Billy Caldwell was a Métis born March 17, 1780, outside of Fort Niagara, New York (then Canada), to Rising Sun, Mohawk Nation, and William Caldwell, an Irish Captain in the British army.
He was an influential leader during the dawn of America and one whose story transcends history as a man fighting for his family, a way of life, and ultimately, a home for his tribe.
Caldwell found himself at the crossroads of a new America, caught between two worlds—a quickly descending minority world of Native Americans and the growing white settlers. He navigated the changing landscape by creating commerce in the Great Lakes region, following opportunities across the country and building a community for his family and friends.
Situated in a unique position in 1833, Caldwell was named chief for the three Chicago tribes—Ottawa, Ojibwa, and the Potawatomi—and negotiated one of the largest land trades in American history. This treaty represented over five-million acres, allowing white settlers to occupy the Midwest and Lake Michigan area.
The result was removal of thousands of Native Americans to “Indian Territory” west of the Missouri River. Since the early nineteenth century, Native Americans have worked to rebuild community, families, commerce, and equality in America.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Susan L. Kelsey lived in the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago on the site of Billy Caldwell’s former 1,600-acre reserve land received during the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. She found a bronze plaque signifying the boundary of historic Fort Dearborn and Caldwell’s Reserve and wanted to learn more about the history of Billy Caldwell, “Chief Sauganash.” Over the course of twenty-five years, Kelsey followed the trail of Caldwell through two countries, thirteen states, and thousands of miles, and met new friends along the journey, intersecting stories about Irish Native Americans and learning about the land we call America.