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Garden of Eden

(Inter Ocean, Chicago, IL – April 14, 1901)

Old Dan Parmalee

The original Biblical Garden of Eden has been found. It is located in Illinois on the banks of the beautiful Kankakee River. It was discovered by Daniel Parmalee, who is a noted pioneer, trapper, and hunter.

Sad to say, the Garden of Eden is to be sold at auction. It is to be knocked down under the auctioneer’s hammer next Tuesday, because its original discoverer and owner is unable to pay a mortgage he placed upon it when in need of funds.

The Garden of Eden and “Old Dan” Parmalee, its owner, are among the most attractive curiosities of the great Kankakee swamp, a region replete with interest for Chicago sportsmen. The garden is situated on the bank of the river at Indian Town, about three miles from the Indiana line. When it was originally discovered it was merely an island in the midst of the great swamp, covered with a dense growth of trees and shrubbery, and almost tropical in appearance in summer, when the trees and shrubs were in full leaf and wild vines hung from the tree tops in great festoons. It is still a pretty spot, although the draining of the swamp has surrounded it with prosperous farms and much of the timber has disappeared. The river sweeps by it with a graceful curve, and its trees shut out the view of the neighboring farmhouses.

Indian Town Rapids

Relics of Eve’s fall

Dam Parmalee has relics which he asserts prove identity of this spot as the site of the-original Garden of Eden. Among these relics is the apple tree on which grew the fruit with which the serpent tempted Eve; the apple itself, turned to stone; the head of the serpent likewise petrified, and other relics mentioned in the holy book. The contour of the petrified apple is distinctly marred where two generous bites were taken from it. The serpent's head is diamond shaped, like that of a deadly adder. The apple tree bears every mark of great age, and still bears fruit which is tempting as it hangs from the drooping limbs. "Old Dan" is firm in his belief that it is the original tree, and, what is more, he believes that Adam and Eve still live in the garden. He will point them out to you any time. Adam is a giant black oak on the river bank and Eve is a smaller white oak growing nearby, extending her arms appealingly to Adam. There are other curiosities in the garden of a less sacred character. One is a two headed calf, which was born in the garden, and which was offered as a sacrifice and afterward stuffed by its owner.

It was forty years ago that "Old Dan" discovered the Garden of Eden. He has lived there several years before he discovered its sacred character. He came to the swamp when a young man and settled down to follow the life of a hunter and trapper. At that time the swamp afforded great opportunities for a hunter. It was alive with deer, bears, and the smaller fur-bearing animals. Wild fowl bred there by thousands, and little more effort was necessary to sustain life than in the garden of Biblical lore. Parmalee soon became noted, not only as a hunter and trapper, but as a fighter. He was over six feet tall and strong in proportion. After a few encounters, the men of the country feared and avoided any but friendly contact with him. It was on a trip to Momence about forty years ago, when Parmlee was in the prime of his health and strength that the incident which changes his whole life happened.

Cruel Treatment of Parmalee

Momence, which is now a thriving town, located where the Chicago and Eastern Illinois railroad crosses the Kankakee River, was then a mere village, rough and lawless. The young men of the town feared Parmalee and agreed to set upon him and give him a whipping at the first opportunity. Two of the strongest of them attacked him on the occasion mentioned, and after a fearful fight Parmalee was overpowered and dreadfully beaten. Not content with beating him with their fists, his assailants kicked him about the body and head. He managed to reach his home in the swamp eight miles away, where he was ill for days. It was when he recovered, or appeared to recover, from the effects of the beating that he discovered that he was living in the Garden of Eden. It was soon evident that, while his body had recovered, his brain was affected by the shock.

"Old Dan" has never swerved from the conviction that he is the owner of the most valuable spot of ground on earth. When the conviction dawned upon him he set about collecting evidences to sustain it. The petrified apple, the apple tree, the petrified serpent's head, were discovered in succession and exhibited to the incredulous. Soon the enthusiasm of the archeologist took possession of him and he collected all kinds of relics. He dug in the graves of indian chiefs and secured hundreds of arrow heads, spear points, tomahawks, pipes, skulls, and other relics. In his years of persistent collecting he gathered a collection of relics which has probably never been equaled by any individual collector. All these were kept in his small house on the river bank, and exhibited with great pride.

Parmalee had a wife and children dependent upon him, when he made his unfortunate trip to Momence, but his sons grew up and struck out for themselves, his wife died, and he was left alone in his house on the river bank. All went well until last fall, when his house burned down one night. Most of his valuable collection of relics, his gun traps, and other property were destroyed, and "Old Dan" was forced to burrow in a "dugout" on the river bank for the winter. All that was saved from the fire was the two-headed calf, the serpent’s head, and the petrified apple. Of course, the apple tree and Adam and Eve were not even scorched, so the garden remained much as it has been before the fire.

Red Flag in Eden

Tuesday next the Garden of Eden will be sold, and "Old Dan" will be dispossessed of the sacred soil which he has owned and cherished for fifty years. Even the burrow in the river bank will be his no longer, and those years since his great discovery fear for the effect the dispossession will have on him. There will certainly be an affecting scene, if not a dangerous outbreak when the new owner comes to claim his purchase and to dispossess the ruler of the Garden of Eden. There is no need for "Old Dan" to suffer, however. His four sons have comfortable homes and they are well known in what used to be "the marshes." Three of them live within a few miles of the Garden of Eden, and besides farming during the summer they are noted guides for Chicago hunters, who come for the duck shooting in the spring and fall. Lemuel, the eldest of "Old Dan’s" sons, is the traveling representative of an elevator company, but Paris, Jim and Irving still stick to their native swamp. They know every nook of the swamp, every sinuosity of the river, and every wooded fastness of the river bottoms. Above all, they know the habits of the ducks, where they feed, where they fly, and where they roost. Lucky is the city hunter who gets one of the Parmalee boys to put him through the swamp or river bottoms, for he will get ducks.

Paris Parmalee's place is especially noted among hunters. His house is built on a knoll a few rods from the river and directly in the fly way of the duck from the river to the great swamps to the east. He and his brother Irving, who lives a mile away, have introduced a novelty in shooting which greatly, improved the sport. It is the use of live ducks, hatched from the eggs of the wild mallards, as decoys. These Judases of the duck family, or, more appropriate, sirens, for there is not a drake among them, are trained to call to their sisters as they fly over the tree tops and fire them down to death before the guns of the hunters.

The first of these decoys was hatched from eggs taken from the nest of mallard in Northern Michigan and shipped to Irving Parmalee by a friend. They were hatched out under a tame duck, and a pair of handsome mallards survived the season and became the pride of the barnyard. They were used as decoys that fall, and the following spring were then allowed to breed. Thirteen young ducks were hatched out and thrived apace until an incident happened which nearly wiped out the whole flock. On the farm was a hog of the variety known as a chicken hog. This hog was a mania for eating chickens, but ducks would so also on a pinch, and the hog started in to feed on mallard ducks. Before he was discovered he had killed and devoured both of the old ducks and all but three of the young ones. To add to the disaster he had eaten every drake in the flock. The three remaining ducks, however, were successfully reared, and are now enjoying their spinsterhood luring many a wild drake to an untimely end.

When these ducks are put out as decoys a string is tied around one leg and weighted at the other end with a piece of lead. Thus anchored they swim around in the water, calling to the wild ducks and enticing them within gunshot. The sirens swim about contentedly; pruning themselves and occasionally giving a happy quack which echoes through the river bottoms, until a flock or a pair of wild mallards are attracted. Then the sirens rise up on the water, flap their wings, and call their hoarse greetings to the oncoming ducks. The treachery is a complete success; the ducks come in with but few of the preliminary circles which caution usually dictates. Before they dream of danger they are in reach of the deadly guns, and often their bleeding bodies fall within a few feet of the beautiful deceivers. During a single day of shooting this scene is repeated many times with variations, which shows that duck nature is not much different from human nature after all. A pair of mallards will come sailing over the tree tops. The drake will hear the voices of the sirens and dart down toward the treacherous pool where they are serenely resting. His jealous mare darts after him and both rush to almost certain death. Again an old drake who for years has led successive flocks from South to North and from North to South, avoiding all dangers, hears the seductive calls of the sirens and directs the course of the entire flock in that direction. His large body and brilliant plumage make him a conspicuous mark, and he is the first to fall in the fusillade of shots which follows.