Tales of the People and Places of the Olde Kankakee River

  "Tales of the People and Places of the Olde Kankakee River" by Lowell historian Richard C. Schmal is the latest publication of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.

Schmal has been writing the columns for over 20 years, telling stories of the area since the time the pioneers arrived in the early 1800s.

From a local pioneer family, the author weaves the rich, documented history of the Kankakee Valley with the colorful tales of hard-working pioneers and high-living criminals.

More than two dozen stories relate local family genealogies as well as the long-gone days of river dredging, steamboats, railroads, oil exploration, timbering and unrivaled hunting and fishing on the Kankakee Marsh.

A dozen pages at the end of the book list "strange, unusual and interesting facts" from over two decades of research and writing by the octogenarian author.

Schmal's book is $15 for members of the Society and $20 for non-members. For information on membership or to order any of the books, visit the Society's website at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org or call John Hodson at 766-2302.  

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Richard C. Schmal (click to enlarge)


Richard C. Schmal was born, on November 17, 1916 at the “Schmal Hotel located in Lowell, Indiana. To Fred and Theresa Schmal. His father, Fred Schmal, influenced his interest in history early in life. The senior Mr. Schmal was an early president of the Lake County Historical Society. Dick's grandfather Adam Schmal, was a 9-year-old pioneer at St. John, Indiana in 1838, and Lake County Treasurer during the Civil War.

Richard C. Schmal attended grade school at Saint Edward’s, graduated from Lowell High and took a sales course at Purdue. Dick recalled that at his 30-year class reunion (70 years in 2004) his English and History teacher told the gathering, as she pointed at him, “That one would be the last that I would have picked for writing in a newspaper!”

A veteran of World War II, Dick served for four years in the Army Quartermaster Corp., three of these years were in the Pacific Area. It was during this tine, while stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, thus he found an 1873 history of Lake County, Indiana, written by Reverend Timothy H. Ball. Lonely and far from home he read Ball's detailed account with great interest, he has since accumulated many more writings by he early Circuit Rider-Historian.

Life's demands left little time for Dick to write. Displayed in his home is evidence of Dick's dedication to family and community. One prominent plaque presented to him at his retirement, reads... ''For 50 years in the Hardware Industry.” Among several community service awards are: “Official Historian, Town of Lowell, 1997,”  “Outstanding Community Service Award, 1998, Gleaners,”  “Career Day Accomplished Alumnus Award. 2000,” “Unsung Hero of the Year Award, 2000, Lowell Chamber of Commerce.'' In the Park stands a 4-foot stone with a plaque dedicated to Richard C. Schmal. Over the years, the name, Richard Schmal, has appeared on numerous civic organization rosters as scoutmaster, member of the Lion's Club, Chamber of Commerce, Knights of Columbus, Gleaners, Three Creeks Historical Association, Lake County Historical Society, Kankakee Valley Historical Society, American Legion, several church ministries and he was a Civil War re-enactor for many years. However, in January of 1980, coaxed by members of the local historical association, Dick began to write the "Pioneer History'' column in the Lowell Tribune. His goal was to preserve the history and traditions of the area. In order to share his writings and expand their use, Dick chose to write the columns for no pay, thus retaining ownership of his work. This unselfish decision has made possible this book.

Dick has humbly stated “ I have never claimed to he a 'writer,' just someone who wants to tell the stories in one way or another.”  His dedication to history and its preservation exemplifies the mission of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society... "To promote an interest in the rich, diverse history and cultures.. through educational programs, speakers…ongoing research and restoration.''

  Thank you Dick, for your perseverance in attaining your goal!  

Kankakee Valley Historical Society looks to the future with ebook

By Heather Augustyn Times Correspondent | Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:00 am

KOUTS | When you think of history books and research, you usually visualize dusty leather-bound books in a Hogwarts-looking room.

But John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, says he's ready to take history books to the next level by offering its latest publication as an ebook.

"We published a book called 'Tales of the People and Places of the Olde Kankakee River,' by Richard C. Schmal. He passed away last year at the age of 94 and was our group historian. We took a bunch of his stories on the Kankakee River and made this book, first published in 2004 and again in 2007. Now we've just released it as an ebook," Hodson said.

He said the book, which sold about 600 print-version copies, could experience a new life in digital form. And as a technology buff, Hodson said he is "blown away" by the potential of the medium.

"I first heard about ebooks a year or two ago. To me, it's pretty revolutionary. For anybody doing research, or for your own collection, it's unbelievable the potential. I am so excited about it. The market is just exploding for ebooks, so I think we're at the beginning. It's really the future," Hodson said.

He said publishing the book as an ebook was easy once his research of which company to use and consulting with a copyright attorney was complete.

"In 20 minutes I was able to copyright our book and within an hour or so it was on Amazon," Hodson said. "It's just so easy. And now we don't have a bunch of boxes in our garage and we can just make sales. We can get our story out and get the book out there."

The group, which has a mission to "promote an interest in the rich, diverse history and cultures of the Kankakee Valley area through educational programs, speakers, interactive activities, displays of memorabilia, artifacts and ongoing research," hopes to reap rewards from the digital format.

"We'd like to see sales. Let's face it, we need bucks. All of our funds right now are going toward restoring the historic Collier Lodge. It's our biggest focus," Hodson said.

For more information on "Tales of the People and Places of the Olde Kankakee River," by Richard C. Schmal, visit kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org or amazon.com.

Schmal's essays now available as eBook

By Robert Themer


The Kankakee Valley Historical Society of Indiana is now offering the river history essays of the late Richard C. Schmal in e-Book form, society President John Hodson has announced.

Schmal, a Lowell, Ind., native whose family helped settle the community, died last year at age 94.

"He was such a great guy," said Hodson. "He had a high school education and he had a love of history. He did a lot of research, and he had a great mind."

Beginning in January 1980, he wrote a monthly "Pioneer History" column for the Lowell Tribune — accounts of the history of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, the river itself and its people. They were first published in book form — "Tales of the People and Places of the Olde Kankakee River" — by the historical society in 2004 and republished in 2007. More than 600 copies were sold.

Now it's been released as an eBook.

History and humor

Besides history, Schmal also had a great sense of humor. "He said he was a Ph.D. He had a certificate," Hodson said. "He worked for a hardware store and Ph.D. stood for professional hardware dealer."

Schmal also did living history, participating in a historic re-enactment group as a sutler — a civilian merchant who sells provisions at an army post, camp or in the field.

Sales aid restoration

The eBook is available on Amazon.com for $9.99. Proceeds will be used for society projects, including the restoration of the historic Collier Lodge at Baum's Bridge, just east of Kouts, Ind. The lodge is the last surviving hunt club building from the glory days of the Grand Marsh.

Print copies of the book are also available.



  Amazon eBook purchase link