River Bits

An archer on the Kankakee

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z An archer on the KankakeeJohn Hodson Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A lot of controversy surrounds hunting. Putting the controversy aside, have you ever wondered why, with the reliability of firearms, there is a revival of archery? Many consider J. Maurice Thompson the father of modern archery. Thompson served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, either because of choice or because ex-Confederates were not allowed to own firearms, Maurice and his brother Will began improving archery equipment and techniques.

Thompson took up residence in Crawfordsville, Ind., in 1868 and was the Indiana State Geologist from 1885-1889. While traveling Indiana, performing his geologist duties, he spent a fair amount of time in the Kankakee Marsh region. Additionally, Thompson was a member of the Crawfordsville Fishing and Shooting Club headquartered out of Baum's Bridge. He became interested in the history of the Kankakee River, specifically the Cavelier Siour de La Salle 1679 exploration of the Kankakee. Thompson decided to retrace the La Salle route. With a transcript of Father Hennepin's in hand he started at the St. Joseph-Kankakee portage near South Bend.

Thompson was state geologist at the time and "wished to be quite alone and quite unknown during this outing; for the politicians had their eyes upon me, and what would they have said of a state official who played "hooky" in the woods with a bow and arrows, when he should have been in his office chair with a case of fossils before him and looking as grim as Diogenes?" Gosh, bosses never change!

Thompson's only cover was a "rubber blanket stretched over some stakes" and his boat was a canvas covered frame boat. This was a leisurely journey, and he would camp for up to five days at any time. Unlike La Salle's exploration in winter, Thompson's was in May.

Thompson took meticulous notes and planned a lecture series about his Kankakee River journey. I have found no record if he followed through with the program.

In the past, studying animals meant bringing them down. Not an easy task while studying birds with bow and arrow as your means of capture. Thompson told an amusing story about his capture of a fine example of an American bittern. By this time in his journey he had no arrows to lose. He began at sunrise. He hung his bow around his neck and very slowly crawled to the "thunder pumper." It took Thompson two hours and 11 arrows until he "bowled it over in the air." He did his dissection in the field and took detailed notes. That is dedication. I will post the whole story at our website.

At the end of his journey he found his clerk back at the Baum's Bridge clubhouse just north of the historic Collier Lodge with his mail, and discovered the need to return to Indianapolis on the next train.

So ended Thompson's fortnight journey of the Kankakee River. After reading his description of the Kankakee I get a greater sense of the beauty of the river before it was "straightened." Clearly there is a need for more restoration work along the Kankakee River. We broke this machine close to a hundred years ago and we now need to repair it.

John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

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