Historical Track of a 'Hurricane' in Central Indiana

This will be a short post looking at an interesting item I recently found while working on one of my longer term projects. For that project I found myself digging back into the original 1820/21 surveys conducted in Marion County and surrounding areas, just prior to the land being opened to widespread Euro-American settlement. I have used these surveys in the past, specifically in posts about Native Americans around Indianapolis, and the selection of the site for Indianapolis.

In this case, I was looking at the survey for Township 18N 6E, located northeast of Indianapolis, and just west of Pendleton. When I opened the survey, which is dated 1821, it was mostly unremarkable, except for a meandering path on the map marked as "Track of Hurricane." An excerpt from the full township survey is show below.

Indianapolis history survey

A PDF of the full survey can be accessed here in the sources below. Below is a map showing the area as it appears today. The path of the 'hurricane' is in the bottom right (southeast) quadrant of the yellow shaded area. Note the on the survey the squiggly lines crossing over the section lines. These represented creeks or waterways. In this case, the surveyor was marking the course of Fall Creek which runs through the bottom portion of the survey.

Clearly, Indiana does not get directly impacted by hurricanes, either today, or in 1821 (we can get the remains of storms coming up from the Gulf of Mexico). Based on the location, and the pathway noted in the survey, I believe what the surveyors happened upon was the track of a tornado. Weather records for this time period in Indiana are rare to nonexistent. However, some early newspaper records from the time show instances of major storms being referred to as hurricanes. On April 10, 1827, the Indianapolis Journal reported a "severe hurricane" south of the city:

Indianapolis history newspaper

Reports from other parts of the state included references to hurricanes. The Indianapolis Gazette published a report from Madison which reported that "a very severe hurricane passed through this town." No fatalities were known, although, the report admitted the extent of the damage was not known at press time. On June 16, 1827, the Western Register and Terre Haute Advertiser (below) reported a 'hurricane' south of Vincennes. The storm apparently caused significant damage in the are around Vincennes, with severe damage to structure and livestock.

Based on the descriptions of the 'hurricanes' in various newspaper articles, it seems that term was used as a general description for thunderstorms and/or tornados. Adding to the confusion is that there are articles from this same time period which refer to tornados, and to actual hurricanes, specifically such storms hitting coastal cities. While the survey above is from 1821, often you'll find that there are multiple surveys for a township contained in the Bureau of Land Management Records. The earlier version appears to be an original survey, while the second one is labeled "a true copy from the original." The second version of this survey is dated March 14, 1822, and eliminated the reference to a 'hurricane,' but still noted the path of the storm as "fallen timber." On the Bureau of Land Management site, the March 14, 1822 date is referred to as the "approved/accepted" date for the survey.

Indianapolis history survey


Bureau of Land Management, Survey Plats and Field Notes, https://glorecords.blm.gov/

Indianapolis Gazette: August 27, 1829

Indianapolis Journal: April 10, 1827, April 7, 1830

Western Register and Terre Haute Advertiser: June 16, 1827

T18N R6E Survey
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