Mystery Stone of Chicago’s Past
Waubansee Stone | Chicago, IL

One 19th-century historian called it the “oldest piece of art” made in Chicago, and in 1976 the Tribune described it as “probably the first so-called statue” in the city’s history. Yet you won’t find it in an art museum or park. The three-foot-high, 3,000-pound boulder–which has a carved face, a hollowed-out top, and two holes on either side–is on permanent display at the Chicago Historical Society, where it once served as a drinking fountain. Few visitors realize it’s an object of mystery.

Originally standing around 8 feet in height, the Waubansee Stone is mentioned in the first Fort Dearborn accounts as being located just beyond the stockade walls, along the shore of the Chicago River. When the first fort was built in 1803, the Potawatomi Indians of southern Lake Michigan had been trading with white people for well over a century but were becoming increasingly hostile to the number of new settlers coming into the region and staking a claim on their land. President Jefferson, who was very interested in the Indiana Territory (the Indiana Territory included Illinois lands from 1800-1809), was anxious about its security. 

He felt that an American military outpost should be established to protect the new frontier. He selected the mouth of the Chicago River as the site for a new fort. At that time there were several fur traders and their Indian wives living in the region. The fort was named after General Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War. It was built on the south side of the Chicago River where Michigan Avenue now crosses at Wacker Drive. 

Skirmishes with the Potawatomi were on the rise, reaching a crescendo in 1812 when settlers and soldiers were massacred at the first Fort Dearborn(1803-1812) was burned to the ground by the enraged Indians.  The second Fort Dearborn was rebuilt in 1816-1817 and the Waubansee Stone was presumably reduced in size to be dragged into the fort’s parade grounds where it remained until the fort was dismantled. After that, the stone passed from collector to collector until it found a permanent home at the Fort Dearborn exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society.  

Debates on the Stone's Origins Some alternative ancient history researchers have suggested the Waubansee Stone was created by the Phoenicians. In one of his books, America B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World, Dr. Fell offers many examples of Old World civilizations left behind symbols and messages all over America. Mainstream historians have rejected the possibility that the Phoenicians visited North America before Columbus’ arrival. Some alternative history researchers such as Dr. Barry Fell (1917-1994), who became famous for his controversial work in New World epigraphy, argued that various inscriptions in the Americas are best explained by extensive pre-Columbian contact with Old World civilizations. Others say, In the early 1800s a soldier stationed at Fort Dearborn chiseled the face in the likeness of friendly Potawatomi chief Waubansee. The true origin of the stone may never be known, and remains one of Illinois greatest mysteries.

 

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