In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias creating 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 fact-based and well-researched articles.
Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.
I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and members instigating arguments and fights.
The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMANor REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED, are explained in this article.
— PLEASE PRACTICE HISTORICISM —
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PAST IN ITS OWN CONTEXT.
At sunset, August 28, 1820, a canoe bearing Dr. Alexander Wolcott, Lieutenant Aeneas Mackay, Captain David Bates Douglass, and a full complement of singing French Canadian voyageurs was paddled into the mouth of the Chicago River. Its occupants "received from Mr. Kinzie all the comfortable attention, which could do away the impression of fatigue." The next morning, at five o'clock, a second canoe with Governor Lewis Cass, Major Robert Forsyth, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, and the remainder of the voyageurs landed at Chicago, a village "of ten or twelve dwelling houses, with an aggregate population, of probably, sixty souls." After three months of traveling, the party of explorers was glad to be able to see the last lap of its journey ahead.
Governor Cass, with the sanction of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, had organized an expedition at Detroit to explore the unknown regions of Lake Superior and the upper Mississippi in order "to survey the topography of the country and collect the materials for an accurate map-to locate the site of a garrison at the foot of Lake Superior, and to purchase the ground-to investigate the subject of the northwestern copper mines, lead mines, and gypsum quarries." With a military escort, a party of Indians, and three official explorers (James Duane Doty, Alexander Chase and Charles C. Trowbridge) in addition to those listed above, the group had coasted along the western shoreline of Lake Huron and the southern shore of Lake Superior, portaged across the Healds separating the Superior watershed from the Mississippi watershed, paddled up the Great River as far as Cass Lake, followed it downstream to the mouth of the Wisconsin River, gone up the Wisconsin River and down the Fox River to Fort Howard at Green Bay. There the soldiers joined their military units, the Indians were dismissed, and Doty, Chase and Trowbridge were dispatched around the northern rim of Lake Michigan to complete that portion of the regional survey. At Chicago, the party was again broken up. Dr. Wolcott, the sub-Indian agent at Chicago, remained at his post; Cass, Forsyth and Mackay accompanied by John Kinzie, set out overland for Detroit; Schoolcraft and Douglass undertook a survey of the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan. It was, on the whole, a remarkable expedition since it provided Americans with their first reliable representation of the northwestern sector of the old Northwest Territory.
Members of the expedition were acquainted with John Kinzie, the trader at this remote outpost on "Onion Creek," who for several years had acted as an Indian agent under Governor Casso at his St. Joseph trading post, as well as his interests at Green Bay, came under the direct supervision of the Michigan Territory governor. Dr. Wolcott was a close friend of the Kinzies; a few years later, he married Kinzie's daughter Ellen, and his niece Juliette Magill married Kinzie's son John Harris Kinzie. Young John was working at Mackinac for the American Fur Company in 1820, and rumor has it that he accompanied the expedition as far as Sault Ste. Marie. Major Forsyth was a nephew of John Kinzie, his father and Kinzie being half-brothers, and Forsyth's uncle, Thomas Forsyth of Peoria, was a trading partner of Kinzie: It would have been strange had the "outside" members of the expedition, Douglass and Schoolcraft, failed to solicit from eyewitness John Kinzie the story of the Chicago massacre, only eight years past. The others had already heard it, perhaps many times.
So far as historians have been able to learn, Schoolcraft was the only person to record any part of Kinzie's account of the dreadful slaughter of August 15, 1812. Kinzie died (1828) before his son John Harris Kinzie married Juliette Magill (1830). Consequently, Juliette Kinzie's story in Wau-Bun was drawn from the memories of her husband (nine years old at the time of the massacre), of her mother-in-law (the senior Mrs. Kinzie), and of her sister-in-law Margaret Me-Killip (stepdaughter of John Kinzie and wife of Lieutenant Linai T. Helm). In the intervening years, those memories had succumbed to the erosions and accretions of time. By 1844, when Chapters 18-20 of Wau-Bun were first published, the family legend had acquired the personal biases of those who had special viewpoints to present.
Schoolcraft devoted approximately four pages to the Dearborn massacre in his Narrative [ournal of the Cass expedition. This account, published in 1821, was taken "from the description given by an eye-witness, Mr. Kinzie of Chicago, and from Captain [Nathan J Heald's official report." Schoolcraft could have added Robert B. McAfee's History of the Late War (1816), based on Captain Heald's report and on the story of a survivor of the battle, William Griffith, who lived to serve with McAfee in Colonel Richard M. Johnson's regiment in the latter part of the War of 1812. Schoolcraft's version contains many of the prejudices against Heald that were to appear later in Helm's story and in Wau-Bun. These, more than likely, he got either from his meeting with Kinzie or from the prevailing attitudes of the time: General William Hull had "sacrificed" Detroit; under his orders, Heald had "committed" the same "blunders" at Fort Dearborn. Both were locally tarred with the same brush.
Other firsthand reports of August 15, 1812 events include Captain Heald's official letter to Adjutant General Thomas H. Cushing, October 23, 1812, and Lieutenant Helm's 1814-1815 account written for Judge Augustus B. Woodward of Detroit. Heald's letter is factual and uncolored by any personal motives; Helm's description deliberately accuses Heald of blunders in judgment and stupidity in maneuvers. Helm's bias, as reported by Mrs. Helm, formed the source of the belittling of Heald by subsequent historians and fiction writers. Years later, Mrs. Heald, defending her husband, passed on her version of the fatal day to her son, who in turn repeated it to Lyman Draper, the Wisconsin historian. These reports, as well as those of other survivors, usually second or third-hand, were carefully recorded and analyzed by Milo M. Quaife in "Chicago and the Old Northwest."
A statement of the "facts" from John Kinzie would have been a most valuable document in separating fiction and prejudice from reality. Although too deeply involved in the decisions to evacuate the fort and in the details of the withdrawal to be completely impersonal, Kinzie's firsthand story, as a noncombatant, would have provided details to balance the fiction of Wau-Bun and the venom of Helm against Heald's military report. Fortunately, such a statement is now available. Captain David Bates Douglass, upon hearing Kinzie's story, recorded it in his journal of the 1820 expedition.
Douglass, the official topographer, intended to prepare a map of the territory covered by the expedition and to introduce it with a "memoir" written by himself and Schoolcraft. He was Schoolcraft's senior by several years and a person of consequence. A professor at the military academy at West Point, on assignment to Governor Cass for the expedition, he rightfully assumed that his plans should be given priority. Schoolcraft jumped the gun and published his own narrative before Douglass could complete the map. Other interferences prevented Douglass from finishing his task. The result was that his daily records (six leatherbound five by eight-inch topographical notebooks and eleven four by six-inch paper-back diaries) were relegated to the oblivion of attic and basement until the present writer unearthed them while preparing a new edition of Schoolcraft's Narrative Journal for publication. At the point of the Chicago entries, clearly labeled "Mr. Kinzies narrative of the Massacre," occurs the near-verbatim story, which is reproduced here. I am indebted to the gracious cooperation of the daughters of the late Moses H. Douglass, grandson of Captain Douglass, of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, for permission to print this most significant document.
Kinzie's Narrative of the Massacre
On August 9, 1812, an express a Potawatomi Indian came there with orders to Capt. Heald, to evacuate the Fort if possible-the messenger expressed his doubts of the practicability of doing so unless the troops moved off immediately, say the next morning and that by a by rout as the Wabash Potawatomi were disaffected particularly those of Magoquous Villages and would undoubtedly stop them.
Capt. Heald, however, somewhat distrustful of the Indian and expecting Captain William Wells with some Miamis, did not adopt the advice the Indian then pressed him through me. I also joined in it to go the following day which he also declined. He was then told he might stay as long as he pleased, and his adviser left him with this. By this time, the Potawatomi began to come in the idea of evacuation was known generally and talked of; they professed friendship and gave assurances that they would conduct the troops safely through, but it was always observed that they all came in hostile array. In the course of the Councils which were held about this time, Capt. Heald showed the Indians the Arms, Ammunition goods, etc., which were to be given to them for their safe conduct. Things were in this state when Capt. Wells arrived with Miamis about the time that Capt. Heald had determined upon evacuating. Capt. Wells self-advised against it as we had in the fort a sufficiency of Arms Ammunition and c to have sustained the attacks of the Indians even though assisted by the British. It was, however, determined [that the fort be abandoned, I then advised, and Capt Wells agreed with me that the ammunition and liquor ought to be destroyed as the latter would only inflame them and the former would undoubtedly be used in acts of hostility against our people if not against ourselves-to this there was no other objection than Capt. Heald. having already shown it to them-but, he acknowledged the propriety of the step and freely agreed to adopt any measure I might suggest for justifying him in sight of the Indians for taking it. Strategem was accordingly resorted to, and the business of destruction was immediately commenced. it was intended to throw the powder into the river, but that was prevented by an accident. As I passed out of the Fort at Dusk to wash at the river, two Indians seized hold of me, but perceiving who I was, they desisted from using violence. Their curiosity had been excited by the hammering and bustle in the fort, and they desired to know what was going on. I told them we had been opening pork and flour barrels and preparing to march the next day. This satisfied them for the present, but I perceived they were on the alert and it would be unsafe to attempt throwing the powder in the River, so it was thrown in the well. Tomorrow we march by the route of the beach. When we reached the Sand Hillocks beyond those pines (about 2 miles) along shore," Capt. Wells, who was behind, came round in front and spoke to me, observing that we were surrounded. this I had also perceived having seen the Indian Rifles passing round our right as if forming a line to hem us in. He asked what was best to be done. I said we must make the best defense we were able and this was agreed to. The men were faced towards the land and advanced in a line up the bank as they rose, the Indians fired their first volley several fell, but the soldiers still preserved their order and pressed upon the Indians into the prairie in the course of the battle several desperate encounters took place Ensign Ronan fought until struck down the 3rd time rising each time until he received the fatal blow of a tomahawk which felled him to rise no more.
Sergeant Otho Hays pressed upon a strong Indian [Naunongee] with his bayonet and wounded him in the breast. He endeavored to parry and strike with his tomahawk, but Hays did not kill him but recovered and passed his bayonet through his body, and in this situation, he yet cut down his antagonist with his Tomahawk. Capt. Wells and Dr. Van Voorhees [Voorhis] were killed as also 28 out of the 56 men, and Capt. Heald was badly wounded when the remainder cut their way into the prairie. In the meantime, others [Indians] had passed around the beach and got among the baggage where the women and children were, and here was perpetrated one of the most shocking scenes of butchery perhaps ever witnessed. Their shrieks of distress, their piteous appeals to father, mother, brothers and husbands for help and their prayers for mercy were there unheard and disavailing. The Tomahawk and knife performed their work without distinctions of age or condition. This scene of havoc lasted for nearly ten minutes. In the early part of the affray, I had charge of Mrs. Kinzie. who was in my boat. Mrs. Heald and my daughter, Mrs. Helm, who was near me. Mrs. Heald. however, in her terror, soon left me and fled to her Uncle, Capt. Wells, by whose side she received several shot wounds. When the Indians got around to the baggage some scuffling took place among some of them, which I afterward learned was about killing me. An order, however, was given out among the Indians that they should neither hurt me nor my family. Capt Wells hearing this requested his niece to return to me, but she still clung to him.
Black Partridge, a Potawatomi Chief, now came forward and, after taking my gun, offered to take us to a place of safety, but my daughter thinking his intentions hostile, ran at first into the lake but soon returned. I motioned to him to bring Mrs. Heald to us, which he did and then conducted us up to that turn of the river above the Fort.
By this time, the Potawatomi sent Le Claire, a messenger, to Capt. Heald demanded his surrender upon what terms asked Capt. Heald? The messenger did not know, but being a man whom I had brought up and friendly to the Americans, he advised the Capt. not to surrender until they should propose some terms. Capt. Heald accordingly refused to surrender unless they would give a pledge for the lives of the prisoners-this they agreed to with the exception of those who were mortally wounded and the remaining 28 men, some of them badly wounded, were surrendered according to Thomas Burns, whose wounds appeared mortal was Tomahawked by a squaw. Three were killed by a volley fired among a group in consequence of one of them having drawn his knife as if to defend himself, mistaking their intentions when the Indians fired their pieces after the fight in honor of the dead. Several others were dispatched under various pretenses during the afternoon and evening so that probably not more than ten or 12 ultimately escaped the Massacre. After all was over, the Indian council, among themselves, discussed the disposal of the prisoners. I was allowed with my family and Mrs. Heald to return to my house. the remaining soldiers were distributed among the different chiefs, and there only remained Capt. Heald to be disposed of. A subject that caused them some discussion. They were inclined to take his life and indeed were emulous among themselves of dispatching him as being the Chief on our side. They complained moreover in a council of his having deceived them by destroying the Arms etc., which he had shown to be delivered out to them, and they had heard that he had poisoned the flour. I answered them on his behalf by showing an order for this destruction and explained to them the obligations of our officers to obey the order of a superior, which they conceived of, I denied the adulteration of the flour and offered to eat of it indeed it wanted but little to convince them that the bearer of this story was a great liar. They acknowledged having deceived us and asked Capt. Heald if he thought the rest of the U.S. would forgive them. It was difficult to say. They knew from past events the pacific disposition of the prest. but if they wished to ask forgiveness, I would exchange hostages, take some of their principal men and go with them for that purpose. They asked Capt. Heald his opinion of the probable continuance and result of our war, to which he gave a suitable reply. In this state, things remained with much anxiety for him on our part when a well-disposed Indian advised me to get him away, or he would be killed. I then got a faithful fellow, Chandonnai (the half-breed, staunch friend of the Americans, whom all authorities unite in crediting with noble exertions to save the prisoners) to take Mrs and Capt Heald to St. Joseph, Missouri, in his canoe, which he did though pursued 15 miles by some of them. Alexander Robinson, the present interpreter, took them to Mackinac Island, Michigan.
Some days after, 10 or 12 Indians painted black and armed came across the river to my house and anticipating their demand, I warned Mrs. Kinzie against the event and enjoined her to meet it with courage. They came and declared their intentions of taking satisfaction of me for Heald's escape. Five Potawatomi Chiefs in the house interceded with them, and they were quieted finally with presents. The treatment of the dead was characteristic of Capt. Wells, and Dr. Van Voorhis. The name of the chief who commanded Black Partridge, reason of his kindness to me, was his son. Capt. Wells received information the night before we marched that we should be attacked, but we had then given everything away and could not retract. The Chiefs, after we were determined to evacuate, used to eat with us every day as we had a superabundance of provisions to make away with. Nuscotnoning [NuscotnemegJ was the author of the massacre. Black Partridge commanded the Miamis, knowing of the attack, stayed behind, and took no part. They rode past at the beginning of the foray, and one Potawatomi made a short speech to this effect in Potawatomi. I am astonished at your conduct. You have been treacherous with these people you promised to conduct them safely through. You have deceived them and are about to murder them in cold blood-let me advise you to beware-you know not what evil the dead shall bring upon you. You may by and by hear your wives and children cry, and you will not be able to assist them. Potawatomi beware, so saying he rode on.
John Kinzie's Commentary
Some important verifications, variations and addenda about the massacre and its eyewitnesses can be gleaned from Douglass' transcription of Kinzie's story. Remembering that only eight years had elapsed since the event, it is worth noting that there are many points of agreement between the story told by Kinzie and those told by his son-in-law (Helm) in 1815 and by his daughter-in-law (Mrs. Juliette Kinzie in her book, "Wau-Bun") in 1844.
Heald's orders from Hull were to evacuate the fort, destroy the arms and ammunition, and distribute the factory goods among friendly Indians who might thus be persuaded to help escort the evacuees to Fort Wayne. In his report to General Cushing, Heald wrote that his orders were to evacuate the post, to go to Detroit by land, and "at my discretion to dispose of the public property as I thought proper." Whether Heald misread Hull's orders or disobeyed them, his interpretation of them may have caused dissension among the principals involved in the evacuation.
Helm's narrative stated that the destination of the garrison was either Detroit or Fort Wayne. Mrs. Kinzie mentioned only Fort Wayne; John Kinzie does not indicate the destination, but his mention of Monguago's villages suggests that he had the Fort Wayne route in mind. Both Helm and Mrs. Kinzie declared that the order was to evacuate the fort "if practicable." John Kinzie said the order was to evacuate the fort "if possible." The modifying phrase, of course, made Heald appear intractable when he was really obeying his superior. Winnemac, the messenger, urged that the garrison leave the fort at once and proceed by an unusual route to Fort Wayne, according to Helm and Mrs. Kinzie. Kinzie corroborates this and gives a specific reason for Winnemac's suggestion: the disaffection of the Wabash Potawatomi.
It is also significant that Kinzie's account agrees with Heald's in an important particular. Both men asserted that the Indians knew of the plan for evacuation of the fort as soon as the garrison officers, Kinzie, even said that the knowledge, presumably given out by the messenger, had brought the outlying Indians to the fort. Mrs. Kinzie, however, stated that Heald refused to leave until "he had collected the Indians of the neighborhood." Kinzie's parallel testimony proves that Heald was unwilling to run head-on into bands of Indians before their feelings and temper could be ascertained through councils.
Helm implied that when Captain Wells arrived and took stock of the provisions for withstanding a siege he thought it foolish to leave the fort. Mrs. Kinzie stated flatly that the junior officers argued with Heald on this point; they wished to stay at the post. Heald's reply was to cite his orders. Thereafter the junior officers kept aloof, she said. Kinzie also says that he and Wells advised Heald to remain in the fort because of the adequacy of supplies, but he makes no reference to any quarrels between Heald and his staff. Neither Heald nor Griffith mentioned any friction in the garrison force; Schoolcraft did.
Kinzie says that Heald showed the arms, ammunition and stores to the Indians and told them all was to be divided among them "for their safe conduct." Helm and Mrs. Kinzie asserted that Heald insisted his orders were "to deliver up all public property" to the Indians. Although Hull's order categorically eliminated any such interpretation, it is obvious from Heald's own report that he felt he had discretionary authority where government property was concerned. It was Heald's interpretation of his orders that leads the analyst to believe that the reports of Mrs. Kinzie and Helm may be accurate in this circumstance, especially as they are substantiated by John Kinzie.
According to Mrs. Kinzie, a council was held with the Indians on August 12, which only Heald and Kinzie attended, the other officers declining to go for fear of a trap. At this meeting, she said, Heald proposed to distribute the goods and arms the next day if the Potawatomi would provide an escort. Helm, who asserted that Wells arrived at Fort Dearborn on August 12, described a council between Wells and five hundred warriors on that date. At its conclusion, Wells declared the Indians were hostile and likely to interrupt the evacuation march. Kinzie's narrative mentions "Councils which were held about this time," at which Heald exhibited the arms and supplies that would be given to the Indians for safe conduct. But he specifically sets the time of these councils: before the arrival of Wells. He does not refer to trouble between Heald and his officers but remarks that the Indians always arrived in a "hostile array." In other words, Kinzie partially verifies the stories of Helm and Mrs. Kinzie.
After Wells arrived and after it was settled that the fort was to be abandoned, the all-important question arose: what to do with the military equipment and liquor? Heald stated simply that he destroyed the surplus arms and ammunition and the liquor. Was it as simple as that? Mrs. Kinzie said that trader Kinzie remonstrated with Heald on the folly of giving any arms to the savages and won Heald over to his view. She lamented, however, that this decision was reached and executed before Wells appeared, and she implied that Wells would have urged a sit-tight policy had the arms not been destroyed and the provisions distributed. Helm's tale was more detailed, though it contradicted vital parts of Mrs. Kinzie's story: Kinzie and Helm urged Wells to speak to Heald about the munitions; Wells agreed only if the others would go with him. The three pleaded with the captain to dispose of the powder, lead and arms. Heald objected on the grounds that he had ordered "to deliver up to those Indians all the public property of whatsoever nature" and that it was unwise to tell lies to the Indians. They would be irritated. Then, added Helm, Kinzie volunteered to take all responsibility in the matter and quieted Heald's scruples by forging an order from Hull instructing the commanding officer to destroy the arms and ammunition. There was no mention of liquor by Helm. Kinzie says that he and Wells advised the destruction of both ammunition and liquor. Heald's only objection was that the supplies had already been shown to the Indians. Heald, says Kinzie, "freely agreed" to adopt whatever measure would justify him in the eyes of the Indians. "Strategem was accordingly resorted to." Later in Kinzie's account, it develops that the strategy was an "order" for the "destruction" of the munitions. The "order" was not used, however, until after the massacre."
What became of the arms, ammunition and liquor? From Mrs. Kinzie: surplus muskets (broken up), shot, flints, gunscrews, and part of the powder and liquor were thrown into the garrison well; the rest of the powder and liquor was thrown into the river. The noise from knocking in the barrel heads aroused the suspicions of the Indians, some of whom "crept ... near the scene of action," and the river water, even the following morning, tasted like "strong grog." This violation of Heald's promise inflamed the hostility of the savages to the point of revengeful threats. At a council held with the Indians the day after the destruction of the stores, the chiefs "expressed great indignation at the loss," so said Mrs. Kinzie." Helm made no comment on these subjects. John Kinzie attaches the Indian suspicions directly to himself. At dusk while going from the fort to the river to wash, he was seized by two Indians whose "curiosity had been excited" by the bustle inside the fort. Kinzie's misleading answer satisfied them for the moment, but it was apparent that the powder could not be thrown into the river. It was, instead, dumped into the well. Kinzie says nothing about the liquor; much of it was his, and his decline in prosperity dated from this loss.
There has always been disagreement about the dates and figures involved in the massacre story. Helm and William Griffith claimed that Wells arrived at Fort Dearborn on August 12. Mrs. Kinzie said he came on August 14. Heald put his arrival on August 13, the correct date. Kinzie does not specify a time in the Douglass transcription, but in Schoolcraft's account, Wells is said to have appeared on the thirteenth. Whether Schoolcraft was remembering Kinzie or quoting Heald cannot be determined: probably he was quoting Heald since he also used Heald's figure of thirty for the number of friendly Miamis accompanying Wells. Kinzie and Helm said twenty-seven Miamis were in the party; Griffith, who is quite inaccurate in all phases of the account, put the number at fifty; and Mrs. Kinzie specified fifteen. Both Helm and Mrs. Kinzie said the destruction of stores took place on the thirteenth, two days before the evacuation. Kinzie substantiates Heald's time, the evening of the fourteenth, in two places:
"preparing to march next day" and "on the morrow we marched." Thus Kinzie twice refutes Mrs. Kinzie's contention that Wells reached the fort after the disposal of the arms and provisions.
Reports of incidents of the battle demonstrate the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. With part of the Miamis in the van and the rest in the rear under the leadership of Wells,14 the entire population of Chicago-fifty-four regulars, twelve militia, four officers, and eighteen women and children marched forth from the garrison at nine o'clock on the morning of August 15. About a mile and a half out, among the sand hills on the beach, the party was surrounded and attacked. In ten (Kinzie) or fifteen (Heald) minutes, the slaughter was completed.
Who saw what? Who remembered accurately what he had seen? Mrs. Kinzie said Wells, with blackened face betokening his premonition of doom, took the lead." Heald and Kinzie stated that Wells was with the rear guard. Helm wrote that Wells informed them they were surrounded, but he made no reference to the location of the noted scout. Kinzie says that Wells "came round in front" to report that the Indians had surrounded them and asked, "what was best to be done." A plan of defense was agreed upon and at once executed. The plan was to advance the men to the top of the lake bank (Kinzie and Heald concurred in their statements) and cut their way into the prairie (a charge). The Potawatomi killed and wounded several in their first volley as the soldiers came over the crest of the bank; the others were killed in hand-to-hand encounters like those in which Ensign Ronan and Sergeant Hays met their heroic deaths. Mrs. Helm did not give the details of Ronan's gallant struggle, and hers was a more sentimental tale of the Hays-Naunongee duel: Naunongee, she wrote, lived long enough to be carried to Calumet Village, where he repented his act of ingratitude. Though Schoolcraft declared both "fell dead together," there is nothing to prove that Kinzie told him that. Schoolcraft, like Mrs. Kinzie, had an ear for a good yarn. Kinzie, on the other hand, says nothing about the craven fear of Dr. Van Voorhis so graphically "observed" by Mrs. Helm as she stood apart watching her husband and father.
While the battle was in progress, the baggage train was attacked, and the women and children were massacred. Mrs. Heald and Mrs. Helm, when the massacre began, were with Kinzie. According to Kinzie, Mrs. Heald fled in terror to her uncle, Captain Wells, where she received her wounds, refusing to return to Kinzie (at her uncle's request") when the Indians were instructed not to harm the Kinzie family. Certainly, he would have given his explorers and hearers (spies) this had actually occurred. All she did was run into the lake in fright and walk out again. She hardly left her father's side.
Mrs. Helm's lurid story of her salvation by Black Partridge was pure fabrication if John Kinzie is to be believed.
Kinzie gives no details of Wells' death. Schoolcraft said his heart was cut out and eaten; Kinzie, as recorded by Douglass, says: "The treatment of the dead was characteristic Capt. Wells, and Dr. Van Voorhis." It is probable that Kinzie did tell this to Schoolcraft or Douglass. Schoolcraft also said that some of the soldiers' wives fought with swords. If he learned this from Kinzie, it substantiated Mrs. Helm's story of Mrs. Holt. Neither does Kinzie say anything about the mule and whisky ransom of Mrs. Heald. The Potawatomi from whom Mrs. Helm had fled into the lake brought Mrs. Heald, at Kinzie's instruction, to the Kinzie group and then escorted them all to "that turn of the river above the Fort."
Heald and his band of survivors had got to a small elevation in the prairie out of range of the Indian guns. Helm, Griffith and Kinzie gave essentially the same account of the surrender. Kinzie cuts the glory from both, however: Griffith did not conduct the negotiations, nor did he persuade Heald to surrender; and Helm did not have a chance to play leader as his wife boasted. All the arrangements were made between Heald and Black Bird through the one intermediary, Le Claire. However, as did Mrs. Helm, Kinzie insists that the surrender terms did not include the mortally wounded. One of the mortally wounded, Thomas Burns, said Kinzie and Helm were tomahawked by a squaw, not stable-forked (pitchforked) to death as Mrs. Helm reported.
After the surrender, the Kinzies were allowed to return to their house and take Mrs. Heald with them. Kinzie does not mention any search for the captain's wife as she lay hidden in the boat, nor does he tell of taking a ball from her arm with his penknife." Kinzie was most helpful in arranging the escape of Heald. From his account, it is clear that Heald was an unassigned prisoner, i.e., no chief, no tribe had the privilege of killing him. Mrs. Helm's relation of his being released by his Kankakee captor in order that he might accompany Mrs. Heald to St. Joseph was probably embroidery on an already over-decorated tale. The role of Chandonnai, however, in escorting the Healds across the lake is verified by the trader's statements.
During the days that followed the Healds' departure, the Kinzies were objects of suspicion. Black Partridge and four fellow Potawatomi stayed in the Kinzie house to protect the family. Mrs. Helm told how, the day after the battle, a party of Wabash Potawatomi, unfamiliar with the Kinzie reputation among the neighboring Indians, sent their hope for longevity plummeting. The presence of the five braves was not enough to ensure the safety of any Kinzie. Mrs. Helm was hidden under a featherbed in Ouilmette's house. Only the providential appearance of Billy Caldwell said Mrs. Helm, that stayed the Wabash tomahawks. John Kinzie blows the froth from this legend; it was several days after the battle, and the five Potawatomi chiefs and some presents saved the day nicely.
Believe it or not, most of Billy Caldwell's history was fabricated. Caldwell claimed to have arrived on the scene just after the battle and saved John Kinzie's and his family's lives, but historians have been unable to verify it.
Finally, Kinzie's version of the reproach of the Potawatomi by the Miamis differs markedly from that of Mrs. Helm. She said the Miamis fled; Kinzie says they rode past the foray. Kinzie's half-Potawatomi gave a more characteristic Indian speech than Mrs. Helm's Miami chief. Kinzie also fails to corroborate the Wau-Bun legend of Black Partridge conscientiously giving up his American medal on the eve of the hostilities. As the trader makes other references to the foreknowledge of the attack, it is unlikely that he would have overlooked this one in retelling the circumstances and incidents of the Fort Dearborn debacle.
So much for the correspondences and variations between Kinzie's narrative and those of Helm and Mrs. Kinzie. There are several other significant observations to be made about the Kinzie story. In the first place, Kinzie does not mention Helm at all in his account of the disaster. Had the family troubles that resulted in the Helms' divorce in 1829 already, in 1820, become a source of irritation? This may account, in part, for the absence of the anti-Heald bias so evident in the other reports. Kinzie never even hints that there was any friction between Heald and his subordinates; neither does he imply that Heald was a dunderhead. In fact, he seems to give Heald credit for common sense and strict sense of duty, although not always agreeing with his judgment."
Kinzie's account not only substantiates or denies elements in the existing stories; it also adds much that is new, that has never figured in any other report of the Fort Dearborn Massacre. Of the new material, some are supplemental to information already at hand, some wholly original. In the first category fall such items as the statement that Winnemac, after failing to persuade Heald, said "he might stay as long as he pleased" before abandoning the fort; the story of Kinzie leaving the fort to wash and being seized by two suspicious Indians; the information that the chiefs who were gathered about the fort ate with the garrison every day, so great was the quantity of provisions to be consumed; the assertion that Wells received warning of the proposed attack on the night of August 14; the account of Mrs. Heald's flight to Wells, her uncle, during the fight, and of her refusal to return to the Kinzie party; and the order by the Indians not to harm any members of the Kinzie family.
The original material in Kinzie's narrative is especially valuable. From it we learn that Mrs. Helm was neither attacked by one Indian nor saved by another; that three of the soldiers were shot, not tomahawked, as a result of their mistaking the purpose of a salute to the dead; that Black Bird showed kindness to Kinzie because the latter had done some good turn for Black Bird's son. Kinzie is the first to report the post-surrender councils, one held by the Indians to arrange the division of prisoners; another, attended by Kinzie and Heald, to discuss the latter's fate. At this council, the Indians complained of being cheated out of the arms promised them by Heald and accused him of having poisoned the flour. The complaints were countered by Kinzie, who showed them the order to destroy the arms and offered to eat the flour. Then the Indians inquired about the chances of being forgiven by the president, and Kinzie offered to act with them if they wished to ask the president's pardon. Heald was asked about the probable outcome of the war and gave a "suitable reply."
In the Kinzie narrative, we learn for the first time about the Indian plot to kill Heald. Mrs. Helm told a somewhat different story of his being released by his captor in order to accompany his wife, an incredible example of Indian chivalry. Kinzie's story rings more true-especially as he adds a piece of supporting evidence, the pursuit of Chandonnai's canoe by disgruntled Indians for some fifteen miles.
Mrs. Heald had sewn several hundred dollars in paper money into a short inner jacket that the captain wore under his uniform. When Heald was stripped of his military clothes, he still had the funds on him. Kinzie's explanation of the ruse employed to secure the money gives us another glittering facet in an already many-faceted plot.
Even after two hundred and eleven years, the story still grips the readers' attention. We can be grateful that Douglass, himself a veteran of the War of 1812, encouraged Kinzie to recount the tale, even though it has lain buried in ancestral files through the intervening years.
The Journal of the Illinois State Historian Society, Winter 1953
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.