MASSACRE AT CHICAGO.1
IT was the evening of the 7th April, 1812. The children of Mr. Kinzie were dancing before the fire to the music of their father's violin. The tea-table was spread, and they were awaiting the return of their mother, who had gone to visit a sick neighbor about a quarter of a mile up the river.
Suddenly their sports were interrupted. The door was thrown open, and Mrs. Kinzie rushed in, pale with terror and scarcely able to articulate, "The Indians! the Indians!"
"The Indians? What? Where?" eagerly demanded they all.
"Up at Lee's Place, killing and scalping!"
With difficulty Mrs. Kinzie composed herself sufficiently to give the information, "That while she was up at Burns', a man and a boy were seen running down with all speed on the opposite side of the river; that they had called across to give notice to Burns' family to save themselves, for the Indians were at Lee's Place, from which they had just made their escape. Having given this terrifying news, they had made all speed for the fort, which was on the same side of the river that they then were.
All was now consternation and dismay. The family were hurried into two old pirogues, that were moored near the house, and paddled with all possible haste across the river to take refuge in the fort.
All that the man and boy who had made their escape were able to tell, was soon known; but in order to render their story more intelligible, it is necessary to describe the scene of action.
Lee's Place, since known by the name of Hardscrabble, was a farm intersected by the Chicago River, about four miles from its mouth. The farm-house stood on the western bank of the south branch of this river. On the same side of the main stream, but quite near its junction with Lake Michigan, stood (as has already been described) the dwelling-house and trading establishment of Mr. Kinzie.
The fort was situated on the southern bank, directly opposite this mansion -- the river, and a few rods of sloping green turf on either side, being all that intervened between them.
The fort was differently constructed from the one erected on the same site in 1816. It had two blockhouses on the southern side, and on the northern a sally, port, or subterranean passage from the parade ground to the river. This was designed either to facilitate escape, in case of an emergency, or as a means of supplying the garrison with water during a siege.
The officers in the fort at this period were Capt. Heald, the commanding officer, Lieut. Helm, the son-in-law of Mr. Kinzie, and Ensign Ronan -- the two last were very young men -- and the surgeon, Dr. Van Voorhees.
The command numbered about seventy-five men; very few of whom were effective.
A constant and friendly intercourse had been maintained between these troops and the Indians. It is true that the principal men of the Pottowattamie nation, like those of most other tribes, went yearly to Fort Malden, in Canada, to receive a large amount of presents, with which the British Government had, for many years, been in the habit of purchasing their alliance; and it was well known that many of the Pottowattamies, as well as Winnebagoes, had been engaged with the Ottawas and Shawnees at the battle of Tippecanoe, the preceding autumn; yet, as the principal chiefs of all the bands in the neighborhood appeared to be on the most amicable terms with the Americans, no interruption of their harmony was at any time anticipated.
After the 15th August, however, many circumstances were recollected that might have opened the eyes of the whites, had they not been lulled in a fatal security. One instance in particular may be mentioned.
In the spring preceding the destruction of the fort, two Indians of the Calumet band came to the fort on a visit to the Commanding Officer. As they passed through the quarters, they saw Mrs. Heald and Mrs. Helm playing at battledoor.
Turning to the interpreter, one of them, Nau-non-gee, remarked: "The white chiefs' wives are amusing themselves very much; it will not be long before they are hoeing in our cornfields!"
This was considered at the time an idle threat, or at most, an ebullition of jealous feeling at the contrast between the situation of their own women and that of the "white chiefs' wives." Some months after, how bitterly was it remembered!
The farm at Lee's Place was occupied by a Mr. White, and three persons employed by him in the care of the farm.
In the afternoon of the day on which our narrative commences, a party of ten or twelve Indians, dressed and painted, arrived at the house, and according to the custom among savages, entered and seated themselves without ceremony.
Something in their appearance and manner excited the suspicions of one of the family, a Frenchman, who remarked, "I do not like the appearance of these Indians -- they are none of our folks. I know by their dress and paint that they are not Pottowattamies."
Another of the family, a discharged soldier, then said to the boy who was present, "If that is the case, we had better get away from them if we can. Say nothing; but do as you see me do."
As the afternoon was far advanced, the soldier walked leisurely towards the canoes, of which there were two tied near the bank. Some of the Indians inquired where he was going. He pointed to the cattle which were standing among the haystacks on the opposite bank; and made signs that they must go and fodder them, and then they should return and get their supper.
He got into one canoe, and the boy into the other. The stream was narrow, and they were soon across. When they had gained the opposite side, they pulled some hay for the cattle -- made a show of collecting them -- and when they had gradually made a circuit, so that their movements were concealed by the haystacks, they took to the woods, which were close at hand, and made for the fort.
They had run about a quarter of a mile, when they heard the discharge of two guns successively, which they supposed to have been levelled at the companions they had left behind.
They stopped not nor stayed until they arrived opposite Burns,2 where, as before related, they called across to advertise the family of their danger, and then hastened on to the fort.
It now occurred to those who had secured their own safety, that the family of Burns was at this moment exposed to the most imminent peril. The question was, who would hazard his own life to bring them to a place of safety? A gallant young officer, Ensign Ronan, volunteered, with a party of five or six soldiers, to go to their rescue.
They ascended the river in a scow, took the mother, with her infant of scarcely a day old, upon her bed to the boat, in which they carefully conveyed her and the other members of the family to the fort.
A party of soldiers, consisting of a corporal and six men, had that afternoon obtained leave to go up the river to fish.
They had not returned when the fugitives from Lee's Place arrived at the fort, and fearing that they might encounter the Indians, the commanding officer ordered a cannon to be fired, to warn them of danger.
They were at the time about two miles above Lee's Place. Hearing the signal, they took the hint, put out their torches (for it was now night), and dropped down the river toward the garrison, as silently as possible. It will be remembered that the unsettled state of the country since the battle of Tippecanoe, the preceding November, had rendered every man vigilant, and the slightest alarm was an admonition to beware of "the Indians."
When the fishing-party reached Lee's Place, it was proposed to stop and warn the inmates to be upon their guard, as the signal from the fort indicated danger of some kind. All was still as death around the house. They groped their way along, and as the corporal jumped over the small enclosure, he placed his hand upon the dead body of a man. By the sense of touch he soon ascertained that the head was without a scalp, and otherwise mutilated. The faithful dog of the murdered man stood guarding the lifeless remains of his master.
The tale was now told. They retreated to their canoes and reached the fort unmolested about eleven o'clock at night. The next morning a party of the citizens and soldiers volunteered to go to Lee's Place, to learn further the fate of its occupants. The body of Mr. White was found pierced by two balls, and with eleven stabs in the breast. The Frenchman, as already described, lay dead, with his dog still beside him. Their bodies were brought to the fort and buried in its immediate vicinity.
It was subsequently ascertained, from traders out in the Indian country, that the perpetrators of this bloody deed were a party of Winnebagoes, who had come into this neighbourhood to "take some white scalps." Their plan had been, to proceed down the river from Lee's Place, and kill every white man without the walls of the fort. Hearing, however, the report of the cannon, and not knowing what it portended, they thought it best to remain satisfied with this one exploit, and forthwith retreated to their homes on Rock River.
The inhabitants outside the fort, consisting of a few discharged soldiers and some families of half-breeds, now entrenched themselves in the Agency House. This stood on the esplanade west of the fort, between the pickets and the river, and distant about twenty rods from the former.3
It was an old-fashioned log-building, with a hall running through the centre, and one large room on each side. Piazzas extended the whole length of the building in front and rear. These were planked up, for greater security, port-holes were cut, and sentinels posted at night.
As the enemy were believed to be lurking still in the neighborhood, or, emboldened by former success, likely to return at any moment, an order was issued prohibiting any soldier or citizen from leaving the vicinity of the garrison without a guard.
One night a sergeant and private, who were out on a patrol, came suddenly upon a party of Indians in the pasture adjoining the esplanade. The sergeant fired his piece, and both retreated toward the fort. Before they could reach it, an Indian threw his tomahawk, which missed the sergeant and struck a wagon standing near. The sentinel from the block-house immediately fired, and with effect, while the men got safely in. The next morning it was ascertained, from traces of blood to a considerable distance into the prairie, and from the appearance of a body having been laid among the long grass, that some execution had been done.
On another occasion the enemy entered the esplanade to steal horses. Not finding them in the stable, as they had expected, they made themselves amends for their disappointment by stabbing all the sheep in the stable, and then letting them loose. The poor animals flocked towards the fort. This gave the alarm -- the garrison was aroused -- parties were sent out, but the marauders escaped unmolested.
The inmates of the fort experienced no further alarm for many weeks.
On the afternoon of the 7th August, Winnemeg, or Catfish, a Pottowattamie chief arrived at the post, bringing despatches from Gen. Hull. These announced the declaration of war between the United States and Great Britain, and that Gen. Hull, at the head of the North-Western army, had arrived at Detroit; also, that the island of Mackinac had fallen into the hands of the British.
The orders to Captain Heald were, "to evacuate the fort, if practicable, and in that event, to distribute all the United States' property contained in the fort, and in the United States' factory or agency, among the Indians in the neighborhood."
After having delivered his despatches, Winnemeg requested a private interview with Mr. Kinzie, who had taken up his residence in the fort. He stated to Mr. K. that he was acquainted with the purport of the communications he had brought, and begged him to ascertain if it were the intention of Captain Heald to evacuate the post. He advised strongly against such a step, inasmuch as the garrison was well supplied with ammunition, and with provisions for six months. It would, therefore, be far better, he thought, to remain until a reinforcement could be sent to their assistance. If however, Captain Heald should decide upon leaving the post, it should by all means be done immediately. The Pottowattamies, through whose country they must pass, being ignorant of the object of Winnemeg's mission, a forced march might be made, before those who were hostile in their feelings were prepared to interrupt them.
Of this advice, so earnestly given, Captain Heald was immediately informed. He replied that it was his intention to evacuate the post, but that, inasmuch as he had received orders to distribute the United States' property, he should not feel justified in leaving it until he had collected the Indians of the neighborhood, and made an equitable division among them.
Winnemeg then suggested the expediency of marching out, and leaving all things standing -- possibly while the Indians were engaged in the partition of the spoils, the troops might effect their retreat unmolested. This advice was strongly seconded by Mr. Kinzie, but did not meet the approbation of the Commanding Officer.
The order for evacuating the post was read next morning upon parade. It is difficult to understand why Captain Heald, in such an emergency, omitted the usual form of calling a council of war with his officers. It can only be accounted for by the fact of a want of harmonious feeling between himself and one of his junior officers -- Ensign Ronan, a high-spirited and somewhat overbearing, but brave and generous young man.
In the course of the day, finding that no council was called, the officers waited on Captain Heald to be informed what course he intended to pursue. When they learned his intentions, they remonstrated with him, on the following grounds:
First -- It whs highly improbable that the command would be permitted to pass through the country in safety to Fort Wayne. For although it had been said that some of the chiefs had opposed an attack upon the fort, planned the preceding autumn, yet it was well known that they had been actuated in that matter by motives of private regard to one family, and not to any general friendly feeling toward the Americans; and that, at any rate, it was hardly to be expected that these few individuals would be able to control the whole tribe, who were thirsting for blood.
In the next place -- their march must necessarily be slow, as their movements must be accommodated to the helplessness of the women and children, of whom there were a number with the detachment. That of their small force, some of the soldiers were superannuated, others invalid; therefore, since the course to be pursued was left discretional, their unanimous advice was, to remain where they were, and fortify themselves as strongly as possible. Succors from the other side of the peninsula might arrive before they could be attacked by the British from Mackinac, and even should there not, it were far better to fall into the hands of the latter than to become the victims of the savages.
Captain Heald argued in reply, "that a special order had been issued by the war department, that no post should be surrendered without battle having been given, and his force was totally inadequate to an engagement with the Indians. That he should unquestionably be censured for remaining, when there appeared a prospect of a safe march through; and that, upon the whole, he deemed it expedient to assemble the Indians, distribute the property among them, and then ask of them an escort to Fort Wayne; with the promise of a considerable reward upon their safe arrival -- adding, that he had full confidence in the friendly professions of the Indians, from whom, as well as from the soldiers, the capture of Mackinac had been kept a profound secret.
From this time the officers held themselves aloof; and spoke but little upon the subject, though they considered the project of Captain Heald little short of madness. The dissatisfaction among the soldiers hourly increased, until it reached a high pitch of insubordination.
Upon one occasion, as Captain Heald was conversing with Mr. Kinzie upon the parade, he remarked, "I could not remain, even if I thought it best, for I have but a small store of provisions."
"Why, captain," said a soldier who stood near, forgetting all etiquette in the excitement of the moment, "you have cattle enough to last the troops six months."
"But," replied Captain Heald, "I have no salt to preserve it with."
"Then jerk4 it," said the man, "as the Indians do their venison.
The Indians now, became daily more unruly. Entering the fort in defiance of the sentinels, they made their way without ceremony into the officer's quarters. On one occasion, an Indian took up a rifle and fired it in the parlor of the Commanding Officer, as an expression of defiance. Some were of opinion that this was intended among the young men as a signal for an attack. The old chiefs passed backwards and forward among the assembled groups, with the appearance of the most lively agitation, while the squaws rushed to and fro, in great excitement, and evidently prepared for some fearful scene.
Any further manifestation of ill-feeling was, however, suppressed for the present, and Captain Heald, strange as it may seem, continued to entertain a conviction of having created so amicable a disposition among the Indians, as would insure the safety of the command on their march to Fort Wayne.
Thus passed the time until the 12th August. The feelings of the inmates of the fort during this time may be better imagined than described. Each morning that dawned seemed to bring them nearer that most appalling fate -- butchery by a savage foe -- and at night they scarcely dared yield to slumber, lest they should be aroused by the warwhoop and tomahawk. Gloom and mistrust prevailed, and the want of unanimity among the officers, debarred them the consolation they might have found in mutual sympathy and encouragement.
The Indians being assembled from the neighbouring villages, a council was held with them on the afternoon of the 12th. Captain Heald only, attended on the part of the military. He requested his officers to accompany him, but they declined. They had been secretly informed that it was the intention of the young chiefs to fall upon the officers and massacre them while in council, but they could not persuade Captain Heald of the truth of their information. They waited therefore only until he had left the garrison, accompanied by Mr. Kinzie, when they took command of the blockhouses which overlooked the esplanade on which the council was held, opened the port-holes, and pointed the cannon so as to command the whole assembly. By this means, probably, the lives of the whites who were present in council were preserved.
In council, the Commanding Officer informed the Indians that it was his intention to distribute among them the next day, not only the goods lodged in the United States' Factory, but also the ammunition and provisions, with which the garrison was well supplied. He then requested of the Pottowattamies an escort to Fort Wayne, promising them a liberal reward on arriving there, in addition to the presents they were now about to receive. With many professions of friendship and good-will, the savages assented to all he proposed, and promised all he required.
After the council, Mr. Kinzie, who understood well, not only the Indian character, but the present tone of feeling among them, had a long interview with Captain Heald, in hopes of opening his eyes to the present posture of affairs.
He reminded him that since the troubles with the Indians upon the Wabash and its vicinity, there had appeared a settled plan of hostilities toward the whites, in consequence of which it had been the policy of the Americans to withhold from them whatever would enable them to carry on their warfare upon the defenceless inhabitants of the frontier.
Mr. Kinzie recalled to Captain Heald how that he had himself left home for Detroit the preceding autumn, but, receiving when he had proceeded as far as De Charmes5 the intelligence of the battle of Tippecanoe, he had immediately returned to Chicago, that he might dispatch orders to his traders to furnish no ammunition to the Indians; in consequence of which all they had on hand was secreted, and such of the traders as had not already started for their wintering-grounds took neither powder nor shot with them.
Captain Heald was struck with the impolicy of furnishing the enemy (for such they must now consider their. old neighbors) with arms against himself, and determined to destroy all the ammunition except what should be necessary for the use of his own troops.
On the 13th the goods, consisting of blankets, broad-cloths, calicoes, paints, etc., were distributed, as stipulated. The same evening the ammunition and liquor were carried, part into the sally-port, and thrown into a well which had been dug there to supply the garrison with water in case of emergency; the remainder was transported as secretly as possible through the northern gate, the heads of the barrels knocked in, and the contents poured into the river.
The same fate was shared by a large quantity of alcohol belonging to Mr. Kinzie, which had been deposited in a warehouse near his residence opposite the fort.
The Indians suspected what was going on, and crept, serpent-like, as near the scene of action as possible, but a vigilant watch was kept up, and no one was suffered to approach but those engaged in the affair. All the muskets not necessary for the command on the march were broken up and thrown into the well, together with the bags of shot, flints, gunscrews, and, in short, everything relating to weapons of offence.
Some relief to the general feeling of despondency was afforded by the arrival, on the 14th of August, of Captain Wells6 with fifteen friendly Miamis.
Of this brave man, who forms so conspicuous a figure in our frontier annals, it is unnecessary here to say more than that he had been residing from his boyhood among the Indians, and consequently possessed a perfect knowledge of their character and habits.
He had heard, at Fort Wayne, of the order for evacuating the fort at Chicago, and knowing the hostile determination of the Pottowattamies, he had made a rapid march across the country, to prevent the exposure of his relative, Captain Heald, and his troops to certain destruction.
But he came "all too late." When he reached the post he found that the ammunition had been destroyed, and the provisions given to the Indians. There was, therefore, now no alternative, and every preparation was made for the march of the troops on the following morning.
On the afternoon of the same day, a second council was held with the Indians. They expressed great indignation at the destruction of the ammunition and liquor.
Notwithstanding the precautions that had been taken to preserve secresy, the noise of knocking in the heads of the barrels had betrayed the operations of the preceding night; and, so great was the quantity of liquor thrown into the river, that the taste of the water the next morning was, as one expressed it, "strong grog."
Murmurs and threats were everywhere heard among the savages. It was evident that the first moment of exposure would subject the troops to some manifestation of their disappointment and resentment.
Among the chiefs were several who, although they shared the general hostile feeling of their tribe toward the Americans, yet retained a personal regard for the troops at this post, and for the few white citizens of the place. These chiefs exerted their utmost influence to allay the revengeful feelings of the young men, and to avert their sanguinary designs, but without effect.
On the evening succeeding the council, Black Partridge, a conspicuous chief; entered the quarters of the Commanding Officer.
"Father," said he, "I come to deliver up to you the medal I wear. It was given me by the Americans, and I have long worn it, in token of our mutual friendship. But our young men are resolved to imbrue their hands in the blood of the whites. I cannot restrain them, and I will not wear a token of peace while I am compelled to act as an enemy."
Had further evidence been wanting, this circumstance would sufficiently have proved to the devoted band, the justice of their melancholy anticipations. Nevertheless, they went steadily on with the necessary preparations; and amid the horrors of their situation, there were not wanting one or two gallant hearts, who strove to encourage, in their desponding companions, the hopes of escape they were far from indulging themselves.
Of the ammunition there had been reserved but twenty-five rounds, beside one box of cartridges, contained in the baggage-wagons. This must, under any circumstances of danger, have proved an inadequate supply, but the prospect of a fatiguing march, in their present ineffective state, forbade the troops embarrassing themselves with a larger quantity.
1 This Narrative is substantially the same as that published in pamphlet form, in 1836. It was transferred with little variation to Brown's "History of Illinois," and to a work called "Western Annals." It was likewise made, by Major Richardson, the basis of his two tales, "Hardscrabble," and " Wau-nan-gee."
2 Burns' house stood near the spot where the Agency building, or "Cobweb Castle," was afterwards erected.
3 The present site of the lighthouse.
4 This is done by cutting the meat in thin slices, placing it upon a scaffold, and making a fire under it, which dries it and smokes it at the same time.
5 A trading establishment -- now Ypsilanti.
6 Captain Wells when a boy was stolen from his friends, the family of Hon. Nathaniel Pope, in Kentucky. Although recovered by them, he preferred to return and live among his new friends. He married a Miami woman, and became a chief of the nation. He was the father of the late Mrs. Judge Wolcott, of Maumee, O.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 202-221.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.