Folkstreams | Contexts | Pearl Fisher: Hindostan Falls and India

Pearl Fisher: Hindostan Falls and India

Pearl Fisher: Hindostan Falls and India

by Dillon Bustin


The opening scene of the film, in which Barney Bass is dragging a grappling bar across a sandbar from his johnboat, occurred on the East Fork of the White River in Martin County, Indiana, in the summer of 1984. That particular stretch of water is at Hindostan Falls, site of an early ferry across the White River on the stagecoach route between New Albany on the Ohio River and Vincennes on the Wabash River. A town had been platted there at the river crossing in 1819 by the Proprietors of Hindostan, a syndicate of land speculators, as the proposed seat of Martin County.

According to local history the area was named by Caleb Fellows, one of the original proprietors, who had previously served as a captain in the private army of the British East India Company. Perhaps the White River reminded him of the Ganga River (now Hooghly River) on the Bay of Bengal, for the weather can get extremely hot and humid in southern Indiana during the summer. In any case Captain Fellows had heard there were pearls to be found in Indiana, a rumor that was also reminiscent of India.

Within a year of incorporation Hindostan Falls attracted over thirty households, featuring a mill for grinding whetstones from the sandstone deposits along the river. The town also featured a factory for drilling mother-of-pearl buttons made from the nacre, or inner lining, of the local freshwater mussels. The steady profits were in the buttons, not the rare pearls.

Hindoostan or Hindustan was the Persian name for India during the Mughal Empire. This name, applied from outside the country, did not mean that the Mughals were Hindus. They were in fact Muslims from Central Asia. But from the point of view of Persia (now Iran) during the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the name Hindustan meant that the Mughals ruled the indigenous Hindus and Buddhists.

This usage of Hindustan was adopted by the British when they took over the region in 1803 and they extended the meaning to all of India including the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which had never been conquered by Mughals.