The Battle of Fort Dearborn occurred on August 15, 1812, near Fort Dearborn, Illinois Territory (in what is now Chicago, Illinois) during the War of 1812. The engagement followed the evacuation of the fort as ordered by the U.S. General William Hull. Because a number of women and children were killed, this event is sometimes known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre.
Fort Dearborn's commander Captain Nathan Heald ordered all whiskey and gunpowder to be destroyed so it would not be seized by the local Indian tribes allied with the British, although he had agreed to these terms a few hours earlier. He then prepared to abandon his post. Heald remained at Fort Dearborn until a Miami rescue party arrived from Fort Wayne, Indiana, led by his wife's uncle, Captain William Wells. Captain Heald led out the garrison, comprising 54 U.S. regulars, 12 militia, 9 women and 18 children, intending to march to Fort Wayne. However, about one and a half miles (2 km) south of Fort Dearborn, at about what is now 18th Street and Prairie Avenue, a band of Potawatomi warriors ambushed the garrison. Heald reported 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. The Indians intended to sell the prisoners to the British as slaves. The British purchased the captives and released them immediately afterwards.
Fort Dearborn was burned to the ground, and the region remained empty of U.S. citizens until after the war had ended.
Survivors' accounts differed on the role of the Miami warriors. Some said they fought for the Americans, while others said they did not fight at all. Regardless, William Henry Harrison claimed the Miami fought against the Americans, and used the Fort Dearborn massacre as a pretext to attack the Miami villages. Miami chief Pacanne and his nephew, Jean Baptiste Richardville, accordingly ended their neutrality in the War of 1812 and allied with the British.
In 1893, George Pullman had a sculpture he had commissioned from Carl Rohl-Smith erected near his house. It portrayed the rescue of Margaret Helm, the stepdaughter of Chicago resident John Kinzie and wife of Lt. Linai Thomas 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, American Indian groups protested the display of the monument, and it was removed. In the 1980s, the statue was reinstalled near 18th Street and Prairie Avenue, close to its original site. 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.
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