In all the history of Chicago, there is no more delightful figure than that of the rollicking, fiddling, singing, innkeeper, merchant, ferryman and good fellow, Mark Beaubien. From the year 1832 when a lively, careless, adventurous young blade from Detroit, he came to this city, he wove a brilliant thread of vivacity into the sometimes somber fabric of the social life of the settlement, until, at the age of eighty-one, he died peacefully at Kankakee.
Mark Beaubien was a valuable citizen, a consistent Roman Catholic, implicitly trusted by the Indians as their “good friend,” and rendered priceless service to Chicago by standing between the settlers and the Indians in time of threatened trouble. Yet, because he took life so lightly, and insisted on being sparkling when others pulled long faces, he is better known for the joy he put into life of the settlement rather than the solid services he rendered.
He was born in the last year eighteenth century, 1800, at Detroit, and there grew to manhood. As a boy of twelve he witnessed much of the opéra bouffe war between England and the United States as it was waged in and around Detroit, and was a witness to the inglorious surrender of General Hull to the British forces. This incident made such an impression upon the lad, who saw all the ludicrous points, that he made a ballad of it, and many years afterward used to delight the guests in his inn by singing it to his own accompaniment on the violin.
It was in the year 1826 that Mark came from Detroit to Chicago on a visit to his brother, General J. B. Beaubien, who had visited Chicago at intervals for many years, and who had permanently settled here as agent for the American Fur Company. Mark brought his family, Mrs. Monique Nadeau Beaubien, and the five children they then had – eleven others were born later. In his account of this journey Mark writes in “Chicago Antiquities”;
I came with my family by team; no road, only Indian trails. I had to hire an Indian to show me the way to Chicago. I camped out doors and bought a log house from Jim Kinzie. There was no town; didn’t expect no town. When they laid out the town, my house laid out in the street; when they laid out the town I bought two two lots where I built the old Sauganash the first frame house in Chicago.
Chicago 1884 biographer, A. T. Andreas says was an error, as there had already been a frame house built for Billy Caldwell.
The Sauganash Hotel at Wolf Point in 1830
Many of the delicious air of the romance which surrounds the history of Mark Beaubien also engulfs the Sauganash, the famous hotel of pioneer days where Mark and his good wife and their immense family of children lived, and where he conducted a merry house of entertainment, at the southeast corner of Market (S. Wacker Drive) and Lake Streets.
Mark took on many other duties as the years passed. In 1831, on payment of fifty dollars, he obtained from the county commissioners a license to run a ferry across the South Branch of the Chicago River at Wolf Point. He was permitted to charge non-residents a fee, but all who lived in Cook County were to be ferried for free.
He played his part in public life, too. For it was in his house that the election was held, in 1833, at which the settlers voted to incorporate the Town of Chicago. He helped organize the first Catholic Church in Chicago, St. Mary’s and gave liberally of his money to its support. The Indians so loved him for his fairness to them that they voted him sixty-four acres of land at the mouth of the Calumet River – which he did not know for almost forty years. When he received his letters patent in 1874 he found it had been signed by President Martin Van Buren.
Mrs. Beaubien died, and late in his life Mark married Miss Elizabeth Mathieu of Aurora. Seven children were born to them. Their daughter, Mary Beaubien, married her cousin, George Mathieu.
Mark Beaubien’s Tavern. The Sauganash, in 1835