Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago.
Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. By Ann Durkin Keating. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xxiv, 294. $30.00.)
This study is about the individuals and the complexities of their relationships in early Chicago in the period before, during, and after the War of 1812. Ann Durkin Keating also attempts to make the engagement on August 15, 1812, the "Battle of Fort Dearborn" in the book's title, a centerpiece, or at least a pivot, of the story. Keating achieves the former but tries too hard with the latter. The end result is a flawed effort that nonetheless offers an important addition to local Chicago history and an intriguing lesson for historians as a whole.
The contribution to local Chicago history is quite obvious as Keating exhaustively chronicles the people and events of the early settlement. It is here that Keating provides the most value in the book for general historical understanding. As she indicates, "We must begin to see the region ... not as empty, uninhabited space ... but as an ever-changing weave of native villages and colonial outposts" (7). There is a tendency to see such border areas as simple and vacant, but Keating convincingly shows the enormous complexity of native, Metis (half-native, half-white), French, English, and American individuals intermingling, intermarrying, and interworking. However, in order to illustrate this complexity, Keating's narrative becomes extremely intricate as she provides genealogies and relationships of an amazing number of individuals. It is difficult reading at times (some sort of chart linking the names would have been helpful), but as difficult as it is, one is not sure what else Keating could have done. If the argument is that these cultures have been treated as too simple (and they have), then in order to prove the complexity one has to present that complexity.
Central to that intricate web were the half brothers John Kinzie and Thomas Forsyth. Kinzie and Forsyth were Indian traders who had to maintain strong relationships with natives while at the same time surviving in an intricate and perilous world of conflicting and dangerous factions, namely the British, Americans, and Tecumseh's nativist movement. The story of Kinzie and Forsyth navigating this minefield is the true center of the story and is well presented.
So what to make of the "Battle" of Fort Dearborn that the title indicates is the real center of the story? This is a bit of a puzzle. Keating addresses the local controversy about whether this should be treated as a "massacre" or a "battle." She convincingly dismisses the notion of a "massacre," but the argument that the "battle" (really a skirmish) was a centerpiece is not convincing, especially as the action disappears in the second half of the book, reappearing only at the end. This is strange for something that is supposed to be central to the story.
Keating presents an excellent addition to the interpretation of Chicago's early history while at the same time providing a reminder to all historians that early border societies were very complex. Although a hard read at times, it is well worth the effort if the reader is interested in either of these issues.
Steven C. Eames
Mount Ida College
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|Author:||Eames, Steven C.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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