dunes requiem: a family between two worlds
Sylven Cook, the altar boy, remembered the Latin funeral mass at St. Patrick’s in Chesterton, Indiana, and of how, after the words had ended, after the last rosary and prayer, they dragged her coffin over snow-covered fields, on foot, through a blizzard raging off Lake Michigan. The day was January 30, 1918, and the woman, destined to lie at last in the sandy dune country she loved a year after her death in California, was one of the most unique personalities of this remarkable place.
The strange family cemetery where she was bound was two miles from the lakeshore at the south edge of the dunes. It straddled a high sand ridge nestled amid black oaks, the vestige of ancient glacial geology and old winds. The winds were strong that day in January, too. Cook recalled the agony he and the other pallbearers endured en route to the cemetery. With roads blocked by the sudden weather, and unable to get through snowdrifts, they put the woman’s coffin on a bobsled and walked three miles with it from the church, forced to cut barbed wire fences and strike out over farmers’ fields to reach their destination. The weather prevented other mourners from following them to the graveside and the pallbearers were probably the only witnesses of the burial itself. One wonders how much the boys who took her to her last resting place knew of her history, and of all the transformations even the cemetery – not to mention the land – had undergone.
She was Frances Rose Howe, one of the most interesting (and difficult) chroniclers of the dune country’s history. In a gesture fitting for a woman who wanted to have the last word on everything, hers was the last body this tomb would ever receive.
(Francis Dare, photographer. Cross, Bailly Cemetery, June 25, 1930. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.)
“Baillytown” was a name, always given rather uncertainly, to three places in the Indiana Dunes. It was sometimes used to refer to an early métis homestead or “Indian town,” begun by Frances Howe’s grandfather, a fur trader from Canada, Joseph Bailly, part estate, part itinerant camping ground. There was also a lumbering community, just west of Bailly’s place, settled by Swedes in the 1850s that was named for him. With the forests depleted, it was gone by the 1920s. Finally, there was an imaginary “paper town” on Lake Michigan, intended to rival Chicago when both of these towns were young. Like another of Chicago’s competitors, City West, which was planned nearby, the “Port of Bailly” was once envisioned as the great metropolis of Lake Michigan but remained only a “dream city,” never built.
The sad story of the Bailly-Howe family and their homestead, finally abandoned by World War I, reaches far back into the tragic and beautiful history of the Great Lakes at the end of the eighteenth century.
Verchères is a river town on the south bank of the St. Lawrence twenty miles from Montreal. All the waters of the Great Lakes, one of the most immense watersheds in the world, will eventually flow by this spot, so it was a fitting place for a man who spent most of his life on those lakes to be born. In 1774, a decade after New France became British Canada, Joseph Bailly was born here. His family (the name is pronounced bay-YEE) had been in America for six generations and were among the original Acadian settlers of Nova Scotia. Yet Bailly’s father, a hard-up descendent of minor French nobility, squandered the family’s money and died, leaving his widow and three children in poverty. The boy’s uncle, the Catholic bishop of Caspe near Quebec City, helped them get back on their feet and the family continued to be important citizens of Montreal. As a teenager, the future Indiana settler entered the fur trade and went west with the voyageurs, learning the North American continent’s interior practically by heart.
By the time he reached his thirties, he had won back some of what his father had lost. In Michigan in 1809, he went into partnership with Alexander Robinson, a métis fur trader. (Métis, from an old French word for “mixed,” generally referred to the children of French-speaking voyageur fathers and Native American mothers. Farther west, on the Canadian prairies and the Front Range of the Rockies, the métis became a nation of sorts.) Though Robinson worked for the American John Jacob Astor, Bailly slowly went into business on his own. At its height in the 1820s, his fur trading operations extended from the Great Lakes to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he traded for animal skins from as far west as the Rockies and the Pacific Coast. From New Orleans, he shipped skins directly to France.
(Richard Dillon, Jr., Michilimackinac on Lake Huron. Montreal, 1813. Colored copperplate engraving by Thomas Hall. Graphics Division, Clements Library, University of Michigan.)
(J.A. Jenney, photographer. Mackinaw Scenery. Stereoscopic view, circa 1870. New York Public Library, Robert N. Dennis Collection #622342)
Early on, Bailly was based mostly out of Montreal, then moved to Mackinac Island in what was still Michigan Territory. In reality, Mackinac was owned not by the U.S. government, but by the fur companies, and until 1814, was for all practical purposes still part of British Upper Canada. Bailly had a common-law wife at Mackinac, a 14-year-old girl named Angelique, believed to be either the daughter of the Scottish trader Patrick McGulpin or of the Ottawa chief Maketoquit. Her name in Ottawa was Bead-way-way, and by 1810, this teenage girl had had three children with Bailly (François, Alexis, and Sophia). His devout and sometimes wildly imaginative granddaughter, “Frankie” Howe, the last owner of the Bailly homestead in Indiana, and whose “memoir” of the family is a romantic work of semi-fiction, later wrote about Angelique. She claimed (in the high-strung language of her 1907 book The Story of a French Homestead in the Old Northwest) that Angelique was “a secret votary of the Spirit of Darkness,” which (for Howe, a Catholic devotional writer) must have meant only that Bailly’s common-law life was practicing her Native American religion. Bailly himself was considered a devout French Catholic, and when Angelique stuck to her own beliefs, he may have used this as an excuse to “put her aside.” More likely, he simply wanted to marry another woman, or had already done so, and found this a good enough reason to extinguish the common-law “backwoods” marriage.
By the summer of 1810, in fact, he had met an especially remarkable woman: Marie LeFêvre, known in Ottawa as “Monee” or “Mau-nee.” (Her granddaughter believed Monee was a mispronunciation of Marie, though the author of a book on place names in Illinois, where a railroad town was later named for her, believed it had to do with the “money” and gifts that flowed to the Potawatomi through her marriage to the trader Joseph Bailly.) In legend, probably exaggerated by her admiring granddaughter, Marie was claimed to be “the most beautiful woman in the Old Northwest,” the “Lily of the Lakes.”
Oddly mentioned by some other chroniclers as only a footnote to her husband’s story, Marie’s life is actually far more interesting than his. By the time she met him on Mackinac Island in 1810, she was in her late-twenties and was known mostly for her fine artistic craftsmanship, not only for her beauty.
Her father, LeFêvre, was a French trader from Gascony who married an Ottawa woman sometime in the late-eighteenth century. They lived at a spot called Ma-Con or Rivière des Raisins (“The River of the Grapes”) in southeastern Michigan, later called “French-Town” during the War of 1812. (Today it is the site of Monroe, just south of Detroit, and was the boyhood home, ironically, of the Indian-fighter George Armstrong Custer.) The LeFêvre “station” was typical of the kind of settlement that French Canadians established on the Great Lakes, and “Frankie” Howe’s depiction of it may have been based off of her own memories of the Bailly homestead in Indiana, which it probably resembled.
French Canadian outposts were often both trading centers and religious stations. Before towns were built, and with populations too low to maintain permanent churches, outdoor family chapels became the center of Catholic religious life in wilderness areas.
The chapel would eventually be a key feature of life at the Bailly settlement. When the arrival of new clergy from France was cut off at the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, a dwindling number of priests now had to cover a vast geographical area, administering the sacraments sporadically. These priests were what Protestant churches called circuit riders. Rather than resorting to “unprotected” chapels in the backwoods, private chapels on French Canadian homesteads were used publicly whenever a priest (frequently tattered and without the basic “tools” he needed to celebrate Mass) came through the area. As Howe described it, “the Catholic Homestead planned its simple architecture, with a view not only for family life, but for religious services… When the Catholic missionary came to Rivière des Raisins, he took up his abode in the parlor, one-half of which became his private apartment, the other being arranged as a chapel. The dining-room served as sacristy.” LeFêvre’s Michigan station was no doubt similar to the homestead that Joseph Bailly built in Indiana, where the main dwelling house was described by his granddaughter (in 1884) as “a real lower-Canada farm-house.”
Some worshipers at these stations were Native American converts, but more commonly, they were métis, who like Joseph Bailly’s children and his wives Angelique and Marie, straddled two or more different cultures and were often shut out as “half-breeds.”
(Brooks & Chapek, photographers. Bailly’s Indian Chapel, circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
(Brooks & Chapek, photographers. Bailly’s Indian Chapel, circa 1930. The interior was refurbished by Bailly’s daughter and granddaughter in the late 19th century. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
When her father LeFêvre died, the teenage Marie went to live among her mother’s people, probably on the shores of Lake Huron on the Ontario side or somewhere in northern Michigan. She married an Ottawa medicine man, Kougowma, known to the French as De la Vigne. Frankie Howe’s incredibly odd, even farcical, description of him portrays Kougowma as a gypsy, “possibly Italian in origin,” who had knowledge of occult sciences and could communicate via “wireless telegraphy.” (In all likelihood, Marie/Monee’s granddaughter probably could not stand the fact that there was a shaman in her own family history and tried to make him seem, at the very least, like a “fallen” European. Even a gypsy in her grandmother’s story was preferable to the fact that she had been married to what Howe thought of as a “sorcerer.”) Taking advantage of Ottawa custom, Marie eventually bought herself and her two children out of the difficult marriage with Kougowma, which (if we can take Howe at her word) failed because of Marie’s Catholic disdain for her husband’s “wizardry.” Marie made mats and clothing, gathered berries, fruit and venison, and did other tasks, paying for her divorce with work, and probably traveled by canoe to Mackinac Island, far up Lake Huron, to sell her crafts to the French and British. By 1810, the 27-year-old woman had become well known around Mackinac for her quill work and bead embroidery. Howe says her grandfather Joseph Bailly first caught sight of her as she paddled into Mackinac.
When the war of 1812 broke out on the Great Lakes, Bailly did not know where to put his loyalties. As a native of French Canada, he was a British subject, but since most of his trading business was in the Midwest, he had a U.S. military passport. Yet in March 1813, Robert Dickson, a British Indian agent, asked him to recruit Miami, Potawatomi, Ottawa and other warriors for the British. Bailly fought alongside them in three engagements against American frontiersmen. In January 1814, at a spot on the St. Joseph River near what became the University of Notre Dame, he was arrested by a U.S. militia on accusations of spying and treason. After three months in a Detroit prison, Bailly was sent back to Mackinac, where he was eventually deported to Canada at the end of the war.
Frankie Howe may have fabricated the next part of the story outright. Around 1900, she was writing devotional literature for the Catholic diocese of South Bend and, in a notoriously racist time, was touchy about the “swarthy” skin she had inherited from her Ottawa ancestors. It is easy to imagine her pandering for admission to polite Midwestern ladies’ clubs, “pioneer daughters” societies, and the like, and being rejected for her heritage during an era that was both strongly anti-Catholic and anti-Indian. If she did not invent the “whiteness” and sanctity of her grandmother, at one turn of Marie’s story, the similarities with the Biblical nativity narrative would have been too striking for her granddaughter, as a writer, to resist.
To escape being raped by the U.S. militia after Bailly’s 1814 arrest, Monee (again, the Indian pronunciation of “Mary”, Howe thought), pregnant with Joseph’s child, supposedly fled across northern Indiana with Jean-Baptiste Clutier, a trader, and took refuge with the Menominee along Green Bay in Wisconsin. This is surely the old Christian story in American Indian clothing: Joseph and Mary, fleeing the Herod-like Indiana militia, with John the Baptist paving the way.
To disguise her identity, Clutier darkened Marie’s face with walnut juice, ruining her famous beauty forever. (This was perhaps a great “white” lie on Howe’s part, meant to explain to certain readers why the Lily of the Lakes’ skin was not as “pure lily” as the writer wanted her to be.) She then passed as Clutier’s sister or wife. Howe claimed that somewhere in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin that winter, Marie gave birth to a child, which died after just a few hours. As Clutier walked across Lake Michigan on the ice to Mackinac to let Bailly or others know where his wife was, the mother herself nearly died from complications of childbirth in a Menominee lodge. Fearing for the salvation of her unbaptized infant, she became nearly delirious. To console her, an old Menominee man who had once witnessed a Jesuit baptism struggled to remember how to perform one. Hoping that he had said the correct words, he begged the Christian God to accept this makeshift ritual. The baby died without Marie’s knowledge and was buried in a birch-bark casket under a large forest tree. “Grandmother could not be told that her child had died,” Howe remembered, “so another infant was placed in her arms, and she never knew the difference until fifteen years had come and gone.”
At the end of those years, itinerant Menominee, it seems, appeared at Bailly’s post and happened to mention that the girl was not his. He took this as an explanation of why she was a “difficult” child, and after disowning her, sailed to Wisconsin to recover his dead son’s bones. As Howe tells the story, Bailly, true to the information he had gotten from the Menominee, found them resting at the edge of a Yankee farmer’s recently clear-cut field. (The immigrant farmer had spared the beautiful tree.) The girl he cast off in favor of dead bones became a “wild” teenager around Baillytown.
Freed at the end of the war, Bailly and returned to Mackinac. By 1822, he had become a U.S. citizen and was the main fur trader along the Calumet River in northwestern Indiana. That year, he moved his family down Lake Michigan from Mackinac, thinking that he was settling a half mile north of the Michigan territorial boundary. This error led to him becoming the first permanent European settler in the Indiana Dunes.
The homestead he built was situated on a small hill or steep clay cliff over the Calumet on a spot said to be sacred to the Potawatomi who dominated that area. It was about two miles south of the dunes, sheltered by thick forest from the worst of the lake winds. Later, it was thought that Bailly chose this spot at the edge of the Calumet marshes because it reminded him of the Louisiana bayous, and that on one of his trips back from Baton Rouge, he brought a store of live-oak seeds, which grew on the property for years. A piece of local folklore has it that when one of his daughters, Rose, married Francis Xavier Howe in 1841, they twisted two oak and elm saplings together as a symbol of their marriage. The trees, “since grown together as one,” survived on the bank of the Calumet into the 1940s.
(Brooks and Chapek, photographers. The Wedding Tree at Bailly Homestead, circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
(Francis Dare, photographer. Tablet, Francis Howe and Rose Bailly, June 25, 1930. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.)
Bailly built a temporary log cabin on the spot in 1824 and left his family to go back to Mackinac for a while. Between their several marriages, he and Marie already had thirteen children, but some of the older ones had been left in Michigan or sent to Montreal for an education. In 1824, it is believed that Bailly’s five youngest daughters and a son lived with Marie on the Calumet, with two servants. The homestead soon became a town of sorts, though not the kind that nineteenth-century county historians were apt to call a town. They called in an “Indian town” or camp.
The homestead was the lone trading post on the road between Detroit and Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and sat close to the Sauk Trail, the main traditional Native American “road” through the region. Many Potawatomi, especially, camped on Bailly’s land, right outside his door, giving it the appearance of a larger settlement. The Detroit-Fort Dearborn road later became “The Chicago Road,” an important stagecoach route, and most early Eastern travelers who came through en route to Chicago passed the Bailly homestead, which until the 1850s was still a rough complex of cabins and wigwams, alongside log warehouses for Bailly’s trading goods. An inn was built three-quarters of a mile north of the homestead, about a half-mile south of the beach, and the first saloon in Porter County, Indiana, was opened there in 1836.
County historians, fixated on progress, were quick to record that the Bailly home had a guitar in 1830 and a piano in 1836. Bailly himself was remembered as a hospitable, gregarious man, at least until American travelers and settlers started noticing the beauty of his daughters, when he was said to turn sour and protective. In 1832, a traveler named Bryant wrote: “They have been schooled at Detroit and they can talk of the beauties of Cologne water, Cooper, and a retired life admirably and eloquently. They dress in the English fashion and look very tidy unlike their mother whose dress is squaw.”
(Brooks and Chapek, photographers. Bailly’s Homestead near Chesterton, Indiana. Circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
(Potawatomi women circa 1900. http://www.nativeamericanencyclopedia.org)
(Mrs. Schuyler and Lucinda Schuyler, Ottawa women, probably in Michigan or Kansas, 1867. http://www.nativeamericanencyclopedia.org)
Bailly probably enjoyed the wilderness isolation and must have resented the American newcomers. Until their tragic removal west on the “Trail of Death”, which culminated in 1838, the Potawatomi still occupied most of northwestern Indiana. White settlement here was severely restricted both by government reluctance to spark an Indian war and by geography itself. (Most of this corner of Indiana was still a vast woodland swamp until after the Civil War, not truly settled until almost 1900.) Even in 1835, the year of Bailly’s death, Jesse Morgan, a Virginian, was the only American living nearby, and Morgan’s place was five miles away. When a new schoolhouse was built, Bailly refused to send his daughters there, “where they would have acquired a nasal twang and the Riley Whitcomb dialect,” said a later county historian.
In the early 1820s, however, the Reverend Isaac McCoy established his Baptist mission school, first at Fort Wayne on the Wabash, then at what became Niles, Michigan. McCoy was one of the most interesting characters in Indiana at the time – like Bailly, a difficult, sometimes arrogant, but ultimately high-minded man. Believing he could ennoble and guard the Indians, saving them from undeniably corrupt whites (especially opportunistic whiskey traders), McCoy opened a mission school for the Potawatomi, Miami and the children of early settlers. Most of his students were métis, however. McCoy was a native Kentuckian but spent most of his early career in the Wabash Valley, later crisscrossing the United States on behalf of Native American land rights. Before his death in 1846, the missionary would spearhead the relocation of the Indiana and southern Michigan Potawatomi to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Bailly recognized that his daughters needed an education and sent them to McCoy’s school in Michigan, just over the state line north of South Bend, a few days’ journey. Here, they learned English. At home they spoke French and Potawatomi. Though Bailly called his wife Marie, she in fact barely spoke French, “a language which she understood only when spoken slowly and deliberately.” And she “always retained the dress of the aborigines.” It was thought that Joseph Bailly orally translated and explained parts of the Bible to the Potawatomi and others who gathered in the area to trade and that his eldest daughter Rose translated parts of the Catholic liturgy from Latin to Potawatomi.
Charles Fenno Hoffman, later a fiction writer and member of the Knickerbocker group in New York, stopped at the Bailly homestead in 1833 en route to St. Louis. He described the place in his first book, a travel account called A Winter in the West. Hoffman, who later went insane, was not a very serious writer, but his description is entertaining, if also rather condescending. Writing from Chicago on New Years’ Day, 1834, he recalled part of his trip via horse and wagon through the dunes from Detroit:
“We left the prairie on the east, after passing through “the door,” and entered a forest, where the enormous black-walnut and sycamore trees, cumbered the soil with trunks from which a comfortable dwelling might be excavated. The road was about as bad as could be imagined; and after riding so long over prairies as smooth as a turnpike, the stumps and fallen trees over which we were compelled to drive, with the deep mud-holes into which our horses continually plunged, were anything but agreeable. Still, the stupendous vegetation of the forest interested me sufficiently to make the time, otherwise enlightened by good company, pass with sufficient fleetness, though we made hardly more than two miles an hour throughout the stage.
“At last, after passing several untenanted sugar-camps of the Indians, we reached a cabin, prettily situated on the banks of a lively brook winding through the forest. A little Frenchman waited at the door to receive our horses, while a couple of half-intoxicated Indians waited to follow us into the house, in the hope of getting a’netos (vulgarly, “a treat”) from the newcomers. The usual settlers’ dinner of fried bacon, venison cutlets, hot cakes, and wild honey, with some tolerable tea and Indian as sugar, – as that made from the maple-tree is called at the West – was soon placed before us; while our new driver, the frizzy little Frenchman already mentioned, harnessed a fresh team and hurried us into the wagon as soon as possible.
“The poor little fellow had thirty miles to drive before dark, on the most difficult part of the route of the line between Detroit and Chicago. It was easy to see that he knew nothing of driving, the moment he took his reins in hand…
“A fine stream, called the Calaminc [the Calumet], made our progress here more gentle for a moment. But immediately on the other side of the river was an Indian trading-post, and our little French Phaeton – who, to tell the truth, had been repressing his fire for the last half-hour, while winding among the decayed trees and broken branches of the forest, – could contain no longer. He shook the reins on his wheel-horses, and cracked up his leaders, with an air that would have distinguished him on the Third Avenue, and been envied at Cato’s. He rises in his seat as he passes the trading-house; he sweeps by like a whirlwind: but a female peeps from the portal, and it is all over with poor Victor.
Ah, wherefore did he turn to look?
That pause, that fatal gaze he took,
Hath doomed ––
his discomfiture. The infuriate car strikes a stump, and the unlucky youth shoots off at a tangent, as if he were discharged from a mortar.
“The whole operation was completed with such velocity, that the first intimation I had of what was going forward was on finding myself two or three yards from the shattered wagon, with a tall Indian in a wolf-skin cap standing over me. My two fellow-passengers were discharged from their seats with the same want of ceremony; but though the disjecta membra of our company were thus prodigally scattered about, none of us providentially received injury. Poor Victor was terribly crest-fallen; and had he not unpacked his soul by calling on all the saints in the calendar, in a manner more familiar than respectful, I verily believe that his tight little person would have exploded like a torpedo.
“A very respectable-looking Indian female, the wife, probably, of the French gentleman who owned the post, came out, and civilly furnished us with basins and towels to clean our hands and faces, which were sorely bespattered with mud; while the grey old Indian aforementioned assisted in collecting our scattered baggage.
“The spot where our disaster occurred was a sequestered, wild-looking place. The trading establishment consisted of six or eight log-cabins, of a most primitive construction, all of them grey with age, and so grouped on the bank of the river as to present an appearance quite picturesque. There was not much time, however, to be spent observing its beauties. The sun was low, and we had twenty-five miles to travel that night before reaching the only shanty on the lake-shore.
Never suspecting that railroads would come through, Joseph Bailly died believing that boats and wagons would continue to be the main method of transportation. He bought many acres of land along the Calumet and the Lake Michigan shoreline, and intended to improve navigation there, possibly through building a wharf. He owned a small sloop that he used to sail north to Mackinac, then east to Montreal and Quebec. On the beach near the mouth of the Calumet, near the pavilion in what is today Indiana Dunes State Park, Bailly maintained a shelter to keep his boats out of reach of the waves. He also owned shares in the steamboat Michigan sailing out of Detroit.
Before his death, he had planned to found a city and a commercial harbor on this spot. Bailly purchased over two thousand acres of land in the dunes and had the first lots surveyed in 1834. The port was called the “Town of Bailly” or just “Bailly” and a plat map was drawn up on December 14, 1833. Though the fur trader was reluctant to log the lands on his property, if it had been built, this would likely have become a lumbering port. At a time when Chicago, fifty miles to the west, was a small town whose own survival was uncertain and whose growth depended on harvesting the lumber reserves of Indiana and Michigan, the port of Bailly seemed like it would become grand development. “He laid it out ‘four square,’ with blocks, lots, streets and alleys,” it was written. Named for his wife and children, the streets were called Lefevre, Rose, Esther, Ellen, and Hortensia. Other streets were named Napoleon, Jackson, and St. Clair, and the rest bore the names of the Great Lakes: Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.
(Plat map of Bailly’s port town on Lake Michigan, as envisioned on December 14, 1833. Porter County GenWeb.)
A few lots were sold, but fate saw the “Town of Bailly” stillborn. Bailly died suddenly just one year after it was platted. And the national economic panic of 1837 (the Great Depression of the nineteenth century), already squashing the hopes of many new towns, turned away any investors. Bailly’s daughter Esther, who had married John Whistler, the son of Fort Dearborn’s founder, continued to promote the port, but she, too, died suddenly in 1842. Like the dead town of City West, platted along the beach not far away, the port remained a “dream city.”
In the land treaties that led to most of the Potawatomi abandoning Indiana and moving to the Great Plains in 1838, Bailly’s wife and children were considered Native Americans. As such, they received monetary settlements which, combined with their inheritance, made them fairly well-off financially. Not all of the Baillys stayed, however. His daughter Therese’s sons, all traders, who considered themselves Potawatomi, went west and became leaders of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation near Topeka, Kansas. His son Alexis Bailly became one of the principal traders with the Sioux on the Upper Mississippi and founded the town of Wabasha, Minnesota, in 1843. (At that time, it was said of Alexis, in French: “My sons, it is necessary that you be very careful now, because the law has come to town. The law is the devil, and Mr. Bailly is the law.”) He later served in the Minnesota legislature. His brother François Bailly “chose to be a medicine man or herb doctor among the Indians.”
(St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Wabasha, Minnesota, circa 1900. Alexis Bailly, uncle of Frances Rose Howe, was one of Wabasha’s founders.)
Bailly’s daughter Josephine married Chicago businessman Joel Hoxie Wicker (after whom Wicker Park was named.) Around 1850, Wicker began to redevelop Bailly’s land, which he or others had begun to call “Baillytown.” Wicker was involved in lumbering, and it was this business that attracted the first Swedish settlers to the area. After the exodus of the Potawatomi to Kansas, the Swedes became dominant. Joel Wicker did more to put Baillytown on the map than his French father-in-law. He ran a saw mill and store here in the 1850s and employed Swedish workers, some of whom were recruited from Chicago. For a time the Swedes called Baillytown “Slab City,” after the primitive shelters built from “slabs” (waste logs) and erected for workers at the mill. Wicker eventually sold his store to the Swedes for use as a Lutheran church and his land for farming.
The place appealed to a Lutheran pastor, T.N. Hasselquist, who urged Swedes to settle here and escape the corrupting influence of cities like Chicago. The first Swedish Lutheran church in the region was founded at Baillytown in 1857. The church had 250 congregants in 1863. There was also a chapel, called the Burstrom Chapel, on a place named “Bandur Hill” nearby. The Augsburg “Svensk Skola,” a schoolhouse that looked like a lighthouse, was built in 1880. Swedes worked on the Michigan Central Railroad that came through just before the Civil War, in Porter’s brick yards (after 1872), and in Charles Hillstrom’s organ factory in Chesterton, founded in 1880. The factory was Chesterton’s most important industry and produced about 40,000 organs and countless piano stools from the surrounding woods. Many of its 100 employees were Baillytown Swedes. It closed sometime around 1896, when Hillstrom died.
(“Augustan’s Lutheran School, West View, Bailly Town, Chicago [sic]”, circa 1930. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.)
Bailly’s widow, Marie, ran the fur trading business after his death and served as postmistress of Baillytown from 1837 to 1855. She had lived her whole life between cultures, gradually seeing even the character of the land change. When she died on September 15, 1866, it was not a French priest, but a Swedish farmer, Emma Persson, who prepared her for burial. Emma and her husband Carl took the coffin to the Bailly cemetery by ox-cart.
What became of the homestead itself after the 1850s is one of the stranger twists in the dune country’s history. As the Bailly family scattered, Rose Bailly Howe, reputed to be the most beautiful and talented of Marie’s daughters, took control of the homestead. Rose’s daughter was Frances Rose (“Frankie”) Howe, who at the turn of the century, became the baffling and reclusive family chronicler.
(Rose Bailly Howe with her daughters Frances Rose [left] and Rose [standing], circa 1855. Cecilia Backhaus.)
Like her mother Marie, Rose was a product of two very different worlds. She had been born during the War of 1812 on Mackinac Island when it was still a remote fur trading post, then was educated alongside her métis companions at McCoy’s mission school and in Catholic girls’ schools. She grew up to be a relatively well-educated, attractive young woman. In 1841, she was married at the homestead to Francis Xavier Howe, the son of a book publisher from New Haven, Connecticut. Howe became an investment banker and treasurer for the Chicago & Galena Railroad and the couple moved to Chicago, where the last of their children, Frances Rose, named for her parents, was born in 1851. Francis X. Howe died before Frankie’s birth: aged thirty-nine, he perished together with three of his and Rose’s children in the cholera epidemic that struck Chicago during the summer of 1850.
Widowed and with a newborn baby in her arms, Rose Bailly Howe went back to Indiana to live with her mother, Marie. Frankie all but grew up in the woods and was used to the isolation. When she was sent to school at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute during the Civil War, she had a hard time adapting – in spite of the fact that her aunt, Rose’s sister Eleanor, was the Mother Superior of the nuns there.
Eleanor Bailly’s story is worth telling in its own right. She had joined the Sisters of Providence in 1848. As a girl, she immediately impressed these French nuns (many were from Brittany) with her abilities and education. Known as Mother Mary Cecelia, she became their second leader, working alongside the school’s founder, Mother Théodore Guérin, then succeeding her as the head of the school and convent. Eleanor Bailly eventually penned a biography of Mother Théodore which was used to support her canonization by Benedict XVI in 2006. When Mother Mary Cecelia lost the support of some of the Sisters and the Bishop of Vincennes, a few who remained loyal to her suggested breaking away and forming a new establishment on the Bailly homestead, but the Calumet River country was considered too isolated.) Frankie’s older sister Rose, named after her mother, was the first graduate of St. Mary-of-the-Woods (the first Catholic women’s college in the U.S.), and watched over by her aunt, Frankie followed her.
(Eleanor Bailly, who became Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, 1856-1868, and head of St. Ann’s Orphanage, Terre Haute, Indiana. Courtesy Sisters of Providence.)
(Mother house of the Sisters of Providence, St. Mary of the Woods, Terre Haute, Indiana. Built 1852, destroyed by fire February 7, 1889. Courtesy Sisters of Providence.)
(First Catholic chapel at St. Mary’s, built circa 1842. Courtesy Sisters of Providence.)
(Church of the Immaculate Conception during construction, 1906, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Terre Haute, Indiana. Courtesy Sisters of Providence.)
By 1864, however, Rose had taken her children away from Indiana. They attended Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 1865, six weeks before Lincoln’s assassination. In the 1870s, Rose and her two daughters spent about four years traveling around Europe and the Middle East visiting Catholic shrines. They brought back a huge trove of religious statuary and artifacts to Indiana. Rose and her daughters became intensely devout. Just before her death at age 37 in 1879, Frankie’s sister Rose authored a short book, Record of a Suffering Soul, which professed to recount a “vision” of death and the travels of a spirit through the world during Purgatory, looking for the living who would say a requiem for her, offering prayers for the dead.
(Lydia J. Caldwell, photographer. Miss Rose Bailly F. Howe in Chicago. Rose was Frances’ older sister, author of books for the Ave Maria Press at Notre Dame. She died in April 1879, just after this photo was taken. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
Around 1868, Frankie and her mother Rose – a teenager and a widow – moved into the two-story log cabin at Baillytown, added weatherboarding to it, and began to call it home. Over the next few decades, they totally renovated the building and expanded it, until by 1890, it was an impressive “chateau-like” mansion. When her mother died in 1891, Frankie stayed in it by herself.
Like her sister Rose, Frankie wrote religious tracts for the Catholic Church. She also began to work on a strange, romanticized history of the Baillys, published in 1907. She thought about turning the house into a girls’ school. It was a big house for one woman. Swedish children from the neighboring farm, the Chellbergs, prowled in the woods and came to stare at her through the windows. She was becoming an old spinster. Though, unlike her grandmother, Frankie dressed and acted like a white woman, her neighbors sometimes called her an Indian. Even her aunt, the Mother Superior of St. Mary’s, one of the most prominent women of Terre Haute, was now being called a “little Indian” in books. Frankie wrote letters to the Chesterton papers in protest.
As the frontier was long gone, historians and other writers began to take an interest in the homestead as a vestige of that past. Frankie was eager to set the record straight – as straight as she wanted it to be. Yet she had grown touchy about writers who tried to make her family seem less than “civilized.”
A town in Illinois had been named for Monee. In an 1884 book, The Origin of Station-Names on the Illinois Central Railroad, a letter from Frances Rose Howe appeared, chastising the author for getting the facts wrong. “I am pleased to be able to contradict the statement that my grandmother was a Pottawatomie,” she wrote. “Such an idea would be enough to disturb the peace of her last repose did she know of it. She hated the Pottawatomies with a perfect hatred, disliked their costume, disapproved of their customs, considered their dialect a most detestable jargon, and thought her own mother-tongue the opposite of all that was abominable in the Pottawatomie language… Her mother was a member of the Ottawa tribe, Canadian Indians…. Their physiognomy approached the French type, their customs in many respects were French, and individuals were easily christianized and civilized, while their women made congenial wives to civilized gentlemen.”
Isolated at the homestead and at work on her history, Frankie never married. Perhaps to help fill the loneliness, she adopted a daughter. Her aunt Eleanor Bailly, the so-called “little Indian,” oversaw St. Ann’s Orphanage in Terre Haute, a massive building where she was in charge of several hundred orphans. Around 1894, Frankie Howe met one of the girls there, 13-year-old Emma Bachmann, who since 1885 had been in and out of foster homes. Taking her back to the dune country by the lake, she helped her finish her education and the two traveled to Europe for several years. But in 1906, Emma married and went to Los Angeles with her first husband, James Lee Huston. Frankie was again alone on the old homestead.
(Emma Bachmann, photographed while traveling in Italy with her adoptive mother Frances Rose Howe around 1900. Cecilia Backhaus.)
(St. Ann’s Orphanage, Terre Haute, Indiana, circa 1900. Built as Providence Hospital in 1874, the impressive Gothic structure was bought by the Bishop of Vincennes in 1876 and became home to 175 girls. Run by the Sisters of Providence, the orphanage stood at the corner of 5th Avenue and 13th Street in North Terre Haute. Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly, Joseph Bailly’s daughter and biographer of Saint Mother Théodore Guérin, ran the orphanage until her death in 1898. The building was sold in 1919 after the archdiocese moved the orphanage to Indianapolis. It was demolished in 1927. Today, it is the site of a Dairy Queen.)
(Frances Rose Howe at the Bailly homestead, around 1900. Cecilia Backhaus.)
(The Bailly-Howe place, renovated and expanded by Frances Rose Howe before 1910.)
With Emma gone, she used the time to pen a family history, supposedly based on stories told to her by her mother Rose. In reality, The Story of a French Homestead in the Old Northwest is melodramatic at best, an elaborate hoax about racial purity at worse. Frankie was obsessed with being accepted by her rural neighbors and by polite society in South Bend and Chicago as white. Though she never denied her Indian ancestry, she strove to make her family seem as French and civilized as possible.
She had encountered racism, but had more than a strain of it in herself. The white skin of her grandmother is practically a character itself in the book, which is clearly more of a chivalric fantasy than history. Visitors to the homestead had always recognized Marie’s Indian clothing as “squaw.” Frankie ludicrously claimed that they were patterned off the costumes of Italian and French peasant women, and that it was “an act of commendable piety to forsake fashionable attire” by wearing them. Maybe it was pious not to slavishly follow fashion, but Marie’s clothes were certainly Ottawa. And in his granddaughter’s florid book, Joseph Bailly himself comes back to life as a cultured French aristocrat, using incredibly flowery language for a rough fur trader who probably “put aside” his first, teenage, wife for dubious reasons. Howe was also insistent that the Catholic purity and virtue of her family seem undiminished against all the assaults made against it in the wilderness.
It is thought that Frankie even attempted to obliterate the signs of “Baillytown’s” past as a Potawatomi gathering place, removing vestiges of Native American burial markers in the family cemetery. Today significantly changed from its original state, the Bailly Cemetery was, at first, a gated burial ground on a site long used by the Potawatomi for the burial of their own dead. Located at the entrance to the homestead from the Sauk Trail, the cemetery, designed and altered over the years by Rose Howe and her daughters, was modeled after a wayside Catholic shrine. The Bailly heirs built a six-foot high stone wall around it and topped it with iron spikes, but it was never an exclusively family burial plot. Many early Swedish and American settlers and Indians are buried here, though their markers were not left standing.
A mason contractor and builder, Theodore Stephens, remembered what the cemetery looked like before “Miss Howe” hired him to change it in 1914, as she went about her work of altering (she might have said “protecting”) the homestead’s history.
“Around the wall and attached to it were small wooden cabinets with rounded tops and a cross over each,” Stephens wrote. “They contained little Catholic figures – the Way of the Cross. Trees grew within the walls and many sweet-smelling plants.” During Frankie’s seclusion at the turn of the century, she grew testy about local Swedish children playing near the cemetery (the iron spikes were not enough to keep them out.) “Young people liked to climb over the wall and look around inside. Miss Howe would catch them every once in a while and when she did, she really told them plenty,” said Stephens. As she grew older and saw the Swedish lumbering settlement at Baillytown slowly disappear, she began to worry about vandals damaging the graves of her parents and grandparents after her own death, which she knew was coming soon. In 1914, she paid Stephens to literally fill the entire walled cemetery with sand, covering the grave sites with an additional six feet of earth.
The gravestones were removed beforehand, but two markers commemorating her parents and grandparents were embedded into the side of the strange pavilion-like structure that came into being. “It was not a good idea to question her on her ideas so I never tried that,” the mason said. “The bronze N in the name of Francis is placed backward in the plaque. I doubt if she ever detected it and I never called her attention to it. I didn’t notice it until the plaque was finished so I left it as it was… The little cabinets of the ‘Way of the Cross,’ about the walls, were removed. Some of the tombstones were laid down upon the graves and some were placed against the wall. No cement was poured over them – just sand, the old walled cemetery was filled with sand. This gave the desired protection to the graves of the Baillys.” To top it off, an enormous cross, made out of wood, brought by train from California, was erected over the new structure.
Probably facing impending poverty, Frankie Howe went to California to visit Emma in 1916. She died in Los Angeles on January 20, 1917. Her body was not returned to Indiana until a year later. Services were held at St. Patrick’s Church in Chesterton. Then her own coffin, spirited across a field in the snow, joined her ancestors at the old burial ground that would now be unrecognizable to them.
(Brooks and Chapek, photographers. Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, Chesterton, Indiana. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
A strange coda to the story ensued. Emma headed back to California. Her husband, John Lee Huston, was a traveling shoe salesman. Their marriage crumbled, and (surprising considering her strongly Catholic upbringing) they divorced not long after Howe’s funeral. Emma remarried in 1923, to John Montelius Price, a playboy from Cincinnati who slowly squandered her money during the Roaring Twenties. Whatever Emma inherited of the Bailly fur-trading fortune disappeared in southern California.
Emma’s son James Francis (named for Frankie) played trumpet in a jazz band in L.A. but committed suicide in 1938 by hooking a tube to the exhaust pipe of his car on Malibu Beach, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. When Emma’s husband died in 1953, Joseph Bailly’s adopted granddaughter, then in her seventies, was left cleaning hotel rooms in Los Angeles to support herself and her surviving daughter.
Emma lived until September 1963. A surviving photo from the ’20s shows her wearing elaborate furs, but forty years later, out West, she once again experienced the poverty and sense of loss she had known at St. Ann’s Orphanage in Terre Haute. Emma died in Arcadia, California, aged eighty-two, and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Her daughter succumbed to cancer five years later.
The Bailly-Howe property was bought by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who used it as a summer health retreat and called it Villa St. Joseph. They abandoned it in 1932 during the Depression. In 1949, it was acquired by the Michigan City Historical Society. When the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore came into existence in the 1960s, the National Park Service took an interest in the property and it was given to the Federal government in 1971.
Today, the house is a historic site kept as it appeared in 1917 and sits at the end of a mile-long hiking trail through woods. Parking is available at the nearby farmstead once owned by Anders and Johanna Kjellberg, who came from Sweden in 1863. They Americanized their name to Chellberg and built the house that still stands here in the 1880s. The Chellberg Farmstead remained an active farm until 1972. It sits on Mineral Springs Road, just south of U.S. 12, two miles west of the gate to Indiana Dunes State Park.
(Indian Burying Ground, near Chesterton, Indiana, circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
The Bailly Cemetery, a remarkable relic of Indiana’s past, is at the end of a short hiking trail north of the Chellberg farm, on a high knoll immediately off U.S. 12. The site of the envisioned “Port of Bailly” is also vastly different from the way it appeared in the 1830s. Situated at what became Burns Harbor, Indiana, it is now the home of Bethlehem Steel. When grassroots agitation for a national lakeshore began in the 1950s, Bethlehem, Midwest Steel and NIPSCO began leveling parcels of land in the Central Dunes to weaken the activists’ argument for a park, especially since this segment of the shoreline was considered the crown jewel of the lakeshore. The land owned by Bethlehem, encompassing the site of Bailly’s port, was eventually dropped from the park proposal. The location is currently a steel mill at the western edge of the national lakeshore.
The mill is an interesting sight in its own right. Three miles of woodland trails lead from Cowles Bog (one of the birthplaces of American ecology) toward the lake, through the amazing dune-and-swale topography and oak savannas that manage to survive under the shadow of steel-making. The mill can be seen from the beach.
(Brooks and Chapek, photographers. The Road Leading to the Bailly Homestead, circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
(Brooks and Chapek, photographers. Bailly Burial Place, circa 1930. Steven R. Shook Collection, Porter County GenWeb.)
(Francis Dare, photographer. Tablet, Joseph Bailly and Marie LeFevre, Bailly Cemetery, June 25, 1930. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.)
(Unknown photographer. Ottawa Indian camp on the island at Frankfort [Michigan?]. John Wee-was-sum and his family, Spring 1889. University of Michigan Digital Collections.)
(Ottawa man, known as The Sucker, 1859. http://www.nativeamericanencyclopedia.org)
(Potawatomi woman, 1904. http://www.nativeamericanencyclopedia.org)
(Joseph and Frank King, Ottawa/Ojibwa, circa 1877. http://www.nativeamericanencyclopedia.org)
About this entry
You’re currently reading “dunes requiem: a family between two worlds,” an entry on Field of Vision
- August 2, 2013 / 6:01 pm