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Fort Dearborn - battle or massacre?

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Today being the 200th anniversary of what has been described both as the Fort Dearborn Massacre and the Battle of Fort Dearborn, here's what historian Ann Durkin Keating says in the epilogue of her new book, officially out today, titled Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago (University of Chicago Press).

"This discussion over historical revisionism and the use of the word 'massacre' goes to the heart of what history is (or is not). History is not simply a record of everything that has happened in the past. There is no such record, and even if there was, historians could never access it all. No one will ever know everything about Chicago on August 12, 1812. We can only know what can be assembled from available accounts, but we continue to uncover more documentation and glean additional information from the available historical record. Our understanding of the past and its intricacies is ever evolving."

Durkin points to a 2005 dissertion by Constance R. Buckley, who wrote about Fort Dearborn: "New evidence in the form of unearthed documentation or a fresh analysis is often dismissed if it does not conform to accepted knowledge--contrary to other disciplines, such as medicine, in which revisionist knowledge is embraced as a cure, not a challenge."

Durkin says historians spend their lives trying to learn more about the past--and revising the history that historians can construct.

"We are all about making judicious assessments of evidence from the past to craft better history," she says.

Read a Sun-Times editorial here.

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From the Providence Gazette Oct. 10, 1812 p. 2


Mr. Greely states the following facts, respecting the capture of Fort Dearborn (Chicauga) The assailants were all Indians. The garrison capitulated with them that they should spare the lives of the garrison, who were to have as much of the arms, Ammunition, provisions &c. as they could carry away. But, the Indians finding that in the night Capt. Wells, who had come from Fort Wayne to conduct the garrison to that place, had ordered a quantity of powder and ball to be thrown into the Chicauga river, the Indians became incensed, fired upon the garrison as they marched out of the fort, killed Capt. Wells, and wounded Capt. Heels and his lady; whose lives were saved by a Mr. Burnett, an Indian trader, who claimed them as friends, and offered to purchase their ransom. Capt. H. and his lady are now at St. Joseph's with Mr. Burnett. Mr. Greely had this information from a Pattawatimie chief, who came to Fort Dearborn, to assist the garrison, but was compelled by the hostile Indians to join them.

Mr. Greely, as noted on the same page, Mr. Greely is a Republican attached to the present administration, and one of its officer. He too is a man of truth and honour. etc ...

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