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(pioneer icon) 1924



AT the age of fourteen the heroine of the foregoing story married Captain McKillip, a British officer. This gentleman was killed near Fort Defiance, as it was afterward called, at the Miami Rapids, in 1794. A detachment of British troops had been sent down from Detroit, to take possession of this post. Gen. Wayne was then on a campaign against the Indians, and the British Government thought proper to make a few demonstrations in behalf of their allies. Having gone out with a party to reconnoitre, Captain McKillip was returning to his post after dark, when he was fired upon and killed by one of his own sentinels. Mrs. Helm was the daughter of this marriage.

During the widowhood of Mrs. McKillip she resided with her parents at Grosse Pointe, eight miles above Detroit, and it was during this period that an event occurred, which, from the melancholy and mysterious circumstances attending it, was always dwelt upon by her with peculiar interest.

Her second brother, Thomas Lytle, was, from his amiable and affectionate character, the most dearly beloved by her of all the numerous family circle. He was paying his addresses to a young lady who resided at the river Trench,1 as it was then called, now the river Thames, a stream emptying into Lake St. Clair, about twenty miles above Detroit. In visiting this young lady, it was his custom to cross the Detroit river by the ferry with his horse, and then proceed by land to the river Trench, which was, at some seasons of the year, a fordable stream.

On a fine forenoon, late in the spring, he had taken leave of his mother and sister for one of these periodical visits, which were usually of two or three days' duration

After dinner, as his sister was sitting at work by an open window which looked upon a little side enclosure filled with fruit-trees, she was startled by observing some object opposite the window, between her and the light. She raised her eyes and saw her brother Thomas. He was without his horse, and carried his saddle upon his shoulders.

Surprised that she had not heard the gate opening for his entrance, and also at his singular appearance, laden in that manner, she addressed him, and inquired what had happened, and why he had returned so soon. He made her no reply, but looked earnestly in her face, as he moved slowly along the paved walk that led to the stables.

She waited a few moments expecting he would reappear to give an account of himself and his adventures, but at length, growing impatient at his delay, she put down her work and went towards the rear of the house to find him.

The first person she met was her mother. "Have you seen Thomas?" she inquired.

"Thomas! He has gone to the River Trench."

"No, he has returned -- I saw him pass the window not fifteen minutes since."

"Then he will be in presently."

His sister, however, could not wait. She proceeded to the stables, she searched in all directions. No Thomas -- no horse -- no saddle. She made inquiry of the domestics. No one had seen him. She then returned and told her mother what had happened.

"You must have fallen asleep and dreamed it," said her mother.

"No, indeed! I was wide awake -- I spoke to him, and he gave me no answer, but such a look!"

All the afternoon she felt an uneasiness she could not reason herself out of.

The next morning came a messenger from the River Trench with dismal tidings.

The bodies of the young man and his horse had been found drowned a short distance below the ford of the river.

It appeared that on arriving at the bank of the river, he found it swollen beyond its usual depth by the recent rains. It being necessary to swim the stream with his horse, he had taken off his clothes and made them into a packet which he fastened upon his shoulders. It was supposed that the strength of the rapid torrent displaced the bundle which thus served to draw his head under water and keep it there, without the power of raising it. All this was gathered from the position and appearance of the bodies when found.

From the time at which he had been seen passing a house which stood near the stream, on his way to the ford, it was evident that he must have met his fate at the very moment his sister saw, or thought she saw him, passing before her.

I could not but suggest the inquiry, when these sad particulars were narrated to me.

"Mother, is it not possible this might have been a dream?"

"A dream? No, indeed my child. I was perfectly wide awake -- as much so, as I am at this moment. I am not superstitious. I have never believed in ghosts or witches, but nothing can ever persuade me that this was not a warning sent from God, to prepare me for my brother's death."

And those who knew her rational good sense -- her freedom from fancies or fears, and the calm self-possession that never deserted her under the most trying circumstances, would almost be won to view the matter in the light she did.

The order for the evacuation of the post, and the removal of the troops to Fort Howard (Green Bay), had now been received. The family circle was to be broken up. Our mother, our sister Mrs. Helm, and her little son, were to return with us to Fort Winnebago -- the other members of the family, except Robert, were to move with the command to Green Bay.

Before the time for our departure, however, Colonel Owen, the new Indian Agent, arrived to take up his residence at the place. Col. R. J. Hamilton, also, on a visit of business, expressed his determination to make Chicago his future home. This may be considered the first impulse given to the place -- the first step towards its subsequent unexampled growth and prosperity.

The schooner Napoleon was to be sent from Detroit to convey the troops with their goods and chattels to their destined post. Our immediate party was to make the journey by land -- we were to choose, however, a shorter and pleasanter route than the one we had taken in coming hither. My husband with his Frenchmen, Petaille Grignon and Simon Lecuyer, had arrived, and all hands were now busily occupied with the necessary preparations for breaking up and removal.

I should be doing injustice to the hospitable settlers of Hickory Creek were I to pass by, without notice, an entertainment with which they honored our Chicago beaux about this time. The merry-making was to be a ball, and the five single gentlemen of Chicago were invited. Mr. Dole, who was a new-comer, declined -- Lieut. Foster was on duty, but he did what was still better than accepting the invitation, he loaned his beautiful horse to Medard Beaubien, and he, with Robert Kinzie and Gholson Kercheval, promised themselves much fun in eclipsing the beaux and creating a sensation among the belles of Hickory Creek.

Chicago was then, as now, looked upon as the City par excellence. Its few inhabitants were supposed to have seen something of the world, and it is to be inferred that the arrival of the smart and dashing young men was an event looked forward to with more satisfaction by the fair of the little settlement than by the swains whose rivals they might become.

The day arrived and the gentlemen set off in high spirits. They took care to be in good season, for the dancing was to commence at two o'clock in the afternoon. They were well mounted, each priding himself upon the animal he rode, and they wore their best suits, as became city gallants who were bent on cutting out their less fashionable neighbors, and breaking the hearts of the admiring country damsels.

When they arrived at the place appointed, they were received with great politeness -- their steeds were taken care of -- a dinner provided them, after which they were ushered into the dancing-hall.

All the beauty of the neighboring precincts was assembled. The ladies were for the most part white, or or what passed for such, with an occasional dash of copper color. There was no lack of bombazet gowns and large white pocket-handkerchiefs, perfumed with oil of cinnamon; and as they took their places in long rows on the puncheon floor, they were a merry and a happy company.

But the city gentlemen grew more and more gaflant -- the girls more and more delighted with their attentions -- the country swains, alas! more and more scowling and jealous. In vain they pigeon-winged and double-shuffled -- in vain they nearly dislocated hips and shoulders at "hoc corn and dig potatoes" -- they had the mortification to perceive that the smart young sprigs from Chicago had their pick and choose among their very sweethearts, and that they themselves were fairly danced off the ground.

The revelry lasted until daylight, and it was now time to think of returning. There was no one ready with obliging politeness to bring them their horses from the stable.

"Poor fellows!" said one of the party, with a compassionate sort of laugh, "they could not stand it. They have gone home to bed!"

"Serves them right," said another, "they'd better not ask us down among their girls again!"

They groped their way to the stable and went in. There were some animals standing at the manger, but evidently not their horses. What could they be? Had the rogues been trying to cheat them, by putting these strange nondescripts into their place?

They led them forth into the gray of the morning, and then, such a trio as met their gaze!

There were the original bodies, it is true, but where were their manes, and tails? A scrubby, picketty ridge along the neck, and a bare stump projecting behind were all that remained of the flowing honors with which they had come gallivanting down to "bear away the bell" at Hickory Creek, or, in the emphatic language of the country, "to take the rag off the bush."

Gholson sat down on a log and cried outright Medard took the matter more philosophically -- the horse was none of his -- it was Lieut. Foster's.

Robert characteristically looked around to see whom he could knock down on the occasion, but there was no one visible on whom to wreak their vengeance.

The bumpkins had stolen away, and in some safe, quiet nook, were snugly enjoying their triumph, and doubtless the deceitful fair ones were, by this time, sharing their mirth and exultation.

The unlucky gallants mounted their steeds, and set their faces homeward. Never was there a more crest-fallen and sorry-looking cavalcade. The poor horses seemed to realize that they had met the same treatment as the messengers of King David at the hands of the evil-disposed Hanun. They hung their heads, and evidently wished that they could have "tarried at Jericho" for a season. Unfortunately there was in those days, no back way by which they could steal in, unobserved. Across the prairie, in view of the whole community must their approach be made, and to add to their confusion, in the rarity of stirring events, it was the custom of the whole settlement to turn out and welcome the arrival of any new-comer.

As hasty a retreat as possible was beaten, amid the shouts, the jeers, and the condolences of their acquaintances, and it is on record that these three young gentlemen were in no hurry to accept, at any future time, an invitation to partake of the festivities of Hickory Creek.

In due time the Napoleon made her appearance. (Alas! that this great name should be used in the feminine gender!) As there was at this period no harbor, vessels anchored outside the bar, or tongue of land which formed the left bank of the river, and the lading and unlading were carried on by boats, pulling in and out, through the mouth of the river, some distance below.

Of course it always was a matter of great importance to get a vessel loaded as quickly as possible that she might be ready to take advantage of the first fair wind, and be off from such an exposed and hazardous anchoring ground.

For this reason we had lived packed up for many days, intending only to see our friends safe on board, and then commence our own journey.

Our heavy articles of furniture, trunks, &c., had been sent on board the Napoleon to be brought round to us by way of Fox River. We had retained only such few necessaries as could be conveniently carried on a pack-horse, and in a light dearborn wagon lately brought by Mr. Kercheval from Detroit (the first luxury of the kind ever seen on the prairies), and which my husband had purchased as an agreeable mode of conveyance for his mother and little nephew.

It was a matter requiring no small amount of time and labor to transport, in the slow method described, the effects of so many families of officers and soldiers -- the company's stores, and all the various et ceteras incident to a total change and removal. It was all, however, happily accomplished -- everything, even the last article sent on board -- nothing remaining on shore but the passengers, whose turn it was next.

It was a moment of great relief, for Capt. Hinckley had been in a fever and a fuss many hours, predicting a change of weather, and murmuring at what he thought the unnecessary amount of boat-loads to be taken on board.

Those who had leisure to be looking out toward the schooner which had continued anchored about half a mile out in the lake, had, at this crisis, the satisfaction to see her hoist sail and leave her station for the open lake -- those who were a little later could just discern her bearing away to a distance, as if she had got all on board that she had any idea of taking. Here we were, and here we might remain a week or more, if it pleased Capt. Hinckley and the schooner Napoleon, and the good east wind which was blowing with all its might.

There was plenty of provisions to be obtained, so the fear of starvation was not the trouble, but how were the cooking and the table to be provided for? Various expedients were resorted to. Mrs. Engle, in her quarters above stairs, ate her breakfast off a shingle with her husband's jack-knife, and when she had finished, sent them down to Lieut. Foster for his accommodation.

We were at the old mansion on the north side, and the news soon flew up the river that the Napoleon had gone off with "the plunder," and left the people behind. It was not long before we were supplied by Mrs. Portier (our kind Victoire), with dishes, knives, forks, and all the other conveniences which our mess-basket failed to supply.

This state of things lasted a couple of days, and then, early one fine morning the gratifying intelligence spread like wild-fire that the Napoleon was at anchor out beyond the bar.

There was no unnecessary delay this time, and at an early hour in the afternoon we had taken leave of our dear friends, and they were sailing away from Chicago.2

1 From the French -- Tranche, a deep cut.

2 It is a singular fact that all the martins, of which there were great numbers occupying the little houses constructed for them by the soldiers, were observed to have disappeared from their homes on the morning following the embarkation of the troops. After an absence of five days they returned. They had perhaps taken a fancy to accompany their old friends, but, finding they were not Mother Carey's chickens, deemed it most prudent to return and reoccupy their old dwellings.

Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 288-299.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.