Fort Dearborn was a frontier outpost in Illinois Territory where the city of Chicago now stands. The early history of the United States of America was often one of war on two fronts, because until the entire country was settled, irrespective of which other enemy the government of the day was fighting, there remained the continuing danger of attacks by hostile native Indian tribes. Indeed, the frontier settlements were often stripped of military forces—a fact that was recognised and exploited by Indian tribes, something that happened both before and after the events described in this book. Here are two perspectives on the battle at Fort Dearborn—one providing the essential intimate view of an eyewitness and the other an historical overview extracted from a work about the broader history of the location. In 1812, the United States was engaged in a war with Great Britain and its Canadian colony and valuable resources were drawn to the seat of the conflict, principally in the east. Following the defeat of American forces at Fort Mackinac, Fort Dearborn was ordered to be evacuated. This order, put into effect in August of 1812, precipitated an attack by Potawatomi Indians which was so overwhelming that the conflict lasted less than half an hour. Those soldiers and settlers not immediately killed were taken into captivity. This unique Leonaur edition is an excellent reference for students of the subject.
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After the first attack, it appears the Americans charged upon a band of Indians concealed in a sort of ravine between the sand banks and the prairie. The Indians gathered together, and after hard fighting, in which the number of whites was reduced to twenty-eight, their band succeeded in breaking through the enemy and gaining a rise of ground not far from Oak Woods. Further contest now seeming hopeless, Lieutenant Helm sent Peresh Leclerc, the half-breed boy in the service of Mr. Kinzie, who had accompanied the troops and fought manfully on their side, to propose terms of capitulation. It was stipulated, as told in Mrs. Helm’s narrative, that the lives of all the survivors should be spared, and a ransom permitted as soon as practicable.<br>
But in the meantime horrible scenes had indeed been enacted. During the engagement near the sand hills one young savage climbed into the baggage wagon which sheltered the twelve children of the white families, and tomahawked the entire group. Captain Wells, who was fighting near, beheld the deed, and exclaimed:<br>
“Is that their game, butchering the women and children? Then I will kill, too!”<br>
So saying, he turned his horse’s head and started for the Indian camp, near the fort, where the braves had left their squaws and children.<br>
Several Indians followed him as he galloped along. Lying flat on the neck of his horse, and loading and firing in that position, he turned occasionally on his pursuers. But at length their balls took effect, killing his horse, and severely wounding the Captain. At this moment he was met by Winnemeg and Wau-ban-see, who endeavoured to save him from the savages who had now overtaken him. As they helped him along, after having disengaged him from his horse, he received his deathblow from Pee-so-tum, who stabbed him in the back.<br>
The heroic resolution shown during the fight by the wife of one of the soldiers, a Mrs. Corbin, deserves to be recorded. She had from the first expressed the determination never to fall into the hands of the savages, believing that their prisoners were invariably subjected to tortures worse than death.<br>
When, therefore, a party came upon her to make her prisoner, she fought with desperation, refusing to surrender, although assured, by signs, of safety and kind treatment. Literally, she suffered herself to be cut to pieces, rather than become their captive.<br>
There was a Sergeant Holt, who early in the engagement received a ball in the neck. Finding himself badly wounded, he gave his sword to his wife, who was on horseback near him, telling her to defend herself. He then made for the lake, to keep out of the way of the balls.<br>
Mrs. Holt rode a very fine horse, which the Indians were desirous of possessing, and they therefore attacked her in the hope of dismounting her. They fought only with the butt ends of their guns, for their object was not to kill her. She hacked and hewed at their pieces as they were thrust against her, now on this side, now that. Finally, she broke loose and dashed out into the prairie, where the Indians pursued her, shouting and laughing, and now and then calling out, “The brave woman! do not hurt her!”<br>
At length they overtook her, and while she was engaged with two or three in front, one succeeded in seizing her by the neck from behind, and in dragging her from her horse, large and powerful woman though she was. Notwithstanding their guns had been so hacked and injured, and they themselves severely cut, her captors seemed to regard her only with admiration. They took her to a trader on the Illinois River, who showed her every kindness during her captivity, and later restored her to her friends.<br>
Meanwhile those of Mr. Kinzie’s family who had remained in the boat, near the mouth of the river, were carefully guarded by Kee-po-tah and another Indian. They had seen the smoke, then the blaze, and immediately after, the report of the first tremendous discharge had sounded in their ears. Then all was confusion. They knew nothing of the events of the battle until they saw an Indian coming towards them from the battle ground, leading a horse on which sat a lady, apparently wounded.<br>
“That is Mrs. Heald,” cried Mrs. Kinzie. “That Indian will kill her. Run, Chandonnai,” to one of Mr. Kinzie’s clerks, “take the mule that is tied there, and offer it to him to release her.”<br>
Mrs. Heald’s captor, by this time, was in the act of disengaging her bonnet from her head, in order to scalp her. Chandonnai ran up and offered the mule as a ransom, with the promise of ten bottles of whisky as soon as they should reach his village. The whisky was a strong temptation.<br>
“But,” said the Indian, “she is badly wounded—she will die. Will you give me the whisky at all events?”<br>
Chandonnai promised that he would, and the bargain was concluded. The savage placed the lady’s bonnet on his own head, and, after an ineffectual effort on the part of some squaws to rob her of her shoes and stockings, she was brought on board the boat, where she lay moaning with pain from the many bullet wounds in her arms.<br>
Having wished to possess themselves of her horse uninjured, the Indians had aimed their shots so as to disable the rider, without in any way harming her steed.<br>
Mrs. Heald had not lain long in the boat when a young Indian of savage aspect was seen approaching. A buffalo robe was hastily drawn over her, and she was admonished to suppress all sound of complaint, as she valued her life.