As the last Ice Age receded about 14,000 years ago, people began moving into the Kankakee Marsh. These early people were drawn to this "Everglades of the North" because of its abundance of wildlife and other natural resources.
Mark Schurr wrote that the Collier Lodge site "was clearly a popular place to camp throughout most of the last 10,000 years. The site was also in use throughout the historic period, which begins in A.D. 1680 with LaSalle’s journey down the Kankakee during his exploration of the St. Joseph-Kankakee portage."
In William Mangold's dissertation he wrote that this spot was popular because: "An easy and safe crossing of the marsh could occur at only one location. The crossing was essentially a sand ridge with the northern terminus at a location now called Baum’s Bridge, although its earlier names included the Potawatomi Trail Crossing and Eaton’s Ferry. This use of this crossing continued into modern times."
An important aspect of archaeology is the examination of the animal remains. Terrance (Terry) Martin worked the Collier Lodge dig as an advisor of faunal material. Martin is curator and chair of anthropology at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, where he is responsible for the management of the Anthropology Section’s collections and the Museum’s zooarchaeology laboratory. His 2013 Collier Lodge dig program video can be found at our KVHS YouTube site. Look for KVHS1 for his and other KVHS videos.
Martin's 2013 program was about the fragments of bones, teeth and shells from animals discovered in the Upper Mississippian features at the Collier Lodge site. His examination found white-tailed deer, muskrat, wild turkey, otter, elk, ducks, goose, beaver, raccoon, turtles, fish and black bear remains. His data shows that the sample consists of at least 130 individual animals. He estimates that venison represents about 60 percent of the consumable meat from mammals, and that all mammals contributed just under 70 percent of the total biomass.
Nearly 36 percent of the identified animal remains from Collier Lodge are from fish (mostly bowfin) and 43 percent are from a diverse array of turtles. Less than 3 percent of the identified animal remains are from birds, of which wild turkey bones are most numerous. The lesser numbers of bones from ducks and Canada geese may indicate a summer occupation when large flocks were not migrating through the area. One interesting point Martin found was there was no dog or canid remains, unlike the situation found at most late prehistoric sites in the Midwest.
Martin is also working on the Fort St. Joseph project near Niles, Mich. The article "Story of Fort St. Joseph" can be found at the KVHS website. Martin will present "Use of Animals at French Heritage Archaeological Sites in the Midwest.” This program is open to the public and will be held at 7 p.m. April 15 at the Valparaiso University Kallay-Christopher Hall, Room 112.
Collier Lodge archaeological project documents and reports can found at the KVHS website (www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org).
John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society Inc. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.