Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Not many visitors outside of the locals know of the dark past of Shades State Park and Turkey Run, which makes this post a good one to explain the legends behind this unique area.
Atypical for the landscape of Indiana, these rugged landscapes with their canyons and cliffs were formed by glaciers bulldozing and scouring the earth--a reminder of a period when Indiana looked more like Wisconsin or Canada. When the area was turned into a state park, conservationists had a publicity problem. How to overcome the name the pioneers of the land gave it? From sometime in the mid-1800s until 1947, what we call Shades was almost always known by its old pioneer name, the “Shades of Death.”
“The popularity of the ‘Shades of Death,'” he wrote, “one of Indiana’s most beautiful summer resorts, would undoubtedly be greatly enhanced by a change of name.”
A man naturally hesitates before saying that he has sent his family to the Shades of Death, and does not find it altogether agreeable to be congratulated on his own safe return from there. It casts a chill over otherwise fascinating society notes to read of distinguished citizens who have gone down to the Shades of Death. To be sure, they are heard of the next week as coming back, but the emotions which arise over their return are of the sympathetic sort that go out to those who have been to the gates of death. . .
The Shades of Death should become the ‘Indiana Eden,’ or ‘Montgomery County Paradise,’ or, being a Crawfordsville adjunct, the ‘Litterateur’s Retreat’ – anything to relieve the gloom.
Where did the name originate? One theory speculates that the name came from a lost Native American name for the canyons along the creek. Miami and Shawnee were thought to have inhabited the area before European settlement. An unsubstantiated Pottawatomi legend tells of a great battle in 1770 between the Miami and Shawnee on the steep terrain of Pine Hill and Shades, which left nearly all 600 warriors dead as they fought for control of the Illinois prairies and part of the Wabash Valley. Of the slaughtered in the canyons, only seven Pottawatomi lived to tell the story, as five Miami fled in defeat. No one is sure if the battle took place.
One story, which was printed in the Indiana News, tells of a young woman tried for murder. Mrs. Rush lived with her husband in the area. Nothing is known of Moses Rush, except that as a drunk, a wild man, and violent wife beater, the isolated area suited him. One day in 1836 he came home to his cabin drunk and threatened to kill her. He did not act immediately and took a nap. Mrs. Rush seized the opportunity and split his skull open with the ax he intended for her. She then reported the crime. She was acquitted. The judge and jury were sympathetic to her for ridding the county of him, and even congratulated her.
Moses Rush' remains were buried near near a beech tree by his cabin. Some time later, a group of picnickers were out, unearthed his remains and found a skull with 3-inch cut.
These passenger pigeons or doves were carved onto a natural rock bridge called the Devil’s Backbone at Pine Hills in the late 1800s. A portrait of the Devil himself was also graffitied here.