J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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slightly altered from the original; so that, as Schoolcraft remarks, "the stockade
bears too great a proportion to the scene, while the precipice observed in the shore
line of sand is wholly wanting in the original." 31

The. party were favorably impressed with the aspect and natural situation of the
place. "The country around Chicago," writes Schoolcraft, " is the most fertile .and
beautiful that can be imagined. It consists of an intermixture of woods and prai-
ries, diversified with gentle slopes, . . . and it is irrigated with a number of
clear streams and rivers, which throw their waters partly into Lake Michigan and
partly into the Mississippi river." He then indulges in a prophetic vision, and says
that it must "become one of the most attractive fields for the emigrant. To the or-
dinary advantages of an agricultural market town, it must add that of being a depot
for the commerce between the northern and southern sections of the Union, and a
great thoroughfare for strangers, merchants and travelers." 32

A few more interesting details are added to Schoolcraft's account. "Having
partaken," continues the narrative, "of the hospitalities of Mr. Kinzie, and of Cap-
tains Bradley and Green, of Fort Dearborn, during our stay at Chicago, and com-
pleted the reorganization of our parties, we separated, . . . Governor Cass and
his party, on horseback, taking the old Indian trail to Detroit, and Captain Doug-
lass and myself being left, with two canoes, to complete the circumnavigation of
the lakes." Bidding adieu to Dr. Wolcott, "whose manners, judgment and intelli-
gence had commanded our respect," the party embarked, and, favored by a good
breeze, which permitted the boatmen to hoist their sails, they proceeded on their
way around the southern bend of Lake Michigan. The party continued their jour-
ney up the west shore of the lake, passed into Lake Huron and at length arrived at
Detroit, September twenty-fourth. The entire journey had occupied just four
months of time, and the distance traversed was forty-two hundred miles. The jour-
ney was performed without the occurrence of a single untoward accident. 33 On
their arrival the party found that Governor Cass and his equestrian party from
Chicago had preceded them thirteen days.

29 Ibid., p. 197.

80 Schoolcraft: "Mississippi," p. 197.

"Ibid., p. 198.

82 Schoolcraft, p. 199.

33 Schoolcraft, p. 284.



When Governor Cass came to Chicago in 1820, on his famous tour of exploration
the same tour on which he was accompanied by Henry R. Schoolcraft, he had
in his party as assistant topographer Charles C. Trowbridge, then a young man and
a trusted confident of his chief. 34 The party travelled in three canoes, of which
Trowbridge was in charge of one and John H. Kinzie of another. 35 The little group
of dwellings along the river did not impress him, as we see in a note written by him
long afterward to the secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society: "Even as late
as 1831, I declined becoming a party to the purchase of one- fourth of the Kinzie
Addition, Chicago the North Side at five thousand dollars. Ten years prior to
that I was in Chicago, and would not have given that sum for both sides of the
river as far as the eye could extend."


It might be said of Chicago in the early day that it was but an outpost of the
trading interests located at the head of Lake Michigan, and a stopping place be-
tween those much older settlements of Mackinac and Green Bay on the north and
Cahokia, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau and many others on the south. So it was that
Chicago was the stopping place for many from points north and south, who were
brought there by trading interests. One of those who visited the settlement was
Ebenezer Childs, who in 1820 was keeping a small store at Green Bay, where he
had come from Massachusetts. In 1821 he made a trip to St. Louis by water, com-
ing back by way of the Illinois River. Canoeing up into the Desplaines River with
his men, he was unable to find the portage owing to the inundation of the country,
due to heavy rains. He says of his arrival: "After traveling a few miles, I found
the current of the Chicago River. The whole country was inundated ; I found not
less than two feet of water all the way across the portage. That night I arrived
at Chicago, pitched my tent on the bank of the lake, and went to the fort for pro-
visions. I was not, however, able to obtain any ; the commissary informing me that
the public stores were so reduced, that the garrison were subsisting on half rations,
and he knew not when they would get any more. I went to Col. Beaubien, who
furnished me with a small supply. I found two traders there from Mackinaw, and
as my men were all sick, I exchanged my tent and canoe for a horse, and took pas-
sage on board the Mackinaw boat as far as Manitowoc. One of our party had to
go by land and ride the horse. There were at this time but two families residing
outside of the fort at Chicago, those of Mr. Kinzie and Col. Beaubien." 36

A second time, in 1827, he visited Chicago and says, "The place had not improved
any since 1821 ; only two families yet resided there, those of Kinzie and Col. Beau-


In 1825 came a stranger, paddling around the bend of the Chicago river into
view of Fort Dearborn. It was not trading that brought him, not a government er-

34 Schoolcraft: "Mississippi" p. 44.

35 "Wisconsin Historical Collections," V 370.

30 "Wisconsin Historical Collections:" IV 162, 169.


rand- merely the desire to travel on from his latest dwelling place in search of
further adventure. This citizen of the realm of Vagabondia was John H. Fonda,
a young man who was born in Albany County, New York. There he received a
good education, studied law, and finally, urged by his boyish love of roving and of
the out-of-doors, he joined, in about 1819, a party which was going to Texas. In
that country he worked as a fur trader for about four years, which seemed to be
as long as his interest in his surroundings held out. Then he traveled hap-hazardly
towards St. Louis, sometimes crossing the plains "on board of an old pack-mule,"
at one time stopping for a season in a mixed settlement of trappers, Mexicans and
Indians ; moving on again to St. Louis in charge of a caravan of wagons and cattle
over a barren country, that even then seemed to him rich in its possibilities. In
Texas he had been a fur trader ; in St. Louis he was a brick-layer ; and next, after
a few months in that place, hearing that fortunes were to be made in lead mining
near Prairie du Chien, and that a number of men were starting up the Mississippi,
he made himself one of this party. It was sufficient for him that they were seeking
new experience. On the journey up the river rumors of Indian disturbances in the
mining region came to them, so they branched off at the Illinois river, went on up
the Desplaines, across the old slough into the Chicago river, and thus Fonda first
entered Chicago, paddling down towards Fort Dearborn in a canoe.

"At this period," he relates, "Chicago was merely an Indian agency; it contained
about fourteen houses, and not more than seventy-five or one hundred inhabitants at
the most. . . . The staple business seemed to be carried on by Indians and
runaway soldiers, who hunted ducks and musk-rats in the marshes. There was a
great deal of low land, mostly destitute of timber. The principal inhabitants were
the agent [Dr. Alexander Wolcott], a Frenchman by the name of Ouilmette, and
John B. Beaubien. It never occurred to me then that a large city would be built
up there."

From Chicago he started for Green Bay, but at the scanty traders' settlement of
Milwaukee he stayed for two years, perhaps for no reason at all, perhaps for one
having to do with the fact that a few years later he married the niece of the only
merchant in the settlement. In 1827 he roved on towards Green Bay. In all his
wanderings the scenery on the way afforded him as much interest and excitement
as actual adventures. He was kindred in spirit to the wilderness through which
he was going, and in telling of what he saw, the glint on the lake of sea fowls'
wings, cascades of falling waters, the freshness of

"A vagrant's morning, wide and blue,
In early fall, when the wind walks, too,"

he often carries into his words the beauty of the scenes he recalls.


At Fort Howard, near Green Bay, he was delighted to see Yankee soldiers,
after eight years' absence from his eastern home. Col. McKenney was in com-
mand at the fort, and visiting him was Gen. Lewis Cass, who was there on a com-
mission to hold a treaty with the local Indians. At Green Bay he was continu-
ally hearing rumors, increasingly alarming, of Indian disturbances the first warn-

Fonda carried the mail between Chi-
cago and Green Bay in the '20s.

By permission or Chicago Historical Society Prom painting by Edgar S. Cameron


Log building near the present site of Lake street bridge at the east end


ing notes of the Winnebago War; he "continued/' as he said, "to hang around the
fort, leading a sort of free ranger life sometimes accompanying the officers on
their hunting tours, but refusing all proposals to enlist." A soldier's life was too
uneventful and constrained for him, even in those active times. He preferred

"Wandering with the wandering wind,
Vagabond and unconfined."

Soon there came a task that suited his fancy: "It was the winter of '27 3 " that
the U. S. Quartermaster, having heard of me through some of the men, with whom
I was a favorite, came to me one day and asked me if I thought I could find the
way to Chicago. I told him it wasn't long since I made the trip by the lake. He
said he wanted to get a person who was not afraid to carry dispatches to the mili-
tary post 3S at Fort Dearborn. I said I had heard that the Indians were still un-
friendly, but I was ready to make the attempt. He directed me to make all the
preparations necessary, and report myself at his quarters at the earliest moment.
I now began to consider the danger to be provided against, which might be classed
under three heads, viz: cold, Indians, and hunger. For the first, it was only need-
ful to supply one's person with good hunting shirts, flannel and deer-skin leggins,
extra moccasins, and a Mackinaw blanket; these, with a resolute spirit, were deemed
sufficient protection against the severest weather. And fortunate was he who pos-
sessed these. Hunger, except in case of getting lost, was easily avoided by laying
in a pouch of parched Indian corn and jerked venison. Against danger from In-
dians, I depended on the following," and the reader, being lured so far into Fonda's
narrative, must go to the original, which is too lengthy an account to quote. In
brief, he secured adequate arms a rifle, a sheath knife and two pistols took unto
himself a comrade for sociability's sake, and was ready to start on the long journey
to Chicago.


It is amusing to regard these two companions together Fonda, the valiant free-
lance, tall, powerful, good-natured; and Boiseley beside him in comical contrast, a
short, uncouth, hirsute woodsman, with long arms, having an endurance and power
even greater than that of his companion. These two left Fort Howard on foot,
with letters and dispatches for the Indian agent at Fort Dearborn. The trip was
made by land, and in a little more than a month their destination was reached.
This was the second time that Fonda had come to Chicago, and in his approach as
a carrier of dispatches, he felt a certain importance, a dignity which his former ar-
rival as a casual tourist had lacked. The dispatches were delivered to Captain
Morgan, whom he found in command at the fort with a company of volunteers from
the Wabash country, who had come in response to Gurdon S. Hubbard's appeal for
aid. The two men then went out from the fort into the settlement, to a house

37 Fonda's narrative is evidently at fault in saying "winter of 1827," as the occasion of
which he speaks was in the late summer of that year.

38 Again Fonda's narrative is in error, as the "military post" at Fort Dearborn did not
exist as such at that time; the garrison at Fort Dearborn had been withdrawn in 1823, and
the post was in charge of the Indian agent, Dr. Wolcott.


"built," Fonda says, "on the half-breed system partly of logs and partly of
boards." At this house, kept by a Mr. Miller, Fonda and his companion stayed
while in the settlement. Of the place at the time of his second visit he said,
"With the exception that the fort was strengthened and garrisoned [that is, by the
volunteers mentioned], there was no sign of improvement having gone on since my
former visit."

In another month they were back at Fort Howard with return dispatches from
Fort Dearborn. Anent this experience Fonda makes his confession : "The Quarter-
Master at Fort Howard expressed himself satisfied with my performance, and he
wanted me to make another trip; but as I had seen the country, which was all I
cared for, I did not desire to repeat it. Getting my pay from the Department, and
a liberal donation from the people, a portion of which I gave Boiseley, I left Uncle
Sam's employ and took up my old profession a gentleman of leisure, and continued
to practice as such until the spring came, when with a view to extend the field of
my labors, I made ready to bid good-bye to Green Bay." Urged on by the "joy
of the open road," he started forth with his little goblin of a companion towards
Fort Crawford, near Prairie du Chien, where Colonel Zachary Taylor took com-
mand in 1829.

Of Fonda's later experiences little more will here be said, as they are not con-
nected directly with Chicago history. At Fort Crawford he enlisted for three years
in the army, was a favorite and trusted Quarter-Master's Sergeant under Colonel
Taylor, who gave him his discharge while in hospital two years later.


During the Black Hawk War Fonda served in the army, and for his service he
received at the end of the war a land warrant, whereupon he settled down and
married. From that time he lived, at intervals, in Prairie du Chien, taking his
family with him as he moved to and from the place. After his last discharge from
the army, he was a Justice of the Peace for a number of years. In 1858 Fonda
related the story of his pioneering. He was then about sixty years old, for the past
thirty years a resident of Prairie du Chien, having come there as a young man
when it was the extreme settlement in the Northwest. He is interesting rather as
a personality than in any historical connection with Chicago. He was one of the
brotherhood of Borrow and Stevenson, of Josiah Flynt and Richard Hovey. He
felt the glory of the open air, and knew the worth of a wayfaring comrade. He
loved adventure, was brave in danger, of great physical endurance and did well
what he set himself to do. It is characteristic of him that he fought hard against
the Indians and yet could say, "No person under heaven sympathizes more sin-
cerely with them." S9


The first mail route that crossed the Alleghany Mountains was established in
1788, coming west as far as Pittsburgh. Within the next few years routes were
extended to Louisville (1794) to Vincennes (1800) to Cape Girardeau (1810) and

39 Wisconsin Historical Collections, V, 205.


from Vandalia to Springfield (182-1). As the northern part of Illinois was sparsely
settled, it was not until the early twenties that mail was brought to Chicago by reg-
ular "express," as the carrier was called. Before that time, letters arriving had
come through special conveyance or messenger as opportunity offered, and when
conditions were favorable.

In 1826 David McKee agreed with the government to carry dispatches and let-
ters once a month between Fort Wayne and Chicago. This was mainly for the con-
venience of the soldiers or agents occupying Fort Dearborn. He took with him an
Indian pony to carry the mail bag and sleeping blankets, driving his pony ahead of
him. For his own food he relied upon the game which he could kill, and for his
pony's eating he cut down an elm or basswood tree here and there on the path.
The route lay from Chicago to Niles, Michigan; thence to Elkhart, Indiana; and
on to Fort Wayne. The average trip took fourteen days, it being sometimes ac-
complished in ten days. 40

Writing of the mail at Chicago in 1825, Mrs. Kinzie says, "The mails arrived,
as may be supposed, at very rare intervals. They were brought occasionally from
Fort Clark (Peoria), but more frequently from Fort Wayne, or across the peninsula
of Michigan, which was still a wilderness peopled with savages. The hardy adven-
turer who acted as express was, not unfrequently, obliged to imitate the birds of
heaven and 'lodge among the branches,' in order to insure the safety of himself
and his charge." The carriers often suffered from "snowblind," having to suspend
the journey or hire it done by another while they recovered at some cabin or other
stopping place along the route. Although usually provided with parched corn against
the scarcity of game, there were many times when the mail carriers travelled for
days on the verge of starvation; just as common a hardship was freezing the feet,
in some instances the men losing their toes as a result. One might wonder why
horses were not in general use for these long wilderness journeys. The question
is answered by pointing out the difficulty of progress through forests crossed by
few or no paths. In writing of his western tour, Storrow says, "The thickness of
the forest rendered marching difficult, and almost entirely impeded the horse; but
for exertions in assisting him over crags, and cutting away branches and saplings
with our tomahawks, we should have been obliged to abandon him. The land was
broken with hillocks and masses of rock."

The eastern mail was brought to Wisconsin twice a year fiv a soldier, whose
route was overland from Detroit, around the southern bend of Lake Michigan and
through Chicago. 41 About the year 1825 post offices were established in towns west
and south of Chicago, and mail routes put through connecting these places. In
this way the older settlements in southern Illinois were more closely connected with
the northern part of the state. Of the route between Green Bay and Chicago much
is found in historical records, as it was one of the oldest western routes. In an
account of one who lived in Green Bay in 1825, we read, "Once a month a mail
arrived, carried on the back of a man who had gone to Chicago, where he would
find the mail from the East, destined for this place. He returned as he had gone,
on foot, via Milwaukee. This day and generation can know little of the excitement
that overwhelmed us when the mail was expected expectations that were based on

40 Fergus: 7, 23.

41 Thwaites' "Wisconsin," p. 185.


the weather. When the time had come, or was supposed to have come, that the
mail carrier was nearing home, many of the gentlemen would start off in their
sleighs to meet him." One of the well known carriers of the early day was Alexis
Clermont, who regularly made this journey, after the Black Hawk War. He has
told his own story of it: "I would start out from the post office in Shantytown,
taking the Indian trail to Manitowoc. Only twice would I see the lake between
Green Bay and Milwaukee at Sauk River, twenty-five miles north of Milwaukee,
and at Two Rivers. From Milwaukee I went to Skunk Grove, then to Gross Point,
where I struck the lake again, and then I would see no more of the lake until I
reached Chicago. ... In making my trips I was not alone. An Oneida In-
dian always accompanied me. The load was limited to sixty pounds, and we usu-
ally had that weight. As a rule it took us a full month to make the round, from
Green Bay to Chicago and return. We carried two shot bags filled with parched
corn; one of them hulled (bre-grole), the other ground (plurien). For the greater
part of our diet, we relied upon the Indians, or on what game we could kill; the
bags of corn were merely to fall back upon, in case the Indians had moved away,
as they were apt to do, on hunting and fishing expeditions. At night we camped out
in the woods, wherever darkness overtook us, and slept in the blankets which we
carried on our backs. In Chicago we merely stopped over night, and promptly
returned the way we came ; unless we were delayed by a tardy mail from Detroit,
which reached Chicago by steamer in summer, and by foot, overland, in winter.
. . . Our pay was usually from $60 to $65 for a round trip such as I have de-
scribed, although in the fall it sometimes reached $70." 42

The receptacle carried by the express was not always the bag that is referred
to so frequently. John H. Fonda in starting on his trip from Green Bay to Chicago
was intrusted "with the not mail-bag, but a tin canister or box of a flat shape,
covered with untanned deer-hide, that contained the dispatches and letters of the

In the period about 1825 "the United States mails coming from the East to
Chicago and other western lake ports were conveyed, during the season of naviga-
tion, by the irregular and tardy conveyances of sail vessels, and the inhabitants of
the country were oftentimes for weeks or months without intelligence of what was
passing in other parts of the world, from which they were completely isolated."
The privilege of mail service "was purchased partly by voluntary contributions of
the citizens, and an allowance from the U. S. Quartermaster's Department, and the
military post fund at Fort Howard. The Government at Washington found it
would not pay to establish a mail route, or defray the expenses of carrying the
mail, and decreed, no doubt wisely, that no expenditure could be made by the Post
Office Department for that purpose, exceeding the net proceeds of the mail mat-
ter." 43

In general it may be said of the early mail service of the West that each mili-
tary post was a post office, and the commandant a postmaster. In 1831 a regular
post office was established at Chicago, and by 1834, Chicago was receiving one mail
a week, which was brought on horseback from Niles.

*- Wisconsin Historical Collections, XV, p. 454.
* 3 Wisconsin Historical Collections, II, p. 95.



A regular post office was established on March 31, 1831, and the appointment
of postmaster was given to Jonathan Nash Bailey, at that time living in the Kinzie
house. The post office was located in a small log building 20x45 feet, near the pres-
ent corner of Franklin and South Water Streets. In one side of the building was
the post office, in the other a store. The postage on the few letters and papers which
arrived was paid by the recipient, the rates being in proportion to the weight of
the letter and the distance it had travelled, ranging from six and one-half cents to
twenty-five cents. Letters were often left uncalled for in the post office because
the ones to whom they were sent could not afford the postage. Of the mail service
out of Chicago at this period we have a record sent to the author from the office of
the Postmaster General :

Route No. 46, Fort Wayne by Good Hope, Elkheart Plain, Goshen, Pulaski (Ind.), Ed-
wardsburgh, to Niles (M. T.), once a week, and from Niles to Chicago (Illinois), twice a
week, on horseback. Distance, 90 miles. Contractor, John G. Hall, with pay at $175.00.

Route No. 74, Vincennes by Palestine, Hutsonville, York, Clark C. H., Livingston, Paris,
Ono, Bloomfield, Carolus, Georgetown to Danville, 120 miles. Once a week. From May i to
November i in a two-horse stage, and the residue of year on horseback. Also, Danville to
Chicago, 130 miles, once in two weeks. Contractors, Oliver Breeze and Co. Pay $600.00.

Route No. 83, Decatur by Randolphs Grove, Bloomington, Ottawa, Chestnut, Vermilion and
Dupage to Chicago, 185 miles, once a week. Contractor, Luther Stevens. Pay, $700.00

Route No. 84, Chicago by Romeo, Iroquois, and Driftwood to Danville, 125 miles, once a
week. Contractor, Robert Oliver. Pay $600.00.

The same records also show that the net amount of post office receipts at Chi-
cago during 1832 was $47.00, that being the only year shown. In the small build-

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 20 of 59)