I am an unapologetic Hoosier. I am not ashamed to proclaim that I come from one of those “Small Towns” that John Mellencamp sang about so famously. In fact, one might argue that I am the product of the quintessential American small town. That’s right! In the thick of WWII, Life Magazine proclaimed my hometown, Alexandria, Indiana, “Small Town U.S.A.” in a bit of wartime propaganda to promote the wholesome family values of Middle America. From that day to the present, Alex (the shortened version of Alexandria…pronounced “Eleck” not like “Alex”…pronouncing it like “Alex” is grounds for a punch in the nose) has proudly boasted its internationally recognized status as America’s small town. If it weren’t true would we have an annual festival? No, we would not!
To be sure, Alexandrians have much of which to be proud. The little town of less than 6,000 souls has produced more than its fair share of talent. Internationally renowned gospel music legends, Bill and Gloria Gaither, carved out their impressive careers with Alex as their home base and still call it home today. Recently, people from around the world have been swept up in the bittersweet saga of Joey and Rory Feek. Joey Martin Feek, the country duo’s primary singer, is an Alexandria native and is famously battling terminal cancer. Her husband, song writer Rory Feek, has been brutally honest and transparent in sharing their story through his blog posts. Their inspirational faith throughout their recent trials has captured the hearts of many around the world as evidenced by their more than one million Facebook followers. There have been numerous other Alexandria products that have gone on to make a pretty big splash in music as well as other fields, too numerous to mention here. Rest assured, Small Town U.S.A. has done more than her fair share to supply the world with talented people. And if those accomplishments aren’t enough to impress you, how about this…Alexandria is home to the world’s largest ball of paint! I don’t think it is necessary for me to espouse any further upon the virtues of my hometown now.
Yet, as most folks who grow up in such places, there was a time in my youth where I did not always appreciate the charms associated with small town living. I was ready to tackle the world and hit it square between the eyes with my own talent. So, in the early 90’s, I decided to make a move. My first foray into the world outside Madison County was to Los Angeles. I am not sure what I was doing out there. I certainly never figured it out before I ran out of patience (and money) and returned to the Hoosier state a little less than a year later. But while I was out there, living in a house with 5 friends that had been dubbed “The Ranch” (I’ll let your imagination fill in the details of what “The Ranch” was like…whatever you come up with is probably close) in the sprawling metropolis of L.A., it didn’t take too long for me to regain my appreciation for small town life. As it happened, while I was busy being a “Rancher” in L.A., my hometown actually made national news.
First a little geographical and historical background…Alexandria is situated in the flood plain of Pipe Creek, a part of the Wabash River drainage system. Pipe Creek is named for Captain Pipe, a chief of the Delaware Indian tribe, who was continually forced to move farther and farther west by the encroaching white settlement into the Ohio Valley in the 19th Century. Somehow, before he died, he settled in what is now Madison County, Indiana. Someone decided to throw the poor guy a bone and named a dirty little creek after him. Pipe Creek, throughout my childhood, was well-known as a flood waiting to happen. I am not sure how many times it had a major flood, but in my memory it seems like about every other year. There is your background info, now back to the “Ranch” in the early 90’s.
So, someone in the “Ranch” crew found a story about a flood in Alexandria. For those ranchers who were from Alex (4 of the 6 of us were) that news hardly raised an eyebrow…shocking, another flood, right? Well, this time there was more to the story. It seems this time turned out to be the flood to end all floods, so to speak. Some engineers got to investigating the cause of this flood and found something strange. The first reports were that there was a dead goat clogging the sewer but it turned out to be a giant, 200 pound hairball! You can imagine the fun that our two native Californian ranchers had at our expense as they read this national news story. It was tough news for us transplanted Hoosiers to deal with but welcome news for the folks back home, as removal of the hairball seemed to alleviate some of the flooding problems.
I have always wondered if that hairball was somehow placed there by the ghost of old Captain Pike as a little revenge for being transplanted from his own home so many times.
It has been brought to my attention by a couple very knowledgeable local historians that there might be some things that I need to make clear regarding the history content of my blog. First of all, the “hairball” part of the story, that caught the attention of the national media, may have been overblown. There were a combination of factors that led to the frequent flooding of Pipe Creek, most notably the fact that it was diverted from its original course early in the town’s history. This caused issues long before any “hairball” or other obstruction did. Regardless of the facts, the hairball story made a sensational headline and, whether important to the facts or not, it was the story that the rest of the country got…including the “Ranchers” in Los Angeles.
As for Captain Pipe…
It is not a certain fact that Pipe ever lived in Madison County. That story comes from a book published in 1897 called, Historical Sketches and Reminiscences of Madison County, by Forkner and Dyson. Other than that source, there doesn’t seem to be any other solid evidence that Pipe was ever in Madison County or, as some have claimed, that he is buried somewhere near Orestes. There is solid evidence that Pipe did spend at least some time in the Hoosier state as an old man. He is mentioned in the Connor Papers as having visited the home of William Connor (of Connor Prairie fame). As for the final resting place of Captain Pipe, there are, again, several opinions about that. Several scholars apparently believe him to be buried near Sandusky, Ohio. Others postulate that he rests in Canada. Then there is the local Madison County folklore that has him buried near Orestes. As with much of history, we just don’t know with certainty. At any rate, I wanted to clear that up so as not to leave the impression that I am passing along less than solid historical information.
In the end, this blog post was really less about a clogged sewer or a Delaware Indian chief and more about a naive young man from Small Town U.S.A. who had dreams of taking the world by the tail in the big city but was quickly brought back to reality by his circumstances and, in the process, regained his appreciation of his humble roots.