Billy Caldwell (Chief Sauganash) Short Film is Honored : Documentary about chapter in Chicago's early history

"Uncovering History: The Role of Billy Caldwell in Potawatomi Treaty-Making," a short film by Chicago author and filmmaker Lake Forest's Susan L. Kelsey, is making its mark on the film competition scene, winning a bronze in the 44th Annual Telly Awards.

The Telly Awards honor excellence in video and television across all screens and are judged by leaders from video platforms, television, streaming networks and production companies. The 2023 competition attracted more than 13,000 entrants.

The Billy Caldwell film received a bronze award for film editing, which was by Sue Lawson, owner of ChicagoEdit and its senior editor. The full list of the 44th Annual Telly Awards winners can be found at

The film has also been recognized as a finalist, semifinalist or official selection by the Malibu Film Festival, the New York Cinematographers Association, the Castle Film & Media Awards, Big Sur Film Festival and the Cannes World Film Festival, which was launched in 2020 during the pandemic.

The 18-minute film and companion full-length documentary, which will be released this fall, telling the complex story of Billy Caldwell (1742-1841), son of a Mohawk mother and a British soldier, who was educated in Canada and spoke English and French as well as his native languages. As Chief Sauganash, he was one of the chiefs who negotiated treaties with the United States, including the Second Treaty of Chicago, which in 1833 ceded the land that is today Chicago to the United States.

Nearly 200 years after the treaties were signed, first-time filmmakers Kelsey and Michelle Simon, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation member, formed a partnership and then a friendship in creating the films, which explore the historical decision that resulted in the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation leaving the Great Lakes area and living today in Mayetta, Kansas.

Kelsey said the film has a historical basis but is not a historical film. “ It's really about the tribe today and examining how Native Voices feel about the 200-year-old historical decision,” she said.

Kelsey was living in Chicago's Sauganash neighborhood when, in 1993, while walking near the north branch of the Chicago River, she saw a plaque indicating the site of the edge of Fort Dearborn and the signing of the treaty with Billy Caldwell/Chief Sauganash.

"From that moment, I was intrigued with Billy Caldwell's connection with Chicago," Kelsey said. "Who was the man, why was he the treaty negotiator and why did he leave Chicago after the signing of the treaty?"

For the next 30 years, Kelsey traveled and researched widely, meeting with historians, tribal members, archaeologists, government officials and family members. In 2019, she published "Billy Caldwell (1780-1841): Chicago and the Great Lakes Trail." After completing the book, Kelsey reached out to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation to partner together in creating the rest of the Billy Caldwell story. A formal partnership was created, voted and approved by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Council and after two years, the feature documentary will be released this fall.

Kelsey said that, while she's proud of the recognition the short film has received, there's a sense of satisfaction in how the story resonates with audiences. "We are honored to see people interested in Chicago's complicated history and its effects on Indigenous people for the past 200 years," she said.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.