James Maurice Thompson the Sportsman

James Maurice Thompson

In my last River Bits column I wrote about James Maurice Thompson and his affiliation with the Crawfordsville Club at Baum’s Bridge. Thompson was a man of many talents and interests. Professionally, Thompsons’s careers include that of: attorney, civil engineer, geologist, naturalist and noted author. I place Thompson on my list of Hoosier Renaissance men near the level of Lew Wallace. Like Wallace, Thompson truly loved nature and the outdoors. As a sportsman, his weapon of choice was the bow. It has been written that Thompson’s attraction to archery was because former Confederate soldiers were not allowed to own firearms. But, the Thompson brothers were shooting bow and arrow as young lads in the Georgia woods. Thompson later wrote: “I was taught the use of the long-bow by Thomas Williams, an old hermit of a fellow, whose cabin stood in the midst of a vast pine forest that bordered my father’s plantation in North Georgia.” In 1878 Thompson authored: “The Witchery of Archery.” In 1879 the Thompson brothers founded the National Archery Association in Crawfordsville; and are considered the fathers of modern archery.

Thompson’s love of the outdoors and desire for a bit of adventure came together in the early 1880s when he decided to follow LaSalle’s 1679 exploration the Kankakee River. Setting off in his canvas boat near the St. Joseph and Kankakee Rivers portage Thompson began his journey. Although, he had brought some provisions, his main source of meat would depend on his skill with the bow.

Unlike LaSalle’s deep winter exploration, Thompson began his adventure in May. Thompson later wrote of his first morning on the Kankakee: “A plunge into the river chilled me wide-awake. Three minutes later I was handling my archery tackle; not that there was any probability of seeing game. But a bow in the hand is worth two a quarter mile away in the tent, and I walk better when my quiver rustles at my side, well filled with good arrows. The poetry of solitude stalks embodied as a sylvan toxophilite who goes alone into a primeval grove. I feel this in myself when I play the part with my imagination for my audience and the wilderness for my stage. On that particular morning the vigor of May circulating in the air gave promise of golden weather for a week to come, and it all crept into my blood; not a bird in any grove of the Kankakee felt more than I the keen need of song for song’s sake, and sing I did, silently, inwardly.”

Thompson ended his trip at the Crawfordsville Fishing and Shooting Club at Baum’s Bridge where he found a note that he was urgently needed back in Indianapolis. He later wrote of his Kankakee adventure in: “An Archer on the Kankakee.” The story can be downloaded from our Kankakee Valley Historical Society website:www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org