Camping at Pokagon State Park

One of the most educational, and rewarding experiences, that I ever had was celebrating my youngest daughter, Sue’s, 18th birthday at a campsite at Pokagon State Park. The arrangements for the weekend camping trip were made in advance by my eldest daughter, Ann, and her daughter (my grand daughter), Nichole.
Pokagon State Park is located in Angola Indiana and is about six miles from the Indiana Toll Road. The park was named after one of the chiefs of the Potawatomi Indian tribe which once resided in the area. Pokagon State Park is opened all year, and offers both summer and winter activities. The park has several inland lakes, which offer fishing, swimming and boating, 5 camp grounds, cabin and boat rentals, a Nature Center, horse and pony rides, hayrides, a campsite store, a beach concession stand and picnic areas equipped with shelters. Pokagon is the only park in Indiana that is equipped with a 1780 ft. refrigerated toboggan ride, which is opened during the winter; the park is also known for cross country skiing.

We had planned to leave early, Friday, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we left later than previously planned. When we arrived at the campsite, it was raining heavily, so the four of us waited in the van with hopes that the rain would soon let up; otherwise, we would have to spend the entire night in the van, crammed like sardines.

The rain stopped about 8:00 pm and Ann positioned the pop-up camper, and then unhitched it from the van. The four of us began to open the camper while fighting off hordes of mosquitoes that were swarming around us. The ground was quite muddy and by the time we got the camper open, we were covered in mud and wet clay. Luckily, the women’s restroom, nearby, had showers. After showering and changing clothes, we drove into town for dinner. While there, it started to rain again, and we were all hoping that the entire week end would not be a complete “washout” because of all the rain.

Saturday morning, was some what cloudy, but at least the rain had ended. Ann, started the campfire, and decided to try out the pie makers that she had recently purchased for camping. Our breakfast consisted of “pies” which were actually jelly sandwiches that were placed into the pie maker and held over the open flames. After our fancy breakfast, Ann decided to explore the area. Our first trip was to the camp store, in hopes of purchasing insect repellent, so that we would not be eaten alive or carried off by the pesky mosquitoes. However, we found that most of the repellent was sold out, leaving very little to choose from. While there, the cashier stated that because of all the rain, the park had more mosquitoes than usual, and the demand for repellent was quite high.

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Our next stop, was Tony’ Packo’s Pickle Factory; the Factory was a retail store that sold the famous Tony Packo’s hot dog sauce, and several various types of pickles not found in the Toledo area. After leaving the Pickle Factory, Ann headed for Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve which is located in Fremont Indiana, a short distance from Angola, hoping that we would arrive in time to take the Buffalo tour.

Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve has over 400 acres of prairie land, natural water ways, and lakes and was home to over 200 buffalo. Wild Winds was also a Bed & Breakfast, contained a gift shop which sold buffalo meat, Native American crafts, books, and buffalo related items. The Preserve also offered tours either on horseback or in a truck drawn open air wagon.

We arrived approximately 20 minutes before the tour began and were able to purchase tickets at the Gift Shop; then the four of us headed to the waiting area and joined a group of people, who were also going on the tour.

Soon a truck, pulling an open aired railed wagon containing benches, drove up and our group was told to board and take a seat. Once seated, the guide, instructed us to keep our hands and feet inside and behind the rails. We were also told not to try and touch or pet any of the buffalo. Then the guide opened the first gate, and then drove into the first field. As we drove along, the first item of interest was a mound of rocks which contained a large buffalo skull, and surrounded by several Native American artifacts. We were told then, that the mound with the skull would be explained later during the tour.

We drove through the field, and then pulled up next to a large gate; a few buffalo could be see grazing in the distance. By now, nearly everyone was asking or wondering as to the location of the herd. Our guide climbed out of the truck, and came over to the side of the wagon. She asked the group to be extremely quiet, and then went over to the wooden gate, opened it, and after giving a call, she returned to the truck and climbed in.

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Within minutes, a thunderous sound was heard and the wagon vibrated, as approximately two hundred buffalo charged through the opened gate, passed in front of the truck, and headed towards the swampy area next to the right side of the truck. We watched as the buffalo, rolled in the mud and water, and then wandered up to the truck. At this point, we were again advised to keep our hands and feet inside the wagon, and not to try and touch any of the buffalo. The guide pointed to various buffalo and called them by name. Some of the buffalo walked up and she reached out of the window and scratched their heads. She then pointed to the leader of the herd, and stated that the leader of the herd was the oldest female, and not a bull as expected. The female, entitled grandmother buffalo had complete control of the herd, and domination over the males. If a male seemed to be “out of order” grandmother buffalo gave him a head butt to remind him of his place. Then our guide informed the group that she did not actually call the buffalo, and that grandmother buffalo was responsible for the herd’s actions. In fact, it was grandmother buffalo that led the herd through the open gate and to the swamp, as she usually did each time the gate was opened. However, if grandmother buffalo did not want to come through the gate, the herd would not budge.

As far the mound of rocks with the skull, the group was told that it was a buffalo shrine. According to the guide, when the leader of the buffalo herd realizes she is going to die, the herd will stay by her side until she draws her last breath, and then one by one, the buffalo will go up to the fallen leader and place their nose against hers, paying their respect. The mound of rocks we passed contained the skull of a deceased herd leader. The Indian relics near the shrine represented the circle of life. The guide added that the shrine was still visited by the buffalo, and they would approach the skull and rub their nose upon it. Furthermore, one of the earlier shrines had been accidently touched by a visitor, and when the buffalo approached the shrine and picked up the scent of humans, the herd became frantic and destroyed the shrine. I do not know if this information was actually fact or a legend that was passed to visitors. However, I did find one site about a white buffalo calf and the death of the sire. According to the information at the site:

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Sensing the bull’s death, several of the cows stood guard at the edge of the pen, as if waiting to pay their last respects. Others charged along the fence line, running back and forth, the earth shaking beneath theirhooves” (Information taken from an article called The White Buffalo) This information also states about buffaloes paying respect to one of their own, so perhaps there is some merit to the guides information.

After the tour, we headed back to Pokagon. Our first stop was at the Saddle Barn where Sue rode a horse. Next, we toured the Nature Center, and observed some of the various species of birds, through windows, that faced the bird sanctuary. While there, one of the Park Rangers told about the upcoming hike scheduled for Sunday morning, and gave the time and the meeting place. We then left, and headed back to camp. Ann started the campfire, and cooked taco filling over the open fire for the walking taco’s that we had for supper.

Sunday morning, the four of us went down to the lodge for the breakfast buffet. After breakfast we went to the hill that over looked St. James Lake, where the hiking tour was to begin, and waited for the Park Ranger. When the Ranger arrived, he quickly pointed out the pair of mute swans that were swimming near the shore, and stated that although beautiful birds, they could be quite vicious around breeding time. As we stood there, other tour guest began to arrive. The very first thing that we were asked to do was to apply insect repellent. Since, the paths were quite muddy, because of the recent rain, the tour group had to take a different route and travel down one of the main paved roads. Since we were traveling on the main road, we lost the opportunity of seeing the park wild life, with the exception of a pair of wood ducks and a few red squirrels. After the tour, we went back to the campsite and prepared to head home.