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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 what is known as 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 the stipulations of 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 payments 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 (vaccinating the Ho-Chunk in the region against smallpox).  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 Augusta Magill Kinzie (b.1806, d.1870)


Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie was born 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 and moved West with him to fulfill his appointment as an Indian sub-agent at Fort Winnebago. On her journey across the Great Lakes, she spared no effort to create the atmosphere of a proper Eastern home hundreds of miles from any settled development.

If Juliette had expectations of her role in a frontier Indian agency upon her arrival, the next three years would present both challenges and times of discovery. Following adventure, war, famine, and the rigors of frontier fort life, opportunity in Chicago called the Kinzies away. While her stay in territorial Wisconsin was brief, the impact on her life was lasting.

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, her memories of the frontier Midwest resurfaced in the form of a memoir which was published under the title Wau-Bun: The "Early Day" in the Northwest. In this narrative, she relayed her experiences at Fort Winnebago's Indian agency. Her anecdotes about the native inhabitants, the military, frontier travels, and her in-laws' experiences in the wilderness are as significant to the scholar as they are vivid to the casual reader.

During her lifetime, Juliette raised seven children and left a remarkable eyewitness narrative of life at the Indian agency. Her stories would go on to inspire her descendants, one of whom—Juliette Gordon Low—would 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

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