Potawatomi of the Midwest

Firstly, I would like to credit the exposure to the Potawatomi to my daughter-in-law, Jewel Johnson. She told me about the Kenkakee Marsh and showed me the video that will be mentioned at the end of this article.

The Potawatomi are a people of the upper plains, upper Mississippi, and western Lakes area. With their language being Algonquin as other eastern Nations, they called themselves by two names. The first was Neshnabe’ was derivative of the Anishinaabe people meaning ‘the original people’. The second name is Bodewadmi which means ‘to tend the hearth fire.’ They are a part of the Council of 3 Fires which include Ojibwe, the Ottawa along with Potawatomi referred to ‘as the youngest brother in the council.’

The Potawatomi Must Go!

The 1800’s as with the general story of the natives of our land, was of unrest and displacement. The same old story of the European/American pushing west brought yet another Nation’s troubles. The story goes for the Potawatomi that the American people began to infiltrate the Neshnabe’ lands in the summer of 1838. The Americans anticipating trouble from the local tribe, they contacted the Indiana Governor David Wallace. They wanted him to come see and evaluate the situation. He did and decided that the Potawatomi must go!

By August 27th he had appointed General John Tipton to be in charge of the removal whereupon Tipton immediately called for 100 volunteers to assist him in the work. These men were to meet him at Chippeway at William Polke’s trading post on the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester. By the next day he set out on his horse with his mounted militia to Twin Lakes arriving two days later. He then sent out word to the Potawatomi to meet with him at the Menominee’s chapel for a meeting. His message was delivered: the Indians were prisoners of the United States government and in a couple of days were to move west under guard. The Chief of Menomiee replied the feelings of all…’tied like a dog.’ Tipton then sent soldiers in an about a 40 mile radius to gather in the Potawatomi tribe.

 Removal of the Potawatomi…

September 4, 1838 was the date of departure for the 660 mile trek that would lead the Potawatomi people across Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and finish in eastern Kansas. It was a year of terrible drought and thus typhoid fever took its toll in general. The journey would not be concluded until November over two months later with 49 encampments and 42 deaths. Chiefs Menominee, No-taw-kah and Pee-pin-oh-waw traveled in a horse-drawn jail wagon while the people walked or rode horseback behind them. A catholic priest was permitted to travel with the people and sought to assist them the best he could:

 “The order of the march was as follows: the United States flag, carried by a dragoon (soldier); then one of the principal officers, next the staff baggage carts, then the carriage, which during the whole trip was kept for the use of the Indian chiefs; then one or two chiefs on horseback led a line of 250 or 300 horses ridden by men, women, children in single file, after the manner of savages. On the flanks of the line at equal distance from each other were the dragoons and volunteers, hastening the stragglers, often with severe gestures and bitter words. After this cavalry came a file of 40 baggage wagons filled with luggage and Indians. The sick were lying in them, rudely jolted, under a canvas which, far from protecting them from the dust and heat, only deprived them of air, for they were as if buried under this burning canopy – several died thus.” One of the first things Father Petit did was to get the chiefs in the jail wagon released: “On my word the six chiefs who had till now been treated as prisoners of war were released and given the same kind of freedom which the rest of the tribe enjoyed.”

    For the sake of those who feel the suffering of the American Indians displacements have been over dramatized we will quote from the public records of the journey:

Sunday 16th Sept. [Traveled from Warren County, Indiana to Danville, Illinois.]

At 8 o’clock we were loaded and in our saddles. Left 7 persons sick in camp, among them a woman who was about to be confined [give birth]. A few minutes travel brought us to the Grand Prairie. Crossed state line at 11:30. The heat along with the dust is daily rendering our marches more distressing. The horses are jaded, the Indians sickly and many of the persons engaged in the emigration more or less sick. The whole country through which we pass appears to be afflicted – every town, village and hamlet has its invalids. We find provisions and forage, the further we advance, demanding most enormous prices. Camped at 3 p.m. near Danville, population 800 to a thousand, and 4 people died in town.

Left encampment at Danville at 9 in the morning, and proceeded to Sandusky’s point – a distance of only 6 miles, where we encamped for the remainder of the day and night, due to illness. Soon after our arrival in camp, Joseph Mouland who was left as Interpreter for the sick remaining at the camp of Saturday last (left at Chippeway north of Rochester) came up with his part, it having received an accession by the birth of a child. A young child died directly after coming into camp.

Tuesday 18th Sept. Stayed in camp with the business of discharging troops in service, besides the weak condition of the emigrants demanded rest. During the evening a woman and a child died. A child was also born today. Dr. Jerolaman (from Logansport) arrived today, assisted by Dr. James Buell of Williamsport. In their report, they say “there are at this time 67 sick – of that number there are 47 cases of intermittent fever – 13 of continued fever and 3 of diarrhea, and 2 of scrofula [ inflamed and irritated lymph nodes in the neck]. Of the whole number 8 may be considered dangerously ill.” Provisions and forage still continue to be scarce.

‘The emigrants’ as the Potowatomi referred to, arrived at Osawatomie, Kansas, on November 4, 1838, the end of the trail. 859 Indiana Potowatomi began the journey. 42 died on the way.

Teachings of the Potawatomi Indians Nation…

The Potawatomi people are strong on teaching their children the 7 Great Teachings:

1. wisdom

2. respect

3. love

4. honesty

5. humility

6. bravery

7. truth towards each other and all of creation

Also, equality towards all is also taught. They seek to teach patience and listening as virtues.

 Land of the Potawatomi Video

One of the areas of Indiana was previously Potawatomi land was the Great Kankakee Marsh. If you haven’t viewed the youtube video on the history and Potawatomi tribe concerning this land, we have a link below. (I will give a disclaimer as we don’t support everything in the video but it does give a good overall exposure to the land, and people.)

Ba ma mi ne (Potawatomi) See you later.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKZQ772Yx6M (Everglades of the North: The Story of The Grand Kankakee Marsh and the Potawatomi Nation)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *