Calumet Roots

Local version of the Christmas story offers hope for peace

2013-12-22T00:00:00Z Local version of the Christmas story offers hope for peaceBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist
December 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This tale was first told in this space in December, 1981, and has been retold every year since.

Hannah Berry’s inn already was crowded when the storm hit. The crude log house on the sand bluff where Whiting and Indiana Harbor now come together at the lake was a favorite of stage drivers on the Detroit-Chicago run, especially in winter when ice halted lake traffic and passengers were diverted to the beach route, where the frozen sand was as hard as a modern highway.

But this night was special.

To the always ample fare of bread, potatoes and whiskey, Hannah planned to add venison shot in nearby sand ridges. And there would be a fiddler and dancing, too, on this Christmas eve.

With telegraphic speed, word of this rare treat passed from one stage driver to another until all who could timed their last pre-Chicago stop for Hannah’s, there to join with their passengers in the feast and merriment. By sundown, the place was packed.

Earlier in the day, travelers of a different kind also had taken to the beach road. It was the time of President Andrew Jackson’s edict pushing all Indians west of the Mississippi. Most had left in 1833. Those who had not were now being forcibly removed.

On the way to the government’s staging area in Calumet (South Chicago), the last of the Indians had stopped the night before at Joseph Bailly’s trading post, near today’s Porter, one of their favorite lingering places.

There, one last time, they listened all night long to Bailly’s rhapsodic part-Indian wife, called “Aunt,” spin  hypnotic tales. That night she told of a great exodus – an exodus from peace and order to a land of chaos. There, torment would prevail until a chief, humbly born in peace, would travel to chaos and bring peace with him.

After they had heard the story they went out, wending their way along a snowy trail, traveling sunward to a rendezvous point near the Wolf River outlet. But as they traveled, what had begun as snow flurries became a heavy snowfall, making traveling difficult, causing the travelers to straggle – the younger and stronger ranging far ahead, the weaker falling far behind.

The last of these was a man the traders called Injun Joe and his betrothed, a young woman the missionaries had named Marie.

The snow fell thicker. Night fell earlier than usual. And the footprints of the other Indians vanished. Cut off from the main party, Injun Joe and Marie sought shelter at Bennett Tavern near the mouth of Callimink River, today’s Marquette Park. But the surprise storm had caused many to stop early, and there was no room at the inn.

The couple trudged on, Injun Joe afoot, Marie atop a jackass, the icy blasts from the northwest punishing them, as ice piled into rough solid waves along the shoreline that prevented their animal from quenching his thirst.

As midnight approached, however, the exhausted and lost couple came upon Hannah Berry’s inn, where even the storm could not muffle the happy sounds of the fiddler and the clapping hands and stomping feet of the guests. Injun Joe pounded on the door, and Hannah appeared.

“We have come a hard way and have a hard way to go,” Injun Joe explained quietly, “and, our time has come.”

Hannah turned her eyes from Injun Joe to Marie and quickly motioned the couple in, clearing a path for them through the revelers to a ladder leading to a dusty, abandoned loft.

Meanwhile, a passenger was sent to the Indians huddled in the Berry Lake ridges to tell them what was happening. Sore afraid, for they remembered Aunt’s story, they nevertheless retraced their steps to Hannah Berry’s inn, which by then was bathed in light that penetrated the snow clouds.

And when they heard a child’s cry, they danced and celebrated a rite to a new chief, their grunts and whoops seeming as sounds of joy.

And while they danced, three strangers appeared out in the snow from the east. Without a word, they took gifts from their saddlebags for the newborn child. One brought a gold piece, and one brought a bottle of fragrance, and one brought a long, hollow reed with a bowl at its end. He called it a calumet and explained that it was a pipe of peace.

In the morning, all departed for distant lands where they would be sorely tried, taking with them the promise that someday peace would reign forevermore.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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