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Beverly man authors tribute to women of Fort Dearborn

Retired deputy Chicago police chief Joe Gandurski shows off book he wrote his home Chicago. The book is about women

Retired deputy Chicago police chief Joe Gandurski shows off the book he wrote at his home in Chicago. The book is about the women of Fort Dearborn. Proceeds will go to support the Police Memorial Foundation. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 26, 2012 6:01AM



Susan Smith’s husband was shot. Her 2-year-old son was tomahawked and killed.

The 1812 battle of Fort Dearborn in what now is downtown Chicago was short but brutal. Nearly all of the soldiers and their family members who were ordered to abandon the fort and head to safer grounds were killed just minutes into the trip.

Susan Smith was taken captive and forced to march the next 11 months up to Green Bay, Wis., back to Chicago and then north to Mackinaw, Mich. — all the while clinging to her infant daughter, also named Susan.

To most of us, the battle is just an event in history, rife with political ramifications and geographic consequences. But to Joseph Gandurski, it also is a collection of stories about love, devotion and bravery in the face of incredible danger. And among the most heroic, he says, were the women.

Gandurski, a retired Chicago police officer who lives in Chicago’s Beverly community, long has been interested in the story of Fort Dearborn. His beat often put him at the very site of the outpost, which back in 1812 was considered the edge of the western frontier.

“I worked mounted patrol and our trailer was at Monroe and Columbus,” Gandurski said. One day, someone gave him a book about Chicago history.

“When I got to the chapter on Fort Dearborn, I realized those people walked right past where our trailer was,” he said.

He started looking into the facts behind the Aug. 15, 1812 attack and couldn’t help but wonder about the personalities and personal stories of the people involved.

“Particularly the women,” he said. “They were so devoted and so brave. They were only at the fort to support their husbands. Many had children.”

After war broke out between America and Great Britain in June, skirmishes between Native Americans, rallied on by the British, and pioneers escalated. Finally, the soldiers stationed at Fort Dearborn were ordered to abandon the post and head to the more secure Fort Wayne (Ind.).

About a mile into the journey, the party came under attack.

Among the survivors were Smith and her baby, both of whom endured severe hardship. The infant went on to live to age 89, Gandurski said.

“I realized that the stories about the women were fascinating, and little known,” Gandurski said. “Then I thought, ‘What do I do with all this information?’ ”

He decided he would try to add some life, develop the characters, enhance the details.

“I thought about how they might interact in the close quarters of the fort,” he said.

The result is his book, “The Women of Fort Dearborn,” a self-published work of historical fiction based on the narratives he’s read during his extensive research.

“It’s my way of honoring the women, their bravery, their dedication,” he said.

The paperback is available for $5.99 and the Kindle version for $2.99 on amazon.com. Profits go to the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.

Gandurski, 64, is a graduate of St. Rita High School. He joined the Army a month after graduation, serving in the Delta of Vietnam on an intelligence interrogation team.

It was then that he made a discovery about the human condition.

“I realized, sitting across the table from a Viet Cong, that we’re all the same. Humans all pretty much want the same thing — family, safety,” he said.

That notion has held up over time and circumstance, he said, serving him well during his 31 years with the Chicago Police Department. He retired as deputy chief of organized crime. Gandurski also earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Xavier University.

The 44-page book is written in chronological order, beginning a few days before the battle.

“I put myself in the shoes of these people. I did take some liberties but I do not violate any of their honor,” he said. “I just want people to think about the human side of the story, to appreciate the sacrifices made by the women involved.”

If his efforts help fund the Police Memorial, so much for the better, he said.

Gandurski does have experience writing, having crafted a few of his own scripts. He also has an interest in theater and film. He played a part in the CBS-TV series, “Criminal Minds,” and has been cast in an independent film, “Searching for Venice.”

He and his wife, Maggie, have two children, Matt and Lauren.

“The Women of Fort Dearborn” is available at amazon.com and on Kindle.



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