Windy City Historians

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 5: Missing at Death’s Door

Our examination of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle continues in this episode, as we follow the progress of the 1976-77 La Salle II Expedition, which ran into rough weather in Door County, Wisconsin and plot their progress as winter forces the crew out of their canoes to walk or portage the frozen rivers and roads, as they try to make it to the Mississippi. Author Lorraine Boissoneault shares her insights from her book The Last Voyageurs and we interview Reid & Ken Lewis who organized this epic reenactment and and Rich Gross who was part of the crew on this trek seeking the Gulf of Mexico.

We also gained fascinating insights from our interview with veteran broadcaster Paul Meincke recounting his 2017 trip canoeing the Mississippi from its headwaters to the Gulf and the ever present dangers of paddling this river of commerce of America’s heartland.

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

Episode 3: Urbs in Horto?

Released Friday, May 31, 2019 – What’s in a name? “Urbs in Horto” or as translated from Latin “City in the Garden” is the motto on the seal of the City of Chicago, which nicely ties together the third interview with historian and retired attorney John Swenson. Swenson presents the final and most amazing piece of early Chicago history revealing the details of this ancient place called Chicagoua and the platform mound two-leagues from the Chicagoua Portage, the area’s earliest known civic and cultural center some 40 miles from today’s downtown Chicago!

We visit the mound, twice, and interview Adler Planetarium Astronomer Mark Hammergren regarding the astronomical significance of the mound, and learn some fascinating insights into Chicago’s ancient culture and peoples. This brand-new history and discovery grew out of Swenson’s passion for horticulture, history, and etymology. His initial dig into Chicago’s origin story and the wild allium the city was named for has grown into an entirely new landscape for Chicago history, the City in the Garden and hence the name of our third Episode: “Urbs in Horto?”

PREVIEW OF EPISODE 3: Urbs in Horto?

Episode 2: The Place Called Chicagoua

Listening to the first episode you learned the ground-breaking, new story of Chicago’s discovery and who truly was the first European to pass through Chicago.  In this second part of our interview with historian John Swenson, he says, “if you know where the portage is, then Marquette tells you where he was,” and that is place the Indians called “Chicagoua.”  And this place Chicagoua has nothing to do with the city of today.  Adding the account of Henri Joutel (La Salle’s chronicler) he confirms where this place is.

The Windy City Historian’s interview with retired attorney and historian John Swenson will make Chicago history. 

 

Links to Research and History Documents

In the second Episode – The Place Called Chicagoua we continue our interview with retired lawyer and historian John Swenson about the place the Indians called Chicagoua. Below are links to historic items we discussed and some additional relevant research for those interested in a deeper dive into the history.