William Frederick Howat.

A standard history of Lake County, Indiana, and the Calumet region (Volume 1) online

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Below the Little Calumet, toward the central portions of the county,
are the gentle uplands of Lake County, Deep River, its chief southern
branch in that region, embracing the varied and pretty country north
and east of Crown Point.

Then comes the Divide, which sends the waters of the Calumet north
and those of the Kankakee south; in other words, the barrier between
the waterways of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

Southward from the Divide flow the main tributaries of the Kan-
kakee — Eagle Creek, Cedar Creek and West Creek — watering a fertile
country of prairie lands and groves, and gradually seeping into a region
of marshes, islands, drained bottom lauds and productive meadows and

The Grand and Little Calumet

The waterw^ays of the Calumet region tributary to Lake Michigan
form one of the most complete system of protected harbors in the world,
and point to that section as a grand center of commercial and industrial
activity. The Little Calumet forms the outer rim of that region, loops
around toward the west into Cook County and joins the Grand Calumet
about a mile and a half southeast of Lake Calumet and some two miles
west of the Lake County line. The Little Calumet is much longer,
but neither so broad nor deep as the Grand. The main east and west
channels of the streams are only about three miles apart, and as the
Grand Calumet has both its source and its mouth in Lake ^Michigan,
quite a section of Northern Lake Countj^ is an island.

The Grand Calumet River is from one hundred and fifty to two
hundred feet wide and from fifteen to twenty feet deep. It rises in
Lake Michigan within two miles of the east line of Lake County, and
flows in a southwesterly direction through what is now the city of Gary
until it reaches a point about five miles south of the Great Lake, thence
northwest through East Chicago and Hammond and joins the Little
Calumet River just southwest of Hegewisch, after which it takes a
course northrof-east and empties into its source at South Chicago,
barely within the limits of Cook County.

Ball's Description of the Calumet Region

The imagination does not have to turn back many years to see the
Calumet rivers and the Calumet region in a state of nature. But it


is well to see them both through the eyes of one who was as well ac-
quainted with the country and the people as any who has ever livedo
the late T. H. Ball, to whom all local historians are continually referring
and deferring. He said, thirty years ago: "The Calumet region of
the county of Lake is formed by a little winding, sluggish, grassy stream
of clear, pure water, which rises in Porter County and flows mainly
westward across the county of Lake into Illinois, and then, turning
back from the large Blue Island bluff in Cook County, flows again
mainly eastward nearly across Lake County. The strip of sand ridges,
low, narrow valleys and of marshes, between the two channels (the
Grand and the Little Calumet rivers) is from two to three miles wide.
That strip of land is from east to west sixteen miles in length and
varies but little anywhere from being three miles in breadth.

' ' Following the natural windings of the stream the whole river course
in the county is, in round numbers, fifty miles. The area of the space
between the two channels is nearly fifty square miles. To this area
there are properly to be added twelve square miles between the river
and Lake Michigan, and as much as eight square miles south of the
lower channel, making in all an area of seventy square miles included
in the term Calumet Region.

' ' The mouth of this stream on the shore of Lake ^lichigan i.s two miles
from the spot where it enters the county, and from that spot to this
mouth, by the channel of the river around by Blue Island, must be
seventy-five or eighty miles. It is not common to find a river, big or
small, that having made some twenty-three miles of westing, three of
southing and then seven of northing, doubling upon itself, flows back,
making tAventy-one miles of easting.

"It was said that the water of this stream is clear and pure. It is
thus in its natural condition, inviting the lone loiterer along its margin
in summer time, to take a refreshing bath in its gently flowing, reedy,
limpid waters; but a large slaughter house and some factories have
largely injured, of late years, the purity of the water of the upper
channel. But with these, and the immense ice houses along this river
which seven great lines of railroad cross, this paper has nothing to do.

"About six hundred feet above the sea level, the comparatively low,
flat land through which this river flows, the many marshes, large and
small, the grass roots, pond lily roots and other herbage in the waters,
have made this region, through all its known history, a thriving home
for small fur-bearing animals. It has also been a favorite resort for
wild animals.

"In low water, in the summer, children can ford the southern
channel in many places ; but in spring, or in the winter time, when the


melting snow and heavy rainfalls fill to the brim the low banks (where
there are any), the overflow covers a large amount of surface, justifying
the expression of the early geographers that 'the country around the
extreme south bay of Lake Michigan has the appearance of the sea
marshes of Louisiana.' "

The testimony of the first generation of pioneers who settled in
Lake County is to the effect that the sand ridges along Lake Michigan
in the Calumet region were originally covered with a valuable growth,
of pine and cedar, which was stripped off to assist in the upbuilding of
Chicago. But even as early as the late '40s one was writing of Lake
County : ' ' In the northeast the sand hills are very abrupt and have
yet some good pine timber, although very difficult to obtain." And
another : ' ' Near Lake Michigan the country has extensive sand hills
which are covered only with stunted and shriveled pines and burr oaks. ' '

"I am glad," says Mr. Ball, "that I was on those great piles of
sand so often and saw with my own eyes the great pine trees as early
as 1837, before the white settlers had made much impression on the
vegetation or the sand hills. Large and delicious were the high bush
huckleberries that grew on these high sand hills, and very abundant
were the fragrant wintergreen berries. Mr. L. W. Thompson, now
living in Hammond, born July 14, 1814, remembers well the pines and
wintergreens, and he thinks the pines were twenty inches in diameter,
as the logs were sawed at the City "West sawmill."

The Magic Hand of Man

When Mr. Ball wrote, the Calumet region had not been smirched by
any big industry except the slaughter house at Hammond ; ice was
being cut in immense quantities, but that industry left the waters of
its rivers and little lakes clear and pure. A few years afterward, the
Standard Oil Company commenced to build its gigantic plant at Whit-
ing, and within a decade the whole face of the region was changed,
while the past fifteen years have made the Calumet region an industrial
checker-board, its hundreds of factories connected by natural and arti-
ficial watei'^^ays and a network of ironways, every atom of air vibrating
with industrial thunders, the waters varicolored with refuse and the
sky shaded with a thousand lines and clouds of smoke. Not only great
manufactories have sprung from the marshes, but whole cities, and
their appearance is forever removed from that of "the sea marshes
of Louisiana."

Of late years especially, the transformation has Ix^on so rapid that
it requires a strong mental effort, even on the part of those who resided


in Lake County when the Calumet region was hardly touched by the
honest, stirring, but dirty fingers of industry, to picture the lonely
sand ridges and marshes between Lake Michigan and the Little Calumet.
There grew the white pine and red cedar, and several species of oak;
also great patches of huckleberries, cranberries and wintergreen berries.
From Tolleston alone, 21/2 miles from Lake ]\Iichigan and about the
same distance from the Little Calumet, 1,000 bushels of huckleberries
have been shipped in a single season. Thirty years ago, the opti-
mists of the region even anticipated that these dreary, tangled
marshes and sand ridges might be made to produce cranberries in com-
mercial quantities. Sassafras was also native to the region, and hun-
dreds of old-fashioned housewives were hopeful that .something might
yet come out of the Calumet region.

The Calumet region was formerly a favorite haunt for ducks — mal-
lard. l)lue wing teal and all the — w^iile the northern diver or
loon, and rice and reed l)irds helped to make the marslies lively and

When tlie first whites commenced to settle in and near the Calumet
region, the Pottawatomies were unwillingly about to leave it for the
West beyond the Mississippi. Not only that tribe, but the ^liamis and
others, had fished, trapped and hunted in its marslies, streams and lakes.
The region was rich in waterfowl, and simph' prodigal of muskrats
and mink. AVhite trappers succeeded the Indians and until thirty
years ago the waterways of the Calumet district shared the honors of
the Kankakee region as among the most valuable fur-bearing sections
of the Middle West. The greatest trapping grounds were along the
Grand and the Little Calumet, near the present City of Gary, espe-
cially south of Tolleston. It was estimated by those who had expe-
rience as trappers that as late as the fall of 1883 there were forty thou-
sand rats on the lands claimed by the Tolleston Club Company and that
for some years previously the season's "take" had averaged some
thirty thousand.

Huckleberry and cranberry, duck and rice bird, muskrat and mink,
have long ago been displaced by man and his artifices, although there
are still thousands of acres of land unoccupied : and we no longer wait
upon Nature for the bestowal of pleasure or prosperity in the Cabunet

The Woodlands of Lake County

South of the Little Calumet, in Lake County, commence what have
been called the clay lands, or woodlands, comprising those beautiful
openings in groves or forests of oak and liickory. In early times this


region extended well toward the fringe of the Kankakee marshes in
the southern portion of the county. In the edge of these woodlands
or openings would often be found a dense growth of hazel bushes, and
in other localities, crabapples, plum trees, slippery elm, ash, sassafras,
huckleberries, wild currants, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries,
hawthorn, white-thorn, ironwood, poplar, black walnut and rock-maple.
This woodland region extended originally south to Turkey Creek,
a western branch of Deep River which drains the north-central portion
of the county, and along the eastern edge of the county to Eagle Creek
prairie. Toward the west it covered portions of Eastern and Southern
St. Johns Township and much of Hanover, while toward the south the
woods embraced the central tier of sections in Cedar Creek Township
and the northern portions of West Creek Township to a point below

The Groves

Besides these strips or belts of continuous woodland, there were the
four large groves — School, southeast of Crown Point and east of the
fair grounds; Southeast, about a mile southwest of LeRoy and west of
Eagle Creek; Plum, on the western edge of Eagle Creek Township, some
three and a half miles southwest of Southeast Grove ; and Orchard,
just west of Plum Grove, along the northern fringe of the Kankakee

In all this region of woodlands and groves, the clay-soil is quite near
the surface. These tracts were, above all, the prolific mother of wild
flowers, and in the spring the ground was almost literally covered with
such bright blossoms as anemones, spring beauties, buttercups and blue

Meadowlarks, bluejays, wrens, thrushes, sparrows, swallows, hum-
ming-birds and woodpeckers, robins, crows, grouse, prairie chickens,
wild turkeys, and even eagles, were at home in these central and southern
regions of Lake County, and the toads, and frogs, and snakes, too
numerous in the marshes of the Calumet and Kankakee regions, were
fortunately not adapted to live comfortably in the dryer woodlands and

There are a number of pine groves in Lake County, although by no
stretch of the imagination could it be called a pine tree state. The
largest and probably the only native pine grove in the county covers
ten acres about two miles south of Turkey Creek, in the northwest
quarter of section 14, township 35, range 8. Originally the ground was
almost a swamp. The grove is several miles distant from any other


native pines that have not been transplanted, and to account for this
compact body of trees has been a puzzle to botanists, experts in forestry
and old settlers.

A number of smaller pine groves are found in the prairie region
north of the Kankakee, the trees of which were taken when small from
their native sand hills bordering Lake Michigan. North of the center
of St. John's Township is a grove of native pines, transplanted to the
sand ridge which they now cover, and about five miles south of Crown
Point is a tract of several acres covered with Austrian and Scotch
pines. The latter is the largest and finest grove of European pines in
Lake County.

The Prairies and Their Products • *

The prairie tracts of Lake Count}- are in its south-central sections,
chiefly between the headwaters of Deep River and those of Eagle, Cedar
and West creeks, the former a branch of the Little Calumet, and the
latter tributaries of the Kankakee. The soil of these districts is deeper
and more productive than the clayey soil of the woodlands, being often
of a black mold. From it sprung the true prairie grass, the rosin weed,
or polar plant, and the burdock, or dock. In the early times the settlers
of the prairies well remembered the fierce fires which swept in from the
Grand Prairie of Illinois, feeding, as they did, upon the resin of the
polar plant. It grew from five to seven feet high in Central Lake
County, and when first attacked by the oncoming flames threw up high
columns of dense smoke. The resin plant also served the same purpose
as the spruce tree of New England ; the pioneer children of the prairies
gathered from it a gum which could not be excelled for purity and, in
midsummer, the supply was unlimited. The burdock, or prairie dock,
exuded resin, but not so abundantly; nor was the product so palatable.
Both of these typical plants of the prairie regions of Lake County have
almost disappeared.

Flowers of Bright and Varied Hue

Again we turn to ]\Ir. Ball for pictures of the prairie lands in a
state of nature: "And then, in June, July and August, and until the
frosts came, the other plants of the prairies of some forty or fifty
specimens at least were in bloom, adding their own beauty to the green
and luxuriant verdure. Among these flowering plants, abundant and
beautiful, grew in immense beds the phlox, probably of two or three
specimens ; also a tall plant with a red flower, once called from the tuber


from which it grew, potato plant. There was also the beautiful meadow
lily ; and there were others, bright and beautiful, the colors very rich,
peculiar to the moist or lowland of the prairie, found in the edges of the

''Ou Tuesday, October 14th of this year (1884), on a little portion
of Lake Prairie Cemetery', where is still the original prairie sod, the
writer of this picked specimens of twenty-five different species of the
original prairie plants; and there were among them none of those very
bright, richly colored blossoms of the lower prairie growth. One close
observer of nature, who is accustomed to the wild haunts here, says
that the number of prairie plants is two or three hundred. One
characteristic of many of these larger plants is a peculiar roughness;
and several of the plants are resinous.

Grasses of the County

"The true upland prairie grass has thus far been recognized. The
grass growth of the whole county may here be noticed. Probably from
fifty to a hundred species were native here. Some varieties made poor,
but many kinds made excellent hay. Some varieties grew about one foot
high, some were two and three, some five and six feet in height. Some
of the w^oodland grass w^as only a few inches in height. Some species
had a small, almost wiry blade ; some a broad blade : some varieties had
a reedlike stem with blades like the blades of maize. The stem ot one
variety was three-sided. Wild pea vines growing with some of the
grass aided in making excellent winter provender. With some also
grew wild parsnip. Wild onions and wild parsnip were in some parts

Lake Prairie, Gem of the County

Lake prairie was the most famous tract of that nature in" Lake
County. Westward and southward for miles from the Lake of the Red
Cedars, it stretched — first a level floor of emerald green, rolling off in
gentle billows into the horizon. Lake prairie has been called the gem
of the county, and certainly those who were so fortunate as to become
residents on its fertile soil rested there contentedly and admiringly.
It takes its name from the beautiful, romantic and historic lake in the
southwest-central part of the county, which it partially cloaks.

The Watershed

The ridge or highland which marks the watershed dividing the head
streams of the Calumet from thase of the Kankakee region enters Lake


County in section 36, township 35, range 10, near the headwaters of
West Creek. It then bears southeastwardly to a high ridge a quarter
of a mile north of Red Cedar Lake. The divide then passes along a
low curving ridge which is its most sharply defined section in the
county, and thence three miles eatsward over a timbered tableland to a
point about two miles south of Crown Point. Thence it crosses sections
17 and 16, through School Grove, and southeastwardly along the east side
of old Stoney Creek of the Kankakee system, and in section 31, at what
is now the site of LeRoy, the divide reaches its extreme southern point
in Indiana, eighteen miles from Lake jMichigan. Thence it turns north-
ward, around the head of the south branch of Deep River, of the Calu-
met system, and passing between that and Eagle Creek it bears in a
generally northeastward direction, leaving Lake County east of Crown
Point, only about a mile and a half south of its point of entrance.

The Kankakee Region

The 60,000 acres of lowlands in the southern part of the county,
stretching completely across it from three to six miles north of the
Kankakee River, embrace the richest of the bottom lands; but as they
were generally under water in the early times it is only within a com-
paratively recent period that their productiveness has been utilized.
But within the Kankakee region was long harbored a wealth of vegetable
and animal life which made that section of Lake County quite famous
in the eyes of travelers, naturalists and sportsmen. For years it was
the paradise of the white and the yellow lily and the cattail, as well
as the blackbird, the bobolink and the muskrat. The cranberry was
also a native of the marshes. The swamps ako had quite a timber
growth of ash, elm, sycamore, birch, willow, maple and cottonwood,
while on the islands, which are generally sandy, were clusters of oak,
hickory, sycamore, beech, walnut and maple. Most of the wooded tracts
in the Kankakee marsh are in the southeastern corner of the county,
as many as six sections in that region being originally covered with
timber, mostly with ash and elm, with some sycamore and gum trees.

The Passing of the Water Fowtl,

The most interesting feature of the Kankakee region, which is by
no means a dead letter, is the abundant life of the water fowl. In the
'30s and '40s professional trappers and hunters made a regular and
profitable business of gathering in the muskrats and ducks and geese
by the thousands, some making their homes on the islands and others


on the banks of the river. Among the best known of these characters
was a man named Seymour, whose headquarters were for many years
just south of Hebron, a short distance over the Lake County line in
Porter. He lived to see the commencement of the twentieth century,
and retained his faculties to the last. He thought the white cranes and
swan made nests in the marsh region in the early '30s, but was not
certain. In regard to the sand cranes, the wild geese, the ducks, the
heron and the smaller water fowl, he had no doubt as to their nests.

Many years ago the wild geese made their nests on sections 4, 5 and
18, at the eastern extremity of the county, and the swimming and feed-
ing grounds for young and old were given the names of Goose Pond
and Hog Marsh. In that locality, as elsewhere in the Kankakee region,
the wild geese congregated in large numbers as late as the '80s. In the
northeastern edge of the marsh was Plum Grove, and just south was a
pretty knoll which seemed to be a favorite observation point for the
great migratory flocks. They came in unusual numbers in 1882, and
one of the old hunters of the region says: ''From four o'clock in the
morning until about nine o'clock, different flocks would arrive at this
grass knoll until some five acres would be literally covered with these
beautiful water fowls, apparently as thickly crowded as they could

The wild geese, brants, ducks, sand-hill cranes, and the other timid
fowl of the Kankakee region, have generally deserted that section of
the county as breeding grounds and permanent homes. Locomotives and
sportsmen's clubs are mainly responsible for their exodus ; but the
marshes still harbor many nesting places of the blue heron, the bittern,
the mud-hen, the snipe and the plover.

The Coming op the Sportsmen

Some of the .steps leading to the changed conditions in the Kankakee
marshes are thus described by Mr. Ball in "Northwestern Indiana":
"Several years ago, before the days of steam dredges on the Kankakee
Marsh, as that region had been a great trapping and hunting and camp-
ing ground for Indians, so it became an attractive region for white
sportsmen. Not hunters were they, nor yet trappers, but simply sports-
men, killing wild animals for the sake of killing. Sportsmen's homes
were built at different places on the north side of the river, and persons
came from various cities to enjoy wild life, to shoot wdld game. On
section 16, township 32, range 9, there was a beautiful grove. In those
years, quite far back, it was an island — marsh, with water all around it.
The surface among the trees was quite level and largely covered with


beautiful moss. Being on section 16, it was called School Grove Island.
In these later years it is called Oak Grove. It is still a grove, but not
an island.

"Its first inhabitant when it was an island was John Hunter, a
true frontier hunter and trapper, living for years that secluded trapper
life along the Kankakee, camping on different islands. He at length
made this island his home.

"Heath & Milligan, of Chicago, bought some land on the island, and
with eight other men built, in the fall of 1869, a house for a sports-
men's resort. It was called Camp Milligan. From Chicago and other
cities men would come with their guns, spend a few days, register in a
book kept for the purpose their success, pay their bills and depart. A
regulation of this camp was that no game should be sold. It was not
designed for hunters.

' ' Some records are these : ' Eight men in a few days shot 65 snipes
and 513 ducks; four men, days not given, shot 50 snipes and 515 ducks.

^' 'September 11th, Sunday, no shooting.

" 'Shooting from September 1st to 17th, except Sunday.'

''Certainly those sportsmen of thirty years ago left a good example
for the sportsmen of today, an example which is not very closely fol-
lowed. G. M. Shaver (caretaker of the camp) shot in one year 1,100
ducks and water fowl. He, no doubt, could sell.

"In 1871 some Englishmen visited Camp Milligan. One was William
Parker, understood to be a member of the English nobility, accom-
panied by an older man, Captain Blake.

"In 1872 they returned with a still younger Parker, bought land,
laid out quite an amount of money, established Cumberland Lodge,

Online LibraryWilliam Frederick HowatA standard history of Lake County, Indiana, and the Calumet region (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)