HISTORY OF CEDAR CREEK
An Outstanding Hoosier Resource
Called Mes-kwah-wa-se-pe by Native Americans (the name means"old red wood creek"), Cedar Creek
in Allen and DeKalb Counties is one of only three streams included in
Indiana's Natural, Scenic
and Recreational Rivers System [310 IAC 4-2-1]
. The others are the
Crawford and Washington Counties and
in Tippecanoe and Carroll Counties.
At the end of the last ice age, the upper part of Cedar Creek began as an "ice-marginal" channel
at the western edge of the Erie Lobe of the glacial ice and formed a single stream with the
in what is now Whitley County. This "ancestral Eel River" was also fed by glacial
meltwater surging through a sub-ice channel or "tunnel valley" which can be seen today as the
beautiful Cedar Creek Canyon area of northern Allen County.
Ancestral Lake Erie shrank quickly as its waters drained southwest to the
Wabash. The ancient lakebed became the
Great Black Swamp.
Left: Indiana Dep't of Natural Resoures map showing Saginaw and Erie
glacial lobes about 20,000 years ago.
Center: Michigan State Univerisity relief map showing retreating Saginaw and Erie lobes 14,000-15,000 years.
The Cedar Creek-Eel River system formed in the region between the two lobes.
Right: Illinois State Museum map showing ancestral Lake Erie
extending into Indiana about 14,000 years ago.
As glacial melting continued and the Erie Lobe retreated eastward, Cedar Creek shifted its
course into the tunnel valley to become a tributary of the St. Joseph River to the southeast,
the valley portion actually reversing its flow. In so doing, Cedar Creek cut off the Eel from
its original headwaters, becoming what geologists call a "pirate stream." The Eel River-Cedar
Creek aquifer system consists of sediments and outwash laid down when the two streams were
connected. The result of Cedar Creek's "piracy" was to increase the size of the Maumee River
drainage system at the expense of that of the Wabash. To see a set of IDNR maps showing the
development of Cedar Creek and its separation from the Eel, click here
Cedar Creek itself fell victim to stream piracy by Fish Creek to the northeast, which captured
the Cedar's headwaters in what is now Steuben County to connect directly with the St. Joseph.
DeKalb County's Matson Ditch, a tributary of the Cedar, follows the Cedar's old floodway through
Franklin, Smithfield and Grant Townships.
Today's Cedar Creek rises at Indian Lake in northwest DeKalb County (although its identity as a
legal drain begins downstream near Cedar Lake) and drains nearly 175,000 acres before meeting
the St. Joseph River near Cedarville in Allen County. Once a meandering stream, the DeKalb
County portion of Cedar Creek was "channelized" in about 1900. A few segments of the original
channel -- generally oxbows cut off by the ditching -- survive as seasonal wetlands in the
creek's flood fringe. One such segment lies in the Terri Hague Nature Area between Eckhart Park
and Woodlawn Cemetery in Auburn. Another segment on the grounds of Greenhurst Country Club in
Auburn was filled in 1998.
The southern part of Cedar Creek -- from river mile 13.7 (at County Road 68 in DeKalb County)
to its confluence with the St. Joseph -- is designated by the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management as "an outstanding state resource" [327 IAC 2-1-2], a distinction it shares only with
the Blue River and Wildcat Creek (mentioned above), the Indiana portion of Lake Michigan and
the waters inside the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The purpose of the designation is to
maintain these waters "in their present state of high quality without degradation." [Emphasis
added.] However, recent state legislation (Public Law 140-2000) seriously compromises this goal.
Smith, John Martin, History of DeKalb County, 1837-1987, Auburn, IN (1990) vol. 1-A, p. 17.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Water Resource Availability in the Maumee River Basin,
Indiana (Water Resource Assessment 96-5, Indianapolis:1996) pp.46-47; p. 121.
Winger, Otho, The Potawatomi Indians, Elgin Press, Elgin, IL (1939) p.101. Winger reports that
the name of Potawatomi Chief Metea's village at the confluence of Cedar Creek with the St.
Joseph River was "Muskwawasepeotan," translated as "the town of the old red wood creek."
Fleming, Anthony H., "Origin and Hydrogeologic Significance of the Wetlands in the Interlobate
Region of Northwestern Allen County, Indiana," Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science
(1994), Volume 103, pp. 147-166. Fleming describes the Eel River Valley as originating as a
"fan-marginal" channel during the retreat of the Saginaw Lobe, then taking drainage from the
later retreat of the Erie Lobe. He also describes the diversion of Cedar Creek to the southeast
as the result of blockage resulting from large amounts of outwash at the mouth of Cedar Creek
Canyon. (p. 151.)
Winger, Otho, The Ke-na-po-co-mo-co (Eel River): The Home of Little Turtle, North Manchester, IN
(1934). Pamphlet published in a single volume with The Last of the Miamis, and Little Turtle:
The Great Chief of the Eel River, by the same author. Winger says that Ke-na-po-co-mo-co comes
from the Miami word Ke-na-pe-kwa-ma-kwah, which refers to "snake fish," i.e., eels.