Friday, January 16, 2015


“Bid farewell to yesterday
Say goodbye I'm on my way
But in the end we all
Come from what's come before.”
         “Something from Nothing,” Foo Fighters

David Grohl and the Foo Fighters recorded “Something for Nothing” in Chicago and included quotes from Buddy Guy in the lyrics, including “a button on a string” (Buddy’s first primitive musical instrument) and “looking for a dime and found a quarter” (finding a home in Chicago).

drawings by William Buckley
Region poet laureate Bill Buckley dropped off a poster entitled “STEELED Gary” that he composed for the Center for Cultural Discover and Learning a few years ago.  It contained three of his drawings and this poem “STEELED Gary”:

Take the Web tour of U.S. Steel
And look at the old turning basins
Where barges with ore cozy up
To the docks.  That was good stowage
For the dangerous work, and the wages.

Look at the open hearths for the ingot,
That mysterious gift with its geological
Benevolence, and then read
The stories of Steel City’s heyday.

For the men who once drilled into furnace walls
To the world’s molten iron,
For the cinder-pit men and that old
Sugared balance between charity and slavery.

Let the first and last barges through
Let the last boats through to the barriers.

Gary, “fiat-city” of dreams,
Where we thought all trunk lines would expand
Our lives over scrub oak, swamp, and dunes,
You were built with intentions of wide streets.

And sweet neighborhoods under a skyline
Now a flat canvas for Mittal
Where once drawn was the Broadway-and-5th wish
For big stores, swimming pools, and parks.

“Big Mill” world of Poles, Germans, and Italians,
Who hunkered down in camps waiting for their timbered
Company cottages staggered to a Northern wind,
While heaters bathed in the bosh,

Let the first and last barges through
Let the last boats through to the barriers.

Today, I hear only the echo of scoop shovels,
Pile drivers, and the occasional boom in the night
Of poured steel under red stars.

Listen Listen to the stories of Steel City’s heyday.
They are like all stories, anywhere in American time.

Let the first and last barges through
Let the last boats through to the barriers.
artist's rendering of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

During the 1970s some African Americans wanted to change the city of Gary’s name to Du Sable.  Fur trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable had a black mother and was Northwest Indiana’s first non-Indian resident.  Born sometime during the 1740s, he had a French father and his mother was a former slave.  Not much is known about his early life.  He may have been from Canada, Haiti or New Orleans – or all three.  From about 1775 to 1779 he ran a trading post in present-day Michigan City at the mouth of Trail Creek under a license approved by the British Royal Governor of Quebec. Du Sable’s biographer, John Swenson, discovered a 1784 petition from du Sable’s partner Pierre Durand to the Governor of Canada hoping to be paid for goods taken from them.  Translated from the French, it recalls something that happened 5 years before and reads:

            I found the waters of the Chicago Rivers low and did not get to Lake Michigan until the 2nd of October 1778.  Seeing the season so far advanced that I could not reach Canada, I decided to leave my packs of furs at Trail Creek (Riviere du Chemin) with Baptiste point Sable, a free negro, and I returned to Illinois to finish my business.  On March 1, 1779 (five months later) I sent off 2 canoes loaded with goods to Trail Creek.  Some days later I arrived where I found only my packs of furs.  The guard told me that Lt. William Bennett of the 8th regiment had taken all my food, tobacco, and wine and a canoe to carry them.”

Durand learned at that time that Bennett had also taken du Sable prisoner on suspicion of being sympathetic to the American Revolution.  Once in Canada, however, the wily du Sable evidently cleared up the misunderstanding and went on to work for the British for several years in Michigan.  In 1784 he moved to Chicago and established a trading post and productive farm.  He’s considered the founder of Chicago, where he stayed until 1800, when he moved to Missouri and died in 1818.  Illiterate, he left no written records.

In 1780, a year after Du Sable was forced to leave his trading post the so-called Battle of Petit Fort took place to the west of Trail Creek at the mouth of one of its tributaries, Fork Creek.  What happened is that 16 raiders loyal to the Americans went from Illinois to Michigan by way of the Kankakee River and attacked the undefended Fort St. Joseph, stealing furs and pack horses.  They were then pursued by traders loyal to the British and a band of Potawatomi Indians led by Chief Nanaquiba and his son Topinabee, who caught up to them at the unoccupied Petit Fort.  The pro-American raiders were routed; 4 were killed, 7 taken prisoner, and the others escaped.  The exact location of Petit Fort is known, but scholars believe it was in present-day Porter within what is now Dunes State Park.

The only primary sources for what some have come to call the Battle of the Dunes was a letter by Major Arent S. De Peyster to his British commander dated 8 January 1781, which reads:

 Sir: A Detachment consisting of sixteen men only, commanded by a half Indian named Jean Baptiste Hammelain, timed it so as to arrive at St. Joseph’s with Pack Horses, when the Indians were out on their first Hunt, an old Chief and his family excepted.  They took the Traders Prisoner, and carried off all the goods, consisting of at least Fifty Bales, and took the Route of Chicago.  Lieut. Dagreaux Du Quindre, who I had stationed near St. Joseph’s, upon being informed of it, immediately assembled the Indians, and pursued them as far as the petite Fort, a days Journey beyond the Riviere Du Chemin (Trail Creek) where on the 5th December, he summoned them to surrender; on their refusing to do it he ordered the Indians to attack them.  Without a loss of a man on his side, killed four, wounded two, and took seven Prisoners, the other Three escaped in the thick Wood.  I look upon these as Robbers and not Prisoners of war, having no commission that I can learn, other than an alleged verbal order.”
 I am Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant.  Arent S. De Peyster
Toni and I got married exactly 50 years ago in St. Adelbert’s Church in the Richmond neighborhood of north Philadelphia.  There was a snowstorn that day, and old friend Paul Turk surprised us by driving in from Ohio, arriving just as the ceremony was starting.  Save for Toni’s brother and sisters, none of the wedding party was Catholic, something that gave the priest pause at rehearsal the evening before.  Where out-of-towners stayed I can’t recall, but after a Polish-style reception Toni and I had a room in a downtown hotel. The following day, we took off in Toni’s VW for California and then Hawaii.

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