CHICAGO was not, at the period of my first visit, the cheerful, happy place it had once been. The death of Dr. Wolcott, of Lieut. Furman, and of a promising young son of Mr. Beaubien, all within a few weeks of each other, had thrown a gloom over all the different branches of the social circle.
The weather, too, was inclement and stormy, beyond anything that had been known before. Only twice, during a period of two months, did the sun shine out through the entire day. So late as the second week in April, when my husband had left to return to Fort Winnebago, the storms were so severe, that he and his men were obliged to lie by two or three days in an Indian lodge.
Robert Kinzie, Medard Beaubien, and Billy Caldwell had gone at the same time to the Calumet to hunt, and as they did not make their appearauce for many days, we were persuaded they had perished with cold. They returned at length, however, to our infinite joy, having only escaped freezing by the forethought of Robert and Caldwell, in carrying each two blankets instead of one.
Our only recreation was an occasional ride on horseback when the weather would permit, through the woods on the north side of the river or across the prairie, along the lake shore on the south.
When we went in the former direction, a little bridle-path took us along what is now Rush street. The thick boughs of the trees arched over our heads, and we were often compelled, as we rode, to break away the projecting branches of the shrubs which impeded our path. The little prairie west of Wright's Woods, was the usual termination of our ride in this direction.
When we chose the path across the prairie towards the south, we generally passed Dr. Harmon, superintending the construction of a sod fence, at a spot he had chosen, near the shore of the lake. In this inclosure he occupied himself, as the season advanced, in planting fruit stones of all descriptions, to make ready a garden and orchard for future enjoyment.
We usually stopped to have a little chat. The two favorite themes of the Doctor were horticulture, and the certain future importance of Chicago. That it was destined to be a great city, was his unalterable conviction; and indeed, by this time, all forest and prairie as it was, we half began to believe it ourselves.
On the pleasant afternoons which we occasionally enjoyed as the season advanced, we found no small amusement in practising pistol-firing. The place appropriated to this sport was outside the pickets, the mark being placed on a panel in one of the bastions. The gentlemen must not be offended if I record that, in process of time, the ladies acquired a degree of skill that enabled them, as a general thing, to come off triumphant. One of the ladies was a great shot, having brought down her grouse on the wing, to the no small delight of Capain Scott -- with regard to the others I am afraid it was more politeness than want of skill, which induced the gentlemen to yield the palm to them.
Now and then there was a little excitement within the fort, aroused by the discovery that a settler had been engaged in selling milk-punch, instead of milk, to the soldiers, thereby interfering in no small degree with the regularity and perfect discipline of the service. The first step was to "drum out" the offender with all the honors of war -- that is, with a party-colored dress, and the Rogue's March played behind him. The next, to place all the victims of this piece of deception in the guard-house, where the Commanding Officer's lady supplied them bountifully with coffee and hot cakes, by way of opening their eyes to the enormity of their offence. It is not to be wondered at that the officers sometimes complained of its being more of a strife with the soldiers who should get into the guard-house, than who should keep out of it. The poor fellows knew when they were well off.
Once, upon a Sunday, we were rowed up to "the point" to attend a religious service, conducted by Father S----, as he was called.
We saw a tall, slender man, dressed in a green frock coat, from the sleeves of which dangled a pair of hands giving abundant evidence, together with the rest of his dress, that he placed small faith in the axiom -- "cleanliness is a part of holiness."
He stepped briskly upon a little platform behind a table, and commenced his discourse. His subject was, "The fear of God."
"There was a kind of fear," he told us, "that was very nearly alee-a-nated to love: so nearly, that it was not worth while splitting hairs for the difference." He then went on to describe this kind of fear. He grew more and more involved as he proceeded with his description, until at length, quite bewildered, he paused and exclaimed, "Come, lets stop a little while, and clear away the brush." He unravelled, as well as he was able, the tangled thread of his ideas, and went on with his subject. But soon again losing his way, he came to a second halt. "Now," said he, wiping the perspiration from his forehead with a red cotton handkerchief many degrees from clean, "now, suppose we drive back a little piece." Thus he recapitulated what he wished to impress upon us, of the necessity of cherishing a fear that maketh wise unto salvation, "which fear," said he, "may we all enjoy, that together we may soar away, on the rolling clouds of æether, to a boundless and happy eternity, which is the wish of your humble servant." And, flourishing abroad his hands, with the best of dancing-school bows, he took seat.
It will be readily imagined that we felt our own religious exercises at home to be more edifying than such as this, and that we confined ourselves to them for the future.
The return of our brother, Robert Kinzie, from Palestine (not the Holy Land, but the seat of the Land Office), with the certificate of the title of the family to that portion of Chicago since known as "Kinzie's Addition," was looked upon as establishing a home for us at some future day, if the glorious dreams of good Dr. Harmon, and a few others, should come to be realized. One little incident will show how moderate were, in fact the anticipations of most persons at that period.
The certificate, which was issued in Robert's name, he representing the family in making the application, described only a fractional quarter section of one hundred and two acres, instead of one hundred and sixty acres, the river and Lake Michigan cutting off fifty-eight acres on the southern and eastern lines of the quarter. The applicants had liberty to select their compliment of fifty-eight acres out of any unappropriated land that suited them.
"Now, my son," said his mother, to Robert, "lay your claim on the cornfield at Wolf Point. It is fine land, and will always be valuable for cultivation -- besides, as it faces down the main river, the situation will always be a convenient one."
The answer was a hearty laugh. "Hear mother," said Robert. "We have just got a hundred and two acres -- more than we shall ever want or know what to do with, and now she would have me go and claim fifty-eight acres more!"
"Take my advice, my boy," repeated his mother "or you may live one day to regret it."
"Well, I cannot see how I can ever regret not getting more than we can possibly make use of." And so the matter ended. The fifty-eight acres were never claimed, and there was, I think, a very general impression that asking for our just rights in the case would have a very grasping, covetous, look. How much wiser five-and twenty years have made us!
During my sojourn of two months at Chicago, our mother often entertained me with stories of her early life and adventures. The following is her history of her captivity among the Senecas, which I have put in the form of a tale, although without the slightest variation from the facts as I received them from her lips, and. those of her sister, Mrs. William Forsyth, of Sandwich (C. W.), the little Maggie of the story.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 260-265.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.