John Harris Kinzie (b.1803, d.1865)

John Harris Kinzie was born in 1803, the son of John Kinzie, Sr., who is considered one of the founding fathers of Chicago.  After surviving the Fort Dearborn Massacre as a child, he became apprenticed to the American Fur Company at its Michilimackinac headquarters in 1818.  Upon completion of his instruction in the duties of a company clerk, he began keeping records for the Michilimackinac trading post. Michigan Territory Governor Lewis Cass took notice of Kinzie’s knowledge of tribal dialects and culture and hired him as an aide.  Circumstances soon brought him to Prairie du Chien where he worked under fur trader Jean Joseph Rolette.

In 1829, Kinzie helped the government negotiate its treaty with the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribe.  In this treaty, Ho-Chunk tribal authorities from a large segment of the tribes’ southeastern territory acquiesced to the government’s demand that they move to Iowa in return for a thirty year annuity payment in silver along with other goods and services.  Kinzie was appointed to be an Indian sub-agent to carry out this treaty at Fort Winnebago in what is now Portage, Wisconsin.  Before reporting to his new post, Kinzie traveled east and married Juliette Magill of Connecticut.

John and his new wife arrived in Portage in 1830.  While at Fort Winnebago, John’s main job was the distribution of the annuity and the facilitation of ongoing negotiations with the tribe.  In addition to these duties, however, John also worked as the local postmaster, judge, and quasi-doctor for the Natives in the region.  In 1832, he built the Indian Agency House across the Fox River from Fort Winnebago as a neutral location to meet with the Ho-Chunk.  John moved back to Chicago in 1833 to pursue a different career path.  There, he started the town’s first bank and became heavily involved in local politics.  During the Civil War, John Harris Kinzie was appointed as regional paymaster for the Union Army.  Kinzie subsequently died of heart failure in 1865 while traveling on business via train in the eastern United States.   

Juliette Kinzie (b.1806, d.1870)

Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie was born to Arthur and Frances Magill on September 11, 1806.  Raised in Middletown, Connecticut, she began her formal education at a boarding school in the New Haven area—likely at the Cheshire Episcopal Academy.  Unusual for her time, Juliette’s schooling did not end there.  Beginning with tutelage by her uncle, Alexander Wolcott, she worked her way toward acceptance into the prestigious Emma Willard’s School in Troy, New York.

 

In 1830, Juliette married John Harris Kinzie, whom she had met through her uncle.  As she moved West with her husband to his new Indian Agency at Fort Winnebago, she perceived that they were heading into a situation in which she could be an example to the Natives of the beliefs and way of life common to her New England heritage.  As a homemaker, she spared no effort to recreate the atmosphere of a proper Eastern home hundreds of miles from any settled development.

 

After the couple’s arrival, Juliette began attempting to provide school lessons to her servant, as well as other local children.  Juliette also became involved in the social life of a western military post.  She hosted official visitors and arranged gatherings at the Agency house which were remembered years later by her guests as enjoyable evenings of music and socializing.  A connoisseur of the arts, Juliette also siezed the opportunity presented by the territory’s unique landscapes to refine her drawing skills, creating scenic portrayals of the area’s natural beauty. 

 

By the winter of 1832, however, the rigors of life on the unforgiving frontier became overwhelming.  Juliette was deeply affected by the famine among the Ho-Chunk over the course of the winter.  The following spring, John decided to pursue his career outside the Indian Bureau.  This led them into the more settled region of early Chicago, which was likely a relief to Juliette who had also recently given birth to the couple’s first child.

 

In Chicago, Juliette began writing and publishing works of fiction such as Walter Ogilby and Mark Logan the Bourgeois.  She additionally wrote of early Chicago’s Fort Dearborn days, in which her husband’s family had played a considerable part.  In 1856, she published the book for which she is most remembered entitled Wau-Bun: The Early Days in the Northwest.  In this memoir, she related the narrative of her experiences at Fort Winnebago’s Indian Agency.  She wrote anecdotes about the Natives, the military, and John’s family. 

 

During her lifetime, Juliette raised seven children and left a remarkable eyewitness narrative about life at the Indian Agency—a work which is still reprinted and widely read today. An interesting side note is that one of the Kinzies' granddaughters—Juliette Gordon Low—would one day go on to found the Girl Scouts of America. Juliette Kinzie died in 1870 at the age of 64 when a druggist inadvertently gave her morphine instead of quinine while she was visiting her daughter in Amagansett, New York.

John & Juliette Kinzie

The Historic Indian Agency House

1490 Agency House Road, Portage, WI 53901

historicindianagencyhouse@gmail.com

608.742.6362

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