Wherein we learn why the Limberlost now abounds with deer, but Mrs. Porter never saw any

by Curt Burnette, Limberlost Program Developer/Naturalist

It is easy to imagine the mighty Limberlost swamp would have been brimming with wildlife during the years Gene Stratton-Porter wandered about it, recording her observations and taking photographs. And, in the case of many types of wildlife, this would have been true. However, other kinds of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Believe it or not, some were already gone or disappearing even during Gene’s time.

It is quite common now to see white-tailed deer crossing our local roads, in fields or back yards or dead along highways. If anything, parts of Indiana and some of the eastern United States are overrun with deer, even in suburbs and cities. Can you imagine a time when there were no deer here at all? Although it does not seem possible, it is true.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Deer were abundant when the first settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, but were so heavily hunted during the 19th century that the last deer was reported in our state in 1893. For the next 41 years, there were basically no deer in Indiana but for the occasional stray from a surrounding state! As I wander the Limberlost State Historic Site these days, I see deer or deer tracks everywhere I go. Travel back to when Gene was wandering these same grounds more than 100 years ago; she would never have seen a deer or their tracks.

In 1934, the Division of Fish & Game (now known as the Division of Fish & Wildlife) began reintroducing white-tailed deer into seven counties. By 1951, the deer population had recovered well enough to allow limited hunting. Nowadays, hunting is allowed throughout the state and deer season is a joy to many Hoosier hunters. Hunting fees are also critical to managing and maintaining Indiana wildlife populations and habitats.

There were other animals that were formerly present in the Limberlost but were gone by Gene’s time. The hunting party from which Limber Jim got himself lost in the early 1800s could have encountered wolves and bear, but Gene would not have. Another animal both Limber Jim, in his day, and I, at the present, could see are beaver. By Gene’s time, they had been trapped almost to extinction, but like the deer, they have been reintroduced and are now common. Wild turkey were also once plentiful in Indiana but disappeared. They too have been brought back successfully through our conservation efforts and are found in today’s Limberlost, but not Gene’s.

One animal that we know Gene encountered frequently is so rare today it is classified as endangered in Indiana. In her writings, Gene mentions how common the massasauga rattlesnake (the swamp rattler) was in the area. Now, they are pretty much found only in a few protected spots in northern Indiana such as state parks. In the Limberlost of the past, Gene and other residents were very concerned about the bite of a rattlesnake, but that’s not the case today. Today’s concern is the collision of a deer along the road instead of the bite from a rattlesnake. Times sure have changed.

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One Response

  1. Most experienced deer hunters hunt for many years for a chance at harvesting a mature white-tailed buck. At Limberlost we can make that experience become a reality.

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