In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact-based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.
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PLEASE PRACTICE HISTORICISM, WHICH IS THEINTERPRETATION OF THE PAST IN ITS OWN CONTEXT.
On the issue of General William Hull's campaign hung the fate of Fort Dearborn. With the Indians, the war was a passion, their greatest pleasure and chief business in life. Indians could not remain an idle spectator of such a war as had now been joined between the white races but must be a participant on one side or the other.
|General William Hull|
Both disposition and self-interest urged the Indian to take his stand on the winning side. As long as appearances led him to believe that this was the American, he would hold aloof from the war, since the United States did not desire Indians' assistance.
On the contrary, events both inclination and self-interest would lead the Indians to side with the British.
There were exceptions, of course, to these generalizations. Tecumseh's (ti-KUM-see; Shawnee Chief and warrior.) hostility to the Americans was independent of any such adventitious circumstances. But with Gen. Hull triumphant (having won a battle; victorious) at Maiden the tribes to the west of Lake Michigan would have possessed neither the courage nor the inclination to rise against the Americans; with the British flag waving over Detroit the whole Northwest as far as the Maumee River and the settlements of southern Indiana and Illinois would, as Gen. Hull pointed out to the government before the war began, pass under British control.
|Captain Nathan Heald|
On April 6th a band of marauders who were believed to belong to the same tribe made a descent upon Chicago. Shortly before sunset, eleven Indians appeared at the farm of Russell Heacock and Charles Lee (or Leigh) some three or four miles from the fort down the South Branch. Lee is said to have settled in Chicago about the year 1805, having received the contract to supply the garrison with provisions. He lived with his family a short distance southwest of the fort and carried on his farming operations at Lee's Place on the South Branch which was later known as Hardscrabble (today's Bridgeport community). Russell was evidently the partner of Lee, but aside from this fact, nothing is known about him. The farm was under the immediate superintendence of an American named Liberty White, who had lived in Chicago for some time. At the time of the descent of the marauding war party, there were three other persons, in addition to White, at the farmhouse, a soldier of the garrison named John Kelso (or Kelson), a boy whose name no one has taken the trouble to record, and a Canadian Frenchman, John B. Cardin, who had but recently come to Chicago.
Soon after the arrival of the visitors Kelso and the boy, not liking the aspect of affairs, "cleared out" for the fort. White and Cardin, less apprehensive of a hostile disposition on the part of the Indians, remained and were shortly murdered. The former was "shockingly butchered." He was tomahawked and scalped, his face was mutilated and his throat cut from ear to ear, and he received two balls through his body and ten knife stabs in his breast and hip. It was with reason that Capt. Heald declared him to be "the most horrible object I ever beheld in my life." Cardin was shot through the neck and scalped, but his body was not otherwise mutilated. It was Capt. Heald's belief that the Indians "spared him a little" out of consideration for his nationality.
Following the murder of White and Cardin, the garrison and the civilian residents of Chicago endured for some time what may fairly be described as a state of siege. The murderers were supposed to belong to the Winnebago tribe, but the efforts of the commander to learn from the neighboring Indians whether the supposition was correct were in vain. Accordingly, he forbade the Indians to come to the place until he should learn to what nation the murderers belonged to. John Kinzie moved his family into the fort, and all of the other residents of the place outside the garrison fortified themselves in the house formerly occupied by Charles Jouett, the Chicago Indian agent. Those able to bear arms, fifteen in all, were organized by Capt. Heald into a militia company and furnished with arms and ammunition from the garrison store. Parties of savages lurked around, and the whites were forced to keep close to the fort to avoid the danger of losing their scalps. A few days after the murders three of the militia, two half-breeds and a Frenchman, deserted, thus reducing the membership of the company to twelve, the number present at the time of the massacre. The deserters were believed to have gone in the direction of "Millewakii," taking ten or twelve horses with them.
On May 1st Francis Keneaum, a British subject who lived at Maiden, reached Chicago attended by two Chippewa Indians, en route for Green Bay. The party was arrested on suspicion that Keneaum was a British emissary, and he subsequently made an affidavit showing that he had been engaged by the brother-in-law of Matthew Elliot, the British Indian agent, to go on a secret mission to Robert Dickson, the most active and influential British emissary among the tribes west of Lake Michigan. The Indians had taken the precaution to conceal the letters entrusted to them in their moccasins and to bury them. After their release from detention, they proceeded on their way and delivered them to Dickson, who was passing the winter at the Fox-Wisconsin Portage. The message which Capt. Heald thus failed to intercept was from no less a person than General Brock, who was seeking to establish communication with Dickson; and it was due to the communication thus established that Dickson led his northwestern bands to St. Joseph's to co-operate in the attack on Mackinac, and in that descent upon Detroit which had such a fatal effect upon Gen. Hull's campaign.
We have seen already how that campaign progressed to its disastrous close, and that on its issue hung the fate of Fort Dearborn and the Northwest. With so much of importance in the immediate vicinity of Detroit to demand his attention, Gen. Hull had little time or thought to devote to the remote posts at Mackinac and Chicago. News of the declaration of war was received at Fort Dearborn toward the middle of July. The tradition was current at Chicago long afterward that the news was brought by Pierre Le Claire, a half-breed who figured in the negotiations for the surrender of the garrison on the day of the massacre, who walked from the mouth of the St. Joseph River to Fort Dearborn, a distance of ninety miles, in a single day.
On July 14th, Gen. Hull wrote to Eustis, the Secretary of War, that he would cause the brig, "Adams," which had been launched ten days before, to be completed and armed as soon as possible for the purpose of supplying the posts of Mackinac and Fort Dearborn with the necessary stores and provisions, if they could be obtained at Detroit. Exactly two weeks later, however, two Chippewa Indians reached Gen. Hull's camp at Sandwich bringing news of the surrender of Mackinac. The report seemed so improbable that at first Gen. Hull refused to believe it, but close questioning brought forth so many circumstantial details as to remove his doubt. On the same day, July 29th, he wrote to the Secretary of War, "I shall immediately send an express to Fort Dearborn with orders to evacuate that post and retreat to this place or Fort Wayne, provided it can be effected with a greater prospect of safety than to remain. Capt. Heald is a judicious officer, and I shall confide much to his discretion."
With the evacuation impending, we come upon some of the most important questions in the history of Fort Dearborn. The nature of Gen. Hull's order for the evacuation, the demeanor of the savages around the fort immediately prior to the evacuation, the relations subsisting between Capt. Heald and the officers and men under his control, the degree of sanity and sense displayed by the commander in dealing with the difficult situation which confronted him; all these things require careful consideration. In the accounts of the massacre that have been written hitherto, these matters have commonly been presented in such a way as to place the responsibility for the tragedy solely on Capt. Heald's shoulders, and to represent his administration of affairs as stupid and incompetent to the verge of imbecility. But there is an abundant reason for suspecting that these accounts, which all proceed, directly or indirectly from a common source, do Capt. Heald grave injustice. If an examination of the available sources of information confirms this suspicion it is quite a time to correct the popular impression of the affair and do belated justice to the leader of civilization's forlorn hope on that day of savage triumph.
|General Hull's Order for the Evacuation of Fort Dearborn, Dated July 29, 1812|
Unfortunately for Capt. Heald's reputation with posterity, the evacuation order was lost to sight for almost a century. Lieutenant Helm's labored account of the massacre, written in 1814, states that the order to Capt. Heald was "to Evacuate the Post of Fort Dearborn by the route of Detroit or Fort Wayne if Practicable." Helm's narrative, like the evacuation order, was unknown to the public for almost a century; his version of Gen. Hull's order, however, was preserved in the form of tradition in the family of Kinzie, the trader, to which Mrs. Helm belonged, and thus after the lapse of a third of a century it appeared in print in Mrs. Juliette Kinzie's account of the massacre which was afterward incorporated in her book, "Wau-Bun, the Early Day in the Northwest."(PDF)
|Captain William Wells|
The days following the ninth of August were, we may well believe, filled with care and busy preparation for Capt. Heald and all the white people in and around Fort Dearborn. Their situation in the heart of the wilderness was an appalling one, well calculated to tax the judgment and abilities of Capt. Heald, on whose wisdom and energy the fate of all depended, to the utmost. Apparently, Kinzie sought to dissuade Capt. Heald from obeying Gen. Hull's order to evacuate. There must be powerful reasons to justify him in taking this step, yet if sufficiently convincing ones pertaining to the safety of the garrison existed, it is clear that Capt. Heald should have assumed the responsibility on the ground that the order had been issued in ignorance of the facts of the situation confronting the Fort Dearborn garrison.
There were several reasons to be urged against an evacuation. The fort was well situated for defense. With the garrison at hand, it could probably be held indefinitely against an attack by Indians alone, providing the supply of ammunition and provisions held out. The surrounding Indians outnumbered the garrison ten to one, it is true, but success against such odds, when the whites were sheltered behind a suitable stockade, was not unusual in the annals of border warfare. The red man possessed little taste for besieging a fortified place, and if the first assault were beaten off, his lack both of artillery and of resolution to persevere in such a contest rendered his success improbable, unless the odds were overwhelmingly in his favor, or the provisions of the besieged gave out. Moreover, whatever the odds might be at Fort Dearborn, the probability of making a successful defense behind the walls of the stockade was immeasurably greater than it would be in the open country. Both Governor Edwards of Illinois and Harrison of Indiana were vigorous executives, and if the fort were held, relief might reasonably be expected before long from the militia which was then being collected in southern Illinois and Indiana, or even from Kentucky.
The situation was complicated, too, by the private interests at stake. Evacuation would mean financial ruin to Kinzie, the trader, and Lee, the farmer. These considerations Capt. Heald properly ignored of course. But the danger to the families of the soldiers and of the civilians clustered around the fort was greater and more appalling than to the garrison itself. There could be no thought of abandoning these helpless souls, yet the attempt to convey them away with the garrison would render the retreat exceedingly slow and cumbersome. Kinzie at Chicago and Forsyth at Peoria were well known and esteemed by the resident natives, and many of these were well disposed toward the Americans; the hostile bands might be expected to disperse after a period of unsuccessful siege, and the property of the settlers and the lives of the garrison would be saved.
On the other hand, most of these things were as familiar to Gen. Hull as to Capt. Heald himself. Practically the only feature of Capt. Heald's situation about which Gen. Hull's knowledge might be presumed to be deficient was that concerning the number and demeanor of the Indians around Fort Dearborn. But in the provision of his order authorizing Capt. Heald to distribute the goods of the factory "to the Friendly Indians who may be desirous of escorting you on to Fort Wayne" was a clear indication of the commanding general's will in case this contingency should be realized. Obedience to orders is the primary duty of a soldier. He may not refrain from executing the order of his superior, however ill-advised it may appear to him unless it is evident that it was issued under a misapprehension of the facts of the situation, and that the commander himself, if aware of these facts, would revoke it. The truth of this proposition is so obvious that it would scarcely be worthwhile to state it, were it not for the fact that there has been a practically unanimous chorus of condemnation of Capt. Heald on the part of those who have hitherto written of the Fort Dearborn massacre because he acted in accordance with it and obeyed his superior's order. Capt. Heald's own view of his duty is clear, both from the course he followed and from the narratives of himself and of his detractors. The latter shows that he paid no attention to the protests against the evacuation made by Kinzie and such others as the trader was able to influence; while in his own official report of the massacre Capt. Heald does not even discuss the question of holding the fort or of his reason for evacuating it, further than to recite the order received from Gen. Hull to do so.
The time until the thirteenth of August was doubtless spent in preparation for the wilderness journey, though actual details are for the most part wanting. Some slight indication of the commander's labors is afforded by an affidavit he made in 1817 on behalf of Kinzie and Forsyth's claims against the government for compensation for the losses sustained by them in the massacre. In this Capt. Heald stated that being ordered to evacuate Fort Dearborn and march the troops to Fort Wayne, he employed sundry horses and mules, with saddles, bridles, and other equipment, the property of Kinzie and Forsyth, to transport provisions and other necessities for the troops. On August 13th Captain Wells arrived from Fort Wayne with his thirty Miami warriors to act as an additional escort for the troops in their retreat. Probably on this day a council was held with the Indians at which Capt. Heald announced his intention to distribute the goods among them and evacuate the fort, and stipulated for their protection upon his retreat. On the fourteenth, the goods in the factory were delivered to the Indians, together with a considerable quantity of provisions which could not be taken along on the retreat. The stock of liquor was destroyed, however, as were also the surplus arms and ammunition. The one was calculated to fire the red man to deeds of madness, while for the whites to give him the other would have been to furnish him with the means for their own destruction.
To the resentment kindled among the Indians by the destruction of these stores the immediate cause of the attack and massacre on the following day has often been ascribed. That the disappointment of the red man was keen is self-evident. Yet that but for the destruction of the powder and whiskey, there would have been no attack on the garrison that seems most improbable. Capt. Heald stated under oath several years later that prior to the evacuation the Indians had made "much application" to him for ammunition, and expressed the opinion that but for the destruction which took place not a soul among the whites would have escaped the tomahawk.
All was now ready for the departure, which was to take place on the morning of the fifteenth. At this juncture there came to the commander a belated warning. Black Partridge or Black Pheasant a Peoria Lake Potawatomi chieftain came to him with the significant message that "linden birds" had been singing in his ears and they ought to be careful on the march they were about to make. At the same time, he surrendered his medal, explaining that the young warriors were bent on mischief and probably could not be restrained.
It was now too late to withdraw from the plan of evacuating the fort, even if the commander had desired to do so. The next morning dawned warm and cloudless. Inside the stockade, the last preparations for the toilsome journey had been made. No chronicler was present to preserve a record of the final scenes, but the imagination can find little difficulty in picturing them. With all its rudeness and privation, the Chicago they were leaving was home to the members of the little party for some the only one they had ever known. Here the Lees had lived for half a dozen years; here their children had been born and had passed their happy childhood. Here the Kinzie's had lived for an even longer time and had long since attained a relative degree of prosperity. Here the soldiers had hunted and skated and fished, and gone through their monotonous routine duties until they had become second nature to them. Here the talented young Van Voorhis had dreamed dreams and seen visions of the teeming millions that were to compose the busy civilization of this region in the distant future. Hither in the spring of 1811 the commander had brought his beautiful Kentucky bride, the niece of Captain Wells; here, true to her ancestry, she had fallen in love with the wilderness life; and here, three months before, her life had been darkened by its first great tragedy, the loss of her first-born son, "born dead for the want of a skillful Midwife." We may not know the thoughts or forebodings that filled the mind of each member of the little wilderness caravan, but doubtless home was as dear, and anxiety for the future as keen, to the humbler members of the party as to any of those whose names are better known.
Without, in the marshes and prairies and woods that stretched away from the fort to south and west and north, the representatives of another race were encamped. Several hundred red warriors, many of them accompanied by their squaws and children, had gathered about the doomed garrison.
For them, doubtless, the preceding days had been filled with eager debate and anticipation. The former had concerned the momentous question whether to heed the advice of the Americans to remain neutral in the war between the white nations, or whether to follow their natural inclination to raise the hatchet against the hated Long Knives and in behalf of their former Great Father (President of the United States). The latter had hinged about the visions of wealth hitherto undreamed of to flow from the distribution of the white man's stores among them; or about the prospect, equally pleasing to the majority, of taking sweet if belated revenge for the long train of disasters and indignities they had suffered at the hands of the hated race by the slaughter of its representatives gathered here within their grasp. As day by day the runners came from the Detroit frontier with news of the ebbing of lull's fortunes and with appeals from Tecumseh to strike a blow for their race, the peace party among them dwindled, doubtless, as did the hope of Gen. Hull's army. Now, at the critical moment, on the eve of the evacuation when, if ever, the blow must be struck, had come a final message from Tecumseh with news of Gen. Hull's retreat to Detroit and of the decisive victory of August 4th over a portion of his troops at Brownstown. With this, the die was cast, and the fate of the garrison sealed. The warbands could no longer be restrained by the friendly chiefs, to whom was left the role of watching what they could not prevent and saving such of their friends as they might from destruction.
And now the stage is set for Chicago's grimmest tragedy. Before us are the figures of her early days. Let us pause a moment to take note of some of the actors before the curtain is lifted for the drama. John Kinzie, the trader, vigorous and forceful and shrewd, with more at stake financially than anyone else in the company, but, of vastly greater importance, with a surer means of protection for the lives of himself and family in the friendship of the Indians.
Chandonnai, the half-breed, staunch friend of the Americans, whom all authorities unite in crediting with noble exertions to save the prisoners. The friendly Potawatomi chiefs, Alexander Robinson, who was to pilot the Capt. Healds to safety at Mackinac, and Black Partridge, who had warned Capt. Heald of the impending attack, and who soon would save the life of Mrs. Helm. Among the hostile leaders were Black Bird, probably the son of the chief who had assisted the Americans in plundering St. Joseph in 1781; and Nuscotnemeg, or the Mad Sturgeon, already guilty of many murders committed against the whites. There were, of course, many other chiefs of greater or less degree and reputation. Then there were the officers and their wives. Capt. Heald, the commander, old in experience and responsibility if not in years; his beautiful and spirited young wife, whose charm could stay the descent of the deadly tomahawk, and whose bravery extort the admiration of even her savage captors; Lieutenant Helm and his young wife, who preferred to meet the impending danger by the side of her husband. Of the younger men, Van Voorhis, and Ronan, the former has left of himself a winning picture, sketched in a letter a fragment of which has been preserved; the latter is painted in the only description we have of him, in the pages of Wau Bun, as brave and spirited, but rash and overbearing and lacking a due sense of respect for his superiors in age and responsibility. These faults of youth, if in fact, they existed, were soon to be atoned by the bravery with which he met his fate, fighting desperately to the end.
Sadder, however, than any of these was the situation of some of the humbler members of the party. That a soldier and officer should face death with composure was to be expected; that a soldier's wife should brave danger by his side was not an unknown thing in the annals of the frontier. But the officers' wives were mounted, and whatever might happen on the weary march; they were certain to receive the best care and attention the resources of the company could afford. There were, too, in their case no children for whom to provide or worry. But what of the state of mind of those members of the Chicago "militia," who in addition to abandoning their homes were burdened with wives and children, and with inadequate means of providing for them? What of Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Simmons with their babies of a few months and the hardships of the march before them? What of the other mothers' forebodings for their loved ones? What of the wife of Fielding Corbin, with the pangs of approaching maternity upon her and the prospect of the dreary journey before her? Perhaps it was a mercy a period was so soon to be put to her trials. Finally, what of the innocent babies whose bright eyes were looking out, doubtless, in uncomprehending wonder, upon the unwonted scene of bustle and excitement around them?
With them but not of them was William Wells, the famous frontier scout, the true history of whose life surpasses fiction. Member of a prominent Kentucky family, the brother of Colonel Samuel Wells of Louisville, he was kidnaped at an early age by the Indians and adopted into the family of Little Turtle, the noted Miami chieftain. He became a noted warrior and fought by the side of his red brothers in the campaigns of 1790 and 1791 when they defeated the armies of Harmar and St. Clair. Afterward, whether because of a belated consciousness of his true racial identity or of the solicitations of his white relatives and the pleading of his beautiful niece, Rebekah Wells, he threw in his lot with the whites. His fame as a scout and fighter soon became as great among them as it had formerly been with the Indians. He was a perfect master of woodcraft and of the Indian mode of warfare, and as head of a special force of scouts, he rendered most efficient service in Wayne's campaign.
Perhaps the most notable tribute to his character is the fact that despite this change of allegiance he continued to retain the esteem of his former associates; and that in this period of fierce rivalry between the two races he enjoyed at one and the same time the esteem and confidence of such men as Little Turtle on the one side and Anthony Wayne and William Henry Harrison on the other. At the conclusion of the Treaty of Greenville, Little Turtle made a speech on behalf of the Indians, expressing his satisfaction with it; in the course of which, adverting to the subject of the traders, he especially requested that Wells be stationed by the government at Fort Wayne as resident interpreter, saying that he possessed the confidence of the Indians as fully as he did that of the whites. Fort Wayne remained his place of residence for the remainder of his life and most of the time, he was serving in the government Indian Department. In 1807 Capt. Heald came to Fort Wayne as commander of the post, and here met and wooed Rebekah, the daughter of Samuel, and favorite niece of William Wells. Now at the summons of love and duty, heedless of the danger to himself, the latter had hastened with his friendly Miamis from Fort Wayne to rescue her and assist in the retreat of the garrison. He alone of all the company, therefore, was present from choice rather than from necessity. His arrival at Fort Dearborn on the thirteenth must have afforded the only ray of cheer and hope which came to the settlement in this time of trial and danger.
All preparations being complete, about nine o'clock the stockade gate was thrown open and there issued forth the saddest procession [today's] Michigan Avenue has ever known. In the lead were a part of the Miamis, and Wells, their leader, alert and watching keenly for the first signs of a hostile demonstration. In due array followed the garrison, the women and children who were able to walk, and the Chicago militia, the rear being brought up by the remainder of the Miamis. Most of the children, being too young to walk, rode in one of the wagons, accompanied, probably, by one or more of the women. Mrs. Heald and Mrs. Helm were mounted and near or with their husbands, though each couple became separated early in the combat. The other women and children were on foot around the baggage wagons, which were guarded by Ensign Ronan, Surgeon Van Voorhis, the soldiers who had families, and the twelve Chicago militia.
|Deadly Encounter at Fort Dearborn.|
Meanwhile, deadlier combat, which we may perhaps think of as a separate battle, was raging around the wagons in the rear. Here it was that the real massacre occurred. Apparently in the charge up the sandhills and in the ensuing movements the main division of the regulars under Capt. Heald became separated from the rear division, and yet it was precisely here, where the provisions and the helpless women and children were placed, that protection was most urgently needed. The Indians, outnumbering the whites almost ten to one, swarmed around, some, apparently, even coming from the front to share in the easier contest at this point. Here were the junior officers, Ronan, and Van Voorhis, and here, apparently, Kinzie had elected to stay. Around the wagons too were the militia, twelve in number, comprising the male inhabitants of the settlement capable of bearing arms, who had been organized and armed by Capt. Heald at the time of the April murders. The combat here was furious, being waged hand to hand in an indiscriminate melee. Fighting desperately with bayonet and musket-butt the militia were cut down to a man. But one, Sergeant Burns, escaped instant death, and he, grievously wounded, was slaughtered an hour after the surrender by an infuriated squaw. Ronan and Van Voorhis shared their fate as did the regular soldiers, Kinzie being the only white man at the wagons who survived. Even the soldiers' wives, armed with swords, hacked bravely away as long as they were able. In the course of the melee, two of the women and most of the children were slain.
The butchery of these unfortunate innocents constitutes the saddest feature of that gory day. The measure which had been taken to ensure their welfare was responsible for their destruction; for while the conflict raged hotly, a young fiend broke through the defenders of the wagons and climbing into the one containing the children quickly tomahawked all but one of them. Of the women slain, one was Mrs. Corbin, the wife of a private soldier, who is said to have resolved never to be taken prisoner, dreading more than death the indignities she believed would be in store for her. Accordingly, she fought until she was cut to pieces. The other was Cicely, Mrs. Heald's Negro serving-woman. She and her infant son, who also perished, afford two of the few instances of which we have an authentic record of Negroes being held in slavery at Chicago.
While this slaughter was going on at the wagons Captain Wells, who had been fighting in front, with the main body of troops, seems to have started back to the scene to engage in a last effort to save the women and children. His horse was wounded and he himself was shot through the breast. He bade his niece farewell, when his horse fell, throwing him prostrate on the ground with one leg caught under its side. Some Indians approaching, he continued to fire at them, killing one or more from his prostrate position. An Indian now took aim at him, seeing which Wells signed to him to shoot, and his stormy career was ended.
The foe paid their sincerest tribute of respect to his bravery by cutting out his heart and eating it, thinking thus to imbibe the qualities of its owner in life. Wells was the real hero of the Chicago massacre, giving his life voluntarily to save his friends. The debt which Chicago owes to his memory an earlier generation sought to discharge by giving his name to one of the city's principal streets. But to its shame, a later one robbed him in large part of this honor, by giving to that portion of the street which runs south of the river the inappropriate and meaningless designation of Fifth Avenue.
The close of another brave career was dramatic enough to deserve a separate mention. During the battle Sergeant Hayes, who had already manifested the greatest bravery, engaged in individual combat with an Indian. The guns of both had been discharged, when the Indian ran up to him with an uplifted tomahawk. Before the warrior could strike Hayes ran his bayonet into his breast up to the socket so that he could not pull it out. In this situation, supported by the bayonet, the Indian tomahawked him, and the foemen fell dead together, the bayonet still in the red man's breast.
Meanwhile what of Capt. Heald and the troops under his immediate direction? The Miamis had abandoned the Americans at the first sign of hostilities. After a few minutes of sharp fighting Capt. Heald drew off with such of his men as still survived to a slight elevation on the open prairie, out of shot of the bank or any other cover. Here he enjoyed a temporary respite, for the Indians refrained from following him, having no desire, apparently, to grapple with the regulars at close range in the open. The fight thus far had lasted only about fifteen minutes, yet half of the regulars had fallen, Wells and two of the officers were dead and the other two wounded, and the Americans were hopelessly beaten. The alternatives before them were to die fighting to the last or to surrender and trust to the savages for mercy. After some delay the Indians sent a half-breed interpreter, who lived near the fort and was friendly with the garrison, and who in the commencement of the action had gone over to the Indians in the hope of saving his life, to make overtures for a surrender. Capt. Heald advanced alone toward the Indians and was met by the interpreter and the chief, Black Bird, who requested him to surrender, promising to spare the lives of the prisoners. The soldiers at first opposed the proposition, but after some parleying, the surrender was made, Capt. Heald promising, as a further inducement to the Indians to spare the prisoners, a ransom of one hundred dollars for everyone still living. The captives were now led back to the beach and thence along the route toward the fort over which they had passed but an hour or so before. On the way, they passed the scene of the massacre around the wagons. Helm records his horror at the sight of the men, women, and children "lying naked with principally all their heads off." In passing the bodies he thought he perceived that of his wife, with her head severed from her shoulders. The sight almost overcame him, and we may readily believe that he "now began to repent" that he had ever surrendered. He was happily surprised, however, on approaching the fort to find her alive and well, sitting crying among some squaws. She owed her preservation to the friendly Black Partridge, who had claimed her as his prisoner.
In the action, the white force numbered fifty-five regulars and twelve militia in addition to Wells and Kinzie, the latter of whom did not participate in the fighting. Against these were pitted about five hundred Indians. The white men were better armed, but the Indians had the advantage of position and of freedom from the encumbrance of baggage and women and children to protect. Under the circumstances, the odds were overwhelmingly in their favor, and their comparatively easy victory was but a matter of course. Their loss was estimated by Capt. Heald at about fifteen. The Americans killed in the action comprised twenty-six regular soldiers, the twelve militia and Captain Wells, with two of the women and twelve children. A number of the survivors, too, were wounded.
Following the surrender came the customary scenes of savage cruelty. The friendly Indians could answer only for the prisoners in their possession. Some of the wounded were tortured to death, and it is not improbable that some of the prisoners were burned at the stake. The more detailed story of their fate, along with that of the other survivors of the battle, is reserved for the following chapter. For the remainder of the day and the ensuing night, the victors surfeited themselves with the plunder and the torture.
A Potawatomi named Benac later confirmed that "the Indians cut Wells' heart out and each Indian coming along took a bite of it." John Kinzie later stated that Wells' heart was taken out cut up into small bits, distributes and eaten, that they might prove as brave as he was.The following day the plundering of the fort and the distribution of the prisoners were completed, the buildings were fired, and the bands set out for their several villages. The corpses on the lakeshore, bloody and mutilated, were left to the buzzards and the wolves, and over Chicago, silence and desolation reigned supreme. In March of 1813, Robert Dickson passed through Chicago on a mission to rouse the northwestern tribes against the Americans. He reported that there were two brass cannons, one dismounted, and the other on wheels but in the river. The powder magazine was in a good state of preservation and the houses outside the fort were well constructed. He urged the Indians not to destroy them, as the British would have occasion to use them if they should find it necessary to establish a garrison here.
Twenty-nine soldiers, seven women, and six children remained alive at the close of the battle among the sand dunes to face the horrors of captivity among the Indians. These figures do not include Kinzie, the trader, and the members of his family, who were regarded as neutrals and were not included by the Indians in the number of their prisoners.
The History of the First and Second Fort Dearborn in Chicago.
Fort Dearborn Massacre Memorials.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
 "SAVAGE" is a word defined in U.S. dictionaries as a Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb. Definitions include:
- a person belonging to a primitive society
- malicious, lacking complex or advanced culture
- a brutal person
- a rude, boorish or unmannerly person
- to attack or treat brutally
- lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings
The term Red Men is used often in historical books, biographies, letters, and articles written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.
I change this derogatory term to "INDIANS" to keep with the terminology of the time period I'm writing about.