I give historical/ecological tours at the Collier Lodge site at Baum's Bridge. Most of the tours are for Valparaiso University students. I begin the tour at the Collier Lodge with the historical background of the area and then walk through the bayou to the Kankakee River for the ecology part.
During the history portion when I share the rich and famous that visited the Baum's Bridge area I ask who knows who Lew Wallace was? Most often the answer is a "high school in Gary." I believe that Lew Wallace is the most underappreciated and largely forgotten notable Hoosier.
Wallace was born in 1827. His father, David Wallace, was the sixth governor of Indiana and his brother was a U.S. senator. He served as a second lieutenant during the Mexican War and was a major general during the Civil War. Because of his legal background, he was appointed as a judge on the Abraham Lincoln assassination trial and was the presiding judge of the Captain Wirz Andersonville prison trial.
In 1878, Wallace served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory squelching the Lincoln County Wars. In 1881, he was appointed minister to Turkey. While minister, he developed a close friendship with the Sultan, Abdul Hamid II who was the ruler of the Ottoman Empire. When Wallace resigned as minister, because of the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884, he was offered a position by the Sultan, which he declined.
Lew Wallace married Susan Arnold Elston in 1852 and their only son, Henry Lane Wallace, was born in 1853.
Wallace is best known as author of Ben-Hur. It was after President James Garfield read Ben-Hur and recognizing his knowledge of the Mideast that he appointed Wallace minister.
At this point you're probably wondering what the heck Wallace has to do with the Kankakee River. He loved the Kankakee River! Even though he was raised on the Wabash, he loved the wonder and mystery of the Kankakee.
Old-timers agree that Wallace first came to the Kankakee River with a group of young hunters from Indianapolis in 1858. He owned a power launch and houseboat he named "The Thing" and steamed the Kankakee, mostly headquartering out of Baum's Bridge. He was also frequently seen at English Lake in Starke County. Jim Collier stated that Wallace docked a "hundred yards south" of the Collier Lodge. We have reports that he dined regularly at the Collier Lodge.
Unless required by other duties, Wallace was on the Kankakee River at least three times a year for the waterfowl migration season and pickerel fishing until 1894. By 1893 Wallace was experiencing some health problems with a growth in his nose. Lecturing and public speaking became more difficult for him. In 1904 Lew Wallace made his last visit to the Kankakee River at Baum's Bridge and passed away on February 14, 1905. His son Henry continued to visit the Kankakee River at Baum's Bridge until his death in 1926. Wallace's houseboat was disassembled and the material was used to build a cabin at Baum's Bridge which remains standing to this day.
Lew Wallace was a true Hoosier Renaissance Man. Learn more about him at www.ben-hur.com/home.html
John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.