The Massacre Tree

In July of 1824, a small band of settlers from Ft. Dearborn, the first major settlement in the area, fled the fort, fearful of a British invasion. They were accompanied by about 500 Potawatomi warriors, whom they had enlisted to help them make it to Ft. Wayne, which, apparently, the British didn’t care much about. Capt. Nathan Heald had offered them guns, ammo, and whiskey for help, but his other officers, fearing that giving potentially hostile people guns and booze might not be so bright, threw the guns down a well and poured the booze into the Chicago river.

They made it about a mile – to where about where Prairie Ave and 16th are now – before the infamous Ft. Dearborn Massacre started. The settlers, outnumbered roughly 2:1, were routed. Those who weren’t killed were sold as slaves to the British (who, to their credit, promptly let them go). The fort was burned to the ground.

Decades later, some of the descendants of these Potowatomi warriors were on “display” as part of the midway at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

By that time, Prairie Avenue, between 16th and 18th, was known as the home of the richest people in town – those few mansions that still stand there were really a site to see.

And outside of the Pullman mansion, by many accounts the fanciest of the lot, stood The Massacre Tree: a tree that still contained bullet holes from the Ft. Dearborn Massacre.

The tree stood until August of 1894, when it fell in a storm. Crowds gathered to dig up chunks of the roots as keepsakes. Newspapers illustrated it as follows: