The Battle of
Fort Dearborn (sometimes
Fort Dearborn Massacre) was an
United States troops and
Potawatomi Indians that
occurred on August 15, 1812, near
Fort Dearborn in what is now
Illinois (then an undeveloped part of the Illinois
Territory). The battle, which occurred during the War of 1812,
immediately followed the evacuation of the fort as ordered by the
commander of the
United States Army of the Northwest, William Hull.
The battle lasted about 15 minutes and resulted in a complete victory
for the Native Americans. After the battle,
Fort Dearborn was burned
down. Some of the soldiers and settlers who had survived and were
taken captive were later ransomed.
Following the battle, the federal government became convinced that all
Indians had to be removed from the territory and the vicinity of any
settlements, as settlers continued to migrate to the area. The fort
was rebuilt in 1816.
3 Accounts of the battle
5 Historical perspective
6 Location of the battle
8 See also
9 Notes and references
See also: Origins of the War of 1812
Fort Dearborn drawn by
John Whistler in 1808
Fort Dearborn was constructed by
United States troops under the
command of Captain
John Whistler in 1803. It was located on the
south bank of the main stem of the
Chicago River in what is now the
Loop community area of downtown Chicago. At the time, the area was
seen as wilderness; in the view of later commander, Heald, "so remote
from the civilized part of the world." The fort was named in honor
of Henry Dearborn, then
United States Secretary of War. It had been
commissioned following the
Northwest Indian War
Northwest Indian War of 1785–1795, and
the signing of the
Treaty of Greenville
Treaty of Greenville at Fort Greenville (now
Greenville, Ohio), on August 3, 1795. As part of the terms of this
treaty, a coalition of Native Americans and frontiersmen, known as the
Western Confederacy, turned over to the
United States large parts of
modern-day Ohio, and various other parcels of land including 6 square
miles (16 km2) centered at the mouth of the
The British Empire had ceded the Northwest Territory—comprising the
modern day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and
United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The
area had been the subject of dispute between the Native American
nations and the United States, however, since the passage of the
Northwest Ordinance in 1787. The Indian Nations followed
Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee prophet and the brother of Tecumseh.
Tenskwatawa had a vision of purifying his society by expelling the
"children of the Evil Spirit", the American settlers. Tenskwatawa
Tecumseh formed a confederation of numerous tribes to block
American expansion. The British saw the Native American nations as
valuable allies and a buffer to its Canadian colonies and provided
them arms. Attacks on American settlers in the Northwest further
aggravated tensions between Britain and the United States. The
Confederation's raids hindered American access to potentially valuable
farmlands, mineral deposits and fur trade areas.
In 1810, as a result of a long running feud, Captain Whistler and
other senior officers at
Fort Dearborn were removed. Whistler was
replaced by Captain Nathan Heald, who had been stationed at Fort
Wayne, Indiana. Heald was dissatisfied with his new posting and
immediately applied for and received a leave of absence to spend the
winter in Massachusetts. On his return journey to Fort Dearborn,
he visited Kentucky, where he married Rebekah Wells, the daughter of
Samuel Wells, and they traveled together to the fort in June 1811.
United States and Britain moved towards war, antipathy between
the settlers and Native Americans in the
Fort Dearborn area
increased. In the summer of 1811, British emissaries tried to
enlist the support of Native Americans in the region, telling them
that the British would help them to resist the encroaching American
settlement. On April 6, 1812, a band of Winnebago Indians murdered
Liberty White, an American, and John B. Cardin, a French Canadian, at
a farm called Hardscrabble that was located on the south branch of the
Chicago River, in the area now called Bridgeport. News of the murder
was carried to
Fort Dearborn by a soldier of the garrison named John
Kelso and a small boy who had managed to escape from the farm.
Following the murder, some nearby settlers moved into the fort while
the rest fortified themselves in a house that had belonged to Charles
Jouett, a Native American agent. Fifteen men from the civilian
population were organized into a militia by Captain Heald, and armed
with guns and ammunition from the fort.
Further information: Peoria War
On June 18, 1812, the
United States declared war on the British
Empire, and on July 17, British forces captured Fort Mackinac.
On July 29, General
William Hull received news of the fall of Fort
Mackinac and immediately sent orders to Heald to evacuate Fort
Dearborn, fearing that it could no longer be adequately supplied with
provisions. In his letter to Heald, which arrived at Fort Dearborn
on August 9, Hull ordered Heald to destroy all the arms and
ammunition and give the remaining goods to friendly Indians in the
hope of attaining an escort to Fort Wayne.[n 1] Hull also sent a copy
of these orders to Fort Wayne with additional instructions to provide
Heald with all the information, advice and assistance within their
power. In the following days, the sub-Native American agent at
Fort Wayne, Captain William Wells, who was the uncle of Heald's wife,
Rebekah, assembled a group of about 30 Miami Native Americans. Wells,
Corporal Walter K. Jordan, and the Miamis traveled to
Fort Dearborn to
provide an escort for the evacuees.[n 2]
Wells arrived at
Fort Dearborn on August 12 or 13 (sources
differ), and on August 14, Heald held a council with the
Potawatomi leaders to inform them of his intention to evacuate the
fort. The Native Americans believed that Heald told them that he
would distribute the firearms, ammunition, provisions and whiskey
among them, and that, if they would send a band of Potawatomis to
escort them safely to Fort Wayne, he would pay them a large sum of
money. However, Heald ordered all the surplus arms, ammunition and
liquor destroyed "fearing that [the Native Americans] would make bad
use of it if put in their possession." On August 14, a Potawatomi
chief called Black Partridge warned Heald that the young men of the
tribe intended to attack, and that he could no longer restrain
At 9:00 am on August 15, the garrison—comprising, according to
Heald's report, 54 U.S. regulars, 12 militia,[n 3] nine women and 18
Fort Dearborn with the intention of marching to Fort
Wayne. Wells led the group with some of the Miami escorts, while
the rest of the Miamis were positioned at the rear. About
1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) south of Fort Dearborn, a band of
Potawatomi warriors ambushed the garrison. Heald reported that, upon
discovering that the Indians were preparing to ambush from behind a
dune, the company marched to the top of the dune, fired off a round
and charged at the Native Americans.
This maneuver separated the cavalry from the wagons, allowing the
overwhelming Native American force to charge into the gap, divide, and
surround both groups. During the ensuing battle, some of the Native
Americans charged at the wagon train that contained the women and
children and the provisions. The wagons were defended by the militia,
as well as ensign and the fort physician Van Voorhis. The officers and
militia were killed, along with two of the women and most of the
children. Wells disengaged from the main battle and attempted to
ride to the aid of those at the wagons. In doing so, he was
brought down; according to eyewitness accounts he fought off many
Native Americans before being killed, and a group of Indians
immediately cut out his heart and ate it to absorb his courage.
The battle lasted about 15 minutes, after which Heald and the
surviving soldiers withdrew to an area of elevated ground on the
prairie. They surrendered to the Native Americans who took them as
prisoners to their camp near Fort Dearborn. In his report, Heald
detailed the American loss at 26 regulars, all 12 of the militia, two
women and twelve children killed, with the other 28 regulars, seven
women, and six children taken prisoner. Survivors of the massacre
filed different accounts regarding he Miami warriors. Some said they
fought for the Americans, while others said they did not fight at
Accounts of the battle
The recollections of a number of the survivors of the battle have been
published. Heald's story was recorded on September 22, 1812, by
Charles Askin in his diary, Heald also wrote brief accounts of
events in his journal and in an official report of the battle.
Walter Jordan recorded his version of events in a letter to his wife
dated October 12, 1812. Helm wrote a detailed narrative of events;
but, because of his fear of being court martialed due to his criticism
of Heald, delayed publication until 1814. John Kinzie's
recollections of the battle were recorded by
Henry Schoolcraft in
These accounts of details of the conflict are discrepant, particularly
in their attribution of blame for the battle. Juliette Magill Kinzie's
Wau-Bun: The Early Day in the Northwest, which was first published in
1856, provides the traditional account of the conflict. However it is
based on family stories and is regarded as historically inaccurate.
Nonetheless, its popular acceptance was surprisingly strong.
The Battle of
Fort Dearborn has also been referred to as "The Fort
Dearborn Massacre" by the defending Americans. The battle has been
claimed a massacre due to the large number of Americans killed
including women and children, as opposed to the relatively smaller
Potawatami losses incurred. The conflict has also been argued to have
been a measure of self-defense on the part of the Potawatami.
Following the battle, the Native Americans took their prisoners to
their camp near
Fort Dearborn and the fort was burned to the
ground. The region remained empty of U.S. citizens until after the
war ended. Some of the prisoners died in captivity, while others
were later ransomed. The fort, however, was rebuilt in 1816.
General William Henry Harrison, who was not present at the battle,
later claimed the Miami had fought against the Americans, and used the
Fort Dearborn as a pretext to attack Miami villages. Miami
Chief, Pacanne, and his nephew, Jean Baptiste Richardville,
accordingly ended their neutrality in the War of 1812, and allied with
Seen from the perspective of the War of 1812, and the larger conflict
between Britain and France which precipitated it, this was a very
small and brief battle, but it ultimately had larger consequences in
the territory. Arguably, for the Native Americans, it was an example
of "winning the battle but losing the war": the U.S. later pursued a
policy of removing the tribes from the region, resulting in the Treaty
of Chicago, which was marked at its culmination in 1835 by the last
great Native American war dance in the then nascent city. Thereafter,
the Potowatomie and other tribes were moved further west.
Location of the battle
Map, reproduced from Andreas 1884, p. 81, showing
Chicago in 1812
with the sites of
Fort Dearborn by the river and the battle marked at
left (west is up)
1884 drawing of the tree said to have marked the site of the start of
Eye-witness accounts place the battle on the lake shore somewhere
between 1 and 2 miles (1.6 and 3.2 km) south of Fort
Dearborn. Heald's official report said the battle occurred
1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) south of the fort, placing the
battle at what is now the intersection of
Roosevelt Road and Michigan
Avenue. Juliette Kinzie, shortly before her death in 1870, stated
that the battle had started by a large cottonwood tree, which at that
time still stood on 18th Street between
Prairie Avenue and the
lake. The tree was supposed to have been the last remaining of a
grove of trees that had been saplings at the time of the battle.
The tree was blown down in a storm on May 16, 1894 and a portion of
its trunk was preserved at the
Chicago Historical Society.
Historian Harry A. Musham points out that the testimony relating to
this tree is all second hand and came from people who settled in
Chicago more than 20 years after the battle. Moreover, based on the
diameter of the preserved section of trunk (about 3 feet
(0.91 m)) he estimated the age of the tree at the time that it
was blown over at no more than 80 years, and therefore asserts that it
could not have been growing at the time of the battle.
Nevertheless, the site at 18th Street and
Prairie Avenue has become
the location traditionally associated with the battle, and on the
battle's 197th anniversary in 2009, the
Chicago Park District, the
Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance
Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance and other community partners
dedicated "Battle of
Fort Dearborn Park" near the site at 18th Street
and Calumet Avenue.
Detail of the 1893 Monument by Carl Rohl-Smith
Monument beside the Pullman Residence
In 1893, George Pullman had a sculpture he had commissioned from Carl
Rohl-Smith erected near his house. It portrays the rescue of Margaret
Helm, the stepdaughter of
Chicago resident John Kinzie and wife of
Lt. Linai Taliaferro Helm, by
Potawatomi chief Black Partridge,
who led her and some others to Lake Michigan and helped her escape by
boat. The monument was moved to the lobby of the Chicago
Historical Society in 1931. In the 1970s, however, Native American
groups protested the display of the monument, and it was removed. In
the 1990s, the statue was reinstalled near 18th Street and Prairie
Avenue, close to its original site, at the time of the revival of the
Prairie Avenue Historic District. It was later removed for
conservation reasons by the Office of Public Art of the Chicago
Department of Cultural Affairs. There are some efforts to
reinstall the monument, but it is meeting resistance from the Chicago
American Indian Center.
The battle is also memorialized with a sculpture by Henry Hering
called Defense that is located on the south western tender's house of
Michigan Avenue Bridge
Michigan Avenue Bridge (which partially covers the site of Fort
Dearborn). There are also memorials in
Chicago to individuals who
fought in the battle. William Wells is commemorated in the naming of
Wells Street, a north-south street and part of the original 1830
58-block plat of Chicago, while
Nathan Heald is commemorated in the
naming of Heald Square. Ronan Park on the city's Far North Side honors
Ensign George Ronan, who was the first
West Point graduate to die in
List of battles fought in Illinois
Notes and references
^ A facsimile copy of Hull's letter to Heald appears in Quaife 1913,
^ Wells had been brought up by the Miami, and was married to
Wanagapeth, the daughter of Miami Chief, Little Turtle.
^ Three of the 15 militia had deserted shortly after the militia had
^ Pacyga, Dominic A. (2009). Chicago: A Biography. University of
Chicago Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-226-64431-6.
^ a b Grossman, Ron (August 12, 2012). "15 Historic Minutes". Chicago
Tribune. p. 22.
^ Charles J. Kappler (1904). "TREATY WITH THE WYANDOT, ETC., 1795".
U.S. Government treaties with Native Americans. Oklahoma State
University Library. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
^ Keating, Ann Durkin. "Fort Dearborn". The Electronic Encyclopedia of
Chicago History Society. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
^ Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States
North-West of the River Ohio
^ Willig, Timothy D (2008). Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British
Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1815. Lincoln &
London: University of Nebraska Press. p. 207.
^ Hitsman, J. Mackay (1965). The Incredible War of 1812. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press. p. 27.
^ Heidler & Heidler 1997, pp. 253,392
^ Quaife 1913, pp. 171–175
^ Quaife 1913, p. 176
^ a b c Nathan Heald's Journal, reproduced in Quaife 1913,
^ Johnson, Geoffrey (December 2009). "The True Story of the Deadly
Encounter at Fort Dearborn".
Chicago Magazine. 58 (12): 86–89.
^ a b c Pokagon, Simon (March 1899). "The Massacre of
Fort Dearborn at
Chicago". Harper's Magazine. 98 (586): 649–656. Retrieved
^ a b Quaife 1913, pp. 212–213
^ "Senate Journal—Wednesday, June 17, 1812". Journal of the Senate
United States of America, 1789–1873. Library of Congress.
^ Heidler & Heidler 1997, p. 347
^ Quaife 1913, pp. 215–216
^ Letter of Matthew Irwin to General John Mason, October 12, 1812.
Published in Quaife 1915, pp. 566–570
^ Hutton, Paul A. (September 1978). "William Wells:
Frontier Scout and
Indian Agent". Indiana Magazine of History. 74 (3): 183–222.
^ Brice, Wallace A. (1868). History of Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne,
Indiana: D. W. Jones & Son. pp. 206–207.
^ a b c d e f g h Captain Heald's Official Report of the Evacuation of
Fort Dearborn, dated October 23, 1812. Reproduced in Brannan, John
(1823). OfficialLletters of the Military and Naval Officers of the
United States, During the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812,
13, 14, & 15. Way & Gideon. pp. 84–85.
^ Helm 1912, p. 16
^ Quaife 1913, pp. 220–221
^ Quaife 1913, p. 213
^ Helm 1912, p. 53
^ Quaife 1913, p. 227
^ Quaife 1913, p. 228
^ Quaife 1913, p. 411
^ a b Birzer, Bradley J. "Miamis". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago
Historical Society. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
^ Extract from a diary kept by Charles Askin, September 22, 1812.
Published in Quaife 1915, pp. 563–565
^ Barnhart, John D. (June 1945). "A New Letter About the Massacre at
Fort Dearborn". Indiana Magazine of History. 41 (2): 187–199.
^ Helm 1912
Fort Dearborn Massacre
^ Williams, Mentor L. (1953). "John Kinzie's Narrative of the Fort
Dearborn Massacre". Journal of the
Illinois State Historical Society.
46 (4): 343–362. JSTOR 40189329.
^ "Case Study: Fort Dearborn: Juliette Kinzie's Wau-Bun, 1856".
Encyclopedia of Chicago.
Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved
^ Grossman, Ron. "Site of Chicago's Ft. Dearborn Massacre to be Called
'Battle of Ft. Dearborn Park'".
Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 4 March
^ Grover, Frank R. (1908). Antoine Ouilmette. Evanston Historical
Society. pp. 7–8.
^ a b c d e Musham, H. A. (March 1943). "Where Did the Battle of
Chicago Take Place?". Journal of the
Illinois State Historical
Society. 36 (1): 21–40. JSTOR 40188830.
^ Andreas 1884, p. 31
^ a b Grossman, Ron (2009-08-14). "Site of Chicago's Ft. Dearborn
Massacre to be called 'Battle of Ft. Dearborn Park'".
Chicago: Tribune. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
^ "Hh". Encyclopedia of Chicago.
Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved
^ Helm 1912, p. 93
^ a b Isaacs, Deanna (March 23, 2007). "Blood on the Ground /
Investing in the Future: Neighbors who want the
Fort Dearborn massacre
monument returned to its site are likely to face a battle". Chicago
Reader. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
Fort Dearborn Monument, c.1920s". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago
Historical Society. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
^ Hayner, Don; McNamee, Tom (1988). Streetwise Chicago: A History of
Chicago Street Names. Loyola University Press. p. 132.
^ "Ronan Park".
Chicago Park District. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
Andreas, Alfred Theodore (1884). History of Chicago. From the earliest
period to the present time (volume 1). Retrieved 2011-12-28.
Currey, J. Seymour (1912). The Story of Old Fort Dearborn. Chicago: A.
C. McClurg & Co. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
Helm, Linai Taliaferro (1912). Gordon, Nelly Kinzie, ed. The Fort
Dearborn Massacre. Rand, McNally & Company. Retrieved
Heidler, David S.; Heidler, Jeanne T., eds. (1997). Encyclopedia of
the War of 1812. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-362-4.
Keating, Ann Durkin (2012). Rising up from Indian country : the
Fort Dearborn and the birth of Chicago.
Chicago and London:
Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226428963.
Kinzie, Juliette Augusta Magill (1844). Narrative of the Massacre at
Chicago, August 15, 1812, and of some preceding events. Chicago: Ellis
& Fergus. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
Kinzie, Juliette (1856). Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the North-West.
Derby and Jackson. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
Kirkland, Joseph (August 1892). "The
Chicago Massacre in 1812".
Magazine of American History. 28 (2): 111–122. Retrieved
Quaife, Milo Milton (1913).
Chicago and the Old Northwest,
1673–1835. The University of
Chicago Press. Retrieved
Quaife, Milo M. (March 1915). "The
Fort Dearborn Masscre". The
Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 1 (4): 566–570.
Quaife, Milo Milton (1933). Checagou From Indian Wigwam To Modern City
1673–1835. The University of
Chicago Press. Retrieved
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Coordinates: 41°51′28″N 87°37′9″W / 41.85778°N
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