Wolf Swamp of Kosciusko Transformed

by George A. Nye

Sixty years ago people who rode on the mail and passenger stage-coach of Peter L. Runyan from Popham's Exchange or the Wright House in the then little town of Warsaw to Goshen followed what was then known as the State or Michigan road. After leaving the Empire Hotel in Leesburg conducted by Robert Blain, the traveler looking off to the west from the road could see little more than an expansless marsh grown-up with alder and willow bushes, brambles, quakenasps and all other bushes and vines commonly found in lowlands of the county. For four or five miles this vast marsh stretched to the west and commencing near Leesburg on the south, it did not end until it reached Turkey Creek on the edge of Milford. It was commonly known as the Wolf swamp. In the spring of the year sometimes it overflowed so much that the whole country looked like a lake, and old-timers of today remember when it was possible to go from Turkey Creek almost to Leesburg in a boat.

The government surveyors passing through the country in the early 30s found nothing to record except a marsh overbowed with spring rains. The nearest cabins were those of Mr. Gawthrop and others over along the State road. They marked the section corners with some mounds and went on their way, little expecting that before 100 years had rolled away this very swamp would be under cultivation. Jefferson had said a short time before their day that the country would not be settled to the Mississippi for 400 years and these men perhaps held the same view. And so it remained until within the last twenty-five years a wild place where hunters coming from near and far might run across prairie chickens, badgers, beavers, wolves and rattlesnakes, to say nothing of rabbits, quail and coon. Only a few years ago the prairie wolves of the marsh became so bothersome as sheep killers that all the farmers and hunters of the township declared an all-day Thanksgiving hunt. They surrounded the marsh and were rewarded with several wolf pelts.

No one thought that the marsh can be cultivated until within the last 20 years. After the completion of the Coppes dredge ditch the land dried off. This ditch ran straight north through the swamp to Turkey Creek. It is 40 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The bottom of the ditch fortunately was in good gravel so good drainage was insured. Then, too, a fire swept across the great portion of the marsh and this helped to clear it for settlement. People began to get interested in this section of the country and one of these was Elmer Hickman, real estate dealer of Warsaw. As agent he purchased a great deal of land from the Ewing heirs who were scattered far and wide, one being the wife of McCrea, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. It was then selling for four and five dollars an acre this is vouched for by Colbert, Dickerson, Osborne and J. H. Manchester, of Wapakoneta, Ohio, who owned section thirty-one.

A few years ago Mr. Hickman interested Manchester in this swamp land. Manchester makes the development of swamplands a business, so he was not discouraged when some people told him the wolf swamp could never be anything else but a rendezvous for wild game. But Manchester now has on the land a caterpillar tractor which drags a plow throwing a three foot furrow. Although the loose, black ground is full of deep holes and is covered in places with tough sod and tree roots this plow tears through all of them and the tractor puffing along takes to the undulations like a ship at sea. Ahead of it go a set of brushers. The men driving it are accustomed to seeing wolves, prairie chickens and plenty of rattlesnakes. One day they killed four rattlers and thought nothing of it. Manchester now owns four hundred and forty acres. A survey for corners was made a week ago and it may truthfully be said that this spring is the first time since 1834 that any surveyor has been called to do work in section thirty-one.

The clearing of the wolf swamp marks the passing of one of the largest tracts of lowland in the county. It is therefore fitting that we of the present day hold in special remembrance the labor and trials of those of past generations who cleared up the land, drained the swamps and made it possible for us today to enjoy life more and to raise more and better crops. What to us is a beautiful corn field in the valley was to them a cranberry marsh grown up with thick shrubbery and overflowed much of the time. A field of black ground which we see today, to them was a hog swamp where all the pigs of the neighborhood ran wild. And between that unsightly and unsanitary condition and the present corn field has come only the honest toil of the farmer who cleared the land, grubbed out the brush and dug the drain to carry off the water. To him must ever go the credit for much of our present day happiness and the credit for being one of the foundation stones upon which all human existence is based.

Warsaw Daily Times, June 1921

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