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Unlike the other people killed at Fort Dearborn, whose remains were not interred until 1816 (probably near Prairie Avenue and 17th Street), William Wells may have received an immediate burial. By one account, the morning after the fight on the shoreline, Billy Caldwell—a colleague of John Kinzie known as Sauganash—gathered up Wells’s remains and buried them near 18th and Calumet. Some 60 years later, the railroad-car magnate George Pullman, another Chicagoan with a troubled link to his city, built a mansion at the site.
In 1893, Pullman commissioned the sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith to create a bronze statue to commemorate the 1812 event. Called The Fort Dearborn Massacre, or The Potawatomi Rescue, the monumental work depicts the moment when Black Partridge stepped in to protect Mrs. Helm from the descending blow of an angry warrior’s tomahawk. The sculpture remained at the battle site until 1931, when it was restored and moved to the lobby of the Chicago Historical Society. In the late 1980s it returned to the Near South Side, staying for about a decade before being banished to a park district warehouse, ostensibly for a new round of repairs.
When it came time to name that new park in the South Loop, there was some talk of placing the statue there at its original location. The idea was resisted by local Potawatomi and ultimately quashed. “I don’t think Black Partridge more worthy of valorization than any of the other warriors that were there that day,” explains John N. Low. “I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that the statue is in a warehouse—but I would lose sleep if the statue had been in the park with a plaque and used as a teaching moment.” Others involved in the naming of the park eventually lined up in agreement. “They came to acknowledge that this wasn’t a symbol that people should associate with Chicago,” says Low (who does say he wouldn’t mind seeing the statue placed in a setting that could provide some context—a Potawatomi museum in Michigan, for instance).
No matter. Like so many other Native Americans, Black Partridge endured worse tragedies while he lived. In the fall of 1812, Ninian Edwards, the governor of the Illinois Territory, led a series of reprisal raids on the Potawatomi along the Illinois River around Peoria. One of the villages he attacked and burned to the ground belonged to Black Partridge. Angry at this betrayal, Black Partridge fought, unsuccessfully, alongside the British; the last we see of him is at Portage des Sioux in Missouri in 1815. There he signed a treaty between the Potawatomi and the government of the United States avowing that “every injury or act of hostility . . . shall be mutually forgiven.”
Having pledged himself to “perpetual peace and friendship,” Black Partridge probably returned to his ruined village on the Illinois River. No one is sure when he died or where he is buried, but if you would commune with his spirit—and the spirits of so many others, red, white, and black—you could do worse than visit the tiny park at 18th and Calumet.