Kinzie: Chicago Pioneer? Part 3

 Kinzie Corridor

      Welcome back!  This is my third and final post on John Kinzie and his life in early Chicago.  We left off examining the death of Jean Lalime, the man that John Kinzie killed.  The first account I shared came from Kinzie’s granddaughter, Eleanor Lytle Kinzie Gordon, in which she described a knife fight between the two men outside of Fort Dearborn.  Most accounts, however, mention that Jean Lalime had a gun, not a knife.

The next account I’ll share comes from Joseph Kirkland’s Chicago Massacre of 1812, a text published back in 1893.  Kirkland shares an 1881 letter from Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard, another fur trader, to “Long John” Wentworth, a Chicago Mayor.  (If the names are familiar, it’s because they’ve been memorialized with Hubbard Street and Wentworth Avenue.)  In the letter Hubbard shares the version of Lalime’s death that he heard directly from Kinzie’s wife.  This is yet another account from a Kinzie family member which lends credence to the cliché, history is written by the victors.  Hubbard tells Wentworth, “Mrs. Kinzie said that her husband and Lalime had for several years been on unfriendly terms, and had had frequent altercations; that at the time of the encounter Mr. Kinzie had crossed the river alone, in a canoe, going to the fort, and that Lalime met him outside the garrison and shot him, the ball cutting the side of his neck…Mr. Kinzie, closing fast with Lalime, stabbed him and returned to the house covered with blood.  He told his wife what he had done, that he feared he had killed Lalime, and probably a squad would be sent for him and that he must hide,” (Kirkland 189).

After killing Lalime, Kinzie did go briefly into hiding.  Remember, Lalime was the interpreter at Fort Dearborn and a federal employee for the United States.  Soldiers, Lalime’s friends, may have wanted to apprehend Kinzie, but Lieutenant Helm, an officer at the Fort, was Kinzie’s son-in-law.  Hubbard goes on to explain in his letter, “Lalime was, I understand, an educated man, and quite a favorite with the officers, who were greatly excited.  They decided he should be buried near the Kinzie’s house, in plain view from his front door and piazza,” (Kirkland 189).  There was an investigation, but the only mention I’ve seen of a trial is in Kinzie Gordon’s sometimes inaccurate John Kinzie: The “Father of Chicago”; A Sketch.  She states that her grandfather had a trial in which he was exonerated.  She also mentions details about Lalime’s grave saying, “In the meantime some of Lalime’s friends conceived the idea that it would be suitable punishment to Mr. Kinzie to bury his victim directly in front of the Kinzie home, where he must necessarily behold the grave every time he passed out of his own gate.  Great was their chagrin and disappointment, however, when Mr. Kinzie, far from being annoyed at their action, proceeded to make Lalime’s grave his especial care,” (Kinzie Gordon 9).  Like Kirkland, Kinzie Gordon also cites a letter from Gurdon S. Hubbard.  This time Hubbard is writing Kinzie’s grandson, Arthur Kinzie.  While Hubbard repeatedly states in one letter that Kinzie never talked about Lalime’s death, Hubbard himself, who first arrived in Chicago six years after the murder, appears unable to stop talking about it.  The intriguing thing is this story about Lalime’s gravesite which we’ll examine in a few moments.

Before that, I want to look at one more account of Lalime’s death.  This one comes from Volume Two of Alfred Theodore Andreas’s History of Chicago.  Andreas shares the account of two sisters who say, “Kinzie and Lalime came out together, and so we heard Lieutenant Helm call out for Mr. Kinzie to look out for Lalime, as he had a pistol.  Quick we saw the men come together.  We heard the pistol go off and saw the smoke.  Then they fell down together.  I don’t know as Lalime got up at all, but Kinzie got home pretty quick. Blood was running from his shoulder where Lalime shot him….You see, Kinzie wasn’t to blame at all.  He didn’t have any pistol nor knife – nothing.  After Lalime shot him and Kinzie got his arms around him, he (Lalime) pulled out his dirk, and as they fell he was stabbed with his own knife.  That is what they all said,” (Andreas V.II, 105).  This third version states that Kinzie never had any weapon at all.  The second version which I shared above states that Kinzie had a knife and Lalime had a gun.  In the first account I shared in a previous post, both Lalime and Kinzie had knives and there is a detailed dialogue between Kinzie and son as he sharpens his blade.  Which version is the truest?


The alleged skeleton of Jean Lalime

John Kinzie's grave, the oldest marker in Graceland Cemetery

John Kinzie’s grave, the oldest marker in Graceland Cemetery


One can compare accounts and find the common details and overlapping facts, but we’ll never know for sure.  Either way, Kinzie killed Lalime, but there were never any official consequences for Lalime’s death.  Some accounts allege that Lalime was buried directly on Kinzie’s property (as mentioned in Kinzie Gordon’s account above) or that Lalime’s grave was several hundred yards away from Kinzie’s house while others say that never happened at all.  Joseph Kirkland’s book, Chicago Massacre of 1812, dedicates an entire appendix to Jean Lalime, his death, and his bones.    Kirkland says, “On April 29th, 1891, there was unearthed at the south-west corner of Cass and Illinois streets a skeleton,” (190).  In fact, Appendix F, in his book was the, “Substance of a paper read by Joseph Kirkland before the Chicago Historical Society, on the occasion of the presentation to the society of certain human relics, July 21, 1891,” (185).  Kirkland goes to great lengths to determine whether or not the skeleton belonged to Lalime.  He used Hubbard’s information about the grave saying, “The place where the bones were found is within a stone’s throw of the exact spot indicated by Gurdon Hubbard as the place where the picket fence marked the grave, ‘two hundreds west of the Kinzie house,’” (191), and then tried to get information via letters from several early Chicagoans to recall the location of Lalime’s grave.  Despite Kirkland’s efforts, there never has been any definitive evidence to confirm that the bones found were indeed, Lalime’s.

As for Kinzie, we know where he is buried.  John Kinzie’s grave is currently in Graceland Cemetery on the northeast side of the city.  His faded limestone headstone is the oldest marker in the cemetery.  According to Graceland Cemetery’s website Kinzie was “Originally interred in Fort Dearborn, he was moved to Chicago’s north side burial grounds, then to the lakefront cemetery, where the Lincoln Park project forced him to move one last time.”

If you wish to visit John Kinzie’s grave, it is only a two minute walk from the main entrance of Graceland Cemetery at Clark and Irving Park Avenue.  Graceland Cemetery’s website does not currently include him on their map of historical resting places, but their map does list the monument for hotelier, Dexter Graves.  This monument was designed by the famous sculptor, Lorado Taft, and you can see his hooded figure of Eternal Silence from Kinzie’s grave.  See the photograph below for reference.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about John Kinzie at or @chicagogreys on Twitter.  My next post on the Chicago Public Library’s “One Book, One Chicago” text, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, will be up shortly.

As always, thank you for reading,

Jack Foley

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