Fort Dearborn | The Massacre Tree | Last Great War Dance | A Wolf Hunt in Early Chicago | Christmas at Fort Dearborn
The tree is long gone today. But in 1884, there was huge speculation that a large cottonwood tree standing in Eighteenth Street, between Prairie Avenue and the lake, marks the site of the Massacre of 1812. In fact, it was believed that this same tree may actually have been standing at the time of the disaster. In order that the appearance of this landmark might be preserved, and that the memories clustering about it might not pass from mind, the tree has been photographed and engraved and has also obtained documentary evidence that the Kinzie family regarded both the site and this particular tree as historic.
This photo on the right was taken about 1888 by George Glessner, shows it towards the end of its life. It was felled during a windstorm on May 18, 1894.
On the morning of 15 August 1812, the troops and settlers left Fort Dearborn, proceeded southward about a mile and a half, and were attacked by the Indians.
Having ascertained that Mrs. Juliette A. Kinzie had, during her lifetime, informed her friend, Mrs. Henry W. King, of the belief concerning the tree, a reply was sent:
151 Rush Street, Chicago
January 25, 1884
Dear Sir, I am very happy to tell you what I know about the tree in question, for I am anxious that its value as a relic should be appreciated by Chicago people; especially since the fire (1871) has obliterated nearly every other object connected with our early history. Shortly before the death of my friend, Mrs. John H. Kinzie, I called upon her and asked her to drive with me through the city and point out the various locations and interests that she knew were connected with the “early days” of Chicago. She said that there were very few objects remaining, but localities she would be happy to show me. She appointed a day, but was not well enough to keep her appointment; went East soon afterward for her health, and died within a few weeks. However, at the interview, I mention, she said that to her the most interesting object in our city was the old cottonwood tree that stands on Eighteenth Street, between Prairie Avenue and the lake. She remarked that it, with its fellow, were samplings at the time of the Indian massacre, and that they marked the spot of that fearful occurence; though she was not sure but the smaller one had either died or cut down. I expressed surprise at the location, imagining a massacre occured further south, among the small sandhills which early settlers remember, in the vicinity of Hyde Park. I remember her answer to this was:
“My child, you must understand that in 1812, there was no Chicago, and the distance between the old fort and Eighteenth Street was enormous.” Said she, “My husband and his family always bore in mind the location of this massacre, and marked it by the cottonwood trees, which, strange to say, have stood unharmed in the middle of the street until this day.”
The above facts, I communicated to the Chicago Historical Society, soon after Mrs. Kinzie’s death, and believe, through them, was the means of preventing the cutting down of the old tree, which the citizens of the South Side had voted to be a nuisance. I sincerely hope something may be done to fence in and preserve so valuable a relic and reminder of one of the most sad and interesting events in the life of Chicago. Trusting the above information may be of some use to you, and that you may be able present the matter in a more entertaining form than I have done. Believe me, sir,
Yours most respectfully,
Mrs. Henry W. King
Although there is no way of positively determining that the tree pictured is the identical one that stood, a mere sapling, on the spot during the massacre, there is strong, almost conclusive, cause for declaring it the same. At all events, the proof of the site is satisfactory, and the view herewith presented is an interesting one, as showing how the scene of barbaric treachery appears after a lapse of nearly seventy two years.
Northeast corner, Calumet Avenue and 18th Street in 1911
Massacre occurred August 15, 1812
Monument erected 1893, removed 1931
Carl Rohl-Smith’s sculpture portraying a scene from Juliette Kinzie’s account of the Fort Dearborn Massacre was commissioned by George Pullman and installed near Pullman’s mansion and the presumed site of the conflict. The monument was removed from the site in 1931, and was later installed in the lobby of the Chicago Historical Society.
In the 1970s American Indian groups protested the display of the monument as a false representation of Indians. With the revival of the Prairie Avenue Historic District during the 1990s, the statue was reinstalled near 18th Street and Prairie Avenue, close to its original site. The statue subsequently was removed by the Office of Public Art of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and placed in storage for conservation reasons.
The significance of the monument now may lie as much in its own history as in the historical events it purports to represent. A corner of the Soldier Field (1924) colonnade can be seen behind the stone wall to the left of the monument.
The statue around 1920.