Kankakee Valley Historical Society

KVHS in the News
KVHS Publications
Other Publications
KVHS Archaeological Project
From the Archives
KVHS Newsletters
Contact KVHS


 Digging up the area's rich history

July 25, 2007

BY CHARLES M. BARTHOLOMEW Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- More than two dozen amateur archaeologists helped start off the fourth summer of excavations for the Kankakee Valley Historical Society on the grounds of the Collier Lodge at Baums Bridge this week.

Mark Schurr , head of the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, is conducting the three-week operation this year entirely with volunteers who have paid the annual society dues for what amounts to a hands-on college-level seminar on humanity in Northwest Indiana over the past 10,000 years.

"With the work that was done in the 1930s and early 1960s, this is the third series of excavations in Porter County ," said Schurr, who had run the dig partly as a field school with his students for the first three summers.

The first morning began with a short orientation lecture by Schurr, after which shovels began to turn the dirt covering 3-meter-square sites around the old hunting lodge where work left off last June.

"We've got the remains of a pioneer-type log cabin dating to the 1830s, probably the first person to live here, named Sherwood," said Schurr, watching diggers turn the black soil covering the plastic sheets that were laid over last year's excavations.

"We're ready to go digging this year. We hope to have three solid weeks of work," he said.

The Collier dig is providing prospective archaeologists with their first taste of real field work.

"I was told about it by the uncle of a friend. This is a good way to get started," said Marissa Baumanis, who graduated from Boone Grove High School in 2007 and enrolled in medical and archaeology classes at Valparaiso University this fall.

Also new to the crew, but not new to the natural history of the region, is Yvonne Barnard and her son Matthew, a senior at Boone Grove,

Barnard's farm in Porter Township includes almost 80 acres of prime forest land registered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which she opens to visits by school biology classes.

"I'm just interested in this.  I've found arrowheads and other things on my land," Barnard said.

Archaeological dig yields more artifacts offering glimpse into fur trading era

Archaeological dig yields more artifacts offering glimpse into fur trading era



To some, it might just be an old bell.

But to the trained eye, it's a window into what life was like in Porter County thousands of years ago.

After less than a week of excavations, an archaeological dig along the tree-filled banks of the Kankakee River produced artifacts dating back nearly 8,000 years. Among the treasure was a small brass bell from the fur trading era. Possibly used for decoration, the bell might have belonged to American Indians occupying the land many years ago.

Leading the all-volunteer group of diggers was Mark Schurr , head of the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame. This is Schurr's fifth year returning to the Collier Lodge site just south of Kouts.

"You never know what you're going to find," Schurr said. "Earlier today, we found a new style of pottery that I've never seen before."

Since Schurr began conducting the digs with the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, his group has found tens of thousands of artifacts from various time periods, including arrowheads, pottery, archaic points and animal bones.

More recently, they unearthed a pioneer-type log cabin dating to the 1830s. Schurr hopes that during the next few weeks they will be able to discover more about the day-to-day life of its inhabitants. With an overall goal of getting a glimpse into 10,000 years of Porter County history, every artifact adds another piece to the story.

During last year's dig, the group discovered a dense concentration of animal bones, which Schurr believed to be part of a fur trading camp. This year, the group found a second area with various animal remains from a different time period.

"This will give us insight into the kinds of animals traded during different times," Schurr said. "Were beavers used more during one time? Were pigs and cows used during another?"

Identifying the bones could take up to a year, however, as the remnants are sent off to specialists to be identified.

Also acting as historical clues are large black pits found several feet below the ground's surface. After settlers or travelers used the roasting pits to cook food, they would fill them with garbage. Identifying some of these remnants could reveal what kind of food was being cooked and what tools were used.

Because the site is at a part of the Kankakee River that was more easily crossed than others, the land was used for many millennia as camp sites and settlements. This helps explain the immense number of artifacts found from this 3/4-acre piece of land.

The participants of the dig traditionally come from various backgrounds and locations. Current volunteers include music professors, grandparents, students and children.

"I rescheduled my tonsillectomy for this," said 20-year-old Amy Dehmlow, who flew in from Tennessee.


Volunteers unearth Kouts history

August 2, 2007

BY CHARLES M. BARTHOLOMEW Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- After nine days of digging, it's clear that the amateur archaeological crew of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society is still just scratching the surface in their fourth summer session on the grounds of the Collier Lodge on Baums Bridge Road .

Twenty volunteer workers put down their shovels and spread boxes and buckets of unearthed rocks and artifacts Then they placed the items on tables to wash and sort them into labeled plastic bags.

Dr. Mark Schurr , head of the Anthropology Department at Notre Dame University, has been excavating the area around the last standing hunting lodge in the former Grand Kankakee Marsh under a contract with the KV Historical Society after he surveyed the property five years a go. 

Schurr also has trained volunteers during the digs of the previous three summers.

Occasionally, a washer put down his scrubber and went from table to table, holding up some freshly cleaned artifact.

"This is metal," said Historical Society President John Hodson, showing a small triangular piece with a hole in one corner, like a piece for a charm bracelet.

"Some kind of ornament," replied Judy Judge , the society's archaeology chair.

"Not iron, it would have rusted," Hodson said. He scored it with a fingernail, leaving a white scar. "Lead oxide!" he exclaimed.

"We've been finding pottery, chert, arrowheads and drill points. Professor Schurr says he's never seen a point like the one I found yesterday, because the base is so wide," Judge said.

Hodson's wife, Mary, showed a pottery shard. 

Indentations marked the section of rim, and a design of parallel lines decorated the body fragment.

"This is really unusual," she said. "Mark identified it as Fifield type, named for whoever found the first one. Mississippian, about A.D. 500 to 1500, shell-tempered. A cooking pot, found about 312 feet down. See how thin it is." 

Hodson said activity has centered on a 5-foot by 5-foot area of unknown age which is about a foot underground and appears to have been used for some activity related to fire.

"Mark said he's never seen anything like it. We found a corner of it last year, but now it cuts through four units.  There are all these large rocks that had to have been hauled in from somewhere else. It could have been a sweat lodge," Hodson said.

He said it might also be a big cooking pit, but few bones have been found there.

"You don't want to speculate before you get all the facts. Mark wants credible results. But I'm excited," Hodson said.

He said he's offered to split the $300 cost out of his own pocket with the university to have a Florida company perform carbon dating of material from the site.

The dig at the Collier Lodge, is open to volunteers of any age who pay the society's annual dues. It will continue until Aug. 9, after which washing and sorting will be completed and the artifacts taken to Notre Dame for study. 

Schurr can then shift his study to answer questions about the lodge: Was Northwest Indiana home to a separate Kankakee Valley culture of prehistoric American Indians?

To learn more:

The Collier Lodge is located on Baums Bridge Road at the Kankakee River

Take Indiana 8 for 112 miles west from Kouts or 612 miles east from Hebron and turn south at the sign for Baums Bridge Inn. 

For more information, call 766-2302 or visit the site at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org


Diggers recover thousands of artifacts from Kouts site

August 10, 2007

Underground structure has group planning for next year



After three weeks of digging, washing and sorting, archaeologists along the Kankakee River have unearthed thousands of artifacts that offer clues about Porter County 's earliest inhabitants.

Two pieces of historic pottery dating back to the 1840s provided some insight. Diggers found fragments of both a tea cup and tea pot in the same area. The light green design on the cup, however, didn't match the pot.

"The big sign of status on the frontier was to have a matching tea pot and tea cup set," Mark Schurr , leader of the dig, said, adding that those artifacts might show that the inhabitants didn't have much money.

Head of the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, Schurr has been leading digs at the Collier Lodge site south of Kouts for five years.

Last year, the group found about 7,000 artifacts. This year's treasures include a spearhead dating back to around 1000 to 1500 BC, a 5-cent piece from the early 1800s, animal bones, and various historic and prehistoric pottery.

During the first week of the dig, the group also found a small brass bell possibly belonging to American Indians and various animal remains from the fur trading era.

The big discovery this summer was an underground structure measuring at least 14 feet wide and 5 1/2 feet deep. Schurr said it could be anything from an ice house to a cabin basement to even a summer kitchen.

"We're puzzled," Schurr said. "Every year we answer some questions and get another mystery."

Calling it a "giant surprise," Schurr said he doesn't know of anything else such as this having been found in Indiana .

During next year's excavation, Schurr hopes to focus on that part of the site and gather clues about how large the structure was in actuality and what it was used for. In the meantime, the group will head to labs at Notre Dame to begin the yearlong process of cataloging and identifying each artifact.

Working with the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, the group is made up volunteers from a variety of backgrounds, including teachers and students. Schurr said several of the volunteers from the dig come in regularly throughout the year to help with the identification process.

Despite the dry weather that has caused some units to close, Schurr said he was very pleased with this year's dig and all the volunteers.

"We achieved every goal we set out to do and found an enormous surprise feature," Schurr said  

Digging history along the Kankakee

August 13, 2007
my turn
By Janet Moran
Times Columnist



When it comes to history, some people just literally dig it.

Such it was this summer as it has been for the past five years for a group of volunteer and student archeologists digging on the grounds of Collier Lodge along the Kankakee River at Baums Bridge near Kouts.

The project, under the direction of Dr. Mark Schurr , head of the anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame, and assisted by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, was closed last week for the year.

Participants thus far have unearthed thousands of artifacts, ranging from animal bones from the French fur trading era to early Archaic points dating as far back as 6,000 B.C. Of particular interest to Dr. Schurr this year was the uncovering of a historic storage pit that contained artifacts possibly from the 1840s. The unit will be further studied next year.

The banks of the Kankakee River are fertile ground for archeologists. Much of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, heralded as once the size of the Florida Everglades, was drained for farming during the last 100 years. But wide swaths of land bordering the river from South Bend to Kankakee , Illinois have remained undisturbed with a history of attracting prehistoric peoples, nomadic native cultures, European explorers and traders and early 19th Century American settlements.

Archaeology is not just about digging for artifacts and independently setting them aside as they are found. Archeology, as in other sciences, is a discipline with exact measurements and calculations, field notes, sifting, sorting, weighing and categorizing, and even down to flotation (washing excavated dirt) to retrieve the minute pieces and even seeds that may be of significance.

When an archeological site is initially opened, units are laid out on a measured grid. Then it becomes much like coloring within the lines as each found artifact is recorded in the field as to its depth, longitude and latitude within the unit. For every man hour spent in the field, two hours are spent in the laboratory.

On my desk sits a fist sized chunk of chert, better known as flint, used by historic cultures to chip points and tools. It has a good bulb of percussion for a hammer stone to strike. It was among several pieces of chert we found in a creek bed adjacent to the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville , Illinois , where I enrolled a few summers ago for "Archeology 101" field training.

Kampsville is located in Calhoun County near the confluence of the Illinois , Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where a rich and complex array of prehistoric cultures existed, beginning with the nomadic Paleoindians living along the river bluffs 12,000 years ago.

My particular dig was into a Hopewell site, a Middle Woodland culture dating between 50 B.C. and 250 A.D. It was a horticulturist society with an elaborate trade network reaching to Mexico and noted for the emergence of an elite ruling class.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. Contact her at janetcopywrite@sbcglobal.net.  


Refurbishing project includes archaeological dig


August 4, 2007

By Robert Themer

815- 937-3369


Carefully, on three fingers of her right hand, Mary Hodson holds a couple square inches of what looks like age-bleached asphalt.

To her, it's a pearl beyond price. A piece of ancient history. A key to imagination's door.

"We have a really neat piece of Mississippian here. Rim sherd. Shell tempered -- with crushed shell. Prehistoric, 500 to 1,400 years old ," she said. "Mark thought about 1,400 at this time."

Mark is Dr. Mark R. Schurr, anthropology department chairman at the University of Notre Dame, and this piece of the rim of a fire-baked Native American pot is in a style he hasn't seen before.

It was carefully unearthed in recent days from the sandy soil along the Kankakee River at Baum's Bridge, about 15 miles south of Valparaiso .

For five summers, Schurr has led archeological digs there on property owned by John and Mary Hodson , who have purchased it and other tracts on the river here for preservation and restoration.

It's where the sprawling, presettlement Grand Kankakee Marsh narrowed to a passable point, a spot known in earliest recorded history as The Indian Crossing and later Potawatomi Ford.

Indians clashed here in war in the 1700s for control of the crossing, John Hodson said, and the French had a small fort nearby mid-century, during the colonial-era French and Indian War -- Fort Tassinong . Later, the French moved on to Bourbonnais , he added.

Mary Hodson 's focus was a millennium earlier.

"It was a cooking pot," she said about the potsherd. "We were working in a Mississippian fire pit, about three and a half feet below ground level when we found it.

"The thing, to me, that is more exciting is I was down there in that pit where a woman would have been cooking. I was thinking about what she would be doing. She had to make this and dig a hole and fire it ... and hope her husband was bringing something home to cook.

"I like to look at the emotional side," she continued. "These people had emotions.

"Maybe she got ticked at her husband and that was why this was broken.

"Maybe she got a little more creative and put her maker's mark on this. This little circle (inside the rim) is something we haven't found before.

"To imagine her there and for 1,400 years it was covered ... Imagine that I was the first person to be in that fire pit for 1,400 years."

And that is really recent history for this spot. People lived here as early as 10,000 years ago.

Last year, Schurr wrote, an "Early Archaic projectile point" was unearthed at another fire pit, "extending the site occupation to about 8,000 B.C."


Plans to re-establish marsh, hunting lodge

August 4, 2007

By Robert Themer

815- 937-3369


KOUTS -- In the shade of a 95 degree noon, Mary Collins is sweating and intently scrubbing with a toothbrush at something hidden in the vise of her thumb and second finger.

In front of her, in a cardboard box, are a dozen small pieces of coal, some small beige rocks, a rust-encrusted square nut, bottle cap and a couple small nails, broken bits of china, the brass cap of an old shotgun shell and several pieces of red brick.

"This is fun," she said. "All those years of sorting Legos have paid off."

To the cleaned collection, she adds a fling flake -- evidence of Native American tool making.

"I found an arrowhead on the first or second day I was here, which was more exciting," she said.

Collins is participating in the fifth summer of the Collier Lodge archeological dig on the Kankakee River about three miles southwest of her home at Kouts , Ind. Several scrubbed bits later, she takes off her glasses for a better, if squinting, look at a nondescript gray square about the size of an oyster cracker.

"I think I've found some pottery. Did I?" she asked, a controlled bit of excitement in her voice.

"Oh, yes," said Kathy Graham of Winamac, a veteran of earlier digs here.

"I should have grown up to be an archeologist," said the 66-year-old Graham, "but I just do what everyone else does, walk the field and learn."

Dig participants are members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, founded in 2001 by John and Mary Hodson , the year after they bought this 14-acre site and the crumbling lodge building on Baum's Bridge Road . It is the last surviving hunting lodge building from the 19th century, when the Grand Kankakee Marsh still covered half a million acres along the river from Momence to South Bend.

White House Lodge

The Collier Lodge had once been known as the White House Lodge because presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland and, it is believed, Teddy Roosevelt all came here to hunt.

Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace -- who preferred fishing and writing to hunting -- was staying on his riverboat here in 1880 when he received a telegram announcing the upcoming publication of his celebrated novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" -- which has never been out of print.

John Hodson can talk about Wallace at length and considers him "the most under-appreciated Hoosier of all time." In addition to his fame as a writer and Civil War general, Wallace served on the Lincoln assassination commission, was U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, served as territorial governor of New Mexico and held patents on fishing gear and railroad equipment. "A Renaissance man," said Hodson.

Dig participants

About 60 or 70 members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society have participated in the dig, 20 or more each day, said Hodson, who is the president and was co-founder of the society along with his wife Mary.

Their ages span "from seven to Sophie," said Mary, referring to 87-year-old Sophie Wojhowski of Portage -- the oldest participant of the dig except for the artifacts being unearthed.

On the younger end are Amy Dehmlow of Idaho and Zack Hassler of Batavia -- both geomorphology students at Valparaiso University, about 15 miles north.

Dehmlow, a sophomore, is called "The Lab Nazi." Her job is to make certain the dig participants follow the detailed rules of recording and preserving the artifacts found.

Hassler is working on a wetlands restoration project on 94 acres that the Hodsons also own here and just finished a sand island study on the Kankakee supervised by Valparaiso geomorph professor Ron Janke.

The Grand Marsh

Hassler, an outdoorsman who plans to work more on habitat restoration in pursuing a master's degree, said draining the Grand Marsh to create farms "is a really sad thing, in my opinion.

"They say about a fifth of the migratory bird population (in the Midwest ) disappeared after it was drained. Theodore Roosevelt actually wanted to make the marsh a national park," he said.

John Hodson and many others are "fairly certain" that Roosevelt visited the lodge after he came to Valparaiso in 1893 to dedicate the Memorial Opera House, built to honor veterans of the Civil War. Stories abound, but definitive proof has been elusive.

However, history provides certain records that presidents Benjamin Harrison (1889-93) and Grover Cleveland (1885-89 and '83-87) did hunt from this lodge, he said.

By 1917, however, the dredges that would create the network of straight ditches to drain the marsh and eliminate 270 miles of river meanders, would reach Baum's Bridge.

"That was really like the nail in the coffin," John said.

Adapts to survive

But only the Collier Lodge survived until someone happened along to want it preserved.

It had been a hunting lodge for the rich and famous and when the marsh was drained, "with it went the reason for the rich and famous to come," Mary Hodson said.

"It was a bordello twice, when the rich and famous brought their maids with them. They really needed a maid with one room and no bath," she said.

In the "after-marsh," the Collier family made it a general store and cafe; they sold bait and gasoline and supplies, she said. It closed after Jim Collier died in 1952.

Some preservation work has been done and the building is "in better shape" as the historical society awaits word on grant applications and designation as a national historic site, she said.

The plan is for the old lodge to become a historic and educational site, a meeting place for the historic society and something of a local community hall.

The Hodsons' personal goal is to get it and their wetlands restored and to "leave it to society," Mary Hodson said. "We're just stewards of it. It is larger than us."




Click to enlarge thumbnails

Week 1

Mark's T-shirt.jpg (143103 bytes)

 Judy Judge presenting Dr. Schurr with 2007 Collier Lodge T-shirt

Units at work.jpg (136109 bytes)

     Scene of activity during Dig   

Digging out units.jpg (141981 bytes)

Units being worked

Unique pottery.jpg (99617 bytes)

Unique piece of prehistoric pottery 

Mississippian point.jpg (50831 bytes)

Mississippian era point

Small early Archaic point.jpg (96960 bytes)

Small Early Archaic point (8,000 BC - 6,000 BC)

Late Archaic point.jpg (107751 bytes)

Late Archaic point

Small brass bell.jpg (78035 bytes)

Brass bell (fur trade era)

3 pieces of pottery with holes.JPG (198313 bytes)

Three pieces of broken pottery that were reworked by drilling holes and worn as jewelry  

Week 2

Screening.jpg (136149 bytes)

Screening artifacts

Fifield-trail.jpg (79619 bytes)

Fifield (Trail?) 1400 AD

Drill.jpg (72657 bytes)

Drill point (unknown type/era)

Washing aritfacts.jpg (126685 bytes)

Artifact washing work party

Lead orniment.jpg (58620 bytes)

Lead ornament (unknown era)

VU students.jpg (130976 bytes)

Valparaiso University students working Collier Lodge Dig

All units.jpg (137270 bytes)

Scene of Dig units

All units1.jpg (133747 bytes)

Scene of Dig units

Latch-harness.jpg (81939 bytes)

Possible latch or harness fitting

DM unit.jpg (196801 bytes)

DM unit. 

Example of stratification in unit wall

Week 3

point.jpg (67166 bytes)

Flint point

point tip.jpg (107264 bytes)

Point tip

ceramic's.jpg (71200 bytes)

Ceramic pieces (left abt.1820 right abt. 1840)

5 cent piece.jpg (88648 bytes)

1872  Five cent piece

Unit.jpg (108139 bytes)

BM Unit

Units.jpg (141541 bytes)

Three Units

DM unit.jpg (119701 bytes)

DM Unit

Group pic.jpg (203551 bytes)

 2007 Collier Lodge Dig volunteer group picture

Miscellaneous Picture Contributions

100_3354.JPG (79180 bytes)

Assorted flint

Assorted lithics.jpg (67223 bytes)

Assorted lithics 

flinit artifact.jpg (63908 bytes)

Flint artifact

Water Floatation.jpg (135050 bytes)

Water Floatation tank

Pre-Dig Orientation.jpg (121642 bytes)

Pre-Dig Orientation