"Marsh" of Northern Indiana and Illinois
SYSTEMATIC studies in land utilization, such as have been
undertaken in recent years by the Federal Departments of Agriculture
and of the Interior, by the Michigan Land Economic Survey, and other
state departments, together with the researches conducted by various
public and private agencies, as reported in the bulletins of the New
York Social Science Research Council, all reflect the need for a
scientific analysis of the land-utilization problems of the United
Regions which at one time or another have experienced competing
and conflicting claims to land use generally furnish excellent
material for land-utilization studies. The Kankakee marsh reclaimed
area of northern Indiana and Illinois is such an area. Here clashed
the interests of the hunter-sportsman-conservationist group with
those of the organized land companies and of individuals interested
in the reclamation of the wetlands for agricultural use. The
author's interest in the region was aroused several years ago as a
result of public propaganda and a petition to the Federal Government
by a group of the Izaak Walton League to restore at least a part of
the original marsh-swamp, once nationally famous for its wild life,
particularly wild fowl. Studies of this type especially recommend
themselves today in connection with the nation's agricultural and
conservational readjustment policies.
The Kankakee country represents essentially an intermorainal
marsh reclaimed valley extending from South Bend, Indiana,
southwestward to Momence, Illinois. Down the wide, flat-floored
valley coursed the original meandering Kankakee River, now a series
of straight ditches. Rising in the east within a few miles of the
St. Joseph River, tributary to Lake Michigan, and itself forming a
headwater branch of the Illinois River to the west, the Kankakee,
with the St. Joseph portage, provided a strategic connecting link in
the Great Lakes-Mississippi route of the early French explorers, fur
traders, and missionaries.
Serving successively in its native state the Pottawatomie hunter,
the pioneer trapper, the marsh-hay ranger, and the professional
sportsman, the modern Kankakee, dredged, ditched, and drained, has
added over a half-million acres to the famous drift farming section
of the Central Plains.
The Kankakee is located in the more favorable humid section east
of the Mississippi. Its summer isothermal position places it within
the "a" subdivision of the Df climatic type of the Köppen
system, and fairly well within the southern border of the Corn Belt.
Demographical relations are no less significant. Rimmed by a
score of towns, the marsh at the eastern end is terminated by the
industrial city of South Bend, while its western extremity is within
45 miles from the second metropolis of the country- Chicago (Map
20). Less than 150 miles from the center of population of the United
States, its valley is "within 3-24 hours by express or 5-36 by
freight of at least half the population of the United States"
(1, p. 34).
FUNDAMENT - THE "NATURAL" Kankakee
Marsh prairies of aquatic sedges and grasses, potential grazing
areas; wild-rice sloughs, scenes of countless wild geese and ducks;
flag ponds, lined with muskrat houses; a narrow but almost
uninterrupted swamp forest, full of game, rimming a meandering river
teeming with fish; the wet prairies, made humanly habitable by the
interspersion of sandy island oak barrens surmounting the highest
flood waters- such in brief is the physical setup which attracted
the squatter pioneer from the East, who sought contentment in the
solitude and seclusion of a marsh wilderness.
In the eyes of the reclamationist a half century later this same
general scene reinterprets itself as an open prairie, practically
unencumbered by a forest cover, with a flat valley floor, a high
water table, and a presumably rich alluvial river bottom soil,
located within 50-100 miles of the greatest stock and grain market
in the world.
The cultural subtractions and additions incident to the drainage
operations have modified almost beyond recognition the general
aerial picture of the prereclamation period. Yet certain elements of
the natural landscape and their influences on human culture persist
in general outlines to this very day. Many of the marsh dunal
islands, particularly the unoccupied ones, and much of the original
"meander lands" along the Kankakee River are still marked
as of old by timber growth of upland and swamp species respectively.
The "islands" presently encompassed by dry land
continue to be the preferred sites of regional settlement.
The conditions of
the surrounding terrain in relation to the agricultural economy are
as significant as the "islands" in respect to the human
habitat. The latter, rising conspicuously in the form of sand dunes,
were recognized at the outset as "barrens" and as
generally unsuited to cultivation. But the soil conditions of the
flattish marsh areas appear, for the most part, to have been known
only superficially and classified categorically with the common
types of river bottom and marshlands.
Whatever typical surficial lowland characteristics they
may otherwise exhibit, the subsoil and "islands" of the
Kankakee are structurally unique. Sand,
with local lenses of gravel
or clay, constitutes the basic structural material of the valley, while
mounds and ridges of typical wind-blown sand here and there commonly
attain heights of from ten to fifteen feet, surmounting the seas of water-laid sand.
to their hypothetical origin may help one to understand the
situation. Occupying an intermorainal position, with the Valparaiso
moraine on the north and the Maxinkuckee moraine on the east and
southeast, these clastic deposits have been classed by Chamberlin
(11, pp. 330-331) and Leverett (18, p. 338) as mostly outwash.1
Part of the valley fill has been attributed to the postulated
Kankakee outlet for the glacial
waters escaping from the Saginaw lobe by way of
the St. Joseph channel at South Bend (18, p. 338; 20; 21, pp. 12-14).
Bradley attaches great depositional significance to the former lake waters occupying the basin, which he denominates the "Old
Lake Kankakee" (6, pp. 226-229). Since many of the sand mounds
and ridges are elevated above the highest possible level of the
postulated lake or of the actually known marsh waters, which must
have been shallow in either case, the sand of the higher elevated spots are clearly aeolian in origin, as is attested by their form and characteristic
some eight or nine months of the year water from one to four feet in
depth covered an area from three to five miles wide on each side
of the river (1; 12). The area thus assumed the characteristics of
a lacustral river rather than of an ordinary marsh. Especially was this
true at the time of the winter ice jams and spring freshets. Having an elevation of approximately 720 feet at its source at South Bend, the
Kankakee River trailed its way tortuously along the very slightly sloping
and much oversized valley to a point near Momence. Here, at
an elevation of 615 feet, it encountered a natural dam of Silurian
limestone outcropping in the riverbed. Within the small drop, then, of
a little over 100 feet the river, totaling a meandering distance of some 250 miles, averaged a gradient of -only about 5 inches per mile.
The average gradient for the valley, 85 miles long, is about 15 inches (1).
acknowledging the apparent "glacial" character of the
continental "drift" deposits, the writer of this paper
does not subscribe to all the implications of "Pleistocene
low gradient, the wide valley, the loose, easily eroded clastic sediments
of the river bed, the swamp vegetation, and the frequently occurring
floods thus together conspired to make of the Kankakee a notoriously
rambling stream, ever abandoning old and establishing new
channels. As a result,
there was formed an intricate maze of meanders,
oxbow lakes, sloughs, and bayous, similar to that depicted on
the map by Ahlgrim (Map 22). Accordingly,
the river did not prove a
very satisfactory political boundary between the northern and
the southern tiers of counties.
A glance at the Fundament map (Map 21) suggests that the marsh was
not a single simple unit, but, like the swamp river, a complex affair
maze of multiple marshes interspersed with sinuous sandy ridges
of higher and drier land. Streams descending from the marginal
moraine debouched into the stagnant marsh waters and formed deltalike
distributaries and deposits (T. 33 N., R. 5 W.).
three formations of the original native cover may be recognized:
(1) the river swamp timber; (2)
the marsh sedge and grass, including occasional small
outliers of the swamp timber; and (3) the upland
"barrens" or oak-timber association.
swamp timber proper followed the course of the river from practically
the western extremity of the "basin" halfway up to its source,
averaging a width of perhaps scarcely a mile, but widening considerably
in its middle course, where it attained the maximum of nearly three miles. The stand
included trees of extraordinary size, two to three and even four feet in diameter, once an important source of
lumber for northern Indiana. Ash,
elm, maple, oak, and birch were the dominant species.
sedges and grasses, fields of wild hay and wild rice dominated
the marsh landscape, interrupted now by a swamp-timber outlier of pin oak and its tree associates, now by a pond or a lake of lily
pads, reeds, cattails, and flags. The tall huckleberry and cranberry
presumably were important seasonal contributors of food for man
and bird. The occasional
small tamarack swamp has disappeared;
wild rice, once the harvest haven of wild fowl, was observed by
the author in only two localities - in
drainage ditches; marsh hay
appears as a relict formation in small, widely scattered, poorly drained
strips or spots, generally pastured, which the dredge and the plow
have not as yet invaded.
insular dunal and other upland areas, rising just above the shallow
water or to conspicuous heights of as much as 25-35 feet, either supported only a thin herb or moss ground cover reflective of acid
soil conditions or bore a stand of scrub or medium-sized timber consisting
chiefly of black oak and white oak, the latter now mostly gone.
As in the case of the wet marsh, the drier sandy uplands contributed
in superabundance their seasonal offering for man and beast: dwarf
huckleberry, blueberry, blackberry, and dewberry and hazel and
SEQUENT OCCUPANCE FORMS AND FUNCTIONS
transformation of the Kankakee "haven of wild life" into a
"modern home for
man" may be treated under four stages of settlement:
(1) the period of the Indian hunter and the French trader; (2)
the immigration of the pioneer trapper and the frontier farmer; (3)
the epoch of the stock farmer and the sportsman fowler; and, finally,
(4) the present joint occupance by the Corn Belt farmer and the
river resorter. These stages have been graphically synthesized in
the Silhouette Study (Fig. 20).
first two stages are characterized essentially by human adjustment
environment. The last one dominantly exhibits human adjustment
of the environment. The third is characteristically expressive
of a transitional condition in which the hitherto dictating influences
of the marsh-swamp fundament became progressively weaker
as the drainage net was perfected, leaving only remnants of the naturally induced culture forms reminiscent of an older and much
more romantic period.
French explorers, Charlevoix, La Salle, Tonti, and Father Hennepin,
were the first to give an account of the characteristics of the
Kankakee region. This valley they entered at its source near South
Bend, Indiana, after experiencing much difficulty in locating the
portage between the St. Joseph River, up which they had ascended from
Lake Michigan, and the source of the Kankakee, which they regarded
as the headwaters of the Illinois River. Here they came into
contact with the Pottawatomie Indian, who found the marsh a refuge
against the ferocious Iroquois of the East.
some of the Indians appear to have settled more or less permanently
on the marsh margin or on islands within the marsh or swamp,
the majority seem to have migrated back and forth, in summer
occupying the marginal moraine or Lake Michigan plain, and in winter
retiring to the swamp (or marsh) island, as illustrated and described
in the Silhouette Study (Fig. 20).2
2 J. Lorenzo Werich, a pioneer Kankakee hunter, whose mother settled with her
parents within a few miles of the Kankakee in 1835 and whose father
hunted in the marsh as
early as 1852, writes to the author as follows:
"Indian Island near the Kankakee was the Indians' camping
ground. During the
hunting season of the fur-bearing animals, from early autumn to late
in the spring, this island
was their home.
"Along about the first
of May they would pack their hides, furs, and with their squaws and
children they would start for the Lake Michigan region to
meet the fur traders. . . .
The Indians would stay
along the lakefront all summer,
and early in the fall they would return to the camping grounds in
the Kankakee swamps.
"About one mile up the river from Indian Island was another Indian
camp ground, known as
Indian Garden. The Indians in selecting a camp ground always
located on a point of high land which was well fortified and could
not be invaded by the
At least six
river, or near-river, island encampments are shown on the original Federal surveyors' plats.
Besides transportation, the river situation, like that of the Lake Michigan
trading posts, favored communication with the French fur
traders, who likewise came to use the swamp island sites as home and
headquarters for carrying on their own trapping as well as for trafficking
with the natives.
(3, pp. 66-67) reports
a number of camps of Indians: "In the winter
of 1835-36 about 600
had an encampment in
the West Creek woodlands,
where deer were abundant, and an encampment was there again
the next winter." Another Indian camping ground was located south
of the present Lowell. These would classify as marginal marsh situations,
though the exact sites are not given. Among marsh island sites
the author mentions Red Oak Island (Map 22), where in 1837-38 two
hundred Indians had a garden and where there were two stores kept
by French traders; also Big White Oak Island, south of Orchard Grove,
where there was an Indian cemetery. Among
the swamp island sites next to the river Werich (27) reports an "Indian
Garden" at the mouth
of Sandy Hook branch, tributary of the Kankakee (in Porter County), and another "Indian Island" a few miles farther
down the river.
trail routes, or pioneer roads, like the campsites, clearly reflect
the influence of the terrain. Again referring to the Fundament map
we observe that three main lines of communication crossed the marsh.
Two of the routes, the central and the eastern, followed the sinuous
trend of the ridges, where they most nearly approached the river; the one skirting the marsh on the west took advantage of
an anticlinal ledge of limestone in the river bed which made fording
route through the heart of the marsh crossed at the Pottawatomie
Ford, which was destined to become the most historic spot along
the Kankakee River in the marsh proper. Here was established in
1836 the Eaton Ferry, which transferred the early travelers across
the one and one-half mile marsh between the Porter County sandy
upland area and the sand-ridge landing in Jasper County on the side of
the river opposite.
epoch of Indian occupation may be said to close with 1840. By
the treaties of 1832 and 1836 with the Federal Government the Pottawatomies
relinquished their claims to the lands of northwest Indiana.
A few were permitted to remain, those that had been especially
friendly to the authorities, but these were absorbed in the pioneer trapper group of the next epoch, which we have dated from 1840
THE PIONEER'S KANKAKEE
are told that, after the initial marsh invasion by a sprinkling of
French trappers and traders, the "upper basin of the Kankakee
River was slowly taken over by the Danish and Swedish, and the lower
by the English and some Germans" (16, p. 25). Ball
(3), in speaking of the
settlement of northwest Indiana, especially of the latitude
of the Kankakee and north thereof, designates as the chief sources
of immigration New England, New York, Pennsylvania,
Ohio, Canada, the British
Isles, Germany, Holland, and Scandinavian countries, with a few from
south and central Indiana. Werich
(27) refers specifically
to the year 1833 as the time of the advent of the first
white families from the East, the Morgans and the Dyes of Ohio, who
settled in the neighborhood of Sandy Hook, referred to above. By the early 'fifties a number of pioneers had settled north of Knox, Starke
the immigrant farmer had a more or less fixed habitat, the
pioneer squatter commonly practiced seasonal migration. He lived
in a shanty on an island in the marsh or swamp during the winter trapping and hunting season and removed to the margin of the
marsh in the summer, where he might "hire out" as a
"farm hand" or
find some kind of job in town.3
trapper built a shanty on a ridge or an island as the case might be and
during the trapping season would live in his shanty. Along about
April 10 or 15 he would
take up his traps, store them in the shanty, pack up his furs, and move
out of the swamp to his home wherever that might be. Along about
October 1 the trapper
would go back to his shanty. A few of the Kankakee trappers that
had no other abode lived in their shanties during the summer season.
Back in the 60's and 70's
the border towns had many trappers." - J.
L. Werich, communication.
island, though lonely, served its homesite function well. The
sand base insured perfect drainage at all times; its
of an upper story of oaks, a lower of scrub growth, and a ground
cover of bush and herb, prevented the island from being blown away; the formation, a natural aquifer, provided a wholesome and
abundant supply of water, naturally filtered; the
timber furnished shelter and firewood; the ground cover often included dense growths
of huckleberry and blueberry. As
previously pointed out, this
site had every advantage for exploiting game, fur, and
of the Squatter Trapper
The typical trapper
of the Kankakee occupied a shanty of one or
two rooms most simply constructed of unfinished lumber and usually
with a single entrance. It appears to have been a common practice for trappers to move about, remaining on one spot for only a
few years, then going to another island, where a new shanty would
be erected. Occasionally a more substantial structure would be built
in the form of the familiar frontier log cabin .4
4 The frontier "fur, fowl, and fin" environment and seasonal
economy is well portrayed
in a crude but detailed diary (1852) by a certain Josiah Granger (24).
distribution of such primitive shelters was of the most scattered
type, a pattern definitely related to the dispersion of the island sites
themselves. In the early days the population was exceedingly sparse;
later on, when the trapping business assumed greater commercial
importance, more trappers were attracted, until restrictive measures
were adopted, including separate "trapping claims" laid out
at right angles to the river (27, p. 87).
revenue derived from game resources during this period can be
only roughly estimated, on the basis of hunters' reports. Muskrats
supplied by far the greatest bulk of fur marketed, but brought the
low price of from 3 to 15 cents per pelt. However, what the pelts
lacked in individual value was offset by their overwhelming numbers
and ease of exploitation. It
is reported that a trapper found
muskrat houses so numerous that three or four could be speared
from one position of the boat. Another trapper states that, after
the great marsh fire in 1871 (incidentally the year of the great Chicago fire), he sometimes caught in a single night more than 80 "rats"
in a line of 100 traps. In Lake County alone the annual catch during
the period from 1834 to 1884 is said to have averaged between 20,000
and 40,000 (21, pp. 519-520).
Farm Economy of the Frontier
economy, such as there was, and fur exploitation went hand in hand during the frontier occupancy of the Kankakee. So closely were
they associated that the form and function of the settlement of one
were only a slight modification of the form and function of the
other. The typical frontier farmer
was also a hunter, and in no
small measure supplemented his income and diet with the wild products
of the marsh and swamp.
Though the ideal
site of the trapper seems to have been a rather heavily
wooded dune island in close proximity to marsh, swamp, and
river, that of the farmer probably was the marsh margin, or
marsh islands near the margin, and particularly those with a
somewhat heavier soil.
the outstanding fact of sequent occupancy and utilization
of farm lands in the Kankakee from the earlier days down to the
present is the progressive expansion from the higher and drier, though generally much poorer, island and ridge soils to the lower and
generally increasingly fertile soil types as they became available by
drainage. This does not mean that the general agricultural development
necessarily involved the abandonment, by the early settlers, of
the original, and in some respects still preferred, sites of
settlement. It is, rather,
expressive of the areal spread of occupation as related to
the growing drainage net and the early island sites, which represent
the original nuclear farmstead attachments in the area. "There
was the usual tendency to
occupy first the lighter and the forested soils, because they were
easier to handle with the primitive instruments
employed than the heavier soils and prairie lands, and in addition the timbered areas furnished game, firewood, and building material"
(8, p. 1701).
grasses and sedges figured very significantly in the simple farm
economy. They constituted the chief, if not the only, source of hay as well as pasturage. If the season favored the farmer, he might
without much difficulty harvest the hay by a hand scythe or
a mower. But should it be a wet summer, sleds, drawn by horses shod with sandal-like shoes, had to be used to haul the hay out of the
marsh; or it was carried out on a pair of poles by two individuals
walking tandem fashion. If
it was impossible to reach the farmstead,
the hay was temporarily stacked on an island near by and removed later to the farm premises when conditions permitted. Sometimes
it had to be cut on the ice, which resulted in forage of rather
farm routine of pioneer days was characteristically built up
around the seasonal offerings of nature: in spring and fall, wildfowling;
in summer, wild-haying, fishing, and huckleberrying; in
fall and winter, trapping,
hunting, and chopping wood. The growing of corn, possibly
supplemented by wheat and oats, and the planting of potatoes and other garden vegetables, together with a little ditching
by hand in summer, and perhaps some timber clearing in the
winter, rounded out the season's program. Ditching as a
legally controlled enterprise received attention as early as 1852, and ditching
by hand was reported in Lake County in 1854. But not until steam
dredges had been brought into operation in 1884 (3) was there any
considerable progress made in drainage. So
the ditch may be said to
be the key to an understanding of the economy of the Kankakee,
of its chronologically and chorographically integrated forms and
functions, just as in most regions roads furnish the index to
regional development. With
systematic ditching came systematic road
building and the development of a coordinated ditch-road
settlement pattern, which
chiefly characterizes the next two periods.
RECREATIONIST'S AND THE RANCHER'S KANKAKEE
erection of large clubhouses for sportsmen (1878-79); the
introduction of large herds of cattle for range feeding by
Nels Morris, the Chicago packer, and by others (1880); the
use of the steam dredge
for the first time in the Kankakee (1884) -
these may be taken
as basic criteria for the recognition of a new epoch. By this time, we are told, nearly all old trappers had left the marsh. "Rats"
and certain other fur-bearing
animals were still abundant, but pelts were
cheap, though some forms of animal life were becoming scarce if not
actually exterminated, as in the case of deer (last one reported shot
in 1880). But wild fowl and fish seemed as plentiful as ever and
attracted large numbers of sportsmen from far and near, who found the
marshes and river a veritable "hunter's and fisherman's paradise."
Whereas this form of the recreation industry expressed itself
in seasonal boom days for the otherwise thinly settled river territory,
the stage was all set for a reclamation program of the marginal marshes. This
involved at first ditch drainage, primarily to convert the wild-hay marshes into cattle ranges and grain fields
to support a livestock industry.
digging, now expedited by the steam dredge, also facilitated
road building, for the ditch spoil bank itself often served as an elevated
roadbed of porous sands and gravel, excellently drained and passable
throughout the year. Railroads,
which were constructed across
the swamp and marshes as early as the 'fifties and the 'sixties
merely to connect the older and more settled and better developed
Hoosier communities downstate with the
coming metropolis of Chicago
now actually figured in the Kankakee development along agricultural
and recreational lines.
thus opened up the once-secluded frontier empire of "fur, fowl, and fin" to the sportsmen of distant
cities as well as of communities
near by. As individuals and
as organized clubs they came
in numbers from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago,
and other large cities. Though the sportsman's presence in
the Kankakee is a matter now largely of a most glorious and romantic
history, a few geographic landmarks remain: the abandoned Louisville
Clubhouse near Baum's Bridge, where stands the historically
famous relict houseboat of Lewis Wallace of Ben Hur fame; the
Diana Club House near Thayer; the
Alpine Clubhouse near English
Lake; and the Cumberland Lodge in southern Lake County (see
Map 23). The first three represent river sites characteristic of the
times. The last has a marginal
marsh-island, oak-grove situation.
considerations appear to have influenced the clubhouse sites.
In the first place, the river itself was a most potent factor, if one
may judge from the distribution pattern. It
had its own peculiar charm
in its beautiful winding and wooded course. By
it many a hunter,
fisherman, and river resorter entered the region. The
general situation gave
ready accessibility to both the hunting and the fishing
grounds. Clubhouses, however,
were not scattered at random
along the river, but usually were located at points of vantage representing
either favorable dry and elevated sites or transportation advantages
of a road or a railroad crossing the river. The combined influence of communication and favorable drainage conditions
is illustrated by the agglomeration of clubhouses and tent camps, which were
at Shelby and at Water Valley. At the latter site, still a
popular summer resort, were the
Chicago Sportsman Club, the Capitol Club of
Indianapolis, the Indianapolis, the Rensselaer, and
the Dally clubs, with the
Diana Club just south of the river. The
Baum's Bridge clubhouse
site illustrates by way of general situation the
potent influence of the
tongue of high and ever-dry sandy upland "Plainfield"
soils, extending southward to the river. This, together with
a similar elevated belt on the south side of the river, forms a sort
of ridge that bridges the
marsh (Map 21). A most important trail of the aborigine, this
crossroads of the river, swamp, and marsh was instrumental in making Baum's resort famous. Here
located the clubs of Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rockville, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis
(27, p. 106).
the clubs which established themselves in the Kankakee were the
Columbian Hunting Club on Island No. 62 (named after the number of
its membership) ; that of Logansport, Indiana, whose tent
camp was pitched on Cornell Island; and the De Guila, Alpine, Prairie,
Wallace, La Fayette, and Crawfordsville clubs. The smaller groups
and the individual fowler or fisherman used tents, shanties, or cottages.
A number were accommodated by farmers living on the marsh
the general health-, rest-, or recreation-seeking resorters led to the establishment of a number of hotels, as at Thayer.
the former scene of the sportsman's Kankakee, we observe that the
swamp rimming the river is sufficiently narrow to act
only as a momentary screen to the completely changed yet hardly less
charming view of the marsh without. Here, as far as the eye can
see, is an expanse of marsh interrupted only by an occasional upland
oak grove on a sandy knoll or ridge, or possibly by a cluster of closely set pin oaks rising out of the water, with their
downward-bending dead branches. Miniature mounds with clumps
of grass just emerging from the water betray the somewhat undulating
character of the otherwise markedly far-flung flatness of the
submerged terrain. Rank sedges and grasses (source of marsh hay)
and flags mark the shallower stretches. With these alternate the wild-rice swales; the
cattail, spadderdock, and smartweed slough; and the reed and lily
ponds, water sites throughout the year.
of earth and flags, the homes of whole colonies of "rats,"
dot the rims of sloughs,
ponds, and poorly defined stream channels. The wild-rice and
smartweed fields are the scenes of countless geese and
ducks and other wild fowl which find here their ideal harvest by day,
and in the neighboring swamp their haven by night. In a rather open
spot sits a partly sunken sink-tub, forming an artificial blind
screening the hunter. A natural screen almost hides from view the outlines
of a pushboat with the hunter, gun in hand, at the bow. The
pusher in the rear propels the boat by probing a long push paddle in
the boggy and weedy shallow bottoms of the marsh. In
the vicinity of a flag
slough is seen another pushboat hunter thrusting a spear into a
seasonal arrivals of the various feathered migrants give an added
animated aspect to the general picture portrayed above. "In
the spring, ducks generally began
to arrive around the middle of
February, or as early as
February 1. Mallards and
pintails were first to arrive, followed by teals and bluebills, then
spoonbills, and finally the wood ducks, which came about the middle of March. Wood
ducks often fed on the timber acorns; others were strictly
marsh birds and would not go into the timber swamp except during a
storm." s "Sand
Hill cranes and brant were plentiful in early spring,
and later came the jacksnipe, plover, and rail to stay till the water seeped through the sand on the higher marshes, where the prairie
chicken could be heard calling at break of day." 6
hunting proved profitable as well as pleasurable. Catering
to hunting parties was an important source of income to hotels and certain
farmsteads. The tractless
morass and swamp also called for pushers
who could serve as guides. One
such individual conceived the
rather ingenious idea of making a geographic survey of the marshes
on the ice during the winter (Map 22). Several
hundred copies of this map were sold in blueprint form to the
visiting hunters, who otherwise might, and did, lose themselves
occasionally in the maze
of the wild morasses.'
5 Interview with the veteran
hunter Mark Anderson of Knox, Indiana, who hunted
the Kankakee for fifty years.
6 Report of another professional
hunter of the Kankakee, George Burk, of Valparaiso,
7 Practically all the islands of any consequence in the Kankakee
marsh were named, which
indicates their geographic importance to the sojourning sportsman
and to the native inhabitant. Not only did these named landmarks identify
the home, club, and campsites, but they also served as guideposts to
the hunter traveling in an otherwise tractless marsh.
Their nomenclature suggests an interesting study in toponomy. The
names characterize many features of the topography and impart a
certain amount of personal local
color, as is revealed by sampling the several classes of names appearing
on Ahlgrim's map and in Werich's work. There
are, first of all, the "generic"
topographic terms, such as "island," "ridge,"
"knob," "grove," and "garden."
To these, in binomial fashion, are added the "specific"
names likewise falling into several categories. Thus
we have Indian Garden, French Island; Bissell
Ridge, Wheeler Knobs; Little Grape Island, White Oak Island; Goose
Island, Skunk Knobs; Long Ridge, Flat Island; Shanty Island, Bridge
Island; Bogus Island,
Island Six to Two.
Another set of terms identified water forms of the marsh, swamp, and
river, for example: Flag
Pond, Wild Cat Swamp, Sandy Hook Creek, Cornell's Bayou,
Pottawatomie Ford, Frenchman Slough, South Marsh, Devil's Race
8 Said by Richard Lieber, former
head of the Conservation Department of Indiana, to be a typical
Swamp and Marsh "Natural" Industries Lumbering
axe encroaching on the swamp, the sickle advancing into the
marsh, the barbed-wire fence enclosing the range, the plow breaking
up the prairie sod where the steam dredge had dug wide and deep drainage
ditches river-bound -- these
are additional expressions of the
human occupance of this period which we shall now consider.
already started in the last epoch, attained its greatest yet
rather restricted development during this period. Among
the most enterprising
sawmillers at this time was A. H. Ahlgrim, who built
sawmills successively near Thayer, Roselawn, and Water Valley.
He still resides at Water Valley where he now operates a summer cottage
early as 1875 logs were rafted down the Kankakee River to Momence,
and, since the timber swamp adjoins the river, this would seem
to have been an ideal situation. But
river rafting did not prove
any too practicable, owing to the tortuous and snag-infested channel. The numerous spikes
which had to be used to secure the rafts often proved a
menace to the sawmiller. In the
course of time stationary
and then portable mills came to be located at the source of timber,
the latter being particularly useful in the small and scattered oak-grove
swamp elm, ash, maple, pin oak, and burr oak constituted the
chief species marketed from the swamp. On
the sand knobs and ridges
white oak was extensively exploited. Fence
posts and firewood have taken their share of the timber
toll. The "setting out of fires"
reclaimed some of the swampland for agriculture, but extensive
tracts of fired timber are unutilized and present a pitiable
spectacle of despoliation.
exploitation at this time was a commercial venture on
a large scale. With the subsidence of the high spring floods about
the first of May the wild sedges and grasses were ready to be cut
in July and August. What
was not summer-pastured, or fed locally as winter forage, was baled
by large steam presses and exported.
The varieties of short and long, tender and tough sedges and grasses
adapted the hay to various uses. From the upper shallower marsh sites and along the "islands" was cut the shorter,
tender, more succulent, and
nutritious feeding hay; the lower deeper marshes yielded rank and
tough growths, which were shipped, to Chicago, for example,
as bedding or packing hay.
marsh-hay pastures and the "island" oak groves invited a cattle
economy which was developed first and foremost by Nels Morris,
the Chicago packer. Practically all the true Kankakee marsh and swamp lands of Jasper County and northeast Newton County,
totaling 23,000 acres, were taken over by him. Thousands of
head of cattle, many from Texas, were shipped in and grazed on tracts
fenced into units the size of a section or so, imparting the aspect of a western ranch with its picturesque professional cowpuncher.
ranches included the well-known Brown estate in southern Lake
County, partly protected from flood by a privately constructed dike
or "levee"; and another ranch of about 5,000 acres near
Thayer, Newton County.
AND THE RESORTER'S
Kankakee is a quandary. If one were to ask today "What does
the Kankakee represent?" the answer would probably be one of two
opposing types: (1) It represents a land that "God forgot to finish,"
a man-reclaimed area of extraordinary fertility; (2) It represents
a manhandled marsh, a failure as a reclamation project, a substitution
of unproductive lands for the most ideally adjusted wild-life forms
of plant and animal, so essential to the nation's conservation program.
A survey of the physical and cultural setup should help in clarifying
the situation. The regional quality of the Kankakee may be
assayed (1) by comparing it with its neighboring morainal uplands and
(2) by taking a qualitative-quantitative inventory of the resources
of its component divisions.
The panoramic map
(Map 23) may be said to express the sum and
substance of the author's contribution to Kankakee chorography. Together with explanatory notes it records the essential results of
both personal field survey
and literary research. Its crop-cover analysis and
land-soil synthesis are offered as a more or less self-contained unit.'
It remains to interpret these data along with the questionnaire
interviews in terms of the present human occupance
area as delineated represents the river territory of some 620 square
miles embraced within the so-called "Kankakee Grain and Pasture"
agricultural division of northwest Indiana. This
coincides with the sandy "Maumee-Plainfield-NewtonMuck"
soil province, to which the Kankakee proper adds the Swamp. Once
an ancient lake bottom, the far-flung Kankakee terrain, interrupted
only locally by sand knobs and ridges, conduced to readiness of cultivation in large field units. Quarter or half sections of corn divided by few fence lines are not uncommon. Large
level field units favor tractor farming, and make for large farms, many of them a
half section or more, as compared with the quarter-section farm on
the rolling rimming moraine. But
large farms involve large investments,
particularly in the case of virgin bottom land held at
initial high figures and
subject to drainage assessments. The result is
that the larger Kankakee farms show an extraordinarily high percentage
of tenant operators, as high as 85-90 per cent in some localities,
whereas on the neighboring uplands one half or more of
the farms are
operator-owned. Combined frequently with uncertain or
short-term leases, such a system conduces to a more or less exploitative
type of grain farming, without proper regard for the place of
the animal industries in helping to maintain soil productivity. Once
famous for its large ranches of beef cattle, the Kankakee today is
noted for its cereal culture. Livestock
consists chiefly of small dairy
herds normally ranging from six to a dozen head and of swine about
twice that number. The
swing in latter years to dairying in
the form of whole-milk production reflects the proximate position of the Kankakee with respect to Chicago. Its more distant position and
poorer quality of pasture, however, put it at a certain disadvantage
as against the closer competing areas.
9 Natural cover and crops are
represented by superimposed colors on the author's
indicated in the introduction, the Kankakee lies within the Koppen
Dfa type of climate (Map 19). However, it assumes practically
a borderline position between the severe-winter Dfa and the mild-winter
Cfa types, the average temperature of only one month falling
below 26.6° F.,
the critical figure used to define the D-C boundary.
With a total of nearly ten inches of summer rainfall (two inches above the critical corn figure), in addition to an advantageous
high water table, and with a growing season isotherm of over
F. (5° above the critical corn
temperature), the climate is generally well suited for corn, the
chief culture, except for certain frost
hazards, as pointed out below.
Although statistical data for
near-river locations are not available,
those of Wheatfield are considered quite representative of general
marsh conditions; the station has essentially a marsh situation and
elevation, though its location is somewhat marginal to the marsh
TEMPERATURE AND PRECIPITATION DATA
WHEATFIELD, INDIANA (19)
of record, 14 years
monthly temperature for the year, 49.7°
average annual rainfall 33.69 inches
A. M. J. J. A. S. O. N. D.
Temperature. 28.2 28.8 38.8 48.5 58.7 69.2 73.4 71.2 65.0 53.2 37.6 28.3
1.28 2.61 3.74 3.30 3.60 3.04 3.10 3.55 2.91 2.25 2.49
of the monthly, seasonal, and annual temperature and precipitation figures of Wheatfield with those of a typical upland
border moraine station, like Valparaiso, about twenty miles due north,
reveals a very close parallelism of climatic conditions.
shorter frost-free season in the Kankakee as compared with the
neighboring upland is no doubt chiefly due to air drainage, locally
influenced further by muck soil.
sandy and gravelly substratum deposited in the original Kankakee
lake basin has proved at once the boon and the bane of its
agriculture. Facilitating subsurface drainage, the light and porous subsoil
is responsible for heavy leaching. Especially is this a vital factor when one considers the limited role livestock plays in the extensive
cereal type of farming, in which animal manures are quite negligible.
Consequently fields planted to corn are now almost regularly
fertilized (about 100 lb. of commercial fertilizer to the acre), as
is practically true also of wheat.
dozen or more different soil types, represented in part by a variable
classification and scale in the several counties, may be reduced
to a regional basis of five serial units: Plainfield, Newton, Maumee,
Swamp, and Muck. Their areal spread is indicated below. Maumee,
rated in general as an all-round good soil, comprises about three
fifths of the Kankakee area, whereas Muck, covering an additional
seventh, is a fertile organic soil well adapted to special crops, such
as mint, corn, and certain truck products. The
remaining approximate fourth embraces Plainfield and Newton, mostly lean, light-textured
soils, and the Swamp, mostly representative of burned or
partly cleared timber wastes.
pointed out above, the chorographic development of the Kankakee
is a function of the drainage ditch, without which the expansion
of agriculture would have been impossible.
by hand in pioneer days, then by oxen and horses, and finally
by steam dredge, introduced at the beginning of the last epoch (1884), drainage ditches were extended farther and farther from the
marsh margin into the river swamp. The Kankakee River itself finally
was straightened in Indiana, first in its headwaters and then all
the way to the state line (1906-17). In addition to the drainage ditch, the reclamation system locally includes tile drainage and levee protection
(for example, Brown Levee in southern Lake County).
most remarkable fact about the present drainage setup is its
marked artificial character. This is strikingly expressed by the
rectilinear pattern of the numerous ditches with straight angular courses
and profiles (Map 24), frequently accentuated by highbanked
spoil ridges flanking the ditches.
reclamation program utilized in part the original natural channels
of stream drainage, which were straightened and enlarged. Much more ditch mileage, however, is represented in the newly dug trenchlike
drainage lines which in large areas conform to the regularity
of a road pattern. Together these form an elaborate dissection of
the Kankakee plain, in which practically each section lies within
only a mile, or a mile and a half, of a drainage ditch, whereas the
majority of sections regularly have one and occasionally two ditches
transecting or flanking them.
general classes of drainage areas and associated types of drainage
features may be recognized:
(1) Along the river is the swamp, for a convenient boundary of which we may take the high water line shown on Map 24. Within this
area, which is generally still underdrained and subject to periodic
overflow, we have first of all the Miller-Place-Marble-Williams' ditches.
Jointly they represent the dredged equivalent of the original meandering
Kankakee. The straightened and deepened and widened channel follows only the most general trend of the early river and is
for the most part flanked by high spoil banks. The digging of the big
ditch and the dumping of the spoil material have all but obliterated the original river meanders, bayous, and oxbows, though occasionally
one has been spared.
locally with the main ditch are levees and parallel relief
ditches, which could almost be regarded as a part of the river system;
tributary swamp feeders enter the main line of drainage mostly
at right angles, in trellis fashion.
(2) The marginal marsh whose drainage lines characteristically follow
the parent natural stream channels have preserved somewhat the
original dendritic pattern. These
ditches, in their headwaters at
least, follow rather closely the trend of the ancestral creeks which
descended the marginal
moraines and debouched their waters into the
(3) Finally, ditches of a third class may be regarded as artificial "extended consequents," which lead the water from the marginal marsh
ditches into the main channel.
lack of sufficient fall directly riverward resulted in the peculiar
deflection westward of these lower marsh drainage courses. Examples
of these drainage units running almost parallel to the river ditch are the Singleton and Brown ditches in Lake County and
the Hodge ditch in Jasper County.
commonly are eight, fifteen, and twenty feet in width; a
number of them are as much as a half chain wide. The river ditch in
its lower course ranges from one and one-half to two chains in width.
In addition, almost an equal
space is occupied jointly by the
berm and the spoil bank, although in some places the excavated material of the smaller ditches is leveled off and becomes part of the
is King" in the Kankakee, apparently occupying more acreage
than all other cultivable crops together. Oats ranks next, followed
by wheat. Both plow pasture and forage crops are close rivals of
wheat for third place. This
order likewise expresses the normal
sequence of crop rotation (c-o-w-p), though the cycle may stop
with three or two crops. Thus plow pastures are renewed normally
about every fourth year.
crop yields on the better Kankakee soils (Maumec-MuckSwamp)
probably in general run from 25 to 50 per cent higher than on
the bounding uplands, 35 to 40 bushels of corn to the acre being not
uncommon. But the soils generally, as pointed out above, show a
marked tendency toward depreciation. Thus they express a condition
of both strength and weakness. Particular soil adaptations are
discussed below under the several soil-land heads. In addition to
these influences, several crop concentrations are noted as influenced
by factors quite independent of any particular soil type. The
author's survey reveals a marked regional differentiation in the
amount of acreage devoted to wheat in the eastern half as compared
with the western. Proportionately much more wheat is raised east
of La Crosse, or the Porter-Lake and Jasper-Starke county lines, than west of them. This
condition seems to be related to the higher
position and hence the drier condition of the tipper valley.
is confined to the Muck
mucky phases of the Maumee
east of the Hanna-North Judson line. Though the Kankakee
soils collectively and individually are peculiarly well adapted for
growing truck products, proximity to consuming centers or storage
and marketing facilities results in local concentrations, such as at
De Motte, North Judson, and particularly at South Bend.
general friability of the Kankakee soils, like the levelness of the
terrain, facilitates plowing and cultivation. Sticky clays or cloddy
textures are practically unknown. On
the other hand, certain
types, such as the Plainfield or the lighter Muck, are so light that
they will "blow." Roots of plants may thus be exposed or
the whole plant dislodged.
Furthermore, muck dust makes cultivation on
windy days unpleasant for both man and beast. A
farmer on muck ground remarked: "There was a time when we
`drowned out'; there are
times now when we `freeze out'; and then again we may `blow
general conditions of the subsurface drainage appear quite satisfactory
(25). It is only natural, however, that in a dry season the ground water table level should be found too low on the sandy uplands,
and in the wet season too high on the low swales. It appears
also that, when droughts do occur, the crops on the upper sandier areas may "burn up" in a day or two, whereas on the bordering
moraine uplands the effects are felt gradually.
to reckon with but few surface obstacles, except in the swamp,
the ditch-digging program was primarily concerned with getting
sufficient fall, an important item in a nearly level country where the coarse sandy sediments have a tendency to fill up the ditch.
Associated with this phenomenon,
the growth of cattails, bladderwort, and other aquatic forms check
the current and, together
with sand deposits, clog the drainage lines. Either of these
conditions in time necessitates recleaning.
Pasture and Waste Lands
Kankakee is identified with the so-called Grain and Pasture region
of Indiana. In the Kankakee reclaimed area proper about one
eighth of the cultivable area is in plow or rotation pasture, and with
grain shares the better lands, the Maumee and the Muck. Much
of the Kankakee pasturage, however, is relegated to the marginal, light, rolling, and partly wooded Plainfield and closely associated
Newton. As much as 25 to 40 per cent of the Plainfield groves is
pastured. This type of native pasture is of rather inferior quality,
with a carrying capacity of
one grazing unit to 5-10 acres.
much smaller percentage of the Swamp is used for pasture on
account of the inadequate drainage and the extensive cover of timber,
brush, and rank weeds.
with the regular rectangular grain fields and plow pasture,
the outline of the native pastures is notoriously irregular, bounding
a Plainfield ridge or knoll or enclosing an irregular brush or
stump clearing in the swamp.
While most of the
Swamp and much of the Plainfield timbered areas
represent practically wasteland, the "broken" marsh and swamp
areas have an insignificantly small acreage lying idle, as indicated
by an x on the Chorography map (Map 23). The
small widely scattered
units amount to hardly three sections of all those mapped, or barely
two per cent of the whole cultivable area of the inner Kankakee
basin. Even some of this represents only temporarily
One of the most
singular expressions of agricultural adjustments arising from the
ditch-digging program in the Kankakee is the appropriation of
ditch water for livestock. A large number of ditches are
sufficiently below the ground water table to offer a more or less permanent supply of good water, though stagnation and heavy iron flocculations
sometimes result when the water table gets too low, or
when partial clogging of the ditch occurs, as mentioned above. But
ditches were not designed to be "natural watering troughs"
for stock to trample
around in; in fact, there appears to be a regulation
against the use of the drainage ditch for this purpose. At any rate,
in nearly every case the ditch is outside the regular pasture bounds,
and its water is made available to stock by extending the fence
at certain points part way into the ditch.
average somewhat less than three to the square mile, or
a total of some 1,800 for the region. Unlike the more or less even
distribution on the marginal moraine country, the occupance pattern
shows marked local concentrations, as will be brought out in
discussing the respective types below.
reclamation of the original Kankakee on a large scale was made
possible mainly through the relatively few but extensive holdings
of land companies or individuals who offered the land for sale undeveloped
or improved. The ready-made farm
unit tended to assume a
standard type - a half
section of land with a frame T or L
structure of seven or eight rooms, or the cheaper square double-story
type. As the Kankakee became more settled variable types were introduced.
than half of the farmsteads of the Kankakee are located on a
hard-surfaced highway of some kind, commonly of gravel or macadam,
or, as in the case of superhighways, of asphalt-macadam or concrete.
Only very few of the remaining farmers are more than a mile
from an improved road. But under modern drainage conditions even
the ordinary "dirt" road is seldom impassable, owing to
the sandy base. The
ready subsurface drainage, combined with the frequent availability
of ditch-dredged material for elevating the roadbed, has proved a
great asset to the Kankakee road-building program.
With few exceptions
the towns, as shown on Map 23, may be said
to belong to the bordering moraines rather than to the inner basin proper. Their marginal position clearly is determined by the barrier
influence of the early "marsh" to encroaching settlements.
the score of settlements that rim the basin, only one, that of South
Bend at the head of the valley, is a ranking industrial community;
it has a population of over a hundred thousand. Several of
the larger towns have a population of from one to two thousand; most
of them have less than five or six hundred inhabitants.
elevators, a few warehouses for storage of truck products (in the
east), and an occasional light industry, such as a picklepreserving plant at Knox, enter into the simple extracommercial core
setup of the Kankakee trading centers.
Kankakee region may be regarded as made up physiographically
of only two consolidated divisions: a
narrow but practically continuous
timber swamp in the river bottoms and the extensive marsh
prairie of the flat-floored valley. A very general distinction may
also be recognized topographically (geographically) between the eastern and western halves in that the former lies higher, has a greater
average width but a narrower and finally disappearing swamp; features
larger muck areas, with mint culture (altogether absent in the
west); and produces
proportionately more wheat and truck. On
the other hand, practically
all the river resorts and amusement centers were and
still are in the western half.
Basis for Areal Differentiation
for the general divisions given above, the Kankakee does not
appear to lend itself to a simple dissection into unified homogeneous
treatment rather involves a recognition of a unit form as consisting
of small patches of the landscape related in
structure and origin, however discontinuous and dispersed they may
be. The basis for such
areal differentiation is found in the diverse
land-soil formations of the valley. Comprising
a dozen or more soil
types, the soils for purposes of a regional classification may be
reduced to five structural classes reflective of land surface as
well as soil characteristics -
Plainfield, Newton, Maumee,
Swamp, and Muck.
and Land-Use Patterns
"Island." - The
sandy and rolling Plainfield is at once next to the least and yet
the most important topographic
unit in the Kankakee. Aside
from the Swamp, it embraces
by far the greatest percentage of untilled land; however,
it can claim more
farmsteads per unit area than the other four units combined.
in the form of islands in the early wet marsh, the Plainfield
still forms the most striking natural element of the prairie landscape
in terms of both landform and natural vegetation. As indicated on
Map 23, the insular units are quite regularly distributed and range in size from a mere knob large enough to accommodate a single
small farmstead up to a square mile or more in area. The
Plainfield as mapped
includes a small amount of heavier clayey
phases that do not form
conspicuous rises. The areas definitely ridged
or elevated are included in a dotted line on the map, representing
the basal contour above which the roughly estimated average (or
common) and maximum heights are recorded in feet. Thus
an inventory of a score of
recorded values for each of five counties shows an average of 5 and
10 feet for common and maximum dunal heights, respectively.
Small knobs generally do not rise much over 5 feet; the
higher ridges run from 15 to 20 feet, and, in extraordinary cases, from
30 to 35 feet in height. These elevated tracts assume the form of
small circular or oval mounds (H 4, U 31); or long, narrow linear ridges
(L 11, N 4); or very irregular outlines (D 19, V 5).10
10 Letters and numbers
refer to strip and section location on the Chorography map (Map 23).
the earliest sites of cultivation as well as habitation, the Plainfield
is today agriculturally noted chiefly for its woodlot or herb pastoral
economy. It is the only
landform, aside from the Swamp, in
which the area devoted to grazing is practically equal to or even greater
than that devoted to wheat and oats combined, or to corn culture.
Representing only about one fifth of the area of the fertile Maumee,
it has nearly one half as much pastoral acreage. However, its
grazing value, as was pointed out above, is much inferior, and in part
represents actually waste land. Whereas the carrying capacity of
the Maumee is probably around 12-2 acres per head, the Plainfield requires
5-10 acres. After the cereals beans, rye, forage crops, and truck
follow in importance. In view of the general droughtiness of the
lighter soils, which makes the growing of other forage and green manure
crops difficult, soy beans (and locally cowpeas) prove a godsend to the sandy areas. Proportionately,
the Plainfield has five times
as much acreage in soybeans as the Maumee. The larger Kankakee
soil province ranks first in the state in rye production. A characteristically
poor soil crop, rye practically coincides in its distribution with the Plainfield.
sinuous ridges of the Plainfield break up the horizontal as well
as the vertical monotony of the Kankakee landscape. Cultivated fields
are interrupted, winding fences bound the ridge pastures, and extensive
unoccupied areas in one section (D 19) contrast with the numerous
small closely set farmstead groves in another section (T 10). Plainfield houses average eight to the square mile and show a
tendency to be agglomerative (E 16, 0 25, W 27, 34, 3). Though the
former necessity for living here has passed owing to adequate
drainage, the prairie "islands" supply natural shade trees
and make for dry farm
lots, even in the wettest season. Besides they command a
view above and beyond the surrounding "cornscape."
Kankakee "Cornscape." - In
terms of area or productivity the Maumee exceeds in
importance not only any other Kankakee form but all the others
combined. It is the fundamental or
basic structural unit of the Kankakee. Generally characterized by
large continuous units, it is especially dominant in the eastern half,
where, in the former "Grand Marsh" area, or southern La
Porte County, and its
adjacent parts in northern Starke County, it forms only
a slightly interrupted unit of some 150 square miles, or nearly one
fourth of the whole marsh.
largely of sandy loams and aggregating some three fifths of
the whole area, it has a relative productivity several times this
ratio. And so the Maumee may be truly said to be the "key to Kankakee agriculture." It seems quite equally adapted to the growing
of all the Kankakee crops.
averaging only two, or only one fourth of the number of farmhouses
per square mile as compared with the Plainfield, the Maumee
outranks the Muck-Swamp combined two to one. Since it represents
the later lands in the Kankakee to be reclaimed, one would not
expect to find remnants of pioneer homesteads on this type, as in
the case of the Plainfield and. the Newton.
Transition. - The Newton assumes
an intermediate classification between the Plainfield and the Maumee in essentially all soil and topographic features. Lying characteristically
between the higher Plainfield and the lower Maumee, it
partakes now of the former characteristics, now of the latter, with
transitional phases difficult to identify definitely with the one or
light in texture, similar to certain phases of the sandy Plainfield,
the typical dark brown of the Newton is suggestive of the Maumee.
Its natural cover now may partake of the Plainfield oak association,
and again may represent a transition mixture of swamp pin
oak and upland black-white oak, or occur in the form of a swamp outlier
of pin oak. Marsh herb no doubt also entered locally into the original
crop-distribution analysis seems to suggest nothing much out
of the ordinary, except a disproportionately large acreage of oats.
per unit slightly less than half the number of Plainfield farmsteads,
the Newton does show definitely the effects of its elevation
above the Maumee in having nearly twice as many houses relatively
as the latter.
The Mint Formation. -
Constituting about 15 per cent of
the area, the Muck occupies the former sites of shallow lake basins and
swales and tributary valleys more or less permanently covered with
standing water in which grew cattails, reeds, flags, aquatic sedges
and grasses, and other forms of vegetation. The high organic content
of "raw" muck (or peat) is illustrated by the shrinking
which results when a farmer sets
out a fire on this type. Such a practice is said to be
beneficial in preparing the unbroken muck pasture for its initial
crop of Hungarian millet, barley, or oats, after which it is ready
of the Muck is spotty and irregular, with a few large contiguous areas in southern Lake County (site of the former "Deep
Marsh") in the English Lake district and in the eastern third of
the last lands to be drained, these Muck areas have lost practically
every trace of their former herb (wild-rice) cover, and in its
place we find an almost complete utilization for any combination of
Kankakee crops. Only locally, where inadequate drainage permits rank
weeds to choke out the cultivated products, do we find an idle field (135, U 30, river section).
is mint ground, and here figures prominently in the reputation
which Indiana holds as the first ranking state in mint production. For
some reason mint has not yet invaded the large muck section of Lake
County, and apparently has not advanced westward beyond the
English Lake district. Mint economy fits in well with corn culture,
for muck is excellently adapted to both crops.
areas are distinctive not only for their low, level, black fields,
but also for an almost complete absence of farmsteads. These average
only about one half to the square mile, or about one fifth of the
average of the valley, or one fifteenth of the Plainfield. Muck dust
is a real nuisance to the farmer's home within as well as without,
and so he locates on the edge rather than in the heart of a large
muck field. On the other
hand, one type of structure is almost uniformly a
fixture of the muck-mint landscape - a
mint still, which approximates the size of a small two- or
The Timber Formation. -
The Swamp proper follows the
Kankakee River for two thirds of the distance from Momence to South
Bend. It forms a belt generally less than a mile in width, but attains
a maximum of some two or three miles in its middle course in
northern Jasper and adjacent counties. In addition, several square miles
of swamp land, mostly cleared, appears along the Yellow River,
tributary of the Kankakee. A comparison of the Fundament map (Map
21) with the modern survey shows only slight changes in the former
general pattern of timber distribution incident to the reclamation
program. The original dominant
species composition as reported
in the survey notes of Uriah Briggs - "ash,
elm, maple, oak, and
birch" - has not changed, except locally where popple invades the
the other hand, the type of stand or stocking of the timber has
changed tremendously. Once
including many towering and massive
trunks up to three or four feet in diameter, the modern Swamp
has only a very sparse sprinkling of maples, elms, and other species
of merchantable log quality. The characteristic stand is made
up of young timber under three or from three to six inches in diameter,
with a sprinkling of timber six to twelve inches in diameter (K
9, N 28, S 5).
attacks by axe, fire, and fungus have produced a motley patched
effect of black fire-charred or disease-ridden trunks mingled with
scattered sprouting stumps, thick reproduction stands of single species,
the whole interspersed with a brush undergrowth of rank shrubs
and weeds. Locally the partly cleared areas are pastured. These
take on more of a grove aspect, are relatively free from underbrush,
and occasionally form meadows with only here and there clumps
is practically the only crop of importance in the Kankakee swamp.
Oats and wheat are represented sparingly, chiefly in the Yellow
River territory; locally also a truck patch. The soil, of a generally
light texture with an admixture of nonhumified wood, seems readily
convertible into productive, corn land, but because of proximity to the river is mostly subject to overflow during times of high water.
Late spring floods may thus unduly postpone the planting season.
Recreation and Conservation
Swamp represents the last line of retreat for the recreationist. And
by the final straightening out of the old meandering Kankakee in
Indiana the resorter has lost all but a few remnants of the natural landscape which lends charm to such a river retreat. The name Kankakee
itself seems doomed to extinction, since some people now refer
to the Miller, Place, Marble, and Williams' ditches instead.
deeply trenched and highly banked river ditch, a chain or two
wide, with its rather rapidly moving current and load of sand, has
little to offer in the way of river scenery or sport. Once nationally
famous for its natural charm, for fishing and boating, the dredged Kankakee
of today seems popular locally only for bathing where the current is
not too swift. The effect of
river straightening on resort developments
is strikingly manifested by contrasted conditions on the two
sides of the Illinois-Indiana state line. The Illinois Kankakee above
Momence, with its essentially unmodified meandering course, can
boast of nearly a score of resort establishments. These include some
275 cottages within the short distance of less than a dozen miles of
river front; whereas, on the Indiana side, for a distance of over 85
miles, there are hardly a
half-dozen resort groups, which number only some 125 cottages,
including the unusually large Bohemian resort of about 80
river resorts and recreation centers vary in morphological type,
conditions of settlement, and points of attraction. We note the following:
the pretentious Bohemian "Sumava Forest Resorts" just mentioned,
a type of colony in Newton County with urban characteristics;
the "None-Such" camp (A 22) featuring horse racing; the "Garden
of Eden Golf Club" (C 13); and the resorts, picnic camp grounds,
or dancing pavilions at or near river-bridge sites, such as at Baum's
(0 26) and Dunne's (Q 15) and at Shelby (H 33).
the Kankakee State Game Preserve (Starke-La Porte counties)
and the private Cameron duck farm (northeast Newton County)
represent, we might say, the salvaged residue of the Kankakee
swamp lands and wild life.
Kankakee region of northern Indiana represents an intermorainal
marsh reclaimed sector of the Corn Belt, with a unique historicogeographic
study of the conditions of the fundament reveals a threefold classification
of primary land-surface forms: the herb marsh, the timber
swamp, and the uplands consisting in part of sandy
dunal oak groves. The uplands made possible the early habitation
of the otherwise inhospitable marsh-swamp, a site influence in modified form still conspicuously noticeable in the present reclaimed Kankakee.
a treaty by the native Pottawatomie with the Federal Government
in 1832, providing for the relinquishment of the territory held
by the Indian, the marsh wilderness entered upon a century of progress,
paralleling the period of urban development of the neighboring
metropolis, Chicago, less than fifty miles from its western extremity.
drama staged in the Kankakee presents a succession of distinct areal
scenes and groups of actors. The general theme, as disclosed by
the several regional forms of occupance, features a continuous struggle
between two forces - those
intent on preserving the wildlife
forms of plant and animal for their economic, recreational, and conservational
utility, as against the group organized to further the program
of reclamation. A network
of drainage ditches tributary to
the straightened, deepened, and widened Kankakee River attests to
the complete dispossession of the former group, except locally along
the river ditch.
regional land-surface and soil survey of the reclaimed Kankakee suggests
a fivefold physiographic division based on homogeneity of structural
and genetic features. Except for the Swamp, these constitute an otherwise disordered pattern. They include the Plainfield, or
farmsteaded "island" and woodlot-pasture formation; the
Plainfield-Maumee transition; the Maumee, the "cornscape";
Muck, the mint soil; and Swamp, the river-timber formation and resorter's
retreat. These constitute approximately 13, 5, 60, 15, and 7 per
cent of the area, respectively.
settlement within the area is found to be most remarkably
related to the diverse surface and soil influences. Farmsteads
average a little less than three per square mile; the proportions of
farmhouse distribution for
these physiographic divisions approximate 22:1;
9:1; 5:1; 1.5:1; 1:1, respectively. Some four hundred resort
cottages are found along the river ditch, mostly along the "natural"
Kankakee on the Illinois side.
sectional grid road system, 55 per cent hard-surfaced, makes for
ready internal circulation and external contact with the rim of a score
of towns which outline the boundary of the early marsh.
Agitation to restore parts of the once nationally famous
"hunter's and fisherman's
paradise" raises the questions, "Has the reclamation program
justified itself?" and "Is partial marsh restoration practicable?"
Inventory of soils, crops, and occupance conditions seems to prove the
general fitness of the Kankakee for agricultural use. The lands of
marginal utility or waste areas are included chiefly in the narrow imperfectly
drained Swamp, and the local spots of the droughty sandy Plainfield.
Yet it is doubtful whether such a grand haven of wild life would
ever again be permitted to be despoiled by man.
areas for wild life presents both economic and engineering
difficulties. Most promising is the swamp tract of some twelve sections
of fire-scarred timber, chiefly in northern Jasper County.
addition to the possible limited expansion of the swamp conservation
and resorting program, we may expect other changes in the future:
smaller farms, a larger animal industry, particularly dairying, and
increased trucking. On the basis of the predicted unprecedented growth of the metropolitan district to the northwest, the Kankakee trucking
areas may yet become "The Garden of Chicago."