|Sculpture of the Fort Dearborn Massacre. The sculpture portrays the rescue of Margaret Helm by Potawatomi Chief Black Partridge. Monument by Carl Rohl-Smith (1893).|
During the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, American settlers and Indian tribes tensions were high in the region.
In August 1812, the U.S. military ordered the evacuation of Fort Dearborn due to the imminent threat of an attack by Indians. As the evacuation took place, a group of Potawatomi warriors attacked the evacuating troops and settlers, resulting in the Fort Dearborn Massacre, occurring on August 15, 1812.
Amidst the chaos, John Kinzie and his family were residing near the fort. When Kinzie realized that Nau-non-gee (aka Catherine), Potawatomi Chief Black Partridge's daughter, was being held captive by the attackers, he risked his own life to rescue her.
Kinzie's positive relationships with Chief Black Partridge and other tribal leaders came into play. Kinzie approached the attackers and pleaded for the young girl's release. Due to his reputation and the respect he garnered, Kinzie was able to convince them to let her go unharmed. He escorted Catherine to safety. Returning her to her father, he earned the gratitude of Black Partridge, demonstrating his influence and diplomacy during that tumultuous time.
Margaret Helm, the wife of Fort Dearborn’s second-in-command and stepdaughter of John Kinzie. Black Partridge is reported to have stayed the hand of a warrior about to strike Mrs. Helm, saying he himself would dispatch her. Instead, he took her to the lake and pretended to drown her for appearance’s sake, ultimately escorting her to a waiting boat where the Kinzie household took her to safety at St. Joseph, Michigan.
Margaret Helm's lurid story of her salvation by Chief Black Partridge was pure fabrication, if Kinzie is to be believed. Certainly, he would have given his explorer (hearers) if this tidbit had it actually occurred. All she did was run into the lake in fright and walk out again. She hardly left her father's side.
His intervention did not end there. Prisoners had been taken to various Indian villages, and Black Partridge was able to locate and negotiate the release of some. One of these was Lieutenant Linai Taliaferro Helm, the wounded husband of Margaret Helm. Having obtained ransom from the U.S. Indian Agent, Thomas Forsyth, Black Partridge added to it personal gifts: a pony, rifle, and a gold ring. He then escorted Lieutenant Helm to St. Louis and released him to Governor William Clark (of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame).
This lesser-known episode highlights John Kinzie's bravery and ability to navigate intercultural relations' complexities during a violent period in Chicago's history.
Copyright © 2023 Neil Gale