Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Green River Swamp

Slough grass, cattail, indian rice wave in the afternoon air. Geese literally brown out the sky as pheasant, grouse, sand hill cranes, and wild turkey lurk in the murky swamp waters. It is said that in the 1850's local hunters could bag as many as 100 geese in a day's time.

By the 1880's there were vast swamps still untouched in northern Illinois in what is now Lee, Henry and Bureau counties. Most of the prairie land had long been settled and was in row agriculture by the 1850's. Yet, in the Green River Swamp of Henry County bandits took cover in the tall grass, there are tales told of these cattle rustlers and bandits finding solace in milieu of surrounding wood and wet grasslands.

The mid 1880's saw drainage district formed to dry out the swamps and open up the land for crops and grazing. It would take over 10 years to accomplish this.

In the 1930's my grandfather bought a farm in precisely the spot where the Green River Swamp once was. The Green River has since been channeled arrow straight, large ditches crisscross the landscape, yet the land is still interesting.

Timber comprised largely of cottonwood, walnut, and maple, some bur and black oak, numerous mulberry and hackberry grows on sand hills where glaciers stacked up their till in large, sweeping dunes, in the lowlands the soil is loamy, doesn't drain well, and sinkhole-like water holes pop up with rain.

On our particular farm a former homestead stood next to a fruit orchard of apple and pear. The fruit trees still exist next to towering cottonwoods and walnuts that age out at well over a century. While the land may be somewhat marginal in terms of prime Illinois farm ground, it is still a sparsely populated and somewhat enchanting place.

While most is now gone to fields, some wild areas do exist. Check out the Green River Conservation Area near Ohio, IL. for a glimpse at what the wetlands once were, and what we have lost.

1. Example of large walnut trees
2. Windmill water pump on site of old farmstead
3. Open area on dunes, area of uplift is 30-40 feet above the floodplain.

Soundtrack: 16 Horsepower, "Folklore"

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