Fort Dearborn | The Massacre Tree | Last Great War Dance | A Wolf Hunt | Christmas at Fort Dearborn
Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1910
CHICAGO was ever a favorite resort of the Pottawatomies. Here they chose to hold their great councils, and here they concluded that last great treaty with the government, which was held on Sept. 26. 1833. By this treaty the United Nations of the Chippewaa, Ottawas, and Potta- had thus ceded to the United States all their land along the western shore of Lake Michigan and all the land already ceded to the govern-ment by the Winnebago nation on Sept 15, 1827.
The Pottawatomles and Ottawas had become So blended that they were practically one people, and were generally designated by the name of Pottawatomies.
The Last Great Council in 1833.
This last assemblage was by no means confined to the chiefs who participated in the deliberations. There were several thousand native Indiana here at the council. At the close of each important deliberation (especially if much progress seemed to have been made) a keg of twisted tobacco was rolled Into the council house, the staves cut in the middle with an ax, and the chiefs told to help themselves. This keg was accompanied by a box of white clay pipes, from which the Indians helped themselves with great decorum and ceremony.
By the last treaty concluded at Chicago in 1833 the Indians had disposed of all their remaining lands to the United States except some specific reservations to some of the chiefs in Chicago and vicinity, and had agreed to remove to a limited location west of the Missouri river assigned to the tribes. When the treaty was finally concluded and the presents all distributed, and no more rations served out, they gradually dispersed till only those who resided in or near Chicago remained.
For two years longer these few families here, subsisting as they had done before.
Caldwell “Big Chief” of Ottawas.
“Billy” Caldwell was interpreter for the government and lived In a loghouse near the government agency house on the north branch of the river. He was the principal chief of the Ottawas, Chippewas, and Pottawtomies, and was the son of an Irish Canadian officer and a Pottawatomie princess. He had been finely educated by the Jesuit fathers at Detroit and wrote fluently in English and French, and was the master of several Indian dialects. His appearance was so commanding when in strife with foes that the Indiana had named him “Sauganash,” meaning “Straight Tree.” Some called him “The Britisher.”
In August, 1836, the tribes, for the last time, began to assemble at Chicago to receive their annuity from the government and to make their final start for their new home in the west. Sept. 24 Col. Russell advertised for “ox teams and covered wagons to remove the Indians” from their various encampments, beginning with the one on the Desplaines river, in the grove east of the ford near what is now Riverside, and Lyons.
Chicago had begun to present an appearance that would Justify the name of a town. Here, for the first time, many of the Indians who through their whole lives had been in the habit of visiting this favorite location, where the grass grew waist deep, must have been deeply impressed with the marks of civilization. They comprehended at last that they were now Strangers in their native land.
At the last gathering of the tribes at Chicago the total number of Indian braves was about 5,000. They were soon transported by Col. Russell and his assistants to a reservation opposite Fort Leavenworth, and later on to Iowa, near Council Bluffs, finally being pushed on to Kansas, where they were allowed to remain for some years until advancing civilization pushed them Into the “Indian country,” south and west.
Eight Hundred in the Dance.
The last great war dance in Chicago, just before the long journey began, was participated in by all the Indian braves who could be mustered from among the 4.000 assembled. The number who joined in the dance was about 300. The Indians realised that this was their last parade on their native soil, so the performance was a sort of funeral ceremony ot old associations and memories for them. Nothing was omitted to lend to it all the grandeur of their conception of solemnity and courage.
They assembled at the “Council House” on the north side of the river, east of the present State street and west of the “Lake House,” a hotel which wae at Moe northeast corner of Rush and Water streets. All the Indians were naked, except for a strip of cloth around the loins. Their bodies were covered over with a great variety of brilliant paints. On their faces particularly they seemed to have their art of hideous decoration. Foreheads, cheeks, and noses were covered with curved stripes of red and vermillion, which was edged with black points, and which gave the appearance of a horrid grin. Their long, coarse, black hair was gathered into scalp locks on tle top of heads and decorated with a profusion of hawks’ and eagles’ feathers, some strung together so as to extend down the back nearly to the ground. The Indiana were principally armed with tomahawks and war clubs. The procession was led by what answered for a band of music, which created a discordant din of hideous noises produced by beating on hollow vessels and sticks and clubs together.
The Indians advanced, not with a regular march but a continual dance. Their actual progress was quite slow. They proceeded west along the north bank of the river, stopping In front of every house they passed. and where they performed some extra exploits. They then crossed the “North Branch bridge” (which stood where the railroad bridge stands now), thence proceeded south along West Water street (now Canal street), in front of the “Green Tree Tavern” and “Wolf’s Point Tavern” to the log raft bridge across the south branch, which stood a little south of where Lake street bridge is now, and which was nearly in front of the “Sauganash house,” on the east lide of the river.
Fashionable Hotel of the Day.
This fashionable boarding house was kept by the Frenchman, Mark Beaublen, of violin fame. He just named the hotel for that resident Indian chief, “Billy” Caldwell, giving the Indian . appellation. The double log cabin, weather boarded structure was filled with young married folk who had arrived in Chicago a few weeks before to make their home. The parlor was in the second story and fronted west. From the low windows, close to the ground, the best view of the dance was to be obtained. Women gathered in the windows as soon as the of tpe procession began.
Although din and clatter had been heard for a considerable time, the Indians did not come into sight until they had proceeded far enough west to come on a line with the North Branch bridge. From that time on they were in full view across the river. The musicians, as they came upon, the bridge, redoubled their blows, to increase the noise, and were followed by warriors who had now wrought themselve5 into a perfect frenzy.
The morning was warm and the perspiration was pouring from them almost in streams. Their eyes were wild and bloodshot. Their countenances were distorted with the fiercest passions-anger, hate, revenge, cruelty, all expressed in their terrifying features. Their muscles stood out in great hard knots, as it wrought into a tension that must burst the flesh. Their tomahawks and clubs were thrown and brandished about in every direction wth’ a ferocity and energy that could result only from the highest excitement, At every step and every gesture they uttered frightful yells in every imaginable key and note-generally the highest and shrillest possible.
The dance consisted of leaps and spasmodic steps, now forward, then backward or sideways, with the whole body distorted into every imaginable position, most generally stooping forward with head and face thrown back, the back arched down, with first one foot thrown forward and then withdrawn, and the other similarly thrust out and back, the dancer frequently squatting quite to the ground, and all with lightning-ilike movements
Spectacle Frightful to Behold.
Their weapons were brandished as if they would slay a thousand at every blow! Their yells and screams were broken into and multiplied and rendered more hideous by rapid clapping of the mouth with the palm of the hand. On they came across the corduroy bridge, was Just south of Lake street, In front of the Sauganash house.
All this was in full view of the low parlor windows of the little tavern, To see such en exhibition by a single individual would have been sufficient to have roused a sense of fear; but,to see 800 such, all under the influence of the wildest excitement-constituting a raging sea of dusky, painted, naked – an absolutely appalling! When the head of the column had reached the front of the hotel they looked up at the windows which were filled with the pretty, young “Chemokaman’e squaws.” Brandishing their weapons they seemed as if about to make an attack in dead earnest on the young white women. The rear of the long procession could be seen on the other side of thc river. 200 yards away, and all the intervening space, including the bridge and their approaches was covered with this raging savagery, glistening in the sunlight, reeking with steaming sweat, and fairly frothing at the mouth with unaffected rage, “The scene appeared like a carnival of demon spirits who had broken loose from the confines of hell,” said one spectator.
Most of the women who were looking on had become to the accustomed to the sight of half naked Indians during the several weeks the tribes had been arriving and occupying the town, and they had even seen the Indians dance, for several minor dances had been previously performed, Put this Was almost too realistic. It was a place to try the nerves of the strongest, and all felt that one such eight was enough for a lifetime.
Possibilify of Massacre Appalling.
They realized that such maddening frenzy might turn the sham battle into a real one at any instant, for one fanatical leader might easily incite an attack. The little garrison, a mile to the east, could never have coped with 5,000 Indians, and another massacre would result. The twenty-third anniversary of the Fort Dearborn massacre had just passed two days before, and the memory was fresh in the minds of the Indians and all. Brave men’s hearts suddenly quailed, and cheeks paled at the whispered possibility.
When at last the most of the procession bad disappeared around the corner of Lake street and had passed east down that thoroughfare, and only the noise proclaimed that the dance was still going on. then did the partial relief come to the newcomers at the Sauganash.
The Indians paused in their progress for extra exploits in front of Dr. Temple’s house, at Lake and Franklin streets, and then again in front of the “Exchange Coffee House,” a little farther east, and In front of the Tremont house, where the faces of white women Inspired them with new life and and an eagerness to “show off.” Thence they passed down to Fort Dearborn, where they concluded their performances in the presence of the officers and soldiers, later dispersing to the Council house, across the river.
This description of the last great Indian war dance in Chicago was left for coming generations by one who saw it in his youth and who in old age wrote it out. The school children of Chicago owe to the late Judge John Dean Caton their gratitude for this Indian story of their city. The viewe of the Sauganash hotel and the little North Branch bridge have been preserved by another resident of early days, Who is still living. He is Edwin O. Gale, whose collection of early pictures Is a veritable heritage. Chicago’s Indian days and the landmarks of her first village will ever prove an interesting story as long as Chlcag lives.
THE OLD AND THE NEW
“Report is received from the exploring party sent west of the Mississippi river, that game is abundant and recommends the removal of the Indians.
“The goods for paying them off have not yet arrived, and a large part of the Indians, weary of lounging about our streets, have retired to the neighboring woods awaiting the arrival of the goods and time of payment.”
Near the New York House on Tuesday, August 18, 1835, about 800 braves out of the 5,000 Indians appeared in their last war dance, which was perfomed for the edification of the whites. This being immediately opposite our house, it gave us a favorable opportunity of viewing the performance, from which my people derived but little pleasure, while it frightened me dreadfully. The whole thing remains but a dim memory associated with horrid incantations and demoniacal yells, varied by monotonous tom toms and dismal chant.
About one half of the Indians then assembled were removed shortly after by Major Sibley; and in the foll6wing year the remainder, under the charge of Colonel J. B. F. Russell, were transferred to Clay County, Missouri, locating two years afterwards in Iowa, near Council Bluffs, thence shortly to Shawnee County, Kansas, whence, after a little more than 30 years, the—1,600—were transferred to the Indian Tetritory.
September 24, 1835, Colonel Russell advertised for “Ox teams and covered wagons, to remove the Indians.”
Account of the Last War Dance from an Old Book