"Chicago in 1831" illustration in Wau-Bun, first edition
9.25" by 6.25"
Made by Juliette Kinzie
Historic Art; John and Juliette Kinzie; Wau-Bun
1831 (published 1856)
Miss Mary Houghton
This year’s final Artifact Ambassador is one of the illustrations which grace the pages of Wau-Bun: The Early Day in the Northwest—Juliette Kinzie’s memoir. Likely having learned some form of drafting or fine art during her education in the East, Juliette appears to have been naturally drawn to art as a form of personal expression. Our Artifact Ambassador narrative began in January, and throughout its progression, there have been many stories and places about which Juliette believed “only the pen of an artist could do justice.”
This illustration is one of the drawings which Mrs. John H. Kinzie produced for her book portraying a place which was very special to the couple. The small house behind the row of decorative trees is the home of John Kinzie, Sr., on what is now Navy Pier in the city of Chicago. At this point in our narrative, the Chicago settlement was—to John, Jr.—a foundation for development and personal success. To Juliette, it represented the hope of regaining a piece of the Eastern refinement she had left behind during her brief immersion in an alternative form of culture practiced and loved by the Ho-Chunk Nation.
It may be assumed that the Kinzies had intended to move back to this settlement for some time, likely since even before their first trip to Chicago when John worked to secure and survey the family’s land in the settlement. The news of this decision did not spread, however, until just prior to their leaving Fort Winnebago’s Indian Agency in 1833. The Kinzies may have felt some reluctance in the bittersweet days preceding their departure as Ho-Chunk leaders and families flocked to the sub-agency to “inquire into the truth of the tidings they had heard.” Familiar faces such as the “Cut-Nose”—more respectfully called Elizabeth by the Kinzies—and Wild-Cat, the leader at Garlic Island, came to bid farewell. Juliette vividly recalled in her memoirs how the latter “gave way to the most audible lamentations. ‘Oh, my little brother,’ he said to the [Kinzies’] baby, on the morning of our departure, when he had insisted on taking him and seating him on his fat, dirty knee, ‘you will never come back to see your poor brother again!’”
Thus, this Ambassador represents the start of a new chapter for the Kinzies. Chicago was to be their primary residence until their passings in 1865 and 1870. Their time at Fort Winnebago’s Indian Agency House was brief, yet eventful. Fortunately for all who appreciate the stories of Wau-Bun, Juliette resolved to “make a hasty sketch before the daylight quite faded away,” both in the form of the literal art to which the quote originally refers, as well as sketching her story in writing before the memory of Wisconsin’s early 1830s clash of cultures faded into history.
A year’s worth of artifact stories has come to a conclusion. However, there’s more to come! In 2020, we plan to do more storytelling through monthly video posts which explore the places, the people, and the events of the 1830s frontier. Watch for our first installment in mid-January!