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. But
other kinds of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in the late 19th
centuries, and some were already gone or were disappearing even during Gene’s time.
It is quite common now to see white-tailed deer crossing our local roads or dead along the
highways. Deer season is a joy to many a Hoosier hunter. 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. Deer were abundant when the first settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, but were
so heavily hunted during the 19th and early 20th 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 area these days, I always see deer or deer tracks everywhere I go. But when Gene was wandering over 100 years ago, she would never have seen a deer or a track. 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 and nowadays hunting is allowed throughout the state. Hunting fees are critical to managing and maintaining Indiana wildlife populations.
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 time 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. I have seen them in the Limberlost. Gene would not have.
There is at least one animal Gene encountered frequently which 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 concerned about the bite of a rattlesnake but never saw
deer. In the Limberlost of the present we are concerned about colliding with a deer as we
zoom along the roads and highways, but we do not fear rattlesnakes. Times change.