Among the numerous champions of the Kankakee River I would place Major Samuel L McFadin in the top tier.
McFadin was born in Fairfax County, Ohio, in 1826. His family moved to Cass County, Ind., in 1839. McFadin enlisted in the Cass County Volunteers in 1846 at the outbreak of the Mexican War. He wrote about his participation at the Battle of Buena Vista and later became a member of the National Association of Mexican War Veterans. I believe his title of "Major" came about through his leadership in this association.
After his return from the war he studied law and went on to serve as prosecuting attorney, judge, county clerk, and mayor of Logansport. He was known as a congenial fellow and entertaining story teller. It was through his published historical remembrances of pioneer life—specifically his many journeys and adventures to the Kankakee River—that brought him to my attention.
McFadin is associated with the Crawfordsville Club House at Baum's Bridge. Other notable members of the Crawfordsville Club were Gen. Lew Wallace, Indiana State Geologist James Maurice Thompson, and poet James Whitcomb Riley. I find this account interesting. "Some parties from Pittsburg have a steam-boat at Baum's Bridge that they use going up and down the river on their duck hunts. The parties are a jolly set. A temperance party, however, could never be formed out of the crowd."
The sportsmen from Logansport would travel north to English Lake in Starke County. English Lake was one of the largest lakes in Indiana before it was drained when the Kankakee River was channelized. They would then journey by boat down the Kankakee River to Baum's Bridge or train to Kouts and then by wagon to Baum's Bridge. At times the trip was more eventful than the arrival. McFadin wrote that on one trip "Celvert Freeman had got a gallon of 20 cent whiskey the evening before while passing Francisville... in the morning there was not a drop of it left...they said it leaked out." From Baum's Bridge they would boat to their hunt camps. The location of these camps was within 10 miles of Baum's Bridge.
I find his vivid and detailed accounts of these hunting trips entertaining and revealing. It shows the difference of hunting of today as opposed to 150 years ago. Hunting during that era was primarily a social event and hunting secondary. His accounts detail the journey to and along the river, camp life, camaraderie and the many incidents, both serious and humorous. McFadin's stories begin with his first Kankakee River trip in 1839 and continue until health problems restricted him in the 1890s.
John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.