Aacimwinki Niimihki Šikaakonki

A Story of a Chicago Fort

In September of 2012, I was approached by the organizers of the Algonquian Conference to participate in a discussion on differing perspectives of the Battle of Fort Dearborn, which took place in the first year of the War of 1812.[1]  Oddly, as I began to think about that event from over 200 years ago, my thoughts turned to the more recent past.  In August of 2006, I experienced a strange moment while standing with my nephew Jarrid near the site where Fort Dearborn once stood, on the sidewalk at the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  Embedded in the sidewalk at that corner are a series of brass strips embossed with the words “SITE OF FORT DEARBORN.”  What happened to us while standing next to those strips of brass was seemingly inconsequential, and yet the memory of that one weird moment continues to bubble up to front of my mind from time to time.

1_Fort Dearborn  168
Strip of brass in Chicago sidewalk laying out the position of Fort Dearborn. Neewe to Karen Baldwin for all of the excellent pictures of the bridge and its associated sculptures and text.

Jarrid and his sister Jessie were in Chicago to help Tamise, my wife, and I move back to the city from Oxford, Ohio.  After the hard day of carrying boxes up three flights of narrow Chicago apartment stairs, I took him out for a trip around downtown.  Jarrid descends from Eepiihkaanita, a man also known by the name William Wells.  Eepiihkaanita died during the battle that followed the evacuation of Fort Dearborn on August 15, 1812.[2]  Because his ancestor died in the course of events tied to that place we made it a priority to intentionally go there. It is of course a dramatically changed landscape, the direction and shape of the river have both been altered and all that remains of the fort are the brass strips embedded into the concrete skin of the city like a well worn metallic dotted line. A significant part of the ground where the 1812 fort once sat was lost to erosion and city planning. Today, the scene is commanded by the DuSable Bridge, which runs across the Šikaakwa Siipiiwi (the Chicago River).[3] The pillars of this bridge “attempt” to tell the story of the city of Chicago and include at least one scene dedicated to the Battle of Fort Dearborn in which Eepiihkaanita gave his life. The “attempt” at telling the story of Chicago starts with explorers and priests and progresses to settlers, defenders, and rebuilders. Along the way it references “savage” Indians as the backdrop to a story focused on the “progress of civilization.”

Northwest corner of the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue. More of the brass strips are visible in the pavement in front of the pillar (L). The pillar includes a relief sculpture by Henry Hering titled “Defense” (R).

On that hot day in August, Jarrid and I tried to soak in this scene, standing still as the crowds swirled around us.  I do not remember anyone cursing at us for blocking traffic, so we must have been standing to the side.  As we stood there, a woman who appeared to be homeless approached us, and for a small donation promised to tell us the history of the fort and of “the massacre.”  A friend of hers stood nearby insisting loudly “that she really knew the history of the fort.”  We did not have any cash to give her and so we never got hear her story.  All these years later I wish I had heard her version of events.

Perhaps there is an irony in the story of Fort Dearborn being told by woman who lives on the streets of a city that rose up, as Ann Durkin Keating says, “from Indian county.” But at that moment, irony was not my mind. All I really wanted was a moment of quiet peace, the span of a few breaths, to visit with the place. But the city wouldn’t give us that moment to commune with memory, and to attempt to connect what is to what was. And so, we moved on.  I remember crossing the Šikaakwa Siipiiwi, walking past the pillars that “attempt” to tell the story of Chicago, and I recall talking only briefly with Jarrid about what happened on that day in 1812 when his ancestor died.

It is very difficult to find a beginning point, a place to start describing my own sense of what was horribly wrong with what we experienced that day.  Places belong to multiple people and this is no less true of Šikaakonki.[4]  Chicago is a Myaamia place and a Potawatomi place. It belongs to the Inoka (Illinois), the Ho-Chunk, the Sauk, the Meskwaki, the Ottawa, the Ojibwe, and to the generations of immigrants that followed: French, Haitian, British, American, Mexican, Irish, Puerto Rican, Polish, Chinese, and the multitudes of others that I’m sure I’m forgetting. But Šikaakonki belongs to these people in distinct and different ways. However, embedded in skin of the city at the corner Michigan and Wacker is a story dominated by only one of these groups.  The story mentions some of the diverse peoples I listed above, but its perspective claims that place as the exclusive property of only one group.

Šikaakonki (Chicago) is my place of birth, and I lived the early years of my life on the northside of the city.  I spent the majority of my later childhood in the northwest suburbs and came back to Šikaakonki to attend the University of Illinois Chicago.  After graduation, I lived in the city while teaching high school in the Chicago Public School system.  After this, I left for a while and then came back, and then left again.  I have journeyed to and from Šikaakonki too many times to count.  My experience living and not living in Šikaakonki leaves me with deep abiding love for the city and at the same time a deep sense of frustration with it. This frustration that boils to surface when I stand next to the bronze strips in the sidewalk at the corner of Wacker and Michigan and look across the DuSable Bridge at what are likely the sites of Myaamia villages from 300 years ago.[5]

Despite my personal experience with the city and my people’s continued interaction with this place, the monuments to Fort Dearborn leave me feeling like an outsider.  The story told by this place leaves little room for any other point of view or experience. A good example of this is the image of Eepiihkaanita on the pillar titled “Defenders” at the southwest corner of the bridge.  To my eye, the image depicts a seemingly non-Indian man fighting against stereotypically “savage” looking Indian men.  The image takes a complicated person, complex communities, and an extremely messy civil war and tries to make this story into a simple digestible narrative.  It remains, however, a version of events that gives me a serious case of indigestion.

defense zoom
Closer view of Hering’s “Defense” sculpture. The man in the center with the sword is supposed to be Eepiihkaanita.

The story of the Battle of Fort Dearborn is also a Myaamia story and events there had a significant impact on our people.  For Myaamia people the context of the War of 1812 was one utterly failed relationships, rapid social change, massive land loss, and heightened levels of communal stress and ill health.  This is not a context of “progress.”  It is the context of a people struggling to avoid disintegration.  Once we understand this chaotic context, we can better come to terms with why Eepiihkaanita and approximately thirty Myaamia men were at Fort Dearborn in August of 1812, why the battle took place, and why Miamis, Potawatomies, Ho-Chunks, and Americans (soldiers and noncombatants) lost their lives that day.

Prior to the wars with the Mihši-maalhsa (the Americans), our homelands were defined in terms of where our home villages were, where key resources were located, and where other related and unrelated groups lived.  This cultural landscape is what we call Myaamionki today (see image below).  Prior to the 1790s, Myaamia people shared a common language and common culture, yet they organized themselves in villages that were relatively socially and politically independent.  They came together to share resources, negotiate peace, and make war.  However no one village or one leader could force another community, or individual for that matter, to do anything.  Our relatively permanent agricultural villages were concentrated on the upper Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River) in what we call our heartlands.  But the whole of Myaamionki was utilized for hunting, gathering, and trade.  Of course, this was a shared landscape with multiple other allied and related groups, each with their own heartland and their own unique culture and language.  Over generations, these groups built a series of alliances organized through an extended family that included grandfathers, uncles, elder brothers, and younger siblings.  After contact with Europeans, fathers were added to this alliance beginning first with the French, then the British, and ending finally with the Americans.  These family relationships had very real roles and responsibilities.  This family was the means by which all these unique groups created and maintained peace, however imperfectly.

Myaamionki (Place of the Myaamia) with approximate locations of related tribes. The large red oval marks our heartlands on the upper Wabash River, the white circles our largest villages, the white circle with red inset is Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), and the blue circle at the southern end of Lake Michigan is Šikaakonki (Chicago).

The Americans assumed the role and responsibility of our community’s “father” in a way that was unique from other Europeans: through conquest.  It is within the context of the development of this relationship that Eepiihkaanita (William Wells) was adopted into a Myaamia family.  Eepiihkaanita was born around 1770 to a family of Pennsylvanians who moved into Kentucky in the late 1770s.  In the early 1780s, Eepiihkaanita was captured by a group of Myaamia men while out hunting with his friends.  He was adopted into the family of Aakaawita, a Myaamia leader from the Kineepikomeekwa village (the Eel River community).  According to some within the Myaamia community, the young man developed a fondness for cooked ground nut, Apios americana, and through this earned his name Eepiihkaanita.  From our perspective his name has nothing to do with wild carrots or the color of his hair, we do not know the origin of this particular myth.[6]

Eepiihkaanita became a full member of the Kineepikomeekwa (Eel River) community.  He married a Myaamia woman who may have been from that community or perhaps from the Waayaahtanwa (Wea) community downstream on the Wabash River.  We do not know how many children they had together, if any.  Eventually, Eepiihkaanita became friends with Mihšihkinaahkwa (also known as Little Turtle) and married his daughter Weenankapita.  Weenankapita is most often called “Sweet Breeze” in the literature.  However, the Myaamia word Weenankapita does not appear to mean “Sweet” or “Breeze.”  But as with “carrot top” this particular myth has had a life of its own.  Together, Eepiihkaanita and Weenankapita had three known children.  Eepiihkaanita grew to adulthood within the communities of Kineepikomeekwa and Kiihkayonki and he helped defend those communities in the 1790s when they were invaded on three occasions by the US army.

During the third invasion, under the leadership of Anthony Wayne, Eepiihkaanita served as a scout working for the US Army, but some Myaamia people remember that Eepiihkaanita’s participation was an intentional and agreed upon attempt to bring the conflict to a speedy conclusion and thereby protect his home communities from the sustained deprivations of war.  In this, as in his previous two efforts fighting against Generals Harmar and St. Clair, Eepiihkaanita was successful.  Many of our historical allies never forgave him for this seeming betrayal, and at various times in his life there were portions of the Myaamia community who questioned his leadership.  However, a large segment of the Myaamia communities on the upper Wabash continued to hold him in high regard all the way until his death in 1812.[7]

Eepiihkaanita served as a translator at the 1795 Treaty of Greenville and at many treaties that followed.  Together with his friend Mihšihkinaahkwa, he helped to build a relationship with their new American father.  Through these efforts Eepiihkaanita and Mihšihkinaahkwa walked a dangerous line.  They attempted to create a context within which Myaamia people and American people could be good neighbors and live at peace with each other.  They attempted the difficult task of consolidating Myaamia politics from disparate village-centered organization to a more “national” form of organization.  At the same time, they sought to gain extra concessions at the treaty table by aiding in the creation of separate political entities –the Eel River, the Wea, and the Piankashaw.  This was one strategy used to reorganize the economy of Myaamia villages, as they could no longer draw on the entirety of Myaamionki for the resources necessary to sustain a thriving and healthy lifestyle. This was a process that negotiators on the American side supported when it met their own needs and resented when it did not, specifically when this strategy slowed down negotiation and increased the price of land sessions. William Henry Harrison, among others, exploited these political divisions to disastrous ends for Myaamia people during the War of 1812 and after.

This strategy eventually failed Mihšihkinaahkwa and Eepiihkaanita, and the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne was the tipping point.  It is this treaty that the historian John Sugden has called “A Treaty too Far.”  Sugden and others convincingly argue that this treaty cemented anti-American sentiment among those associated with the Shawnee prophet, Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh.  The Shawnee bothers and their supporters saw the land as “one bowl and one spoon” and therefore wanted no treaties signed without all allied groups agreement.  Yet, some Myaamia people were upset with the treaty for the opposite reason.  Many within the community saw the land cessions of the 1809 Treaty as solely Myaamia land and therefore resented Mihšihkinaahkwa’s efforts to include the Potawatomi and Delaware in the treaty.  They also resented William Henry Harrison and the Americans for this imposition, but they appear to not have resented the land cession in and of itself.  Some of those who opposed Mihšihkinaahkwa did eventually ally themselves with the British and their native allies, however it is important to note that their motivations for fighting the Americans were different from Tecumseh’s.

The Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa, and his brother Tecumseh, had unified an intertribal village community at Greenville, Ohio around principles of revitalization and renewal.  They looked back to a period prior to the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, when they believed that the British and the French treated their people with more respect and to a time prior to contact with Europeans when all native people treated their environment, especially the fur bearing animals, with greater respect.  Tenskwatawa’s vision called for all native people to give up most European trade goods and especially abstain from the consumption of alcohol.[8]

From 1808 onward, conflict between the Americans and some of the allied groups associated with the Shawnee brothers continued to intensify.  From my perspective, the slide towards war began in earnest when Tenskwatawa entered uninvited onto Myaamia lands to settle the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Kiteepihkwana Siipiiwi (Tippecanoe River) and Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River).  In the spring of 1808, Myaamia leaders confronted Tenskwatawa while he and his group constructed canoes on the Nimacisinwi Siipiiwi (Mississinewa River).  Mihšihkinaahkwa delivered his community’s message, which  “forbid the Prophet from settling on the Wabash,” and warned him “that if he persisted,” it would be their duty to “cut him off.”  Tenskwatawa defied their demand by declaring “that it was not in the power of man to interrupt them. That he would go on, and nothing could stop him.”[9]

The Shawnee brothers’ community was struggling and nearly starving, and Mihšihkinaahkwa felt that their situation in 1808 was clearly “desperate.” Much of the brothers’ support came from northern and western groups, who had to travel considerable distance under the watchful eye of the American military in order to reach Greenville.  The move to the Kiteepihkwana Siipiiwi increased the distance between the community and American towns, cities, and forts.  The move would also place the Shawnee brothers closer to their western allies.  The brothers may have also felt more secure about launching violent attacks from this location.  However, this last goal was likely not a priority at the time of the relocation.

In early 1800s, violence was definitively not in the interests of Myaamia communities. In the fall of 1811, as William Henry Harrison threatened to attack the Shawnee Brothers’ village on the Kiteepihkwana Siipiiwi, Mihšihkinaahkwa pleaded “We pray you not to bloody our ground if you can avoid it… The land on the Wabash is ours we have not put the Prophet there, but on the contrary we have endeavored to stop his going there—he must be considered as setting there without our leave.”[10]  Unlike the Delaware who built their villages on the White River at the invitation of the Myaamia, Tenskwatawa and his followers constructed their village against the expressed wishes of Myaamia people. However, Myaamia leaders still wished to avoid violence coming to their doorsteps and to the homes of allied groups, like the their elder brothers, the Shawnee, who were living within our heartlands.

By November of 1811, William Henry Harrison believed he saw an opportune moment to strike at Prophetstown.  Tecumseh left the village on a recruiting trip to the south and Harrison believed that this was a moment of weakness he could exploit.  On November 7, Harrison and his forces crossed the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River) onto Myaamia lands and goaded the Prophetstown villagers into attacking his camp.  It is possible that a few individual Piankashaw men participated in the attack on Harrison’s forces, but Myaamia leaders from the upper Wabash were involved only as ambassadors attempting to keep Harrison’s gambit from resulting in violence.[11]

After the battle on the Kiteepihkwana Siipiiwi (Tippecanoe River), Mihšihkinaahkwa pleaded with William Henry Harrison in an attempt to stem violence.  Mihšihkinaahkwa saw the clouds of war rising in places beyond the Kiteepihkwana Siipiiwi, and he believed that these clouds threatened “to turn our light into darkness.” Stopping the violence, he argued, “may require the united efforts of us all.”  He concluded by expressing his hope “that none of us will be found to shrink from the storm that threatens to burst on our nations.”  This heartfelt desire to avoid violence was partly the result of the simple reality that most Myaamia villages were within a few short days journey from U.S. cities and forts.  The following May, Mihšihkinaahkwa clearly outline his people’s attitude towards fighting a war against one’s close neighbors: “we all see that it would be our immediate ruin to go to war with the white people.”[12]  A month later, Mihšihkinaahkwa would be laid to rest in a Myaamia burial ground near Kiihkayonki and shortly thereafter all of the hard work undertaken to avoid the expansion of violence would come crashing down around the heads of his people.

Portraits of Eepiihkaanita, also known as William Wells, on the left and Mihšihkinaahkwa, also known as Little Turtle, on the right.  The Portrait of Eepiihkaanita was probably taken between 1803-1810 and is in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society.  The portrait of Mihšihkinaahkwa was painted by Myaamia artist Julie Olds and is based on available information regarding his appearance.
Portraits of Eepiihkaanita, also known as William Wells, on the left and Mihšihkinaahkwa, also known as Little Turtle, on the right. The Portrait of Eepiihkaanita was probably taken between 1803-1810 and is in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society. The portrait of Mihšihkinaahkwa was painted by Myaamia artist Julie Olds and is based on available information regarding his appearance.

This is the Myaamia context for the War of 1812.  Near the end of the war, Keetanka publically reflected on these early moments.  He said: “we were in a precarious situation; it resembled a wild horse, surrounded on every side by people, endeavoring to catch him, and at last, all fall on him and kill him.  When we saw you coming, and found you made the stroke on us, we concluded we were no longer at liberty to choose.”[13]  War came to our villages like “a wild horse.”  There was no way left for our people to avoid the conflict, the only choice left was on which side of this “wild horse” our people would stand.  In the end, some chose to attempt to escape the violence by taking a neutral stance and relocating; some joined with allied groups to fight with the British; and some joined with other allied groups to fight with the Americans.  The feeling of hopelessness that Keetanka described reflected the common realization that none of these choices were “good.” none of these choices benefited their communities.  All these choices produced nearly the same result.

Early in the war, Eepiihkaanita faced this same “wild horse” of a choice.  The United States formerly declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.  One of three causes listed in the declaration of war was frontier violence, which the U.S. claimed was perpetrated by Indians on American settlers with the Great Britain’s support.  On July 14, 1812, Eepiihkaanita’s father-in-law and friend Mihšihkinaahkwa passed away.  Within a month of his friend’s death, Eepiihkaanita received word of the capture of the U.S. fort on Mackinac Island.  He also learned that attacks were likely to follow on Fort Dearborn and Fort Wayne and that Detroit was already under siege.  Eepiihkaanita evacuated his children to Piqua under the care of his Shawnee friend John Logan.  Weenankapita died during the winter of 1805-06, and after a suitable period of morning, Eepiihkaanita married again. Against his wishes, his third wife, Polly Geiger Wells, remained in Fort Wayne with him. [14]

Eepiihkaanita could have gone to Piqua and could likely have found service with William Henry Harrison, who had come to increasingly value the man’s knowledge and influence as tensions increased.  He could have even found a way to avoid the conflict all together by returning to his or his wife’s family in Kentucky.  But he chose a different path, one that resonates with my perception of him as a Myaamia person.  Eepiihkaanita traveled to Fort Dearborn for family.  He traveled to banks of the Šikaakwa Siipiwi (Chicago River) to protect his American family – his niece Rebecca Wells Heald and her husband, Nathan Heald – who was the fort’s commanding officer – in their time of need.   I believe he also made the dangerous journey from Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne) to the Šikaakwa Siipiwi to delay and perhaps stop a wave of violence from submerging his home and the homes of his Myaamia family living along the northern Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River).

Eepiihkaanita left Kiihkayonki on August 8 with about 30 other Myaamia men.  This group was the size of a typical war party and probably reflected the regard with which Eepiihkaanita was held as a war leader and negotiator.  These men were more than likely also attracted by the potential trade goods they could carry home from the evacuated fort and factory at Chicago.  Along the way to Dearborn, Eepiihkaanita may have visited for a time with the Potawatomi leader Tobinbee.  If this visit took place, it likely was a continuation of Eepiihkaanita and Mihšihkinaahkwa’s efforts to preserve the peace established seventeen years earlier in the Treaty of Greenville.  Potawatomi villages paralleled the lake stretching all the way to Dearborn and it is highly likely that Eepiihkaanita saw Potawatomi help as central to any effort at stopping any violence from occurring at Fort Dearborn and maintaining the larger peace established in 1795 at the Treaty of Greenville.[15]

Fort Dearborn in 1831. This drawing shows Fort Dearborn in the decades after the War of 1812. While the structure of the fort is different from the Fort in 1812, the drawing gives a sense of the 1812 fort’s position and its surrounding geography.

There was hope for peace at Fort Dearborn and for Myaamia people living around Ft. Wayne.  Yet much of this hope had been darkened by the storm clouds of war.  There were few good choices left for Myaamia people, and when I look at the final days of Eepiihkaanita’s life, I see that he too had few good options left – I can only assume, based on everything else I know of his life, that he did the best he could.  When he arrived at Fort Dearborn around August 13 he found yet another “wild horse” of choice.  After Captain Heald gave away and destroyed the fort’s supplies, they learned from the Potawatomi leader Black Partridge that violence was likely.  Without supplies the group could not stay at Dearborn, yet going meant there was a good chance they would be attacked.  This moment seems a sadly perfect embodiment of Keetanka’s description of the lack of “good” choices available to us at the start of the war, and as I look back on August 15, 1812 with my 20/200 (legally blind) vision of the past I still cannot see any good choices.

That August morning, the residents of Fort Dearborn, soldiers and civilians, marched out the southern gate to the sound of the band playing a death march, and in a broad sense we know what happened next.  Eepiihkaanita had blackened his face in preparation – something that Myaamia youth did and some Myaamia people still do when they seek new knowledge and a transformative experience.  To face death with calm equanimity was the ultimate challenge of a Myaamia person’s life.  As they marched out of the fort, they saw that all of the camps located near the fort were emptied and no peaceful escort materialized.  The party continued to march south following the lakefront for about two miles.  As they reached a set of high sand dunes, Eepiihkaanita observed the ambush taking shape and alerted the soldiers.  Fighting began shortly thereafter and within an hour the battle was over.[16]

From all accounts of that day in August, Eepiihkaanita faced death according to Myaamia norms as he defended the residents of Fort Dearborn until the attacking Potawatomi and Winnebago struck him down.  Many in those communities had never forgiven Eepiihkaanita for helping the Americans achieve a quick victory in 1794, yet he was still held in high esteem as a warrior.   His nice, Rebecca Heald, and her husband, Nathan, were taken captive during the battle.  Rebecca reported that after the battle, the attackers treated Eepiihkaanita’s body in a way usually reserved for highly regarded enemies.[17]

The thirty or so Myaamia men who traveled with Eepiihkaanita left as soon as the violence erupted.  A few of the accounts claim that before leaving, a rider at the head of group, who may have been from a Myaamia-Potawatomi family, approached the Potawatomi and castigated them briefly for their “treacherous” conduct.[18]  It is likely, that Eepiihkaanita and these unnamed Myaamia men, many of whom were probably his personal friends, discussed the potential of an attack and how they would respond.  The Myaamia men took a very important message back to their people in the Fort Wayne area: despite all the effort they had expended to avoid it, the “wild horse” of war was coming to their doorsteps.

A large contingent of Myaamia people were in route to the Piqua Peace Council when word reached them of the fall of Dearborn.  Soon after, the group reversed course and rushed home to the Fort Wayne area in order to begin evacuating their villages.[19]  It is at this point that Eepiihkaanita’s third wife, Polly Geiger Wells, probably went to Piqua.  The failure to attend the Piqua Council was one key factor that allowed William Henry Harrison to label all Myaamia people as belligerents and to target Myaamia villages for destruction throughout the fall and winter of 1812.

By the end of August of 1812, tribal peoples allied to the British put Fort Wayne into a state of siege.  As they arrived, they delivered a message from Tecumseh telling the Myaamia to “stand aside lest they be crushed beneath his feet by the allied army he was bringing to capture the fort.”  Despite the claims of John Johnston in 1814, there is no evidence that any Myaamia people participated in the siege of Fort Wayne.  However, when William Henry Harrison lifted the siege in the middle of September, he ordered the burning of the large Myaamia villages in the vicinity: namely Turtletown and the Forks of the Wabash.  These villages had been mostly evacuated by the time of Harrison’s arrival.  Harrison saw “no evidence that the inhabitants of the Town [Turtletown] having joined in the hostilities against Fort Wayne but as they had fled from it, and the corn would support the hostile Indians in a second attempt upon the Fort Wayne, it became necessary for the safety of the place that it should be destroyed.” There was a small skirmish near Turtletown when a few lingering Myaamia men encountered soldiers entering and destroying their homes.[20]

The Myaamia refugees from Turtletown and the Forks of the Wabash moved down the Wabash River Valley and built a series of villages along the Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi (Mississinewa River) stretching from the confluence with Wabash to what is today Marion, Indiana.  During the winter of 1812, Colonel Campbell targeted the Nimacihsinwi villages under the explicit instructions of William Henry Harrison.  Harrison stated that he wanted to clear his army’s supply lines, remove safe haven for belligerents, and deprive Myaamia people of their winter food supplies.  Campbell’s campaign destroyed three villages, one of which was the Delaware-Myaamia village led by Eempahwita (or Silverheels), and took approximately forty captives.  Campbell’s invasion also led to the first clear-cut case of Myaamia violence directed against the United States.

On the morning of December 17, 1812, Campbell’s camp was enveloped in musket fire.  The battle continued until sunrise, when the Myaamia and Delaware retreated.  The battle was a tactical draw but a strategic Myaamia victory.  After the battle, Campbell and his forces retreated to Greenville.  They never reached the larger villages located downstream from the battle site.  Sadly, this reprieve proved temporary as these larger villages, as well as the three rebuilt after Campbell attack, were destroyed in the summer of 1813.[21]

To the best of my knowledge, it was Campbell’s campaign that convinced hundreds of Myaamia men from the upper Wabash to join their efforts with the British and other allied groups.  Wea and Piankashaw men may have already joined the effort by this point, but Myaamia men from the Mississinewa northward appear to have tried their best to remain neutral.  As Keetanka described, after the Battle of the Mississinewa, they “were no longer at liberty to choose.”  No matter where they went, war followed.  By defending themselves they had become belligerents and they had to follow that course until its end.  It is important to note that these Myaamia men apparently allied themselves directly to the Wyandot war leader Roundhead and not to Tecumseh.[22]

The end of this alliance came very quickly from a Myaamia point of view.  They joined the war effort in December of 1812 and by October of 1813 both Roundhead and Tecumseh were dead, the British alliance had crumbled, and they were left to sue for peace with William Henry Harrison at Detroit.[23]

The end of the War of 1812 marked a tipping point in terms of power between the United States, Myaamia people, and the evolving Myaamia Tribal Nation.  Following the War, land treaties came ever more rapidly and with greater pressure to agree to ceding most or all of our historic land base.  Eventually the U.S. government added an extreme pressure to agree to removal west of Mississippi.  These pressures led to forced removal in 1846 and the fracturing of the Myaamia people into two, and later three, geographic communities.  In the years that followed the War of 1812 and the deaths of Mihšihkinaahkwa and Eepiihkaanita, Myaamia leaders tried to distance themselves from the failed policies of these two leaders. Mihšihkinaahkwa is greatly popular among Myaamia and non-Myaamia people today.  Yet the survivors of the War of 1812 went to great lengths to repudiate his policies.  Some even claimed that this great leader was not even legitimately Myaamia.[24]

By January 1813, Rebecca Wells Heald and her husband Nathan Heald were redeemed from captivity. They eventually adopted Eepiihkaanita’s daughter, Amehkoonsahkwa, also known as Mary Wells Wolcott.  The Heald family moved to St. Charles, Missouri in 1817.  In Missouri, Amehkoonsaahkwa met and married James Wolcott. Nathan Heald was a witness at their marriage and signed their marriage certificate.[25] Like Amehkoonsaahkwa, Myaamia people found ways to endure following the war.  In the decades that followed the end of our final military conflict with the United States, new families formed and the next generation of Myaamia children were brought into the world.  The sacrifices of this era of “no good choices” made it possible for Myaamia communities to survive.  Many gave their lives in order to ensure this survival. As a result of these sacrifices, Myaamia people, including the descendants of Mihšihkinaahkwa and Eepiihkaanita, still walk arm in arm with their respective Myaamia families and their Tribal Nation.

There is much about the period of time around the War of 1812 that Myaamia people are not aware of or do not understand.  The “Civil of 1812” was a complex and chaotic conflict that to this day resists simple representations like the “Defense” pillar on the DuSable Bridge.  We may increase our knowledge of this conflict over time, yet much will likely always remain shrouded by the “dark clouds” that Mihšihkinaahkwa saw descending on his community in the summer of 1812.

In small, but important, ways the people of the Chicago are beginning to recognize that their representations of this conflict need to take into account more perspectives.  In 2009 a community group sought to rename and rededicate the Massacre of Fort Dearborn Park.  Eventually, the neighborhood group collaborated with Native people from the American Indian Center in Chicago, an inter-tribal group, and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to write the signage of the park and to jointly create the ceremony that rededicated the park.  These correctives begin the process of widening the conversation and add a necessary messiness to the representation of this chaotic period of time.[26]

Battle of Fort Dearborn Park.  The text of this sign represents a positive step forward in recognizing the complexities of the War of 1812.  The rededication of the park that produced this sign is an example of the good that can come from more inclusive discussions and decision-making.
Battle of Fort Dearborn Park. The text of this sign represents a positive step forward in recognizing the complexities of the War of 1812. The rededication of the park that produced this sign is an example of the good that can come from more inclusive discussions and decision-making.

At the end of October in 2012, I returned to Šikaakonki yet again to deliver my talk on Fort Dearborn at the 44th Algonquian Conference.  That year the conference was hosted and organized by the University of Chicago and held at the Gleacher Center on north bank of the Šikaakwa Siipiiwi just blocks from Lake Michigan.  On the second day of the conference, I crossed the DuSable Bridge Bridge on the eastern walkway and turned to the east walking past the small and nearly hidden bust of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable, a man of unknown descent who is commonly claimed to be of African origin and the bridge’s namesake.  Ironically, this person of ambiguous background – which probably includes enslaved Africans – is credited with establishing the first permanent European “settlement” at Chicago.[27]

Bust of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable
Bust of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable

I followed the stone railing a short distance all the while staring out at the empty blue space that marks the end of the city and the start of the lake.  After moving a comfortable distance away from Michigan Avenue, I turned to face the river.  In the cold morning breeze, I sipped my coffee and watched the limited boat traffic on that early Saturday morning.  I marveled, for 1000th time, at the backward flow of this massive amount of water and of the strangeness of the feeling that the height of my view came from standing on top of the rubble of untold generations of Chicagoans.  I looked down and noticed a small plaque, which read “Kinzie Mansion: Near this site stood Kinzie Mansion, 1784-1832, Home of Pointe Du Saible , Le Mai, and John Kinzie, Chicago’s “First Civilian” Here was born, in 1805, the city’s first white child, Ellen Marion Kinzie.” Nowhere in vicinity of the DuSable Bridge, which tries so hard to tell the story of Chicago, did I find reference to the thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – who were born, lived, and died along this river before European settlement.  These many thousands called this river valley home, and many of their descendants still do.  As I warmed myself with my coffee and returned to watching the river flow backwards, I was reminded yet again of how much work we have left to do if we want to achieve a true “balance of stories.”[28]

Kinzie Plaque
Plaque Commemorating the Kinzie Mansion

[1] From a Myaamia perspective the War of 1812 began with William Henry Harrison’s invasion of the lower Wabash and the attack on Prophetstown on November 7, 1811.  The “official” declaration of war between the United States and Great Britain occurred June 18, 1812.

[2] Ann Durkin Keating, Rising up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago of Press, 2012), 136-50.  Harvey Lewis Carter, The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 230-34.

[3] The official name of the bridge was changed to the “The DuSable Bridge” in 2010.  However, the name Michigan Avenue Bridge is impressed in the concrete surface of the structure and in informal contexts I personally hear Chicagoans use the Michigan Avenue name.  In formal contexts, like architectural tours, the name DuSable is commonly used.  This issue with naming is yet another example of the struggle around the story that Chicagoans tell themselves about their city.

[4] Šikaakwa Siipiiwi in the Miami-Illinois name for the Chicago River.  It was named for the abundance of Allium tricoccum (wild leek) which grew along its banks.  In the 1600s, the French called this plant “wild garlic” and for this reason, sometimes the river is mistakenly called the “Wild Garlic River.”  For more on this place name see Michael McCafferty, “A Fresh Look at the Place Name Chicago,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 96, no. 2 (Summer 2003), 116-29.  Other tribes have similar names for the river and the place, though they have different stories explaining the origin of the name.  While linguists and historians might be able to determine ultimate origins of the name, we do not believe that our understanding excludes alternate perspectives.

[5] Helen Hornbeck Tanner and Miklos Pinther, Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (Civilization of the American Indian series; v. 174. 1st ed. Norman: Published for the Newberry Library by the University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 32-33.  Village locations are described with great precision by Cosme in Louise P. Kellogg (ed.), Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 346-47.  Jean Francois Buisson de St. Cosme, Voyage of St. Cosme accessed at http://www.americanjourneys.org/aj-055 .

[6] William Wells has been fairly popular in terms of historical biography.  I’ve included a few of the best here: Carter, The Life and Times of Little Turtle, 82-87.  Cameron Michael Shriver, William Wells and the Old Northwest, 1770-1812, BA Thesis, The College of William and Mary, 2009.  Paul A. Hutton, “William Wells: Frontier Scout and Indian Agent,” Indiana Magazine of History, 74, no. 3 (September 1978), 183-222.

[7] Numerous sources indicate that between 20-30 Myaamia men accompanied Eepiihkaanita on his final journey to Ft. Dearborn.  This support was a sign of the regard that he was held as both a warrior and a negotiator by his Myaamia relatives.  Carter, Life and Times of Little Turtle, 231.

[8] Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992), 123-27, 130-31.  Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Cambridge Studies in North American Indian History. (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 506-10.

[9] Clarence E. Carter, ed. The Territorial Papers of the United States, vol. 7, Indiana Territory (Washington D.C: United States Government Printing Office, 1939), 558-59.

[10] Logan Esarey, ed., Governor’s Messages and Letters: Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, vol. 1, 1800-1811 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922), 581.

[11] John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company), 230-32. Carter, Life and Times of Little Turtle, 211-19.

[12] Logan Esarey, ed., Governor’s Messages and Letters: Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, vol. 2, 1800-1811 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922), 18-19, 52-53.

[13] American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Vol. 4, Indian Affairs, no. 1 (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1832), 828-37.

[14] Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 132-37.  Carter, Life and Times of Little Turtle, 200, 230-31.

[15] Carter, Life and Times of Little Turtle, 231.  Keating mentions the possibility of a visit with Tobinbee and she provides evidence that Tobinbee, Pokagon, and Keepotah wanted to avoid and or limit the violence at Dearborn if possible.  Keating, Rising up from Indian Country, 131, 142.

[16] Keating, Rising up from Indian Country, 143-47.

[17] Account from Rebecca Wells Heald re. death of her uncle?

[18] John Kinzie included these details in an account of the battle that he gave in 1820.  Mentor L. Williams, “John Kinzie’s Narrative of the Fort Dearborn Massacre,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), 46, no. 4 (Winter, 1953), 351-52.  A similar, though more dramatic, account of the Myaamia men chastising the Potawatomi comes from Margaret McKillip Helm, in Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie, Wau-bun The Early Day in the Northwest (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1873), 176.  A digital version of this work is available at http://memory.loc.gov/.

[19] Robert B. McAfee, History of the Late War in the Western Country, (Bowling Green, OH: Historical Publications Company, 1919), 111. Accessed through Google books.

[20] Esarey, Messages and Letters, 143-47.

[21] Harrison’s orders to Campbell in Esarey, Messages and Letters, vol. 2, 228-31.  Campbell’s report to Harrison in ibid, 253-65. An alternative second person account of the attack from comes from G.H., who was probably George Hunt.  This account has a couple of inconsistencies, but it includes specific information of Myaamia actions and perspectives, which is sorely lacking in other accounts.  Another first person account of the battle comes from William Northcut see G. Glenn Clift, ed., “The Diary of William Brooks Northcutt, Part I,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, no. 2 (April 1958), 165-80.  “Part II,” The Register, no. 3 (July 1958), 253-69.  “Part III,” The Register, no. 4 (October 1958), 325-43.

[22] Sugden, Tecumseh, 357.

[23] Ibid, 368-80. Esarey, Messages and Letters, Vol. II, 577-78.

[24] Eepiihkaanita’s family became geographically, socially, and politically isolated from the Myaamia nation.  By the late 1800s enough time had passed and some of his descendants reintegrated into the Miami Tribal Nation headquartered in Kansas.  In 1824, Meehcikilita claimed that “Little Turtle is not considered a Miami” because his father was Mohican and his mother was Iowa.  This belief is supported nowhere else in the record and seems to my eye to be a sign of the negatives opinions of Mihšihkinaahkwa that were prevalent among some of the wars survivors. It is additionally interesting to note the silence of Pinšiwa (JB Richardville) on this issue.  Mihšihkinaahkwa was his uncle and yet is what not politically strategic for Pinšiwa to defend his family too vociferously in the 1820s.  Charles C. Trowbridge and W. Vernon Kinietz, Meearmeear Traditions (Ann Arbor [Mich.]: University of Michigan Press, 1938), 87-88.

[25] Keating, Rising up from Indian Country, 164.  Photocopy of Certificate of Marriage between James Wolcott and Mary Wells, March 8, 1821 in possession of Wells family descendants. Letter dated May 14, 1817 detailing the move to St. Charles in the William Wells Papers Fort Wayne Historical Society.

[26] Chicago Tribune August 14, 2009 Site of Chicago’s Ft. Dearborn Massacre to be called ‘Battle of Ft. Dearborn Park’ accessed at .com March 1, 2013.  John Low outlined the process through which the park was renamed in a presentation at the Algonquian Conference in 2012.

[27] Keating, 30.  Europeans, and later Americans, placed a lot of weight on the “permanence” of residence in terms of establishing the legitimacy of a settlement.  Because DuSable’s residence begins what as viewed as an unbroken tenancy, then he is the “founder” of Chicago.  The reality that generations of indigenous people lived in and around Šikaakonki is not material in this legalistic view because their tenancy was itinerant and therefore deemed of lessor status.  Indigenous communities continue to disagree with this line of argumentation.

[28] This concept of balancing narratives of colonialism and anti-colonialism was put forth  by Chinua Achebe in his essay “Today, the Balance of Stories” in Home and Exile (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 73-105.  Reiterated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her talk at TEDGlobal 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.htmlcome

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.