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Sandy Sollars

Sandy Sollars was a guide on the Kankakee River in the early 20th century.

During the Civil War, railroads began crisscrossing the Grand Kankakee Marsh. With the advent of this transportation service, people from across the world could enjoy this “Everglades of the North.” This began what I refer to as the Sportsmen Era of the Kankakee.

Soon clubhouses were being built throughout the Kankakee Marsh by business and civic leaders of our great nation. By the early 1900s, many of those private hunt clubs were being sold into private ownership. Many former clubhouses were now private homes or businesses servicing the needs of individual hunters.

Growing attraction to the adventure of hunting the Kankakee Marsh created a demand for experienced “Pushers.” The shallow depth of the Kankakee required many of the Kankakee boats to be pushed with long paddles instead of rowing; hence the term “pusher” sprung. Previously, many of the clubhouse hired managers who also acted as guides for the sportsmen. Now, numerous pushers opened their homes to hunters for lodging and acted as guides.

On March 6, 1904, the Indianapolis Journal ran a story titled “Duck-Hunting Season at Hand and Sportsmen Prepare for Outings.” The article began: “Duck hunting is one of the things not carried on extensively around Indianapolis, except along White River, and when the ducks begin to fly hunters can be seen along the banks and out in boats. However, the majority of local hunters go to Water Valley, which is on the Kankakee River, where the sport can be enjoyed in the right way.” The Journal hired renowned guide Sandy Sollars to pilot the reporter.

At the beginning of the 20th century, America was prospering to the point that the average man could now afford to take part in hunting activities previously only affordable to the rich and famous. This resulted in an influx of inexperienced waterfowl hunters flocking, pardon the pun, to the Kankakee Marsh.

I personally have hunted waterfowl and continue to deer and turkey hunt. I subscribe to a few hunting magazines and mailing lists of popular sportsmen catalogs. Each is filled with the newest products to prepare the sportsmen for the upcoming hunting seasons. It was much the same for the hunter of early 1900s, except the equipment was simpler, more basic in nature.

The Journal article advised: “Those who hunt ducks for pleasure have found that warmth and dryness are the most essential things in providing for the outing, and that they must wear plenty of good woolen clothing, for it is an extremely hard and uncertain sport.” One of the worst things for a hunter is getting wet and cold.

The article goes on to say: “The first necessity in the garb of a hunter is plenty of heavy underwear. He should also wear thick trousers over which is drawn a pair of dead-grass canvas overalls. A heavy blue flannel shirt or sweater is necessary in protecting the chest, as is likewise a high-cut vest, preferably without sleeves.”

I wonder why a “blue” flannel shirt is necessary.

As a hunter, I can tell you that cold feet make any hunt miserable. The same went for the early 20th century hunter. Footwear was the next subject in the article: “After a hunter's body is well clothed his feet should be the next looked after because in this kind of hunting he is wading in the deep marshes frequently through all day and must be certain to keep his feet warm or he will suffer great inconvenience. To do this a pair of rubber boots reaching to the hips and about three sizes too large is necessary. The reason the boots are worn so much larger than the feet is to enable the wearer to put on two pairs of heavy woolen socks together with a pair of moccasins. A cap with a hood attached and a pair of warm gloves complete the outfit.”

John Hodson is the founder and president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. The opinions are the writer's.

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Senior Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.