Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Early Chicago History, The Cities 1st Murder & The Fort Dearborn Massacre

Chicago, the windy city, hog butcher to the world, slab city, the wickedest city in the world from its earliest days it has been known for vice, corruption and murder. It was not a very pleasant area before it was settled just a low, wet expanse of sloughs and bogs. The river was full of wild rice, the banks teemed with skunk cabbage and wild onions. This is why the natives called the area Chickagou meaning bad smell.

We here at ChiTownView have tracked the history of organized crime from the 1850's on. We've chronicled the likes of; Mike McDonald, Roger Plant, Big Jim Colosimo, Al Capone, Franks Nitti, Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana and many others. In this clip we go back to Chicago's very beginning and tell a tale of corruption, murder and a massacre that wiped out the early settlement.

Chicago's first permanent resident was Jean Du Sable a black man from the island of Hispaniola. He lived where the Chicago River emptied into Lake Michigan which at the time was just east Michigan Ave. Du Sable lived on the north side near where Tribune Tower now sits. His residence lasted from 1779 to 1800 when he sold his property to Jean LaLime an agent for land speculator William Burnett. Thus LaLime became the city's first permanent European resident. He lived there until 1804 when Burnett sold the property to John Kinzie, another of his agents. LaLime moved across the river into the newly constructed Fort Dearborn. There he worked as an interpreter for the army. Kinzie an Indian trader went on to become the unelected leader of the settlement that soon grew around the fort.

Among the items Kinzie was trading to the Indians was alcohol which eventually led to him conflict with Fort Dearborn's commander Capt. John Whistler. Apparently in another grand Chicago tradition the fix was in and in 1810 Whistler and his senior officers were replaced. The new commandant was Capt. Nathan Heald. On June 17 1812 Jean Lalime became Chicago's first murder victim when he was stabbed by Kinzie. Kinzie was exonerated by an inquest held by Capt. Herald but speculation was Lalime was a spy informing on corruption going on at the fort. LaLime would go on to become one of Chicago's first ghosts. When the first Chicago Historical Society opened it's new museum at the northwest corner of Dearborn & Ontario in 1890 one of the exhibits were the bones of Jean LaLime. Since that time there have been numerous reports of ghostly goings on at this location. We have posted a video of thelocation that you can see.

The bones of Jean LaLime?

At that time American and Britain were fighting the War of 1812 and throughout the northwest territories Indian tribes were joining the British to fight the invading Americans. By August 12 local Indian tribes, the Pottawatomie and Wynado, had surrounded the fort with hundreds of braves. Captain Herald struck a deal with the Indian chiefs for safe passage in exchange for whiskey and guns. When they heard of the deal Herald's officers rose in revolt against this bargain the weapons were destroyed and whiskey poured into the river. That evening another council was held and the Americans were told they would still be allowed to flee to Fort Wayne some 150 miles away as long as they left right away. After spending the night packing the troops and settlers set off the next day.

They only got about a mile and a half near where Prairie and 18th St. is today when they were attacked by some 500 Pottawatomie who had been escorting them. It was a savage bloody slaughter that killed most of the fleeing Europeans those that weren't killed outright were captured and sold into slavery. Capt Heald and his wife were captured and transported to Mackinac, where they were turned over to the British commander there. John Kinzie and his family were also spared due to his business dealings with the tribes. He returned to Chicago a year later and worked as a trader and Indian interpreter until his death in 1828.

Fort Dearborn was burned to the ground by the victorious Indians with the bodies of the massacre victims left scattered to decay on the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. The bodies were given proper burials by the replacement troops when they arrived a year later. By the end of the century this area would become an enclave for the cities wealthy elite after The Great Chicago Fire.

The natives victory was short lived settlers returned with the troops and Fort Dearborn was rebuilt. Chicago was incorporated as a city in in 1837 and continued to grow and prosper. By then the last of the Indian tribes had been removed to lands west of the Mississippi.

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