Tales of the Limberlost: Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924)
by C.K. Thomas
Earlier this month, I visited two of the Indiana homes of author Gene Stratton-Porter that are now museums. Stratton-Porter hyphenated her name when she married long before such a practice became mainstream. People of her day considered her strange when she wore men’s overalls to tramp around the dense Indiana swamp known as the Limberlost. She showed little concern for what people thought of her and continued to photograph and write about the wildlife she discovered in the Limberlost. Today she’s known as the most prolific female Indiana author.
Having grown up in Indiana, I had heard of the Limberlost with no idea how the swamp got its name. From the early settlement days of Indiana, this vast wetlands provided excellent hunting grounds. Groups of hunters would push through the huge unmapped area together for safety from wolves, quicksand, and the very real possibility of getting hopelessly lost. One member of such a hunting party became separated from the group and search parties were unable to find him. The tall, skinny guy known as “Limber Jim” became a famous topic of conversation. Stories told again and again most often began with “Did ya hear that Limber’s lost in the swamp?” Over the years Jim’s nickname ran together with his fate, and the swamp became known as the Limberlost.
For Stratton-Porter, the swamp became her workshop as she wrote book after book as a naturalist who discovered many new species of butterflies, birds, and moths. She also wrote fiction set in the swamp, the most well-known being A Girl of the Limberlost. Later in her career as a photographer, naturalist, and author, she moved to California where many of her books were made into movies. Stratton-Porter lived in Geneva, Indiana (her namesake) close to the Limberlost, but moved to northeastern Indiana near Rome City where she and her husband built a lovely home on Sylvan Lake.
Both the home in Geneva and the one in Rome City have become fascinating museums that chronicle Stratton-Porter’s life and career. Her writing includes 12 novels along with nature, poetry, and children’s books, as well as numerous magazine articles. The swamp no longer exists; as oil drilling and farms encroached, the swamp was drained. Donations for restoration have led to four areas of the former Limberlost being reclaimed as wetlands. Today birds and other wildlife returning there draw nature tourists from all over the world.
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.