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Notre Dame archaeologist finds evidence of more than 12,000-year-old settlement along banks of old Kankakee River.
Ancient Tools Hold Clues To Prehistoric Past
By Robin Biesen
Times Staff Writer
August 31, 2002

PLEASANT TOWNSHIP -- Minutes after he arrived on the soggy banks of the old Kankakee River, University of Notre Dame archaeologist Mark Schurr found what he was seeking -- proof that a genealogical legacy of prehistoric Indian tribes had frequented the region.

Long known as a temporary home for the Hopewell Indians, who lived in the region about 2,000 years ago and who built the characteristic mounds that dot southern Porter County, Schurr said it is likely Indians found refuge in the verdant Kankakee River region more than 12,000 years ago, about the same time the last Ice Age ended.

"This was probably the first good place to set up camp," Schurr said as he surveyed a sandy ridge north of the river channel. "This would have been an optimal location whether they were traveling by water or land. Indian tribes probably lived here in the summer and traveled upland near Valparaiso in the winter."

Schurr, who came to Northwest Indiana at the behest of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, discovered the artifact -- a piece of white limestone-like stone fashioned into the tell-tale shape of an ancient Indian knife along the bank of an old portion of the Kankakee River, which meanders through southern Porter County.

Snake-like sections of the river were bypassed when the river was straightened. Difficult to traverse and overrun in the summer by mosquitoes, the banks of the bayou-like channel virtually have remained untouched since the river changed course.

Mark Schurr, a University of Notre Dame archaeologist, examines various artifacts last week that were found over the years on farm fields in Pleasant Township in Porter County.

Historical society members, such as John and Mary Hodson and Beverly and Paul Overmyer, have been looking to Schurr and state anthropologists to help them unlock the secrets to the prehistoric past of the Kankakee River valley as they look to preserve the historical remnants of the river's more recent residents.

It was as a hunting and fishing Mecca for the rich and famous -- the likes of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland -- that made the region a destination point more than a century ago. It was those points of interest that piqued John Hodson's curiosity about the region. In studying those times, Hodson began learning about the ancient Indian society that built the Maysville settlement near Porter County Road 1050 South and Baums Bridge Road about 2,000 years ago.

It started him and the historical society on a mission to learn all they could about the region's earliest residents even as they work to save a two-story white hunting lodge on Baums Bridge Road.

Schurr said there is no doubt the region holds secrets waiting to be unearthed.

He was even more convinced of its promise after looking over a treasure-trove of Indian artifacts gathered over the years in farm fields in the area.

A stone ax head, complete with the characteristic neck that allowed it to be attached to a tree branch placed tribal Indians in the region about 6000 B.C.

Other artifacts placed Indian tribes in the region long before that.

Sifting through boxes of stone tools that were found primarily in a 5-acre tract in southern Pleasant Township, Schurr examined items, such as gaming stones and intact ancient cutting tools along with a grinding stone. As he looked, he ticked off the items, the style and when, prehistorically, scientists believe they were used.

It was after he found fluted-clovis arrowheads, though, that Schurr paused.

"I have never seen a collection like this. These were used about 10,000 B.C.," Schurr said. "This was what we believe was the earliest occupation of this area, just after the glaciers retreated."

Schurr, who has studied the Hopewell mounds in Porter County, said his recent finds have been more than enough to bring him back to the area, most likely with some of his students and some high-tech equipment in tow in the spring.

"This is one spot on the landscape that appears as though it was very significant," he said. "This is a good place to start."

Robin Biesen can be reached at Biesen@nwitimes.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 349.