The Floating Bog
on Dead Man's Lake


Perched above the surrounding countryside in north central Iowa lays one of our rarest and most interesting water bodies. The small lake, of about eight acres, occupies the southwest comer of Pilot Knob State Park three miles east of Forest City. Nearly half of this lake is composed of a floating sphagnum bog which feels, if you could walk on it, feels like you are actualIy walking on an extra soft bed. Following one's normal tendency to jump up and down in one result in wet ankles, but move over a few feet returnes the sodden boots to semi-dry terrain. Then while standing still or squatting to scrutinize the green mat closely for the smaIl sun dew plant, the feet begin to sink imperceptible. Move, sink, move, and sink; again and again until the impulse to get right down among the plants can be repressed. A rare plant, the sun dew, is indigenous to this particular environment.

The sun dew is a diminutive carnivorous plant related by feeding habits to the Venus flycatcher and pitcher plants. It is common in this part of the country, but only in acid, peaty areas and quite possibly Dead Man's Lake may have the sole accumulation of them in Iowa.

Why Dead Man's Lake

The name of the lake is another item that has aroused considerable interest. Several stories are told as one can well imagine with such a name. One tells of an early pioneer traveling to an unknown destination that passed by and drove his oxen out on the ice to let them drink. The ice gave away and the oxen, wagon, and man sank to a spongy coffin.. Another tale relates that a dead man was found on the lake shore. No one in the vicinity knew his name or the cause of his death, but many years later an ancient fowling piece was found on the same location with the root of a small tree grown through the lock. Some say he comes back when the moon is full in search of his lost wagon.

The Real Reason

Truth, always stranger than fiction, gives credence to following. Before the advent of the white man in this territory various Indian tribes wandered in Pilot Knob and at times had headquarters there.. Sioux, Fox, Chippewa, Sac, and Winnebago left mementoes of there (sic) passage. After settlements reached the Winnebago River (since dubbed Lime Creek) the Knob witnessed Indian pilgrimages over the flatlands and rolling hills.

One of the first homesteaders followed the meandering Winnebago River to a point just south of the high knob and climbed it to get a better view of the wildlife around him. From the height of his lookout he discovers the small lake in the hills and wondered at its elevation above the surrounding plain.. When he walked down to visit the lake be made a further discovery a lone Indian who perramently resided there. Patiently communicating by signs scratched on a sandy portion of the shoreline, the Indian revealed some of the history connected with the lake, his tribe, and also, that the water body was called "Lake of the Dead Man'" by his former tribesmen.

The Indian, an old man at the time, bad been a aspiring politico in his youth but was either defeated or betrayed by his friends and soured on life in the tribe. Failure to be made head shaman (medicine man) led him to quit mingling with his fellows and sometime later when the tribe moved on he stayed behind..

Perhaps he became too closely associated with the little lake to leave it - whatever the reason, be ceased wandering and spent the rest of his solitary life at this seldom visited retreat. Here was his home when white man came. His shelter a crude log hut that he said was standing when his tribe moved in. Nearby the cabin legend has it that a natural cave opened into Wisconsin glacial drift that mantles the area. The, old, would-be shaman reportedly made trips into the cavern daily for what reason no white man knew. Neither did a white man ever enter the cave.

When the Indian died years later his tribesmen buried him there, sealing the caves entrance. and obliterated any evidence of the opening. No one has since discovered the cave and now, of course the lake and adjoining grounds are part of the Pilot Knob State Park and digging is prohibited. So ends the tale of Dead Man's Lake.

Other Facts

For those of you interested in facts and statistics. Dead Man's Lake is only natural one in the vicinity. Its shape is slightly like a figure eight, one loop being open water and the other containing the island-like sphagnum mat surrounded by marsh vegetation. Many varied forms of bird and plant life abound there as is natural where marshes are found. Due to the acidity of the bog and of the lake. several species of plants are present that are otherwise rare in Iowa.. The congregation of birds is such that some ornithological clubs come to see them during peak migration periods. Animal life in the lake is quite limited. The highly acid water supports only the species of invertebrates that are adapted to such conditions and fish are non-existent there.

A word of caution. When you visit Dead Man's Lake be careful about walking on the bog itself, although apparently safe enough for the author, it would be tragic indeed to have the name of the lake apply to an unwary visitor.

A Rooted Carnivore

Many animals eat plants for sustenance, but did you know that we have a plant in our State which the reverse is true?

Round-leaved sun dew, a small plant that attracts, catches, and eats insects, is wide spread in the world but comparatively rare in Iowa. Its generic name, Deserve, comes from a Greek word meaning dewy and the specific name. retundifoilia, refers to the leaf shape. Many hair-like red stalks cover each leaf and at the end of the stalks are droplets of clear sticky gelatin that glisten in the sunlight. Enticed insects alight, become trapped in the artificial dew and after they die the remains are digested by the plant.

The sun dew is a low-grower and little difficult to see unless you know what you are looking for. The round green leaves, about three-eighths of an inch long. appear to have a pink fringe around them. Flowering in mid summer, the white bigamous are supported by a stem varying in height from three to ten inches.

There are about t00 species of sun dews scattered throughout the world. Seven species are found in the U.S. and apparently only one kind life (sic) in Iowa. This single species is reported from just one locality; Dead Man's Lake at Pilot Knob State Park near Forest City.

The sun dew requires a very moist, acid environment which the bog in the north central part of state provides. Other peaty localities probably support this plant, but have not been discovered or made known.

The common pitcher-plant a carnivorous relative of the sun dew, is listed by some sources as extending westward from the east coast to MInnesota and Iowa, but records of finding them here are not known. .

The strange carnivorous plants are just another of the many interesting natural features found in Iowa's parks and marshes.

~source of this information is unknown
~document contributed by Errin Wilker & OCR scanned by the Winnebago County coordinator

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