMEE-WABASH PORTAGE ‘GLORIOUS GATE’ Only land barrier on shortest trade route between Quebec and New Orleans. Western landing of eight-mile carry from St. Mary’s to Little River. Used by Indians, French, British, and American traders. ALLEN COUNTY-FORT WAYNE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.”
Not being completely conversant with the history of trade routes and river passageways in this part of the country (or in any part), I understood little about what I read on the sign. The phrase “Glorious Gate” was most intriguing. What could it possibly mean? What does it refer to?
I’ve done some cursory research on the subject, and have discovered a few facts about what the sign represents.
The “Glorious Gate” is a term used by the Miami Indian chief Little Turtle in a speech in 1795 pleading the case for the Indians’ right to a share of the tolls collected for the use of the portage trail in question. Little Turtle was quoted as referring to the region around Fort Wayne as “the glorious gate through which all the good words of our chiefs had to pass from the North to the South and from the East to the West. . . . This carrying place has heretofore proved in a great degree the subsistence of your younger brothers. That place has brought to us in the course of one day the amount of one hundred dollars.” You can find the article with Little Turtle’s words and a discussion of the Glorious Gate in the Indiana Magazine of History here.
Concerning the portage itself, it was an “eight-mile carry,” meaning the traders had to carry their goods and canoes eight miles overland to pass from the Little River to the St Mary’s. You can see the map of this portage here. If you are familiar with Fort Wayne, you should recognize some of the route of the portage trail, although it’s reported that the trail has been virtually destroyed by development. The map can be found on this web page, with textual descriptions of the portage route and rivers.
Not knowing the water route between Quebec and New Orleans, I can’t disagree with the statement that this is the only portage required on the entire route. The water route through Fort Wayne was the most direct – and therefore the favorite – route of the traders. I can’t help but wonder if some of the 14,000 French Acadians that were kicked out of Nova Scotia in Canada in the years 1755-1763 might have used this same route to make their way to New Orleans. Some time after their arrival there, they became known as “Cajuns,” a slang version of the term Acadian. If you ever read the poem Evangeline in your school days, you might remember that it was about this dispersal of the hapless Acadians.
So much to think about, so little time.