This year marks the 200th anniversary since the War of 1812 and what many call the massacre of Fort Dearborn. The army built that fort in what is now Chicago in 1803.
“We’ve got that outpost in Indian Country and it’s that outpost that comes under attack as they’re leaving the fort on August 15, 1812,” said Ann Keating, Professor of History at North Central College. “The battle that takes place is the Potawatomi and their allies win that battle on august August 15, 1812.”
But the Indians lose the war overall and so American settlers take over a 20-mile stretch of land between the DuPage and Des Plaines rivers.
“The result of this war is that the U.S. will become a country based on Westward expansion,” said Keating. “If the war had gone differently then I think we’d be look at a smaller country and in several pieces.”
This paved the way for Joe Naper to settle in what we know as Naperville today. But soon after, war once again threatened efforts to expand Westward. So Captain Morgan Payne along with 50 volunteers came to Naper Settlement to build a 100-square foot fort similar to Dearborn.
“Fort Payne is built in 1832 by American settlers in and around Naperville who were worried about being attacked by Native Indians during the Blackhawk war,” said Keating.
During that brief war, Black Hawk, leader of the Sauk Indians tried to take back land that was originally theirs. Instead, what resulted is the Native Americans lost their land and were forced to head west of the Mississippi River.
“The interesting thing thinking about the end of Indian country with Fort Payne – there’s this theory that Indians no longer remain,” said Keating. “The fact of the matter is that Native Americans continue to live in this region right down to the present.”
In fact, North Central College provided refuge to some Native Americans in the 1970s by offering them to stay at Camp Segar, now Segar Park.
Susan Power, the region’s oldest living Native American today, recalls staying there and says there’s one thing she hopes the community remembers, above all else, about the Indians.
“We weren’t the savages that you were taught that we were,” she said. “We were human beings, we held children, and we dried their tears when they cried.”
Today a sign on a hill between North Central College’s football field and a residential hall pays tribute to where Fort Payne once protected our earliest settlers, while a replica of the fort gives visitors of Naper Settlement a glimpse into our past.
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