The long death of Jean Lalime | Feature | Chicago Reader

The long death of Jean Lalime 

A classic tale of Chicago corruption, and also of rabbinical law, frontier justice, and the city’s first murder

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

The bones of Jean Lalime - HISTORICAL PHOTO FROM THE CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY 1856-1956 BY PAUL M. ANGLE
  • The bones of Jean Lalime
  • Historical photo from The Chicago Historical Society 1856-1956 by Paul M. Angle

In an undisclosed location in the far western suburbs sits a warehouse full of newspapers, architectural renderings, ship anchors, horse-drawn carriages, a Checker cab, a shed where a Maxwell Street peddler once copied keys and sold condoms, a "mannequin morgue" that none of the historians want to go near at night, and the corpse of Chicago's first murder victim.

Jean Lalime, or what's left of what the Chicago History Museum thinks is him, is in a box.

The box isn't the "rude pine coffin" that broke open and spilled out a corpse, startling a group of cellar diggers on April 29, 1891, nor is it the soap box cops threw Lalime's tattered bits in for a ride to the East Chicago Avenue police station. It's also not the glass-fronted display case historian Joseph Kirkland commissioned shortly thereafter to hold the arms, legs, pelvis, ribs, and jawless glaring skull that he and a police officer bought off a morgue worker "at a merely nominal expense." It's just a simple acid-free cardboard box containing smaller boxes into which the individual bones have been separated, labeled and packed in plastic foam.

The story of Lalime's 1812 murder at the hands of early settler John Kinzie is a popular lie, still found everywhere from the Kinzie Hotel website to National Register of Historic Places paperwork. Until 20th-century researchers started unraveling the story, the history-book version, traced back to Kinzie's wife and one of their servants, told the world that "the Little Frenchman" had tried to shoot Kinzie and Kinzie had stabbed him dead in self-defense.

The real story can be found in informants' letters to the War Department, written in the months surrounding the murder. Unpublished until the 1940s, these letters tell the story of three forgotten men who tried and failed to end the corruption, bribery, and smuggling that defined life at the fort that became Chicago. One of those men rests in a box in the suburbs. The second was killed in the Fort Dearborn Massacre; Kinzie's heirs took special care to assign the man a coward's death. The third escaped through a lucky stint as a prisoner of war, living out his years believing that John Kinzie had organized that massacre to cover his crime.

Jean Lalime's journey from silenced snitch to museum storage piece is also a story of Torah code, Lincoln's blood, Little Bo Peep, and a fallout shelter full of corsets. But it starts and stops with the Chicago History Museum's lone corpse, a French interpreter who was stabbed to death in broad daylight and cold blood by the man that a century's worth of history books would call a founding father of the city of Chicago.

Part 1: 'Brain Slices, Fetuses, All These Things'

Peter Alter laughs when pressed for details about Jean Lalime.

"What I do know is that a lot is not known," says Alter, the Chicago History Museum's historian and director of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. "Sort of like 'Did Shoeless Joe Jackson cheat?' and 'Who threw the bomb at Haymarket?' and some of those other questions in Chicago history that actually make this job pretty fun: We don't know exactly."

For years, the bones of Chicago's first murder victim were part of a display collection that included real relics like Lincoln's deathbed alongside sideshow fare like the skin of the serpent from Eden, the mummy of Moses's foster mother, the fleece from Little Bo Peep's lamb, a sliver of the True Cross, and the knife that Lady MacBeth used to kill Duncan.

"There was a mixture of relics as well as kind of a cabinet of curiosities that was really common in museum practice well into the 20th century," Alter says. "To our late 20th-, early 21st-century mind it does seem odd."

Then there's Abe Lincoln.

In 2001, the Chicago History Museum launched "Wet With Blood," a website and investigation into the museum's Lincoln relics—including the cloak Mary Todd Lincoln wore at Ford's Theatre and Lincoln's deathbed—that were stained with the president's blood. New advances in DNA research in the late 90s would allow the blood to be studied more closely than ever before.

It raised a dilemma, Alter says. Studying the blood would have destroyed the small, then-136-year-old flecks. The museum had to pick between researching the blood in a lab and preserving it for future generations. But that would set a precedent. Deciding that a few drops of blood were just as much human remains as was a box of bones, the museum decided that whatever it did for Lincoln, it had to do for Lalime. The museum picked preservation. No chipping apart for research, no reburial.

Although records show Lalime's bones were on the museum display floor as late as 1952, no one knows when or why they were moved to the museum's basement storage space.

But they were moved to the suburbs in 2012 because of the rabbis.

"My father-in-law came to me, actually in the synagogue one day, and he said 'Is a kohen allowed to go to the zoo?'" says Rabbi Mordechai Millunchick, rabbi at Adas Yeshurun, a synagogue in West Ridge.

That was in 2008, and Millunchick said he'd look into it. His father-in-law had just heard a radio interview with a Northwestern researcher who compared the number of bodies supposedly removed from the former city cemetery in Lincoln Park in the 1870s and 1880s to the number reburied in other cemeteries. The researcher had found a 12,000-corpse gap, which suggested to her that those bodies were still buried under the park, the zoo, and surrounding homes, the Reader reported in 2008.

This meant a day at the zoo could be devastating for certain Jews who must avoid dead bodies.

Kohanim—the plural of kohen, also spelled kohain—are, in Jewish tradition, a priestly clan descended from Moses's brother, Aaron. When the messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple in Jerusalem (the Romans destroyed the last iteration in 70 CE), the kohenim will be called upon to perform certain rites, so they must keep themselves free from impurities such as the "tumah" coming from dead bodies.

The only ceremony that cleanses a kohen who came in contact with death involves a red heifer that meets certain rigorous genetic standards. In all of history, Jewish law says, only nine heifers ever fit the bill. Observant Jews have been looking for the tenth cow for almost 2,000 years.

Without that heifer, avoiding death is extremely important for kohanim. If they find they're in a building with a dead body they must leave immediately. They can't go to the funerals of anyone but spouses, parents, or children, or even walk under the shadow of a branch from a tree that overlaps a different tree that falls over a cemetery. Medically minded kohanim often choose careers in dentistry so they can avoid med-school cadaver work, Millunchick says.

His father-in-law's question led Millunchick to write "Chicago Area Museums & Zoos: A Kohain's Guide," available on the Chicago Rabbinical Council website. It's a tourist's guide to death, including the Morton family plot at the Morton Arboretum and the Goodman Theatre, where improv legend Charna Halpern passed off a skull from a Skokie medical supply shop as the late Del Close's. Close wanted to play Yorick after death, and Halpern couldn't convince the hospital to chop off and skin the iO founder's head.

"It's well-known that the Field Museum is off limits to kohanim," Millunchick says. "They have mummies, skulls, bones, skeletons. You name it they have it. The Museum of Science and Industry is also similarly off-limits—brain slices, fetuses, all these things the kohanim would avoid."

In researching the guide, Millunchick cold-called the history museum to ask if it had any dead folks on the premises. As it had given Moses's mummy's mummy to the Field decades earlier, the only one left was Jean Lalime.

"Originally when we had mentioned it to them, they opened up, they showed us [Lalime] and they said, 'If there's anything we can do . . . '" Millunchick remembers. "They weren't at that time able to move him off-site."

Four years later, in 2012, "Shalom Chicago," a temporary exhibit highlighting the city's Jewish past, opened. The museum moved Lalime to the west-suburban storage warehouse so kohanim could attend. The warehouse is one of the museum's two main off-site storage locations. The other, mainly used for historical clothing, is a northwest suburban fallout shelter built by a downtown bank for its executives during the red scare.

"Because in Armageddon, you would need your bank records and you would need the VPs and so forth," Alter says, laughing.

When Lalime is on the museum's main campus—as his remains were last year for study and measurements—the museum informs the rabbinical council.

"I think that's a prime example of the ability to create a relationship between people who have a need for this information and the museums," the rabbi says.

As for the zoo, the Rabbinical Council gave Lincoln Park the kohen OK, except for the big red barn at Farm in the Zoo (workers digging the foundation in 1962 uncovered a casket and, getting no guidance from City Hall, reburied it and poured the concrete on top) and the softball diamonds, which had been built over the cemetery's former Jewish section. The Jewish United Fund Youth Leadership Division's softball league jokes that's why its games are held in the less convenient Stanton Park, a member of one of the teams, the Chicago White Lox, told me.

Part 2: 'A Perfect Assassination'

The story behind the murder at Fort Dearborn involves classic Chicago corruption and nepotism. To get to that story, meet the factor (a military officer tasked with not cheating indigenous Americans) and the sutler (a civilian whose political connections let him cheat almost every white person in sight).

From 1795 to 1822, each U.S. military fort was equipped with a trading post called a factory that traded European-style goods—at cost—for furs from local tribes. The goal wasn't profit, but to keep valuable pelts away from the British and convince the tribes that the U.S. was a friend.

The factory system was a colossal failure. Private traders were better funded (John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company alone was founded with more than three times the capital of the entire national factory system) and had higher- quality goods. The factors were also hamstrung by having to offer congressionally approved goods that, according to the 1822 government report that recommended scrapping the program, included tea, wigs, ostrich plumes, snuff boxes, and "green silk fancy ribands and morocco slippers" that the tribes had no use for.

The fort's other trading post was run by the sutler, a local shopkeeper granted the exclusive right to sell goods to soldiers at whatever rates he chose—as long as the officers who appointed him got their own goods cheap.

By 1809, Fort Dearborn's mandatory shopping spot was Cooper & Whistler's, which charged 50 percent more for tobacco, whiskey, shoe brushes, and sugar than the other local traders, and twice as much for bullets. "Cooper" was surgeon's mate Dr. John Cooper, the fort's doctor. "Whistler" was the son of fort commander Captain John Whistler and brother-in-law of fort lieutenant Thomas Hamilton.

"If Officers of the Army are allowed to be sutlers, innumerable evils will naturally follow. The temtation [sic] to extortion is, with ordinary minds, irresistible," the newly appointed factor, Matthew Irwin, wrote to the War Department on December 30, 1809. "The soldiers who are to be victims of imposition must then, if they have the hardihood to complain, be silenced by severe punishments; or, on the Other hand, quieted by indulgences calculated to insubordinate them. This garrison presents a striking example of such consequences."

After Irwin ratted to the War Department on the sutler situation, Hamilton, Cooper, and Captain Whistler—whose grandson would paint Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, better known as "Whistler's Mother"—were quietly transferred. But in a template for the city that followed, Fort Dearborn's corruption scandal didn't create reform. It created a job opening.

Just over two years later, on January 17, 1812, Whistler's replacement, Captain Nathan Heald, issued a garrison order making "Messrs. Kinzie & Forsyth" the exclusive fort sutlers.

Despite his well-known sympathy for (and rumored spying on behalf of) the British, and persistent accusations that he ran guns to messianic Shawnee leader Tenskwatawa, known as "the Prophet," Kinzie landed the gig in the most Chicago way possible: He was connected. Hamilton's replacement, Lieutenant Linai Helm, was Kinzie's son-in-law. As for the fort commander, Irwin suspected Kinzie held something over Heald that kept the captain pliant.

"[T]o my regret, I found this man had obtained so great an ascendency over the Captain as to render my [warnings] unavailing, and I also found they were connected in many improper concerns," Irwin wrote the War Department in an I-told-you-so letter on October 12, 1812, after Fort Dearborn's destruction.

Kinzie—the local trader Irwin used as an example of honest pricing when telling the War Department about Cooper & Whistler's gouging—immediately jacked up his own prices.

Starting with a letter to the War Department on January 19, 1812, Irwin began unraveling what he saw as a conspiracy. He hinted that Kinzie and Heald were cohort and crony in numerous dirty dealings, but his only specific charge was in a March 10 letter that he had "lately ascertained it to be an absolute fact that Messrs. Kinzie & Forsyth, offered a gentleman 400$ per annum [just shy of $6,000 a year in 2018 money] to get them appointed at Washington the Suttlers [sic] for this place."

Irwin detailed the wrongdoings at Fort Dearborn over several months, firing off letters to the War Department with each discovery. In the meantime, Irwin found two allies as horrified by the sutler contract as he was: surgeon's mate Dr. Isaac Van Voorhis and fort interpreter Jean Lalime.

Jean Lallime's signature - NEWBERRY LIBRARY
  • Jean Lallime's signature
  • Newberry Library

In April 1812, a band of Winnebago killed two white settlers at nearby Hardscrabble (today called Bridgeport, but since it wasn't Chicago at the time, Lalime is still considered the city's first murder victim). Kinzie and Helm cried for blood, not just from the Winnebago, but from the friendly Chippewa and Ottawa tribes as well.

"Propositions were openly made to murder them as well as some French persons (with Indian wives) who have, ever since they have been here, manifested peaceable dispositions," Irwin wrote on April 16. "The principal persons who advised & insisted upon such measures being carried into effect, were the Suttler [sic] for this garrison & his Son-in law—Lt Helm."

Although Irwin didn't say if Lalime was the French person with a Native American wife who had been threatened (local trader Francois Le Mai fit the bill as well), the factor openly suspected Kinzie and Helm of trying to incite war between the U.S. and the tribes. Kinzie, Helm, and ensign George Ronan spent months stoking anger among the soldiers with whatever secret power the sutling contract gave them over Heald keeping punishment against them light. Ronan threatened to shoot Lalime and Helm "swore 'he would take the Scalp of the Factor'" with impunity. Heald did arrest Helm in May for plotting to murder six Sauk who had come to the fort in peace (Van Voorhis had overheard Helm and some men scheming and told Irwin, who told Heald), but released the lieutenant after he apologized.

Kinzie was behind it all, the doctor and factor alleged. War between the U.S. and the tribes would be good business for a gunrunner working for the British, plus the factory was in direct competition with Kinzie's profitable illegal trading with the tribes.

The situation reached a head. On June 17, around 6 PM, inside Fort Dearborn, Helm went on a tirade about Irwin to Van Voorhis and Lalime, concluding, according to a June 30 letter from the doctor, "by saying he would give a very handsome treat if the Factory would be done away!" Kinzie took his son-in-law's side in the argument. Lalime stood up for Irwin.

"[T]he unfortunate Interpreter defended the pure motives and just dealings of the lnstitution," Van Voorhis wrote.

What happened next is lost to history. Neither Van Voorhis nor Irwin went into details of glinting blades or evil grins; they were writing official communications to the U.S. government, not the glamorized frontier sagas later published by Kinzie's heirs.

A knife came out. Lalime was dead. Kinzie saw that Irwin had seen the whole thing from 20 to 30 yards away, and called out that he was a "lost man," according to Irwin's report to the War Department. Ronan told Kinzie to run. Helm helped Kinzie. Heald did nothing.

Murder had come to Chicago.

"I need not trouble you, Sir, with the minutia of this affair; suffice it to say that it was a perfect assassination and can be proven to be such," Van Voorhis wrote the War Department in his June 30 letter. "[I] shall ever be ready, when my person is secure, to substantiate what I have stated."

Two weeks later, Van Voorhis himself lay dead on the beach by what's now 18th Street.

Part 3: 'They Fell Down Together'

Two of the reasons Jean Lalime is a trivia factoid and John Kinzie the namesake of streets, hotels, and steak houses are the War of 1812 and the Fort Dearborn Massacre.

The war broke out the day after the stabbing. The massacre—although there has been an effort over the last few years to call the events of August 15, 1812, the Battle of Fort Dearborn—happened after Fort Mackinac fell to the British and General William Hull ordered Heald to evacuate Fort Dearborn and the surrounding area and travel overland to Detroit. Aware of the impending departure, a splinter group of Potawatomi attacked the refugees a mile and a half from the fort, on the lakefront near 18th Street. According to Heald's official report, the Fort Dearborn dead included 26 of the 54 soldiers, all 12 of the militiamen, two women, and 12 children. The remainder were taken prisoner. The tribe then burned down the fort.

The Kinzies were among the Fort Dearborn group. Although no first-person accounts say how John Kinzie rejoined the community, family legend later printed as history had it that he fled to Milwaukee, returning to the fort after the fuss died down, where he was immediately cleared of all charges. The virulently pro-British family waited out the War of 1812 in Detroit, claiming they'd switched over to the American side.

"That the fate of La Lime should be obliterated by the horrors and confusion of a three years' war was only natural," historian Milo Quaife wrote in his 1913 book Chicago and the Old Northwest.

When the victorious U.S. military returned to Chicago in 1816 to build the second Fort Dearborn, the Kinzie family came too, and were regarded as eyewitness experts on what had happened at the first settlement. They could say whatever they wanted—anyone who could contradict them never came back to Chicago or was already dead.

In the version of events Kinzie's daughter-in-law Juliette published in 1844's Narrative of the Massacre at Chicago, August 15, 1812, and of Some Preceding Events and 1856's Wau-Bun: The 'Early Day' in the North-West, when John Kinzie arrived in Chicago in the very early 1800s, he bought from a man named Francois Le Mai a little shack built by Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, and turned the rundown trading post into an economic powerhouse, earning the love and respect of everyone but Lalime, whom Juliette described as "insanely jealous."

"One dark night, [Kinzie] crossed over [the river] into the fort, and just as he was entering the inclosure, a man sprang out from behind the gate-post and plunged a knife into his neck. It was Lalime. Quick as a flash, Mr. Kinzie drew his knife and dealt Lalime a furious blow, and a fatal one. The man fell like a log into the river below," Juliette wrote, reporting her mother-in-law's version of events as fact.

Lalime's powerful fort friends got their revenge, she wrote, by burying Lalime in Kinzie's yard just north of the Chicago River on what's now Michigan Avenue.

"Great was their chagrin and dissapointment [sic], however, when Mr. Kinzie, far from being annoyed at their action, proceeded to make Lalime's grave his especial care," Juliette Kinzie continued. "Flowers were planted on it and it was kept in most beautiful order. Many a half hour, the Kinzie children had longed to spend in play, was occupied by their father's orders in raking the dead leaves away from Lalime's grave and watering its flowers."

The only thing actually flowery was Juliette Kinzie's prose.

"I don't think his grave was very near Mr. Kinzie's house," former Kinzie family servant Victoire Porthier, who grew up in that house, told historian A.T. Andreas, as quoted in 1883's History of Chicago. "I don't remember that Mr. Kinzie ever took care of the grave."

Irwin never said anything about the grave, just that Kinzie's son-in-law made off with the corpse.

"The Citizens were anxious an inquest should be held in the body, but a file of soldiers headed by Lt. Helm carried it away by force," Irwin wrote in July 1812.

The Kinzie family version of events is full of similarly overwrought dramatic stories that slammed their rivals and deified their patriarch. They cast Lalime as an obsessed assassin, Du Sable as a shack-dwelling business failure, Heald as a bungler who chose to march the fort into a massacre, and, in the passage of the Narrative that detailed the Fort Dearborn Massacre, Van Voorhis as a coward who tried to bribe the Potawatomi for a few more seconds of life while screaming "I am not fit to die!"

Whatever more serious historians suspected about the Kinzies' fairy tales—Kirkland called the description of Van Voorhis's death "fanciful (hysterical?)" in a footnote in the 1892 book The Story of Chicago, while Quaife's Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673-1835 suggested that comparing Juliette Kinzie's writing to fact "is to dispel all confidence in its reliability and in the candor of its author"—the stories were for decades the only version of events available to the public. They were the source taught in schools, cited in lectures, and immortalized in statues on the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

The winners didn't write the history books. The books—including Narrative, Wau-bun, and Nellie Kinzie Gordon's 1910 John Kinzie, the Father of Chicago: A Sketch and her 1912 republication of Helm's version of August 15—were how the Kinzies made themselves the winners.

At the time the cellar diggers found Lalime, the only account of the killing not directly from a Kinzie came from Porthier, the former Kinzie family servant who talked to Andreas in 1883 about her experiences as a little girl. Her version of events differed from the Narrative's story of the stabbing, putting the murder by the fort gates, setting it in daylight, and adding a gun.

"It was sunset when they used to shut the gates of the fort. Kinzie and Lalime came out together and soon we [Porthier and her sister] 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," she told Andreas when she was an old woman.

"You see Kinzie wasn't to blame at all. He didn't have any pistol nor knife—nothing," she said. "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."

Cracks started to form in the story in the 20th century, when Quaife found a few of Irwin's letters, although the State Department wouldn't publish many of those quoted in this story until 1948.

"To those who subscribe to a traditional estimate local to Chicago which pictures Kinzie as a kind of demigod, Irwin's charge that in addition to being a murderer and a traitor he contrived the massacre of the garrison and settlers in order to destroy the witnesses of his crime will come as a distinct shock," Quaife wrote in a 1915 article for The Mississippi Valley Historical Review.

The record of the sale of Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable’s trading point to Jean Lalime in 1800, witnessed by John Kinzie - WAYNE COUNTY REGISTER OF DEEDS
  • The record of the sale of Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable’s trading point to Jean Lalime in 1800, witnessed by John Kinzie
  • Wayne County Register of Deeds

The Wayne County Register of Deeds in Detroit—Chicago was part of that county during Northwest Territory days—debunks many of the Kinzies' claims. Their records show Lalime, not Le Mai, bought Du Sable's trading post in 1800, bankrolled by Lalime and Kinzie's mutual boss, fur trader William Burnett. It couldn't have been confusion; Kinzie signed as witness.

Neither Wayne County, the Illinois State Archives, nor the Indiana State Archives—Chicago became part of the Indiana Territory after the Northwest Territory dissolved in 1803—could find any record for this story of the next time the property changed hands, but Kinzie was living in the house as early as 1803. Illinois records indicate Kinzie did officially buy the downtown Chicago property from the U.S. government as unclaimed land in 1830.

So as not to contradict the prominent Kinzie family, a convention developed that "Lalime" was "Le Mai" misspelled. The supposed correction appeared in books, on official records, and on the plaque that marked the spot of the "Kinzie Mansion" for decades. The National Parks Service listed "Le Mai" as an alternate spelling of "Lalime" in the paperwork that added the Du Sable Homesite to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The real Francois Le Mai died in 1828, a historian combing through Peoria County probate records discovered in the 1940s. John Kinzie's son James brought the body to officials, so the family knew who Le Mai was—and that he wasn't Jean Lalime.

Part 4: 'I Shall Be Much Deceived'

Lalime's body lay at Kinzie's feet by the corner of Wacker and Michigan, just west of what is now the hockey souvenir shop and across the river from Trump Tower. After the murder, Kinzie hid in the fort garrison for about four hours, until Lieutenant Helm walked him to the river's edge, shook his hand, and let the future father of Chicago run free.

Although Kinzie was seen prowling the area for days and a sentinel saw Helm sneaking his father-in-law food and wine, half-hearted effort after half-hearted effort failed to catch the killer. Heald turned the sutler post over to Kinzie's brother.

"Such conduct is not difficult to account for: Were the suttling business left open or free for any person to attend to it, a Secret might be disclosed on the part of Kinzie or his connections, which, at this time, might not be very agreeable," Irwin wrote in his July letter. "lt is the dread of this which has, at all times, deprived Cap. Heald of energy, & rendered him, as it does now, a mere statue & instrument."

Suspicious of a group of two or three men—Irwin referred to them as "Indians"—who started hanging around the factory, Irwin started bunking with Van Voorhis so they could watch each other's backs.

It was a bad time for the War Department to write back. It had received his January 19 letter and would order Heald to regulate how much Kinzie's sutler shop charged the men. The letter came through official channels, meaning Heald saw it before Irwin did.

That night, Heald issued a report that the fugitive Kinzie had been spotted. He ordered Irwin to apprehend him. Out in the woods. At night. Alone with Ensign Ronan.

When Irwin refused, Heald ordered him out of the garrison (Irwin ended up sleeping in the factory), reassigned the soldier who waited on Irwin, gave Irwin six days to find a replacement for the soldier, destroyed Irwin's vegetable garden, and fired off his own official War Department communique calling Irwin a bad friend and confirming some facts about the murder in the process.

"And, when you report to the [U.S. Secretary of War] that I have refused to protect your person any longer or suffer you to sleep in the garrison, be good enough to inform him that it was in Consequence of your refusing to obey my orders when Called on to assist in apprehending a Citizen who had but a few days previous stabed [sic] an other citizen to the heart in your presence," Heald wrote.

Irwin left Fort Dearborn on July 5 to hire a new interpreter. He arrived at Fort Mackinac just in time to become a British prisoner of war. By the time he was released, it was too late to go back to Chicago, where he would have ended up among the Fort Dearborn dead.

Irwin blamed one man for the deaths of the people he had worked with, lived with, feuded with, and informed on over the last three years: John Kinzie.

"The plots entered into by this man to destroy friendly Indians—the methods he had taken to inveigle the Officers (with the exception of the Surgeon's mate) into improper concerns—his bold and menacing conduct to the Citizens, if they dared to doubt his intentions—all tended to convince me that he felt an interest in bringing about an Indian War," Irwin wrote the War Department on October 12. "Should he not have been instrumental in the fate of Chicago, I shall be much deceived, because if he fulfilled his part as emissary, he had it much in his power to preserve his own life by destroying the Witnesses to the murder of Lalime."

The War Department wrote back on October 27 that, since the Fort Dearborn factory was no more, Irwin's services would no longer be required, but that his salary would be continued until he felt ready to come back to work.

There was a war on, and after that a fort to rebuild at Chicago. One dead Frenchman was a mystery no one had time to look into.

Finale: 'The Most Enjoyable'

On June 21, 1891, historian Joseph Kirkland gave a lecture advertised in the local papers and presented the Chicago Historical Society with a box of bones.

Kirkland focused his talk not on the murder, but on proving that the bones dug up at Illinois and Cass—the current site of Benny's Chop House—could be Jean Lalime's. He tracked Kinzie's property based on the story that Kinzie had tended Lalime's grave lovingly and guessed at a reburial at the first Saint James Church, which was roughly near where the body was found. He contacted old settlers, who said they were scared of going near the site as children, and that the older kids told them a man the father of Chicago had killed was buried roughly roundabout maybe sorta close to there.

The society, and Chicago, were satisfied. The Chicago Historical Society's minutes called it "the most enjoyable mid-summer meeting the Society has held for years."   v

Paul Dailing writes the blog 1,001 Chicago Afternoons, where you can read more about the murder of Jean Lalime.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Paul Dailing

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories