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Picture of AuthorWilliam Edward Wilson

Hoosier Connection: William Edward Wilson grew up in Evansville, Indiana. As a journalist he worked for the Evansville Press. He was an English professor at Indiana University Bloomington for 23 years.

Works Discussed: Abe Lincoln of Pigeon Creek; Crescent City; The Wabash; Shooting Star, The Story of Tecumseh; Strangers.

There are several things that influenced William Edward Wilson’s writing. Most influential was his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, a city connected to both the Ohio and Wabash River, located near New Harmony and Angel Mounds State Historic Park. These important locations appeared repeatedly in his history books, Indiana: A History, The Wabash; Big Knife; Shooting Star, The Story of Tecumseh and Abe Lincoln of Pigeon Creek, and were obvious inspiration for the fictional Crescent City, found in all of his novels including Crescent City, Every Man is My Father, and The Strangers. His service as lieutenant-commander in the Navy may also have influenced his interest in the raids of Oliver P. Morton and his men in his history books and in his novel, The Raiders. After graduating Harvard University, He served many other roles as a writer, educator, and journalist. His accomplishments include graduating from Harvard University (cum laude), working as assistant editor for the Baltimore Sun, and serving for two years in the Fullbright lectureship at Aix-Marseilles, Grenoble and Nice, France. He won the Guggenheim fellow in 1946 and the Indiana Authors’ Day Award in 1959, 1965 and 1967. Wilson was married twice. A year after his first wife, Ellen Janet Cameron (a writer of books for children and young people) died in 1976, he married Hana Benes.

Wilson ’s book, The Wabash, discusses the history and formation of the river as well as influential people who lived or grew up near the Wabash River. These influential people include the mound builders, residents of the New Harmony community, Tecumseh, George Rogers Clark, and Abraham Lincoln. Like many authors who discuss the Wabash, Wilson speaks of the river and southern Indiana in nostalgic terms. “The Wabash is Indiana; and to every Hoosier, wherever he lives, Indiana means ‘home.’” (318) He describes the river, not in the way a scientist or historian might observe, but as a poet and artist would. as assistant editor to The Evening Sun, in Baltimore.

The Wabash is something more that topography, history, and statistics. It is, rather, the thing a Hoosier remembers when he hears the magic name.
The Wabash is the smell of clover in June, of hay and sweetgrass. It is a dome of blue and golden sky, piled high with white clouds, and sun-soaked days filled with the hum of insects. It is the harvest moon and stars, like a chandelier of jewels, in purple nights. It is the folks on their front porches waiting to go down and look at the river.(315)

Wilson even transposed his opinions of the Indiana landscape into the thoughts of historic figures as exemplified in his account of Abraham Lincoln while he lived in Indiana. A year after moving with his family to a new home in Indiana along Pigeon Creek, he reflects back on the change in the landscape due to the clearing his family and many new neighbors around him had done for farming.

Abe celebrated his ninth birthday in the February of that winter [1817]; and, as he thought about the two houses and the six acres of cleared land, where hardly a year before there had been only trees and brush , of the paths leading off through the forest to the homes of nine new families in the neighborhood and the ones who were already where when he and his mother and father and sister arrived, and… it seemed to him that, in his one year in Indiana, he had witnessed the creation of a world. (206)

Wilson also wrote two children’s books, Abe Lincoln of Pigeon Creek and Shooting Star, A Story of Tecumseh. Both of these books are education and entertaining at the same time, yet Wilson’s respect for the Wabash is evident as he tells the story of both these men’s lives.

In Shooting Star, A Story of Tecumseh, Tecumseh and his brother lead a raid through Indiana. As he reaches the Mississinewa and Wabash River in 1787, he finds the both pleasant and reminiscent of the river near his home camp in Piqua.

“This Wabash is not so great a river as the Ohio,” Tecumseh thought, “but a man feels closer to it somehow, as if it were something alive. A man could be happy living his whole life on the banks of a river like this.” (81)

Even in his later years, as he return to the river on and August day in 1810, “he was stirred by the quiet beauty of the green tunnel through which the water flowed. He loved the land through which he passed as no white man could love it.” (156)

Abe Lincoln of Pigeon Creek expands on the life of Abraham Lincoln mentioned in his book The Wabash. At the end of the story, Abe takes a trip to New Orleans with his friends. The trip was harder than he expected. As he lay in his bed in New Orleans, “suddenly he felt homesick, He longed for the quiet woods of Indiana and the simple life of Little Pigeon Creek.” (266)

While his most descriptive text is usually found in his historic books, his love for Indiana countryside is portrayed in his description of the landscape in and around “ Crescent City,” a fictional town strangely reminiscent of Wilson’s home town of Evansville. A good example of this is in the book, Crescent City. Esther, one of the many characters in this book, is frustrated with current relationships in town and leaves the city. As she drives along the Ohio River, she takes a moment to evaluate her life in light of the landscape around her.

Esther slowed the car down. She was ten or fifteen miles from Crescent City, and the countryside was so beautiful that it suddenly made her heart ache, On one side of the road was the river, visible through the trees in placid and shimmering patches of pale gold, On the other side, in the woods, there were trees in blossom, white and pink, and the green background of the young leaves was as translucent as a cloud, Ahead, the rising dome of the sky was a spotless azure, The yards of the farmhouses and of the more pretentious homes of suburbanites blazed with color, and behind them fields in shades of new green and freshly plowed, rich browns and blacks rolled upward into the hills. The earth seemed to dance with rediscovered life. But it only made Esther’s heart ache. She could see the evidence of the earth’s awakening, but she could not feel within herself. (340)

Another book, The Strangers, includes a story of a couple who move to a town in hopes of restoring the historic town of Amity (a town that could be reflective of New Harmony, Indiana). Her first impressions of the city are not pleasant due to the consequences of winter on a town “crowded with speculators from Oklahoma and Texas, who brought to its quiet streets a clamor of crude and boisterous activity , cluttering them with trucks and tanks and high-powered showy cars, and storing in every available vacant places their drilling and pumping machinery.” (164) A few weeks later, spring comes along, she soon relaxes.

[L]ocust blossomed; the rain trees showered the streets with gold; the elms and gums and maples burst into leaf; the days were first only wistfully bright and warm, as if in remembrance of springs past, and then all at once, violently, with a tropical brilliance; the air was heavy with the scent of flowers; and the last of Juliana’s misgivings about their move to Amity vanished. She had never felt so vibrantly alive and happy in her life. (167)

Both Crescent City and Strangers are novels about relationships during the 50’s and 60’s and may at first glace seem insignificant to identifying the importance of Indiana’s landscape. However, it is obvious in his writing that the environment plays an important role in the development of the characters.

Wilson wrote with obvious pride about his home state and its landscape. He was proud of the politicians and writers that were influenced by their experiences in Indiana. He was impressed by the mound builders, the pioneers, those with utopian ideas, and the leaders of the state. Through his writings it is obvious that he his proud to call himself a Hoosier.




Wilson, William Edward. The Wabash. New York: J.J. Little and Ives Company, 1940.

---. The Strangers. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, Inc, 1952.

---. Crescent City. New York: Simon and Schuster,1947.


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