Published on January 23, 2011 by John
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Pierre-Jean De Smet’s map of the Council Bluffs,
Iowa area, 1839. The area labeled ‘Caldwell’s Camp’
was a Potawatomi village led by Sauganash, this was
at or near the later town of Kanesville, the precursor of
Billy Caldwell (c. 1780 – September 28, 1841), sometimes known as Sauganash, was a merchant and official of the British Indian Department. Born near Fort Niagara, he was the son of William Caldwell, an Irish immigrant and British soldier, and a Mohawk mother.
Caldwell fought in the War of 1812 as a captain in the British Indian Department. He settled near Chicago in about 1820. To help promote his status, Caldwell and others fabricated various stories about his past that were repeated as fact for many years. Among the fictions were that he was a Potawatomi chief, that he had served as a personal assistant to Tecumseh, and that he had rescued prisoners during the Fort Dearborn massacre. According to historian James Clifton, these fictional stories were used to have Caldwell recognized by the U.S. government as a friendly chief of the Potawatomis. According to Clifton, “His supposed Potawatomi name, Sagaunash, as it turns out, was not a personal name at all but an ethnic label, sakonosh, by which these tribesmen identified him as ‘the English-speaking Canadian.’”
As a result of an 1830 treaty with the U.S. government, Caldwell was granted a land tract of about 1,600 acres (6.5 km²) north of Chicago, where he lived with a band of Potawatomi. Caldwell later was made a justice of the peace. According to Fulton (1882), Caldwell was a local celebrity who was frequently seen at hotels and restaurants in early Chicago, especially a hotel owned by his half brother. Caldwell eventually sold the land and moved to Iowa where he led a Potawatomi band of ca. 2000 individuals, their main village called “Caldwell’s Camp”, located in modern Council Bluffs, Iowa. From 1838 to 1839 his people were ministered to by the famed missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet, De Smet was appalled at the violence and desperation that overtook the Potawatomi in their new home.
Caldwell died in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on September 28, 1841.
Most of the Sauganash land eventually was annexed by the city of Chicago in 1889. The Chicago neighborhood Sauganash is today located on a portion of the Sauganash land. The Sauganash treaty was signed under the Old Treaty Elm, which stood until 1933. The approximate location of the Old Treaty Elm in the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago is today marked with a historical marker.
The Sauganash neighborhood is located on the northwest side of Chicago and is bordered by Devon Ave. to the north, Bryn Mawr Ave. to the south, and Cicero Ave. to the west. The eastern boundary was an unused railroad spur. Recently, the City of Chicago converted the railroad spur into a bicycle trail. The Sauganash Hotel was named after him.