Illinois

Episode 15: The Stockyards

In the Spring of 2020, one of the first cracks in the American economy with Covid-19 was the closing of several meatpacking plants in the United States.  The nature of the process with workers stationed in close proximity to one another, poorly ventilated spaces, and often arduous work conditions and practices became a breeding ground for the virus and created Covid hot-spots around the country.  Meanwhile, the White House exercising its executive authority via the Defense Production Act ordered slaughterhouses to remain open for fear of disrupting of the nation’s meat supply. 

This underbelly of the food chain is often overlooked, yet for more than a century Chicago was largely identified with wholesale slaughter and meat processing thanks to the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company, which opened on Christmas Day 1865.  Stockyards and the downstream processing operations would soon become a ubiquitous presence in the economy of the growing metropolis of Chicago, the commerce of the United States, and the world. 

The Union Stock Yard & Transit Company led Carl Sandburg to coin the dubious moniker for Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World.”  Yet these operations provided an important testing ground for great ideas and smart solutions employing many great minds, including civil engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910) and the architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912).  The Stockyards were a prime tourist attraction in Chicago for the general public and people of note such as authors Rudyard Kipling, who was shocked by it, or Upton Sinclair, who based his novel “The Jungle” on the conditions and worker experiences there.  The Yards as locals referred to it spurred additional innovations — for instance the butchering disassembly line inspired Henry Ford to reverse the process to build automobiles which ultimately made them affordable to average Americans. 

The Union Stock Yard created huge fortunes and dynasties with names like Armour and Swift, often on the back of worker exploitation, which prompted strife and conflict and influenced the development of labor unions.  Great gusts blowing across the prairie turned small fires into great conflagrations on several occasions, and yet the Yards survived for more than a century before meeting its demise to the gradual shift of economic winds.  However in its heyday, the Yards was the place to be.  Join us in this episode to hear some more great Chicago history as we interview historian Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

Links to Research and Historic Documents

Episode 13: Early Chicago

In this episode of our “Laying the Foundation” series of the Windy City Historians we explore an often ignored and long forgotten era and complete our interview with Dr. Ann Durkin Keating. We tap into the history of Juliette Kinzie and the city’s early wheelers and dealers as it rises up out of the swampy prairie landscape along the Y-shaped Chicago River on far southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Special Episode: Don’t Sneeze, Cough or Spit!

The contagion began suddenly in the northern suburbs of Chicago and floated south toward the city like an invisible cloud.  Soon restaurants, saloons, and theaters were closed and the police had the power to break up crowds and arrest individuals for spitting, coughing or sneezing in public.  Public funerals were forbidden and elective surgeries canceled.  Everyone wore face masks.  Was this Spring, 2020?  No, it was Chicago in the Autumn of 1918.

Join the Windy City Historians for this special episode as we step away from the chronological telling of Chicago history of our ongoing “Laying the Foundation” series, and instead chart the course of epidemics and outbreaks in Chicago history. In particular, we dig into the, so called, Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. This pandemic reveals many parallels between the events of 1918 and today’s struggle with the novel coronavirus (SARS Cov-2, its new official name) in 2020.  

In this episode we interview historian Joseph Gustaitis, author of Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893 and Chicago Transformed: World War I and the Windy City to learn about Chicago’s the first health crisis in 1835 and subsequent outbreaks and diseases plaguing the young city leading up to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.

A cataclysmic event in 1918 and 1919 this epidemic infected one-third of the world’s population, over 500 million people and killing approximately 1% of the human population on earth, an estimated 20-to-50-million people.  In the United States alone approximately 675,000 citizens died — more Americans than were killed in WWI and WWII combined. The pandemic affected the way Americans and Chicagoan’s live and work today and was particularly lethal to people in the prime of their life.  Learn more about this incredible story 100+ years ago and the parallels and differences with today’s pandemic.

Links to Research and History Documents

We mention in this episode one known documented account of whites giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans. This is attributed to the letters of Jeffery Amherst a British officer stationed at Fort Pitt in later day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who under siege in 1763 during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) writes to Colonel Henry Bouquet. Much has been written of this legend this so a variety of sources are cited on the topic below:

Please note Ward Churchill mentioned above sadly perpetuated the myth of the U.S. Army spreading smallpox to First Nations in at least six publications between 1994 and 2003. Churchill entirely fabricated incidents which never occurred, about individuals who never existed. His sources were completely falsified, and talk about fake news, he repeatedly concealed evidence in his possession discrediting his falsified version of events.

Below are additional links and research we touch upon in this episode:


Episode 12: The First Star – part two

Fort Dearborn at the beginning of the War of 1812 . . . is it a Battle or a Massacre? How should we, in the twenty-first century, talk about the events that occurred on Chicago’s lakefront on August 15, 1812 — a month-and-a-half after the declaration of war? How do we describe what happened to the column of approximately 100 soldiers, farmers, women and children in Indian Country that abandoned Fort Dearborn, mostly on foot, for Fort Wayne when they are attacked by approximately 500 Native Americans?

Join us in this episode of the Windy City Historians Podcast for the second half of our interview with history professor Ann Durkin Keating, Ph.D. and The First Star — a reference to the first star on the Flag of Chicago. Does William Wells actually get his heart carved out to be eaten by the victors? Find out about this and much more as we discuss the final events, implications, art and language surrounding Chicago and aftermath of this infamous attack in Chicago in 1812. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we have putting it together!

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 11: The First Star

Did you realize each of the four stars on the Chicago Flag represent important dates in Chicago history? The two blue stripes on the flag have a special meaning as well. In this Episode we will discuss the events running up to the Fort Dearborn Massacre which is represented by the first star on Chicago’s flag. We interview historian, professor, and author Ann Durkin Keating, Ph.D. about the events leading up to what she prefers to call the Battle of Fort Dearborn which occurred on Chicago’s lakefront on August 15, 1812.

This is the eleventh episode in our inaugural series we call “Laying the Foundation” and continues our chronological overview of Chicago history from its beginnings up to the 1930s. Since March 2019, we have released a new episode each month, usually on the last Friday of the month, to bring you a new slice of fascinating Chicago history. We hope you are enjoying the podcast and we could use your help to expand our audience. Please tell your friends, family, acquaintances, and even complete strangers about these amazing Chicago stories in audible form available only on the Windy City Historians Podcast. Join our Facebook group the Windy City Historians of over 8K members and discover more great Chicago history.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 9: The First Scandal

Early settlement of Chicago begins, Fort Dearborn is established at this outpost in Indian Country and it gets entangled in Chicago’s first scandal.

Episode 8 : The First Settler

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines settler as, “a person who goes to live in a new place where usually there are few or no people”. Native Americans have lived in the greater Chicago area for approximately 10,000 years dating back to the last ice age. Dependent on long lost oral histories we have no clear records of the future city’s earliest peoples, though archeological efforts and early French documents seem to indicate no native villages existed within today’s Chicago city limits. There have been significant native villages in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, but no evidence of native settlement on the Chicago River has ever come to light.

The last seven episodes of the Windy City Historians Podcast has attempted to relate the first hundred plus years of Chicago’s earliest recorded history from the first westerners to pass through the area; be it Nicolet somewhere between 1628 and 1634 or Jolliet and Marquette in 1673. We now unveil this story of Chicago’s very first settler connecting us to the permanent and continuous settlement of the City of Chicago.

This man, a man of color, and his family has long been swept under the rug while the trader and opportunist John Kinzie was held up as the town’s founder, a man we can best describe as Chicago’s first scoundrel. We hope you will enjoy this in depth conversation with historians John Swenson and professor Courtney Pierre Joseph Ph.D. relating the life, times, and impact the very first settler made on the site and city that would follow in his footsteps. This is the story of the trader, gentleman farmer, and Chicago’s founder — Jean Baptiste Point de Sable. Mr. Point de Sable, and yes, that is the proper French spelling of his full surname, is a fascinating character we hope you will enjoy learning about as much as we have.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 7: Jolliet & Marquette by Reenactment

Perhaps nothing in Chicago history is as fundamental as Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette’s expedition of 1673. Their voyage by canoe from St. Anglace down Lake Michigan to the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers and the mighty Mississippi was of epic scale. On the way back north they paddled up the Illinois River passing through the place the Indians called “Chicagoua.” If the City of Chicago had a Mount Rushmore, Jolliet and Marquette would be on it. For Father Marquette the trip was to evangelize the Native Americans, while Jolliet’s focus was exploration, potential trade, as was the first to suggest a short canal to connect the waterway between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River.

With the tricentennial of this historic feat approaching it appeared nothing was planned to commemorate it. For Ralph Frese, Chicago’s “Mr. Canoe” this was unconscionable. So he set out the idea of reenacting the Jolliet & Marquette Expedition, picked the crew to paddle it, and built the canoes, while remaining entirely behind the scenes to receive little or no credit.

For this podcast, Chris and Patrick were thrilled to sit down with three key crew members of this 1973 re-enactment, Chuck McEnery and brothers Ken & Reid Lewis. Listen as this lively discussion unfolds commemorating the early origins of Chicago history. Filled with laughter and travails they persevered to set the stage for later historical reenactments, like the La Salle II expedition of 1976-77 recounted in Episodes 4 & 5. The re-telling 46-years later still feels fresh as the splash of paddles and songs of the Voyageurs wash across the waters of time.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 6: Mississippi by Canoe

“Unquestionably the discovery of the Mississippi is a datable fact which considerably mellows and modifies the shiny newness of our country, and gives her a most respectable outside-aspect of rustiness and antiquity.” — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

For the new country of the United States, the river that bisected it was old. This mighty river shaped the destiny of the towns and cities along its many miles of shoreline. Chicago was just a backwater to St. Louis, Missouri and Galena, Illinois before the railroads began to dominate transportation and Chicago’s rapid rise to prominence.

Our esteemed guest Paul Meincke took full measure of this river on an epic 70-day journey and joins the Windy City Historians in a special episode of our “Canoe Chronicles” to share some history and present reality of the “Mighty” Mississippi. In 2017, Paul, with friends Bill Baar, Tim Clark, and Tom Lobacz, started this adventure at the river’s headwaters in Minnesota and canoed some 2,320 miles to Gulf of Mexico. Captured in the documentary ”Mississippi by Canoe” on YouTube, Paul will tells of the trip’s challenges, triumphs, and insights and offers some behind the scenes in the making of the documentary. We hope you will enjoy this lively tale of paddling, politics, and history sprinkled with legends, mosquitoes, alligators, and how life is better when experienced by canoe, even 950,000 paddle strokes later.

Paul Meincke is “mostly” retired after 30-years of general assignment reporting for ABC7 Eyewitness News in Chicago, and ironically Paul’s celebrated 45-year broadcast career began on the banks of the Mississippi River in his hometown, Rock Island, Illinois. It was a real pleasure to met and talk with him.

Links to Research and History Documents

Episode 4: La Salle and the Voyageurs

The name La Salle is ubiquitous throughout the United States, with streets, parks, towns, universities, parishes, schools and even counties named for this French explorer. In this episode, “La Salle and the Voyageurs”, we examine the influence of La Salle, as well as interview Reid Lewis, the founder of a 1976-77 reenactment of La Salle’s second expedition journeying from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico.  Rich Gross, a member of the crew tells us what it was like to canoe for 3,300 miles as an 18 year-old student, and we talk with Lorraine Boissoneault, the author of “The Last Voyageurs” about La Salle and this re-enactment of his voyage.

René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle is a larger then life figure, and so one cannot devote just one episode to him; this is the first of a two-part podcast on this giant of French and American history, who along with Jacque Marquette and Louis Jolliet, is in the Pantheon of French explorers who opened up the frontier of North America and traveled extensively on in the Great Lakes region

Links to Research and History Documents