Aug. 15, 1812; Chicago: Massacre or Battle?

Usually massacres of Native Americans are listed in the history books as "battles," when they were anything but battles. Massacres of unarmed individuals, children, old men and women are called battles, implying there was a fight when there often was not. The incident of 8/15/1812 in Chicago was the exception: it was always called a "massacre" by historians probably since most of the victims were white; but a new school of thought, led by historian Ann Durkin Keating in her book Rising up from Indian Country, has come out saying the incident was a "battle," implying a legitimate fight.

Ann Durkin Keating

Skim and read the following sources to come to a conclusion about this event. Was what went down that day long ago a "massacre" or a "battle?" Write it in a QoD format (P1. Thesis, P.2 & 3. Evidence and description) referencing the articles as evidence.

from the textbook:

Read Pacyga p. 15

links to read for QoD:

- A complaint against the "battle" concept.

- A great PPT from Dr. Low which shows how the event was remembered

- Wikipedia article is a bit biased

- This Chicago Magazine article includes lots of links and direct comments on the massacre/battle problem

Text to check out from primary sources:

Pittsburg, 23 October 1812 On the 9th of August last, I received orders from General Hull to evacuate the post and proceed with my command to Detroit by land, leaving it at my discretion to dispose of the public property as I thought proper. The neighbouring Indians got the information as early as I did, and came in from all quarters in order to receive the goods in the factory store, which they understood were to be given them.

On the 13th, captain Wells, of Fort Wayne, arrived with about 30 Miamies, for the purpose of escorting us in, by the request of General Hull. On the 14th I delivered all the goods in the factory store, and a considerable quantity of provisions which we could not take away with us. The surplus arms and ammunition I thought proper to destroy, fearing they would make bad use of it if put into their possession. I also destroyed all the liquor on hand soon after they began to collect. The collection was unusually large for that place, but they conducted themselves with the strictest propriety till after I left the fort.

On the 15th, at nine in the morning we commenced our march; part of the Miamies were detached in front, and the remainder in our rear, as guards, under the direction of captain Wells. The situation of the country rendered it necessary for us to take the beach, with the lake on our left, and a high sand bank on our right, at about 100 yards distance. We had proceeded about a mile and a half, when it was discovered the Indiana were prepared to attack us from behind the bank. I immediately marched up with the company to the top of the bank, when the action commenced; after firing one round, we charged and the Indians gave way in front and joined those on our flanks. In about 15 minutes they got possession of all our horses, provisions, and baggage of every description, and finding the Miamies did not assist us, I drew off the few men I had left, and took possession of a small elevation in the open prairies, out of shot of the bank or any other cover.

The Indians did not follow me, but assembled in a body on the top of the bank, and, after some consultation among themselves, made signs for me to approach them. I advanced towards them alone, and was met by one of the Potawatamie chiefs, called the Black Bird, with an interpreter. After shaking hands, he requested me to surrender, promising to spare the lives of all the prisoners. On a few moments' consideration I concluded it would be most prudent to comply with his request, although I did not put entire confidence in his promise. After delivering up our arms we were taken back to their encampment near the fort, and distributed among the different tribes.

The next morning they set fire to the fort and left the place, taking the prisoners with them.-Their number of warriors was between four and five hundred, mostly of the Potawatamie nation, and their loss, from the best information I could get, was about 15. Our strength was 54 regulars and 12 militia, out of which 26 regulars and all the militia were killed in the action, with two women and twelve children. Ensign George Roman and Dr. Isaac D. Van Voorhis of my company, with captain Wells, of fort Wayne, are, to my great sorrow, numbered among the dead. Lieutenant Lina D. T. Helm, with 25 non-commissioned officers and privates, and 11 women and children, were prisoners when we separated. Mrs. Heald and myself were taken to the mouth of the river St. Joseph, and both being badly wounded, were permitted to reside with Mr. Burnett, an Indian trader.

In a few days after our arrival there, the Indians all went off to take fort Wayne, and in their absence I engaged a Frenchman to take us to Michillimackinac by water, when I gave myself up as a prisoner of war, with one of my serjeants. The commanding officer, captain Roberts, offered me every assistance in his power to render our situation comfortable while we remained there, and to enable us to proceed on our journey. To him I gave my parole of honour, and came on to Detroit, and reported myself to colonel Procter, who gave us a passage to Buffaloe; from that place I came by way of Presque Isle and arrived here yesterday.

Note: by Captain Heald, letter to The Secretary of War


Following speech by The Great Shawnee Warrior and Statesman, Chief Tecumseh, as included in the following magazine article by Simon Pokagon, Pokagon Band of Pottawatomie Nation:

Published, 1899, (Tecumseh's speech spoken c.1800) "Harpers New Monthly Magazine"
Vol. XCVIII, No. DLXXXVI, March 1899, pp. 649-656


By Simon Pokagon: Chief of the Pokagon Band of Pottawatomie Nation

He (Tecumseh) generally spoke as follows:

"Before me stand the rightful owners of [this beautiful land].

"The Great Spirit in His wisdom gave it to you and your children to defend, and placed you here.

"[alas!] the incoming race, like a huge serpent, is coiling closer and closer about you.

"And not content with hemming you in on every side, they have built at She–gog–ong (Chicago), in the very center of our country, a military fort, garrisoned with soldiers, ready and equipped for battle.

"As sure as [the heavens] are above you they are determined to destroy you and your children and occupy this goodly land themselves.

"Then they will destroy these forests, whose branches wave in the winds above the graves your fathers, chanting their praises.

"If you doubt it, come, go with me eastward or southward a few days' journey along your ancient [trails], and I will show you a land you once occupied made desolate.

"There the forests of untold years have been hewn down and cast into the fire!

"There be–sheck–kee and waw–mawsh–ka–she (the buffalo and deer) pe–nay–shen and ke–gon (the fowl and fish), are all gone.

"There the woodland birds, whose sweet songs once pleased your ears, have forsaken the land, never to return.

"And waw–bi–gon–ag (the wild flowers), which your maidens once loved to wear, have all withered and died.

"You must bear in mind these strangers are not as you — they are devoid of natural affection, loving gold or gain better than one another, or ki–tchi–tchag (their own souls).

"Some of them follow on your track as quietly as maw–in–gawn (the wolf) pursues the deer, to shoot you down, as you hunt and kill mé–she–bé–zhe (the panther)."

"But a few years since I saw with my own eyes a young white man near the O-hi-o River who was held by our people as a prisoner of war. He won the hearts of his captors with his apparent friendship and good-will, while murder was in his heart.

"They trusted him as they trusted one another. But he most treacherously betrayed their confidence, and secretly killed not less than nech-to-naw (twenty) before his crimes were detected, and then he had fled...".

Shaubena's Adventure At Chicago 
Reminiscences of Bureau County : in two parts. 
Matson, N.. Princeton, Ill.. Republican Book and Job Office. 1872.

Shaubena, while in conversation with the writer, gave an account of a visit to Chicago, in 1812, at the time of massacreing the troops under Capt. Heald. He said "It was in the afternoon of the fatal day, a few hours after the battle, when in company with twenty-two warriors, he arrived at Chicago. Along the beach of the lake, where the battle was fought, lay forty-one death bodies - the remains of soldiers, women and children, all of which were scalped, and more or less mutilated. The body of Capt. Wells was lying in one place, and his head in another; these remains were gathered up by Black Partridge, and buried in the sand where he fell. The prisoners were taken to the Indian encampment and closely guarded, to prevent their escape. John Kinzie, an Indian trader, whose house stood on the north side of the river, opposite Fort Dearborn, had been for some years trading with the Indians, and among them he had many friends. By special favor, he was allowed to return to his own house, accompanied by his family, and the wife of Lieut. Helm, who was badly wounded." 

"That evening about sundown, a council of chiefs was called to decide the fate of the prisoners; and it was agreed to deliver them up to the British commander at Detroit, in accordance with the terms of capitulation. After dark, many warriors from a distance came into camp, who were thirsting for blood, and were determined to murder the prisoners, regardless of the stipulated terms of surrender. Black Partridge*, with a few of his friends, surrounded Kinzie's house, to protect the inmates from the tomahawks of these blood-thristy savages". Shaubena further said "that he, with other warriors, were standing on the porch, with their guns crossing the doorway, when a body of hostile warriors, with blackened faces, rushed by them forcing their way into the house." 

"The parlor was now full of Indians, who stood with their tomahawks and scalping knives, awaiting the signal from their chief, when they would commence the work of death. Black Partridge said to Mrs. Kinzie, "We have done everything in our power to save you, but all is now lost: you, and your friends, together with all the prisoners at the camp, will be slain." At that moment a canoe was heard approaching the shore, when Black Partridge ran down to the river, trying in the darkness to make out the newcomers, and at the same time shouted, "Who are you friend or foe?" 

In the bow of the approaching canoe, stood a tall, manly personage, with a rifle in his hand; and as the canoe came to shore, he jumped off on the beach, exclaiming, in a loud clear voice, the musical notes of which rang forth on the still night air: "I am the Sau-ga-nash!" + 

"Then," said Black Partridge, "hasten to the house, for our friends are in danger, and you along can save them." Billy Caldwell, for it was he, ran to the house, entering the parlor, which was full of hostile Indians, and by threats, and entreaties, prevailed on them to abandon their murderous designs; and by him Kinzie's family, with the prisoners at the fort, were saved from death." 

+Billy Caldwell, called by the Indians Sau-ga-nash, was a half-breed, and said to have been a son of Col. Caldwell, a British officer. He was one of the principal chiefs among the Pottawatamies, and was well known by the early settlers of Chicago. 

*Black Partridge had a village on the Illinois river, a short distance below the present site of Henry. According to the statement of Shaubena, he was an Indian of more than ordinary intellect, and was always a friend of the whites. The reader will recollect an account of him, given in Mrs. Kinzie's book, saving the life of Mrs. Helm, at the Chicago massacre, by taking her away from a savage, and bearing her off, wounded and bleeding, into the lake. Also his interview with Capt. Heald, on the morning of the fatal day. On entering the fort, Black Partridge said to the commanding officer, Capt. Heald: "I have come to deliver up to you this metal which was given to me by your people, as a token of friendship. Our young warriors are resolved to imbrue their hands in blood: I cannot restrain them, and I will not wear an emblem of friendship while I am compelled to act as an enemy." Notwithstanding Black Partridge's friendship for the whites, a few weeks afterwards, his village and cornfield were destroyed, ponies and camp equipage carried off, many of his people killed, and the remainder of his band driven off to a strange country. A brief account of the destruction of Black Partridge's village, communicated to the writer by an eye-witness, Gen. Whitesides, will be found in another part of this work.


[Source: "Indiana Magazine of History", submitted by Dale Jordan, transcribed by K. Torp] 
..."When Hull's order reached that garrison asking that cooperation be given to Captain Heald in carrying out the evacuation of Fort Dearborn, Captain William Wells, a famous Indian scout and the uncle of Mrs. Heald, volunteered his services. At the head of a band of Miami warriors he left Fort Wayne for Fort Dearborn. Jordan, who bore the rank of corporal, also accompanied him. Apparently they started on August 8, arrived on the 13th and departed on the 15th. Jordan was present at the massacre. Being among the survivors, he became a prisoner of the Indians, escaped and returned to Fort Wayne. He was present when that fort was besieged and when it was relieved by William Henry Harrison. After these harrowing experiences he wrote two or possibly three letters. On October 12, 1812, he wrote to his wife "Betcy" and on December 17, 1812, he wrote to Joseph Hunter of Mercer County, Penn. He may also have written a second letter to his wife on October 19.

 [Note: Items in brackets were unreadable in the original letter and were supplemented from a newspaper clipping in the possession of the family. Original spellings and punctuation are maintained]

Letter of October 12, 1812....
Betcy I now lift my pen to inform you that I am in a good State of health after a long and (sore) Journy threw the indian Cuntry I Started (from) fort wayn on the 1 of august With Cap Wells and (100) pretended indian friends to goe to fort dearbourn on lake michigan wich is 200 miles from fort wain to gard in Cap Hell [Heald] and his Company to fort wain as he was in danger of Being takin By the British and had received orders to avacuate that fort and march to fort wayn. Wee got to fort dearbourn (on the 10th of) august unmolested destroyd all that wee Could not fetch With-us and prepard for a march on the morning of th[e] 15 the morning of the 15 now arives the Most Limentable Day I Ever Saw

Heels men Consists of 100 men 10 -- woman and 20 Children total amounting --130--. Wels and my-Self and our 100 pretended friends making in all 232 now Wee leave fort dearbourn about 8 O Clock inthe morning Bound for fort Wayne and Marched about 1 mile when we wore atacked with 500 kikepoos and winabagoes indians and our pretended friends (joined) them. our engagement last about 10 (minutes) When there was Every man wooman and Chid (killed) But 15 and thanks be to god I was one of them tha first Shot the fether out of my Cap the nex Shot the appolet of my Shoulder and the 3 Broke the handle of my Sword I had to Surrender My Self to 4 Damd yallow indians that Marche up to whar Wells Lay and one of them Spok English and Said Jordan I now you you gave me some to Bacco at fort wain you Shant Be kild but See What I will doe with your Captain.

He then Cut of his head and Stuck it on a pol while another tuck out his hart and divided it among the Cheiffs and tha Eate it up raw When that Cupled [scalped] all tha gatherd in a round ring with With [sic] us poore Devils in the midle and had like to fall out hoo Should have the prisoners But my old Chief The White Racoon held me by the hand th[ey] striped all of us to our Shirts and Trowsers and Evyry family tuck one as long as wee Lasted and then Steard for thare Towns Evyry man to his tent O Israel but I will Just inform you when I got to my strange lodging I loke about Like a cat in a Strange garrett. (But I) made My Self as Comfortable as possible I [could] under My present SircumStance nite Came on tha [tied me] hard and fast and plased a guard over me I laid down [and] slep Sound till morning for I was tired tha untied me in the Morning and Set me to parching Corn. I worked all day very atentive at nite my old Chief told that if I would Stay and not run away that I Should be a Chief But if atemped to run away tha would Catch me and Burn me alive I told him a fine Story So th[ey] did not ty me that nite as for the particulars I havnt room to [write them] but I [made my escape] on the 19 and Stole one of thare horses and Came to fort Wayn on 26th Being 7 days in the wilderness Whare I was recvd Joyfully on 28th the indians attacked fort wain so tha Cut of all interCours tha thaut to Starve us out but one friend indian Came in and wee Sent him to govrnor harrison Witch Cam to our relief on the 16 of Septem With 3 thousand volenteers When the governor came on he Broke our Captain for Cowardise I Just mention this that if it is my lot to fall that you may now how to Comat at my rite I Belong to Captain James Rhay the 1 Ridgement of infantry our paymaster was [manuscript torn] Detroit So I have not recevd one Cent of pay but half of [my bounty] witch was 8 dollars I now am 3 Sargent my pay if [7 dollars] a month I onely Served 15 days as a privet What Spare time [I have] I assist the Comosary So that keps me in tee Sugar and so forth after all my funn I weigh 190 one word to you Betcy for if I was now speaking to you it would my Languague I have two litters of yourn Before me and Some of the soft hair of yor head and Some in a Small plat round mY neck I must just that I am Sorry to See your pen Breath ridicule for if I diserve it it wont cure it dont conclud from those words that I am tired of your letters But tell me how you live and the Childern is and fo God Sake try to Send Mountford to scool it ant on time in ten that I can rite to you But you Can rite When you pleas. I gave 50 cents for this paper. Dirct your Letter to the Care of Lieutanant ostrander for we have no Cap now tell me if the men is Drafted in your Cuntry You will do W K Jordan favor if you send Hunter a copy of this Leter So give my Comps to all inquiring friends give my Best respects to your father and mother and all your brothers and this Line of kises to my Harts Delite ----------------

and the Boys tell them what you please and these for your Self ----------------
- So I ConClud With My Best Resects to you till death or till I see [you] So I Subscribe My name this 12 nite of October 1812.
W.K. Jordan Sergent




According to the records of the War Department, Walter K. Jordan was born at Washington, Penn. and was enlisted on March 10, 1812 at Pittsburgh, age 29. The family bible lists the marriage of William Jordan and Elizabeth Wort and the members of her family from 1748 to the present. The Orderly Books of the garrison of Fort Wayne contain several references to him. He was appointed corporal on July 24, 1812 by Captain J. Rhea, the commandant. On December 26, 1812 he was charged with neglect of duty on the previous evening, to which he pled guilty and prayed the mercy of the court. He was reduced to the rank of a private, but was reinstated as a corporal on Jan. 7, 1813, at the request of the officers of the company. ... He served as a witness at a court martial on January 25 and June 16. On August 23, 1813, he was charged with couterfeiting and forging a permit to buy one pint of whiskey. For this he was again reduced to the rank of a private. [The last pages of the orderly book are missing and it is not known whether he was reinstated or not.]... Jordan did not live to rejoin his family, his death occurring on April 6, 1814. ...

One of the accounts previously referred to narrates the departure of Captain Wells from Fort Wayne for Fort Dearborn and refers to "one of our soldiers" who went with him. Since the other accounts of the massacre do not mention Jordan, this reference to "one of our soldiers" is the only known confirmation of his claim to have gone to Fort Dearborn that has come to light. [Source: "Indiana Magazine of History", submitted by Dale Jordan, transcribed by K. Torp]

[Here is a letter submitted from researcher Jason Foster who says it's from Walter Jordan (though the writer does not sign the letter with that name), sent to Joseph Hunter, who the researcher says is Walter's brother. The original of the letter has been donated to the Wisconsin State Historical Society. 
From Researcher Mary W. Bowden: the original of this letter appeared in the "Niles' Weekly Register" for May 8, 1813, p. 160]

Sir after my respects
I now lift my pen you all that I am just now sitting by a good fire in a warm room in Fort Wayne Garrison after a troublesom (sic) summer with the Indians, I wrote a full account of my being taken prisoner with the Indians. I told Betsy to send you the letter or the copy of it, and I wished one of you to send an answer and as yet I have got none, I now will just mention some of the particulars. I started from Fort Wayne on the 4th of August to go to Chicago 200 miles distant from Fort Wayne with Capt Wills and 100 friend Indians to conduct Captain Hull and his company to this place. We arrived there on the 9th and started on the 15th for Fort Wayne. Marched about two 2 miles when we were attacked with about 500 Indians and then our friend Indians joined them. Then there was 600 Indians against 100/30 men women & children. Our engagement lasted about 20 minutes then our 130 was reduced to 15 souls of which thank God I was one. During the engagement the feather was shot out of my cap the epullet off my shoulder and the handle broke of my sword, but received no bodily harm. They scalped all of the dead and wounded and then joined to divide the prisoner?? When one Indian came up to me and said Jordan no hurt you. You gave me tobacco at Fort Wayne but see what I will do to your captain he then cut off his head and stuck it on a pole then cut him open and took out his heart and gave a piece of it to each chief that stood around him. Now the prisoners are divided and I go to the River ?Depas? With my chief the White Racoon. When I came to the camp I look like a cat in a strange garret, as for what happened I can't now tell you all. I stayed 3 days & nights the 4th night I started now being about 300 miles distant from Fort Wayne. I need not stop here to tell you how I got to Fort Wayne but it is thank God I got safe here where I was received with joy this being the 28th day of August. On the 29th the garrison was surrounded with about 9010? hundred Indians they kept us in the garrison till the 14th September during this time we lost 10 men all our intercourse was cut off here in the woods hemmed up by the Indians. The Indians had taken 2 forts before and was determined that Fort Wayne should be the same. There was only 45 fighting men in the garrison Officers and all. I don't know what you may think of the fight but I thought it long enough. The garrisons that was taken is Mackinaw and Chicago when to the latter I was witness but Governor Harrison came to our relief with 3000 volunteers which soon dispatched the Indians and gave us liberty to see the out side of the garrison again. There is one thing that I am sorry to say that my Captain Rhay broke for cowardice our 2 lieutenants and ensign confined him to his room and when the General came he was broke. I have nothing to tell only that I was raised from a private to a sargent. I would not wish to live better than I do. I have good warm cloths (sic) and plenty of them and the solders (sic) has to cut wood and cook so that all I have to do is to ?momet?? guard every 5 nights I can't give you news about our army for we have not had an express for this two months on the account of the high water. We now send an express today to hear what they are doing. Please to write concerning the drafts whether they are heavy or not and don't forget to tell me how the last election ?went? I have not read one cent of pay as yet, but I will have a hand full when it comes I was appointed sargent last July I assist the commissary some and that helps me some in pocket money. One request is to try and to find out how the children is coming on and don't write any thing about them you don't know to be true if God spares us both it is likely we will talk face to face in about 5 years. Yes please to excuse the silence of my pen to you ?slugh? I long for a line from your hand for I suppose ?walls? To full of fun Sally, Robert, & John is to little. If you get this letter give Betsy word of it and see if she got any that I sent her and let me know with this I conclude with my best respects to all inquiring friends N.B. I am commanded by Capt ?Hugh? More.
To Joseph Hunter Send Betsy this letter
Walter K Hunter Sargent
Dec 17th, 1812