One of the first pioneers was Solon Robinson, founder of the City of Crown Point, who came from the east coast, then to Ohio, and traveled from Madison, Indiana, on his way to northwest Indiana. He was the first of his group to come out of the dense woods. He wrote: "I stood alone, beholding the prairie for the first time. It is an indescribable, delightful feeling! What could exceed the beauty of this spot?"
The prairie looked like the Garden of Eden, with one flower garden after another as far as the eye could see, with flowers of every kind and color that one could imagine, beautiful blossoms, some 6 to 8 feet tall, resembling sunflowers. In the deep dark soil grew the true prairie grass, the rosinweed, the polar plant and the burdock. Historian Ball wrote about the 'polar plant' which grew to 7 feet, the source of a type of chewing gum gathered by the pioneer children.
In June, July and August dozens of other plants were in bloom on the prairie adding their own beauty to the luxuriant view. There were several species of phlox growing in immense beds, tall canna plants with red flowers, along with the pretty meadow lily. Hundreds of lady slippers, wild columbines, trillium, St. John's root, spring beauties, clover, cowslip, sassafras, sheep sorrel, catnip, mint, wood sage, milkweed, wild peas, parsnips and onions all mingled with 100 kinds of prairie grass from one to six feet high.
In the spring of 1835 the pioneer Bryant family arrived late one evening near the present D.C. Junction crossing, where the Jones School building still stands northeast of Lowell. Wayne Bryant wrote about what he saw the following morning: "In the morning the bright sun of April shown over broad prairies, gilding the trees. What a pleasant place!" He named the area Pleasant Grove, which became a large pioneer farming community between the present Lake Dalecarlia and the eastern section of the Town of Lowell. The obituary of Mrs. Paul Mahler, states that she was born and died at the family homestead at Pleasant Grove. The Mahler home is now a part of the Spencer House Bed and Breakfast on East Commercial Avenue in Lowell. Important clues have proven that the older part of the Lowell Memorial Cemetery was once called the Pleasant Grove Cemetery.
The Grove was a part of the connected woodland, abounding in springtime with flowering plants so that the ground was sometimes covered with blossoms, including anemones (buttercup family), spring beauties, sanguinaria (blood root Indians used as dye), violets, Indian puccoon, lady slippers and many other species. The ground at Southeast Grove, northeast of Lowell and one of the area's prettiest places, is still covered with wild flowers each spring.
Many of the early settlers wrote about the breath-taking scenery at Lake Prairie, west of the Town of Lowell. -- "Lake Prairie has often been called the 'Gem of the County' and certainly deserves the fair name, I have never seen such a beautiful view!" -- Perhaps the viewer was standing on the high ridge looking at both the Kankakee Valley to the south and at the broad prairie to the north.
That area in West Creek Township had many large trees supported by the rich clay soil, with several kinds of oak, two of hickory, dense growths of hazel bushes, crabapples, plums, slippery elm, ash, sassafras, huckleberries, currants, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, hawthorn, white thorn, ironwood, poplar, red cedar, black walnut and hard maple. A story appeared in an early book about a letter written by a member of a pioneer family who wrote to relatives in the east asking them to send "some seeds from those pretty yellow flowers growing in the lawn." Dandelions!
In 1875 seventeen year old Max Ahlgrim was given a special chore by his parents. His task was to move a load of lumber from Momence, Ill., to a site near the present town of Shelby, where the family planned to build their home. When he was turned down by teamsters who told him that the wet weather was a big problem for horse drawn wagons, young Max hired a small paddle-wheel steamboat and a barge to take his precious cargo up the river. The log in which he wrote about the trip was found a few years ago. He wrote: "The boat rounded one bend after another, opening up the grand view of the beautiful scenery. A grand and marvelous work of God and Nature was shown. At nearly every bend some wild life scampered out. Young mallard ducks, coots, sand hill cranes and prairie chickens by the hundreds!" ------- As a very young boy, the Old Timer was also privileged to see the beauty of the old river near Schneider before the dredging, with the sparkling white sand bars covered with flowers at every bend.
One of the prettiest of the wetland flowers was the water lily, possessing beauty, delicacy and fragrance in the highest degree. Next came the yellow pond lily, watershield, cattail, blue flag (iris), water needles and Indian hemp. The cranberry was also a native of many of the marshy areas. Trees in the swamp were ash, elm, sycamore, birch, willow, maple, and cottonwood. (The log house at Buckley Homestead is of cottonwood.) On the islands grew red and black oak, jack oak, hickory, maple, gumtree, black walnut and hemlock.
More than a million acres of swaying reeds, fluttering flags, clumps of wild rice, thick lily pads, soft beds of cool green mosses, shimmering ponds, black mire and trembling bogs -- such is the land of the Kankakee Valley. "The wonderful marshes with their silence, their misty haze and the miry depths make them a very realm of forgetfulness and oblivion!"
A leaping buffalo is featured on the official seal of the State of Indiana, even though the pioneers of the northern part of the state never saw the huge animals. Because of a terrible deep freeze (1820) with temperatures at a deadly low and snow several feet deep, only a few survived to join the long trek westward. The early settlers removed the bleached bones from the prairie.
Deer were plentiful in the early days of the pioneer, but it was reported in 1884 that there were only a few. The pioneers saw beaver, opossum, muskrats, mink, raccoon, squirrels, ground hogs, moles, rabbits, badgers, hedgehogs, striated weasels (skunks), common weasel, otter, black, brown and grey wolves, fox, wildcat, bats, mice and rats. They also saw white swans, gulls, geese, brant, ducks, loons, mud hens, cranes, herons, snipe, woodcock, crows, blackbirds, larks, doves, robins, bluejays, catbirds, wrens, thrushes, mocking birds, sparrows, martins, swallows, eagles, wild turkeys, grouse, quail and pheasants, and there were lizards, turtles, toads, rattlesnakes, blacksnakes, and bullsnakes. Wild pigeons by the thousands often clouded the sun! The Old Timer's father went wolf hunting (Kankakee Marsh) in the 1920's with "Doc" Taylor, who owned two huge Irish wolf hounds that bore the scars of the hunt.
Another old story (perhaps a tale) is about a giant of a man, with long hair and beard, wearing worn buckskin clothing with long fringes. He was said to roam the Kankakee Valley as he told tall tales about his narrow escape from man-eating turtles and about catching fish with "scales bigger than silver dollars!" His name was Rol Gordon, the Paul Bunyan of the Valley. When you are in the Kankakee Valley, listen carefully to a low murmur in the wind, for it might be old Rol telling those tall tales again!
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