Chicago Tribune March 5, 1899
REPLICA OF THE ORIGINAL FORT DEARBORN
Scene of the Massacre of 1812 Reproduced with Wonderful Exactness for the Historical Society.
TOMORROW morning, for the first time, Chicago people are to be shown in the museum of the HIstorical society what that organization considers its most valuable possession from purely local considerations. This treasure Is a perfect model in staff and wood of the first Fort Dearborn. which was destroyed by the Indians within twenty-four after the massacre of 1812.
No model of the first fort has ever before been made. A sketch was made years ago from a description given by a person who dimly remembered the outlines of the old prairie fortification. The sketch was utterly at fault in detail, as well as In general appearance. The great replica of the fort which the Historical society will show tomorrow is absolutely perfect to the minutest particular, and on Monday morning people will be given an opportunity to see just how the old stockade looked from which, on that summer morning In the first year of the second British war, the United States troops, with their wives and children, marched out to die under the rifles and hatchets of the Pottawatomies.
The replica of the old fortification Is the gift to the society of Mrs. Charlotte Whltehead Pitkin of the Lexington Hotel. The artist who executed it is A. L. Van Den Berghen, the hermit sculptor of River Forest. Yesterday in one corner of the staff representation of the country surrounding the fort, at a point about where the Real Estate Board Building stands today, a bronze tablet was inserted with this inscription:
Model of the First Fort Dearborn.
From a drawing made in 1808 by Captain John Whistler: by A. L. Van Den Berghen, sculptor, 1898.
In memory of the interest shown in the advancement of Chicago, by Jesse Whltehead, born 1800. died 1881; and Rebecca McClure Whitehead. born 1822, died 1890. This contribution to the early history of the city is presented by their daughter, Charlotte Whitehead Pitkin, to the Chicago Historical Society Oct. 9, 1818.
The date given upon the inscription is that upon which Mrs. Pltkin gave the order for the work which, upon its completion, was to be presented to the society in memory of her parents. It will be seen at a glance that it was the anniversary of the great fire, a somewhat remarkable coincidence from the fact of its having been the anniversary of the destruction of Chicago that it was not thought of at the time.
Model of the first Fort Dearborn built by the Chicago Historical Society.
The Key to Model
There are many remarkable circumstances with this final ownership by the Historical society of a long coveted possession. It was not known for years that it would be possible ever to secure a satisfactory reproduction of the first Fort Dearborn. The Historical society felt that its collections would be incomplete without something which would represent this the first building of any importance to be erected on the site of the present great city. General Sheridan suggested a number of years ago that something might be found In the War department, and accordingly D. O. Drennan of Washington. D. C., acting for the Chicago Historical Society, an infinite amount of labor among musty documents in the War department in finding the plans, yellowed with age, which were drawn by Captain John Whistler In January, 1808, while he was the commandant of the post at Chicago. Whistler’s plans were found to be marvelously accurate. There were sketches given of each individual building and of the fort as a whole. Everything was reduced to a scale of inches and, even the height of the flagstaff was set down to a nicety.
After Mr. Drennan had succeeded in gathering the first commandant’s notes and maps C. H. Ourand, an artist of Washington put them upon paper and they were forwarded to Chicago. This was done about two years ago. Edward G. Mason, who recently died, for years the President of the society, had in mind the holding of a great “Fort Dearborn” at the rooms in the Historical Society Building, if somebody would but supply the funds necessary for the making of the model of the fort from the Washington Plans, and which would be necessary to give interest to the gathering. About one year ago Mrs. Charlotte Pitkin joined the society. She was an enthusiastic new member and one of her first acts was to supply the funds necessary for the reproduction in staff and Wood by a competent artist of the first Fort Dearborn. Everything had been arranged tor a great public meeting at which pokagon. hereditary chief of the , Mrs. Susan Simmons Winans of Santa Ana. Cal., and all the oldest settlers of Chicago. were to gather round the model of the historic fort and tell what they knew of the early days of Chicago. In addition, there were to be one or two historical addresses, and the Fort Dearborn model was to be formally presented to the Historical Society members. Death interposed its hand and in place of the elaborate plans for a great meeting everything that is now contemplated will be the simple throwing open to the public of the doors of the society rooms tomorrow morning as they are thrown open every Monday and those who come may see the new and costly attraction, simply as one of the features of the collection. Nothing will be done or said beyond the ordinary.
ONE LIVING WITNESS.
Mr. Mason, the society’s President, was stricken suddenly, and then Pokagon. who was to tell the tale of the Chicago massacre from an Indian’s point of view, the tale which his father, one of the leaders of the fight, had often told to him, was summoned to join that father in the happy hunting rounds of their ancestors.
There is only one person living today who ever saw the first Fort Dearborn, and as she was but six months old when her eyes fell upon its walls of course she remembers nothing of it. Mrs. Susan Simmons Winans of Santa Ana, Cal., who was to have been brought in a special car from California at the society s expense to attend the great Fort Dearborn meeting, was born inside the ralls of the structure Feb. 12, 1812, her father being a corporal in Captain Nathan’s company of the First United States Infantry, which garrisoned the post. Mrs. Winans is the only living survivor of the Dearborn massacre. Her father fought a hand to hand fight with four Indrians at the front of the covered wagon in which were his wife and child. He killed three of his antagonists before he himself succumbed to a blow from a stone ax.
An Indian sprang into the wagon and killed with his tomahawk three children who vere occupants. Mrs. Winan’s mother, the wife of the corporal, saved her child by covering it with her body. For some reason, after killing the three children, the savage staid his hand and spared the mother, who lived for many years afterwards to tell to the child whom she had saved by her presence of mind the story of that awful day, on the spot where now stands the Pullman res!dence. It was this story wwhich Mrs. Winans was to tell to the people of Chicago as she stood by the side of the model of the building within which she was born eighty-seven years ago.
With a view of surprising the members of the Historical society and the other people to be present at the Fort Dearborn meeting, Edward G. Mason strove to keep all knowledge of Mrs. Pitkin’s gift from the public. It as doubtful if more than half a dozen people knew or will know until this reading that such a gift was made or such a model of the old fort was growing under the hand of an artist. It was intended to unveil it at the Fort Dearborn meeting as an absolute surprise.
Mr. Mason intended that the meeting should be the crowning act of his Presidency. Since his sudden death a few weeke ago it has been decided by the officials of the society that the most fitting thing would be to call attention to the work that Mr. Masor done to bring about the meeting which was so near his heart and to show to the public, though in a quiet way, the work which, in connection with Mrs. Pitkin, was the last which he projected for the society Accordingly, General A. C. McClurg, the society’s Vice President, gave for the accompanying sketch of the mode of the fort to be made for The Sunday Tribune, and the accompanying facts were gleaned from the society’s secretary, Mr Charles Evans.
Everything tended to keep secret even the plan for the making of the model. It was not discussed In the open meetings of the society, and the commission for the construction of the model was given to Mr. Van Den Berghen, who lives in the heart of the woods at River Forest. The Washing- ton plans, drawn ninety-one years ago by Captain Whistler, were turned over to the artist and the structures of the fort rose under his touch in accordance to a hairs breadth with the plans made by the forts early commandant.
The building and the stockade of the old army post are built of untrimmed twigs representing logs and posts. They have a perfect weather-beaten look and, save in size, form the typical building material for frontier fortifications. The artist, to add to the illusion, has placed miniature sentries in their proper places within the inclosure. The fort is mounted upon staff, which is molded to show the contour of the ground—one rounded corner where the river swept by and the knolls and swampy depressions characteristic of the time and which were marked distinctly in the outlines given by Whistler. It is worthy of note right here that Captain John Whistler was something of an artist himself, a fact made apparent by the time-stained work taken from the Washington archives and also from the fact that he was the grandfather of James A. McNeil Whistler, the famed American artist now living abroad. During the time of the building of the Fort Dearborn replica at River Forest visitors, while warmly welcomed at the artist’s woodland home, were barred from that corner of the workshop where the slender tree twigs were being built into barracks, officers’ quarters, and sutler’s stores.
The artist is himself of as picturesque a character as the work which will be shown to the public tomorrow. He Is of Flemish extraction, and was for years in the government employ at Washington, where he executed many of the Navy department decorations and the bronze representations with their pediments in the four corners of the library, representing Science, Peace and War, Commerce, and Industry. The isolation of Mr. Van Den Berghen’s home and the wild nature of his surroundings may be best understood when it is told that on a recent visit to him he was found, rifle in hand, standing off a baldheaded eagle which had designs on some member of the artist s chicken coop.
The length of the entire model—that is, of the staff showing the outlines of the country upon which the fort stood—represents a distance today of about one-fifth of a mile due south from the river. The length of the fortification is about thirty inches, which, upon the scale adopted, would make the original stockade 200 yards in length and of a width about five-sixths as great. The height of the original flagstaff was about seventy-five feet. In the model the buildings are made in height proportionate to that of the flagstaff, the proportion in inches being the sane as that which Whistler used In feet.
Plan of the first Fort Dearborn
Chicago Tribune March 5, 1899
SECOND FORT DEMOLISHED.
The second Fort Dearborn was built upon the site of the first stockade. There are inany people living today who remember the second fort perfectly, and the accurate pictures of it today may be counted by the score. In the early ’80’s the government decided to straighten the Chicago River and Lhe northern half of the second fort was demolished, a new channel was made, and as a consequence the river flows today over the spot upon which stood the northern half of the first structure, which, as has been said, stood upon the site of the second fort. A glance at the key accompanying the sketch of the model will explain the situation and show why it is that the northwestern blockhouse stood in the water which Rush street bridge spans today.
A few feet south of the blockhouse just mentioned swung a little gate. This gate is historic as having been the spot where that early merchant of Chicago, John Kinzle, slew in self-defense John Lalime, the Indian trader. Within a few feet of the of the blockhouse there Is shown in the Chicago Historical Museum a walnut case holding the bones of Trader Lalime, which were found seven years ago In Chicago, just eighty years after the tragedy. Kinzie had crossed the river from his residence in a little skiff and was about to enter the fort by the gateway when Lallme shot at him, inflicting a wound in his neck. Kinzie sprang for his assailant and sent a knife into his vitals. Lalime was burled and Kinzie saw that his grave was well cared for. In after years the remains were removed to a spot where Cass and Illinois streets now cross. In excavating in 1892 the bones were unearthed and Historian Joseph Kirkland got at the facts in the case, Identified the remains by the locality where they were found, and turned them over to the keeping of the Historical society.
Nobody knew until the plans came on from Washington two years ago that the first Fort Dearborn had a double stockade around it. The arrangement of these stockades was unique and made it positively certain that any band of Indians that succeeded in getting over the outer barrier would be shot to death before they could even make the attempt to get over the inner fourteen-foot wall of logs. The two walls ran at such an angle that the space between them was commanded in all directions by fire from the loopholes in the blockhouses.
LOST FIRE WATER.
The only picture which it was ever attempted to make of the fort gave it but one surrounding wall. Straight south from the flagstaff opens the main gate. If one stood at the entrance he could look right along what is Michigan avenue today. The tunnel leading from the fort at the northeastern corner ran underground to the river’s edge. About one-third of the distance from the fort was, a well, from which the command could draw its water supply in case of siege. The night before the massacre which followed the evacuation of the fort Captain Heald rolled the government stores of whisky into the tunnel and emptied the barrels into the well. This was done to keep the fire water from the Indians. If they had drank it all, however, they could not have acted much worse than they did. Many other things were also thrown into the well, and if it were possible today to get at it local antiquarians believe many interesting relics might be found. But as the present of the well is about the middle of the Chicago River the work of reaching it would be somewhat difficult. The only stone building inside the Walls of the fort was the magazine, the location whlch may be seen at a glance at the ground plan. The soldiers’ quarters at the hospital, and the guardhouse were at the south. The commanding officer lived at the east and the other officers at the west side of the inclosure.
From tihe flagstaff of the model flies a flag with which is connected an interesting incident. The first flag made to be used on the model was the ordinary small American flag with the thirteen stripes and enough stars to fill its diminutive field. Then it flashed upon Secretary Charles Evans that here was something radically wrong with he appearance of the banner. He looked nto history a little and found that during the existence of the first Fort Dearborn, the American flag had fifteen stripes and fifteen stars, the latter being arranged in a circle. He told Mrs. Pltkin of this fact, and a beautiful silk flag made in exact requirements with the regulations of 1812 will tomorrow fly from the flagstaff of the miniature first Fort Dearborn.
The second Fort Dearborn was built by Hezeklah Bradley in the year 1816. It Is the .hope of the Chicago Historical society that some friend of the organization will give a sufficient sum of money to enable the society to have made a reproduction of tho second fortification to be placed side by side with the elder fort. The walls of the second stockade and its inclosed buildings wero whitewashed. This would be borne In mind in the making of the new model, and the contrast between the glistening wall of one and the rough, darkened logs of the other would be pleasing to the eye. The society officers say that the two structures should be shown side by side, that people who view the immense city buildings of today may see at a glance from what this mighty town grown within the space of a lifetime.
Today, the model is on permanent display at the Crossroads of America exhibit at the Chicago History Museum.
Plan of the first Fort Dearborn drawn by John Whistler in 1808