By Peter Shrake
In The Silver Man: The Life and Times of Indian Agent John Kinzie, readers witness the dramatic changes that swept the Wisconsin frontier in the early and mid-1800s, through the life of Indian agent John Harris Kinzie. From the War of 1812 and the monopoly of the American Fur Company, to the Black Hawk War and the focused removal of thousands of Ho-Chunk people from their native lands, John Kinzie’s experience gives us a front-row seat to a pivotal time in the history of the American Midwest.
As an Indian agent at Fort Winnebago—in what is now Portage, Wisconsin—John Kinzie served the Ho-Chunk people during a time of turbulent change, as the tribe faced increasing attacks on its cultural existence and very sovereignty, and struggled to come to terms with American advancement into the upper Midwest.
Through John Kinzie’s story, we gain a broader view of the world in which he lived—a world that, in no small part, forms a foundation for the world in which we live today.