A Memorial to Billy Caldwell - Chief Sauganash (1780-1841)
Dedication on March 17, 2015 (Billy Caldwell would be 235 years old)
Chief Sauganash, a Native American also known as Billy Caldwell, played a critical role in early American and Chicago history. His mother was Mohawk and his father, an enlisted officer in the British Army, was an Irishman. At an early age Billy Caldwell struggled with identity, wishing to be recognized as British, Indian and white; finally emerging as one of the leaders of the surrounding Native American communities. Such was the collective population of early Chicago; groups of Europeans, Native Americans and people of mixed race who tried to blend in with both worlds.
Throughout the Chicago area, there are signs of indigenous people such as the Potawatomi, native Woodland and even artifacts from the Mississippian Period. However, much of Chicago history starts with the influx of white pioneers, ignoring the contribution of native Americans such as Billy Caldwell. There is the Sauganash neighborhood, the Billy Caldwell Golf Course and the monument placed at the Old Treaty Elm in Sauganash. But these don't adequately celebrate the contributions of Billy Caldwell and his friends, Alexander Robinson and Chief Shabbona.
This Kickstarter campaigns serves to start that process with a memorial to Billy Caldwell.
Our plan is to create a memorial to Billy Caldwell, Chief Sauganash and have a dedication on March 17, 2015, what would be his 235th birthday. The $3,500 covers the cost of the granite stone, engraving and placement on site. Memorial wording is in the process of being approved by the American Indian Center of Chicago and has been already approved by Preserve Council Bluffs. The suggested memorial wording will be as follows:
Billy Caldwell - Chief Sauganash
Born Old Fort Niagara, Canada, March 17, 1780
Died Council Bluffs, Iowa, September 28, 1841
Born to Sarah Rising Sun Mohawk Man and Irish Captain in the British Army, William Caldwell. Lived in Mohawk Village Six Nations, Canada; Amhurstburg, Ontario Canada; Chicago, Illinois and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Skilled in languages, he served as translator for Native American organizer Tecumseh. Proud leader of the Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Odawa Three Fires Council. U.S. officials, respecting the British war record of Billy and his language skills, invited Capt. Caldwell to negotiate in Chicago for the Potawatomi/Ojibwa/Odawa for the sale of their Illinois, Indiana, & Lower Michigan village sites before they were removed west of the Mississippi by the U.S. In 1835 Billy led the Potawatomi to what now is northwest Missouri and to southwest Iowa in 1837.
This memorial will rest in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Billy was born in Mohawk Village, just outside of Old Fort Niagara, New York. At that time it was in Canada. Billy’s father, William Caldwell, left Billy soon after he was born in March to fight in Schenectady and Rochester, New York.Billy was raised by his mother at the Ft. Niagara camp for the next few years.Some father type figures during that time might possibly be Joseph Brant or William Caldwell’s cousin, John Caldwell.At the young age of 5, Billy was taken to Amhurstburg, Ontario.
In Amhurstburg, Billy joined his family members, attended Jesuit School, learned English and French. Three years after Billy was born, William married a French-Canadian woman, Susanne Baby, daughter of Jacques Baby.William started his own family with Susanne and had nine more children with Susanne (Mary, William, James, Susanna, Thomas, William Francis, John, Therese and Elizabeth).
Around 1797 Billy Caldwell begins his association with Thomas Forsyth and John Kinzie in the fur trading business. Billy becomes an important figure in the Indian country and emerging Fort Dearborn.
Chief Sauganash would have led around 1500 Potawatomie Indian to Council Bluffs through Platte River, Missouri. Originally he was supposed to remain in Missouri but with the Louisiana Land Purchase, it was not possible to stay there. Of tribe members that followed Sauganash, around 100 of the Indians were too sick to travel and the government took them from Missouri in steamboats up the river to Council Bluffs.Chief Sauganash would have been in Missouri around 1836-37 at the age of 56/57. To gather research information about this period, I reviewed original land surveyor notes about the geography. I also reviewed Catholic Missionary and Diocese notes as well as old fur trader notes. More to come on the original blockhouse site of Caldwell's Camp. We started off visiting the historic section of Council Bluffs. It is located high up on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River. At first, it seemed like the original blockhouse where Chief Sauganash lived was too far from the river, but after further research, we realized the river had actually been at the base of the bluff, but over the past 200 years, the silt from the rain created a delta and moved the river west of the city. We found two historic markers, one dedicated to Father De Smet, the Catholic Missionary that founded the mission at the blockhouse from 1838-1841. Chief Sauganash gave his cabins (the original army blockhouse) to Father de Smet and worked with him to bring religion to his tribe members.The other historic marker defined the other end of the blockhouse.I walked up on the bluff to get a view from the blockhouse location. There are apartments located there now. Chief Sauganash would have been in Council Bluffs from the age of 57 until his passing in September, 1841 at the age of 61.
Following the confirmation of the blockhouse, we drove over to St. Joseph Cemetery to see if we could locate a gravestone. The address Google provided us to was actually the office of the cemetery. We just happened to meet a representative of the church leaving the office and asked where the St. Joseph Cemetery was. He said we were at the office and he would drive us to the actual cemetery. Throughout this tour, I cannot believe how generous people have been with providing information and directions to us.We drove back toward town and into the St. Joseph cemetery. We drove past old oak trees way to the back of the cemetery. It was about 7:30 pm and I looked at my husband and wondered what we got ourselves into. The cemetery representative drove to the back of the cemetery and pointed out the area that the chief could be buried in. Then he left.We explore a few gravestones, but we became concerned we would be locked in the cemetery for the evening and we certainly did not want that. The cemetery was very large with beautiful oak trees, stretching from one end of a hill, down the slope to Mosquito Creek, an old Indian path.It had a very quiet, serene feeling and we decided to go back tomorrow morning and look at the gravestones.
So, the end of our trip was in St. Joseph Cemetery, Council Bluffs, Iowa. I didn't know what to expect at the end of our research. In a way, I was hoping for closure to a long-time interest in learning about Billy Caldwell. What I got, was more questions and more leads to follow. We searched all morning for Chief Sauganash's grave but to no avail. My husband and I read every gravestone in the cemetery that looked like it was prior to 1900. We did find what looks like an Indian Trail Marker Tree with two limbs pointing toward Mosquito Creek.Tucked away in a small section of the cemetery was an older cemetery called "The Green Valley." I almost walked right past it. It had a small sign hidden behind tall grass and kind of tipped at an angle. There were two road tracks leading down into a valley. I looked at my husband with disbelief, could it be the location of his gravesite? We walked down the road tracks, it was dark and the tree canopy covered us from the sun. As we walked into the valley, there were just a few grave markers, but unlike any I had seen before. They were made of bronze or metal and were tucked into the ground, kind of just scattered around us. I searched on my phone for background information about The Green Valley. A local website said it was a pauper's gravesite in the 1850's. My heart skipped a beat. Could it be here? We read every gravestone we could find, the website said there were hundreds of graves in the cemetery, but we could only find a few markers.We did find the flagpole an Eagle Scout had installed a few years ago. His project was to clean up the cemetery and clear away brush from the gravesites. We walked around and found remnants of an old fence and iron gate, some old tombstones, but none for our Chief. I researched more Catholic documents about what happened when Chief Sauganash died. He died from cholera on September 28, 1841. He was buried behind the mission located at Pierce and Union streets where the markers showed the location of the army blockhouse. Sometime in the 1850's, Indian bones in the area were moved to an "old Catholic" cemetery. Unfortunately, cemetery records were burned in 1910 according to the cemetery manager, so we will never be sure, but he is in Council Bluffs, his last resting place. Up on the hill, I did find a beautiful metal cross buried deep next to an old oak tree. To me, it symbolized the gentleness of the cemetery, all that it represents, how all of us are just on this earth for a short time. For me, I came to realize that my path has crossed with Billy Caldwell's several times, only there was a couple hundred years separating us. My family was from the area where he was born, we moved through Canada like he did. We both came to Detroit, he in 1805 and my family 50 years later. And eventually, like Billy, I came to Chicago for new opportunities and fortunately, had the opportunity to live in Sauganash on his land, just 160 years after he lived in Chicago. I now know what my next project is and that is to pay my respects to Chief Caldwell and help secure a memorial for him in Council Bluffs. He was an amazing Chief, changing the course of Chicago forever, and it seems only appropriate that we recognize him for his accomplishments. I will continue to add research information here, links to all of the resources I have used and to thank all of the wonderful people we have met along our journey in following Chief Sauganash.
Sincerely, Susan Kelsey
Risks and challenges
The memorial for Billy Caldwell, Chief Sauganash has been approved and endorsed by the City of Council Bluffs, the Council Bluffs Historical Society and Preserve Council Bluffs. The memorial stone will be purchased in November and installed at a dedication on March 17, 2015. All extra funds will be used for additional way-finding signage and markers.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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