Major Samuel L. McFadin was a prolific writer about the Kankakee River. Much of the source material I have comes from his pen.
One piece he wrote in 1883 was titled "The Duck Hunters." It is a short guide for hunting the Kankakee Marsh. He starts out: "To many, the Kankakee is a place about which they have read of frequently and know as much as they do of the interior of China."
McFadin emphasizes the need for a "pusher." McFadin wrote: "This specimen of the human race considers himself just one grade higher than the trapper. . .The usual price for a pusher is $1.50 per day, and he earns every cent of it. . .he is usually on the marsh at daylight and is not home until after dark. He is compelled to propel his boat all day long and at night clean the guns for his employer."
A pusher is a hunting guide and his boat is designed to maneuver the Kankakee Marsh. McFadin describes the boat as 14 feet long and not over 22 inches wide, using a single long paddle. "Like the gondolier of Venice, he scorns the use of a pair of oars."
One very real danger of hunting the Kankakee Marsh is getting lost. For those foolish novices, this was a real threat. McFadin told the story of a stranger to the marsh who pushed his boat out of the marsh just as the sun was setting.
He came upon an old time Kankakee Marsh hunter who asked him, "Why are you leaving so early. . .the best shooting is between now and dark?"
The stranger replied "Old man, do you take me for a fool? I don't know this marsh, and you bet your sweet life I just get right out onto the river before it gets dark."
The old timer replied: "If I didn't know every inch of it by heart, I wouldn't stay in here a minute. The man who stays in the marsh overnight in this weather is a dead man."
Even the experienced McFadin told the story of getting lost. It was a cold November day in 1881. After wandering the marsh—cold and wet—he heard a distant shot. He fired off 8 rounds in hopes of being found.
A trapper named Sherwood came along and took him back to his camp. Later, McFadin wrote that he would have given Sherwood six years of his pay for his rescue, if asked.
Another incident McFadin wrote about was the discovery a of the "body of a man. He was stuck in the mud up to his waist, and was lying face downward across his gun. . .He had $260 in his pockets and nine mallard ducks were near him on a muskrat-house. . .He was evidently lost and had walked until he was exhausted."
To look at the Kankakee River today, it is hard to picture what it looked like before the marsh was drained.
McFadin describes it best: "Imagine thousands of acres of marsh, composed of open water, grass, and muskrat-lodges. Each foot of the marsh is as like the next foot as two peas. Wo betide the man who lingers in that marsh till after dark, unless he knows it as he does the rooms of his house."
Many of you may wonder why the heck anyone would want to take up a sport that puts you in such potential danger? You will find the answer in the great outdoors on a crisp autumn morning in the woods.