Chicago badass of the week: John H. Kinzie

John H Kinzie

John Kinzie: Chicago’s original badass

How did Chicago get its street names?

Chicago badass of the week: John Kinzie

It’s no secret that most of Chicago’s streets are named after historical figures, hell, almost all the streets in the Loop are named after U.S. presidents. But outside the Loop, street names make tribute to the lesser-known historical badasses of their time. Take Kinzie for example, an East-West street just south of the loop that we’ve all driven on, walked down, or jaywalked across without ever knowing that it is named after John H. Kinzie, one of the most badass dudes to ever walk the streets of Chicago.

Let’s take a look at his early history, which is much more badass than mine, or anyone I know.
John H. Kinzie was brought to Chicago by his fur-trading-friend-of-the-Indians father in 1804 when Fort Dearborn was just being completed. His mother is believed to be the first Caucasion born in Chicago. When Kinzie was 9 years old he witnessed the Fort Dearborn Massacre, which is pretty badass considering that I spent a majority of age 9 watching Spongebob.

He and his family were saved because of their friendship with an Indian chief who took them out on a boat and guarded them as they watched the bloodbath unfold at Fort Dearborn. The Kinzies sought refuge in Detroit for two years before returning to Chicago to master his father’s business of fur trading. He was also a silversmith, which is unarguably, a pretty badass occupation to have back in the day.

daniel boone fightingIn his travels and exchanges he learned several Indian languages including Winnebago, Ottawa, Chippewas, and Sioux. That’s badass. He was so skilled at dealing with the area’s Indians, he was appointed private secretary to General Cass and accompanied a delegation of Winnebagoes to Washington to visit president John Quincy Adams. When he was 22 years old he was involved in a rescue of two sisters kidnapped by the Shawnee tribe, one of them, Margret McKinzie later became his wife. What a badass, I swear this guy could be in one of those “The most interesting man in the world commercials.”


John Kinzie Chicago            Through the years he upped his ranks and overall badassery by being named the registrar of public lands by President Harrison in 1841. And in 1849, President Taylor made him receiver of public moneys. He Joined the Union Army in 1861 where he was made paymaster (whatever that means). Through his years he lived with his family on the corner of Cass St. (Chicago ave.) and Michigan Avenue, and goddamn, can you imagine how much that property would be worth now?

In 1865 John Kinzie died on a train car while on leave from the Union Army. He was reaching into his pocket for a coin to give to a blind beggar when his heart gave out. What a badass.


Update: Kinzie was only 65 when he died, which is sad, but it might be a pretty decent longevity for the time period. Either way, I still feel bad for that blind guy. Like, can you imagine what that shit must have been like for the poor blind beggar? Like, John Kinzie: American Hero just collapses and dies in his lap and he’s sitting there thinking, “what the hell just happened?” and meanwhile the whole train is in a frenzy yelling, “Oh my God, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!!!”
…poor guy.

John Kinzie’s badass history as told by: John H. Kinzie’s Wikipedia page, and by Chicagology.


  1. This is awesome! Always been a fan of American History. This just speaks to me on a whole new level though.

  2. Great stuff…he sounds sort of like a pioneer “Shaft” in a really far-fetched kinda way (the badass part I mean) ;-)

  3. designslinger says:

    good post!

    • chicagoranter says:

      Thanks for reading! check back next week, Kinzie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chicago’s badass historical figures haha

      • I ran across your site by accident, thought it was pretty good! Old John H. was my 3rd great grandfather William Kinzie’s half brother. John Kinzie was married to my 4th great grandmother Margaret Mckenzie, Kinzie, Hall. That union produced sons, William Kinzie, James Kinzie and a daughter Elizabeth Kinzie Miller. Enjoy anything new I can find on the Kinzie, Clybourn, Clarke, and Samuel Miller families.

        • chicagoranter says:

          haha thanks for the kind words! Awesome that this city has such rich history!

        • Taylor Kinzie says:

          It’s very possible we’re related! Coming to visit Chicago in June. Would you happen to know of any great museums that would provide some historical info on The Kinzies?

  4. Taylor Kinzie says:

    I’m actually a direct descendant of John Kinzie. Does that make me a badass by blood? :)

    • Trudy Kinzie says:

      Taylor, You’re the 4th great granddaughter and a direct descendent of this gentleman’s father, John Kinzie. I believe your third great grandfather was John H Kinzie’s youngest brother, Robert Allen Kinzie.

      • cindy mcanelly says:

        I am a Kinzie cousin and would love to hear from you. I have worked on Kinzie Ancestry for years. I am from the line of Robert Allen Kinzie

    • cindy mcanelly says:

      I am from the line of Robert Allen Kinzie and I seen where Trudy Kinzie said you were. I have worked on Kinzie Ancestry and would love to hear from you

  5. Peggy Hanlon says:

    Has anyone ever written about Kinzie at all?

    • Read “Rising Up From Indian Country” by Ann Keating. Full of Kinzie history. He was my g.g.g.g grandfather. My family descended through his son with his first wife Margaret. My Dad talked about that part of our family lore while I was growing up. Margaret goes as far back as 1650. Unbelievable. I would really like to go to Chicago and see my family’s history.

  6. Brenda Kinzie Spear says:

    I’m a relative of John’s as well. I’m just putting together the pieces of my family history so my children can have it before I die. I have leukemia. So this article was a wonderful addition to my list. I find Juliett Kinzie so amazing. I’m find I’m a lot like her. But from this article I see one trait seems clear as a family trait. Is we are stubborn and hard headed and stand up for what we believe is right. We don’t take crap. Lol I found this in my search to find my roots.

  7. Patricia Kinzie,Endorf says:

    I am a descendant of John Kinzie but not sure how it goes.My grandfather was Harry Kinzie n my great grandfather was James Kinzie.Very interesting .


  1. […] cooler-looking than the conventional backyard squirrel and would make a pretty badass pet. I bet John Kinzie had one as a pet back in the day, even if it was only for the […]

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