Fort Dearborn | The Massacre Tree | Last Great War Dance | A Wolf Hunt | Christmas at Fort Dearborn
Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1954
Christmas in Early Chicago
FROM about 1784 until well into the 19th century the cabin pictured here stood on the north bank of the Chicago river just south of the present site of Tribune Tower and east of what is now Michigan av. It was built by a trader, Jean Baptiste Point Sable, one of the earliest permanent settlers in this area. The cabin was purchased by another trader about 1800. Four years later the John Kinzie family bought the little home.
Kinzie, one of the most important figures in early Chicago history, was a silversmith, trader, and at one time justice of the peace. He was a versatile man whose prowess as a performer on the violin brought a little gayety to the rude frontier settlement.
In this painting Paul Strayer has sought to capture the warmth of the Kinzies’ first Christmas in their new home. Guests are arriving bringing fresh killed game and a snow-flecked tree. Some of them may have come from the recently constructed Fort Dearborn, which was located almost directly across the river.
In the picture, host and hostess stand on the porch of the cabin beaming their welcome. At another door, friendly Indians are bartering a haunch of venison.
Strayer has long been interested in early Chicago. Prob ably his best known historical painting is “Christmas Cheer for the Fort” (the fort is Fort Dearborn), which has been reproduced numberless times. He insists on authenticity in his work. The pictur e reproduced above is based on a scale model of the Kinzie cabin and an original oil painting of it, both of which are owned by the Chicago Historical .
Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1941
The original painting “Christmas Cheer for Fort Dearborn,” by Paul Strayer, is in possession of the Chicago Historical Society. It shows the first Fort Dearborn by moonlight on Christmas eve, 1803, with pioneers, soldiers, and children bringing in a Christmas tree for the fort’s celebration and wild game for the holiday feast.
The artist, a native Chicagoan and a resident of River Forest, is well known for his numerous historical paintings and his reproductions of deep sea square-rigged sailing ships. For this picture of the fort he collected considerable data as to its exact location and its appearance, and he is certain that the stockade and blockhouse as shown are properly oriented in relation to the river and the lake. He had for a model for the work the Historical society s Fort Dearborn model by the sculptor Vandenbergen. Moreover, the figures in the painting, which are shown moving over the snow covered ice of the Chicago river, are correctly attired, since Mr. Strayer made a thoro study of the costumes of that early day.
Mr. Strayer obtained his academic training In art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Altho he never studied directly under the late Howard Pyle, foremost among AmerIcan Illustrators, he was fortunate in acquiring the benefits of that famous artist’s criticisms. He believes that Pyle’s work probably has influenced him more than that of any other artist.