In the early 1900's pearls were abundant, not only in the Indiana portion of the Kankakee but also in Illinois. They were also found in other rivers in Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. The sandy quality of the river beds made it an ideal breeding ground for mussels. They were originally studied in 1906 by F.C. Baker, enabling a follow up study in 1978. The dredging mentality of the 18 and 1900's disturbed many of the beds, and the arrival of the zebra mollusks from the St. Lawrence Seaway eliminated many more. Though they can still be found in many rivers, they have, unfortunately, found their way to the endangered species list.
An article from the October 21st, 1905, edition of the New York Times reported a "Pearl Rush" of sorts was underway in LaPorte with many hoping to "unearth the valuable gems." Around this time, they became a valuable resource and spawned a new industry in Northwest Indiana.
The OT wonders how many families had a strand of pearls passed down through the families that were actually found here in Indiana. His mother's came from a bed near Schneider where his father's cabin was located on a bend in the stream near the present Conservation Clubhouse east of town. The OT remembers his father and his Uncle Henry Heiser sitting near a large pile of clamshells, which they opened with large knives looking for the pearls. There was a scary old log bridge over the ditch nearby. It was a good spot for fishing, poling with a duck boat or finding pearls in the clams. You could also visit the nearby De Vries Island, later the home of the Mohawk Club. There was a walking bridge to the island featuring a four-foot carved wooden Indian at the top. There were numerous other beds along the river as you can see from the map -- the beds are identified by the circled numbers. The map was drawn in 1909 -- around the same time the OT's dad began to hunt there.
During the dredging of the river, bones of ancient animals were discovered, including mastadon, sabertooth tiger, giant beaver and a type of large elk, all exposed by the machinery. The straightening of the river reduced its length by 80 miles, from 200 to 120, in Lake and Porter counties. We wonder what future archaeologists will think in the next centuries when they discover piles of clam shells in areas, now dry, where the old river bed used to be.
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