Juliette Magill Kinzie: Frontierswoman, Adventurer, and Storyteller
Juliette Augusta Magill was born on September 11, 1806 in Middletown, Connecticut to Frances Wolcott Magill and Arthur William Magill. Juliette's mother, Frances, was a member of a prominent Connecticut family who founded the town of Windsor, Connecticut in1636. On her mother's side, Juliette was the granddaughter of Alexander Wolcott, who was a political leader in Connecticut and grandson of Roger Wolcott, colonial governor, judge, and major general in the Louisberg Expedition of 1745. Juliette's father, Arthur Magill Jr., owned with his father a fabric mill, the Middletown Manufacturing Company, in Middletown, Connecticut, where they produced wools and 'casimir' (cashmere.) It was the first woolen mill in America to use steam power.
Juliette was primarily taught at home by her mother and her uncle, Alexander Wolcott, however she did attend Emma Willard's Female Seminary in Troy, NY for a short time when she was older. Her Uncle Alexander was a physician who later moved west to Fort Dearborn (in what would become the City of Chicago) and assisted in early exploration of the "old north-west territories." His descriptive letters to young Juliette filled her with wonder and excitement for a life of adventure on the wild frontier.
Juliette later met and married the friend of her uncle, John H. Kinzie, who was the perfect partner for adventure. John had just been named the Indian agent at Fort Winnebago, one of Wisconsin's earliest settlements.
In 1830, young Juliette Magill Kinzie moved with John from her fancy home in the East to a rustic log cabin at Fort Winnebago in what would later be called Wisconsin.
While living at the Fort, Juliette came to know the Indian communities that called the land home, as well as the non-Indian settlers who were moving in. She was a keen observer of cultures, women's roles, and social relationships. She later wrote a best-selling book about her experiences, Wau-Bun: The ‘Early Day’ in the Northwest, an important first-person account of life on the frontier.
Later Years in Chicago:
The Kinzies left Fort Winnebago in 1833 and moved to Chicago in 1834. In Chicago Juliette and John were revered social leaders and entertained many official and distinguished visitors. Juliette was active in encouraging the development of schools, in the founding of St. Luke’s Hospital and in establishing St. James Church (which exists to this day.)
Now that Chicago was growing and settlers were changing the face of the region, Juliette realized that she had witnessed an important period in our country's history. In addition to publishing her story in "Wau Bun", she shared her descriptions and personal memories of key Native American leaders and pioneers with historian Lyman Draper, who was secretary of the new Wisconsin Historical Society.
Juliette had seven children. One daughter, Eleanor (Nelly) Lytle Kinzie, was the mother of Juliette's granddaughter and namesake, Juliette (Magill Kinzie) Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Juliette Magill Kinzie died on September 15, 1870 while visiting her daughter Nelly in Amagansett, NY, when a druggist mistakenly gave her morphine instead of quinine.
The Indian Agency House at Portage, Wisconsin:
The Historic Indian Agency House where Juliette and John lived outside Fort Winnebago (now Portage, Wisconsin), was restored and refurnished in 1932, a centennial project of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Wisconsin. It currently operates as an educational center and history museum, and offers tours of Juliette and John's frontier home, artifact displays, and educational programs.
Want to know more about this fascinating person? Read her new biography, Juliette Kinzie: Frontier Storyteller, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.