Dunes Country History Connected With That of Middle West; 1800-50
1800 to 1850
The rush of settlers into the lands west of the Alleghenies at the close of the Revolution made it necessary to provide civil government for the new region and this need was met by the famous Ordinance of 1787, sometimes called "The Magna Charta of the West." By this instrument the region north of the Ohio River became a political unit, later to divide itself into the group of the sister states christened with musical Indian names Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. With one impulse the New Republic had burst the bounds set for it by foreign powers and had begun pushing the frontier from the Alleghenies toward the Pacific.

By 1800 the population of the Northwest Territories had so increased that Sir William St. Clair could no longer preserve order and just at the time that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France it was divided and all west of the present state of Ohio was rechristened the TERRITORY OF INDIANA, with William Henry Harrison for its governor. This territory extended to the Mississippi and northward to Canada an unbroken wilderness, save for the old French settlements Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Vincennes, miscroscopic as compared to the vast region.

Fort Dearborn Established.

The first movement on the part of the United States to protect the new frontier was the establishment in 1803 by order of President Thomas Jefferson of Fort Dearborn at the mouth of the Chicago River, the outmost post of civilization. Accordingly Captain John Whistler was selected from the garrison at Detroit, the western military base, to head the enterprise. How it stirs one to trace the steps by which great schemes of statescraft are put into actual operation. How frail, almost pathetic, appears the agent of a great government in initiating a move of such importance.

The establishment of the Government Post at Chicago had considerable influence upon the settlement of Porter and adjoining counties in Indiana, through which the thoroughfare led that was to be the main artery by which emigration flowed to the far west as the Mississippi was then called. The thoroughfare that connected the east and the west was the Detroit-Chicago Road, coincident in part with the Great Sauk Trail and its branches. We are fortunate in having a military journal kept by Lieutenant Swearingen, then a youth of twenty-one, in command of some fifty regulars--the 1st Regiment of U. S. Infantry--detached from Colonel Hamtramck's command at Detroit on its march to build Fort Dearborn, also a survey of the road on which every mile is accurately indicated.

The "Little Calamas."

After crossing the present state of Michigan, Swearingen relates that the troops camped successively at "Kinzie's Improvement" (Niles), New Buffalo, and at the mouth of the Portage River, where Michigan City now is, and on August 15th he records "Proceeded on our march at 5 o'clock A. M. 39 miles and encamped at half past 5 P. M. near an old fort". The ruins of this fort must have been in evidence for many years. General Hall's map of 1812 locates "Little Fort" on the creek that now enters the Lake besides the hospitable cabin of "Fish" Johnson. The next day they camped on the "Little Calamas" having crossed the "Grand Calamas" at 8 o'clock A. M. Near this crossing now stands the Bailly Mansion built here about twenty years later.

On August 17th, 1803, at 2 P. M. the company was at its journey's end and encamped on the Chicago River, 362 miles from Detroit.

The Utopian existence between Red man and White in the Northwest Territory, due mainly to Wayne's Treaty at Grenville in 1795 and to the almost continuous treaties of General Harrison aided by the councils of Little Turtle and William Wells, had begun to show evidence of being undermined by the British, when in 1806 they first learned of the plot to surprise Detroit, Mackinaw, Fort Wayne, and Chicago. This plot culminated in 1812.

The fall of Fort Dearborn, not withstanding the heroic efforts of its sister post, Fort Wayne, to lend succor needs no repetition here. The two posts were in constant relation, the transfer of officers and men geing frequent.

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Our efforts to visualize conditions on this frontier are not entirely unaided, for strange to say, artists penetrated even this wilderness as is evidenced by several contemporary paintings recently discovered. One of these by an unknown painter depicts Wayne, Harrison, and William Wells, the latter in the capacity of interpreter, being addressed by Chief Little Turtle and his band of Miamis fro Northern Indiana, the latter no doubt, stipulating for the very shore on which is built our Beach House today.

Lake County Painter.

But the most fortunate find of all is a painting of the Treaty of the Mississinewa in 1823 by George Winter of Lake County, known as "The Catlin of Indiana." In this Colonel Pepper and Governor Harrison are shown seated at a rough table in the midst of a deep forest glade being harangued by Mus-que-buck, who is accompanied by scores of his followers, all portrayed from life with wonderful faithfulness as to faces and costumes.

A colonial painting of the Fort Dearborn Massacre by Samuel Page gives us what is said to be an exact portrait of Captain William Wells whose gold knee-buckles and tomahawk used in the massacre repose in the Chicago Historical Society.

Secret Rescue.

Scarcely less graphic than these paintings are the words of Frances R. Howe, the grandfather of Joseph Bailly, of Baillytown, in relating a hitherto unrecorded chapter of history, namely the secret rescue in his canoe of two women survivors of the massacre by Chief Shaubenay, distant kinsman of Madam Bailly, of his finding asylum for the fugitives in the inlets and sandhills of the Indiana Shore and of the journey's happy end at Machinaw.

In 1822 while it was still Indiana Country, Joseph Bailly removed his fur trading station from Pare aux Vaches to the region of the Calumet known as Baillytown, and then built the log mansion house that for more than a century has been not only a landmark on the Sauk Trail or Chicago Road, but in earlier times a place famous for hospitality and its extraordinary handsome daughters. Early literature has not neglected the hostelries of the Dune Region for Charles Fenno Hoffman of New York, the witty author of "A Winter in the West", and Harriet Martineau both dilate upon their interesting experience at Bailly's and at Michigan City and a young Mr. Tinkham, relates in a letter written in 1831, that his traveling companion Henry Hubbard was so impressed with the culture and beauty of the daughters of Bailly that he announced the intention of having at least two of them. We judge that his suit was not encouraged for the writer later comments upon the sourness of disposition of M. Bailly. These and similar experiences were repeated by scores of the future residents of Chicago who travelled by stage coach or horseback or in their own carriages through this section.

Of City West, old and "New", that fabled metropolis of the Lakes, Waverly, Furnessville, etc., there is not time to speak, but we historians believe that historical survey of this region has shown that the story of the West--the progress of the frontier--could not be written without the dunes of Porter county.
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Posted 29th June, 1999; last updated 10th July, 2001.

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Copyright © 1999 Historical Society of Ogden Dunes, Indiana, Inc.