The southern limit of Lake County is marked by the small but remarkable Kankakee River. The three principal streams in the south part are West Creek, Cedar Creek, and Eagle Creek, after which the three southern townships were named.
West Creek has its beginning west of St. John, on the south side of the water shed located there and about a half mile from the Illinois line. It flows south, bearing a little east and passing along a broad valley which, before bridges were built, formed an almost impassable marshy barrier near the western border of Lake County.
Many of the early pioneers from the south, who crossed the river at the rapids at Momence, Ill., and then came into this county from the west found it easier to cross West Creek west of the Lake Prairie Church. A bridge was built there in 1838 by Nehemiah Hayden, pioneer of 1837.
Cedar Creek, in the early days called the "Outlet," flows from Cedar Lake and winds along a narrow valley, at first eastward, and then southward, flowing through Lake Dalecarlia, through the center of the town of Lowell, a total distance of thirteen miles on its way to the Kankakee River.
Melvin Halsted used its water power to run his mill in the early days of Lowell. Another mill on Cedar Creek, about two and one-half miles northeast of Lowell, was built by pioneer Benjamin McCarty in 1839.
Eagle Creek, well known to the pioneers in that area, starts in Porter County, being the outlet of a small lake east of Crown Point and flowing westward into Lake County and then south to the Kankakee.
Before 1884, various projects were proposed for draining this vast swamp, called the Kankakee Marsh, but very little had been accomplished.
About that time, George W. Cass and William F. Singleton had two large dredges at work in this county on these rich lands. It was the feeling that much good would come from their work, and that it was only a question of time when these lands would all be drained. It was thought that the wet land, being so close to the great stock and grain market in Chicago, would soon change from its worthless condition.
Some of the land was on high dry ground, the most prominent islands being Beach Ridge, Red Oak, Warner, Fuller, Ridge, Brownell, Lalley, Curve, Skunk, Long White Oak, Round White Oak, and Wheeler. There were many smaller islands.
When the pioneers arrived in the area, most of the islands were covered with a heavy growth of timber. It wasn't long before most of the good timber was cut from these islands. Hauling timber from the islands and from the swamp was the farmer's winter harvest, and was called "swamping."
Lives of many of the early settlers were shortened by exposure and overwork during some of the bitter cold winters on the marsh. Imagine one hundred sledloads of hardwood on one road, moving slowly northward out of the swamp on a cold winter night!
Cheap lumber from the north soon replaced the need for the swamp timber for fencing and other uses, but many islands which had already been stripped of their trees became excellent grazing lands.
Some of the larger islands had one or more families living on them, keeping stock and cultivating the land. Of special mention is Medicine Island, where all kinds of timber and shrub flourished, excepting the evergreen. Tradition says all Indian medicine men were allowed there to dig roots. Large sugar trees, two and three feet in diameter, were found with tapping scars, indicating that the Indians had a sweet tooth.
In 1884, early settler Joseph A. Little had this to say during the Lake County semi-centennial celebration: "That this county has abounded with game is without a doubt. A paradise for hunters rivalling the mystic happy hunting grounds of the red man, affording an industry for first the Indians and afterward the white man, for a period of not less than two hundred years, at this writing (1884) is not entirely exhausted."
He noted that the beaver was no doubt the fur first sought by the traders, and were probably exterminated at an early date. When the Indians left in 1836, the white hunters took their places and established what was called "trappers claims," which were bought and sold, and generally held good for twenty-five years.
Pioneer Little visited several of the trappers camps and found them a dedicated group, fascinated by their calling and following it down to their old age. One hunter died in his camp on River Ridge at the age of 70. He shot sixty deer the fall before he died. Few deer had been killed in 1884, as the settlements became more numerous.
Little wrote: "Otter, raccoon, mink and muskrats have been the principal fur bearing animals. Wolves were quite troublesome. I have done my full part to exterminate them, killed one timber grey, and claim the largest number of animal scalps on the records for bounty in this county.
"About 1870, two old Potawatomies came back and trapped by consent at Sugar Grove. A white trapper had sprung a few of their traps and hung them on the stakes before knowing who set them.
"They never took them down, though urged to do so, but went away in the spring leaving them hanging. They also left a very small canoe which was said to be worse to ride than a mustang pony."
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page