Native Village 
Youth and Education News

September 2013

2013 Potawatomi Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan
Sept. 23-28, 2013
Indiana to Kansas
Condensed by Native Village

Nearly every Indian tribe suffered a forced removal. Many euphemisms exist, but the Trail of Death is the Potawatomi's name for their forced removal from Indiana to Kansas.
1838 was the same year as the Cherokee Trail of Tears from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma.  More than 15,000 Cherokees started west; 4,000 died along the trail.  
The Navajo removal in 1863 was known as The Long Walk.

Indiana: Every 5 years since 1988, Potawatomi members and friends travel in a Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan.

The 6th Potawatomi Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan begins on September 23, 2013 -- the 175th anniversary of the original 1838 Trail of Death.  New historical markers will be placed at Spring Hill and Trading Post, Kansas. Three new historic highway signs will be dedicated at Danville and Monticello, Illinois, and Brunswick to DeWitt, Missouri.

To participate and learn more, visit:

History of 1838 Trail of Death

From 1834-1837 Abel C. Pepper, Indian Agent for northern Indiana, secured treaty secessions of Potawatomi reservation lands. These treaties were known as the Whiskey Treaties because whiskey was given to get the Indians to sign.

Chief Menominee, who refused to sign a treaty or sell his land, led a resistance against moving west of the Mississippi River. Hundreds of Potawatomi who wished to stay in Indiana moved to the chief's village near today's Plymouth, IN. The village grew from 4 wigwams in 1821 to 100 wigwams and cabins in 1838.

In 1837, an emigration of  Potawatomi traveled from Logansport, Indiana, to eastern Kansas. This group included chiefs Kee-wau-nay, Ne-bash, Pash-po-ho and Nas-waw-kay. There, Father Christian Hoecken established St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek, near present day Centerville, Kansas.

In 1838, squatters settled on Potawatomi land in Marshall, Kosciusko, Fulton, Cass and surrounding counties. Fearing an uprising, they wrote to Indiana Governor David Wallace who decided the Potawatomi must go. General John Tipton was appointed to be in charge.

Tipton called for 100 armed volunteers to meet him at William Polke’s trading post on the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester. He then notified the Potawatomi to meet him at Twin Lakes in August, where   Tipton appeared with a mounted militia.

Tipton told the Indians that they were prisoners and were going west in a couple of days. Chief Menominee objected and was “tied like a dog.” Tipton sent squads of soldiers to collect all Potawatomi within a 30- 50 mile radius.

The march began September 4, 1838. Chief Menominee, Chief No-taw-kah, and Chief Pee-pin-oh-waw rode in a horse-drawn jail wagon across Indiana. Their people walked or rode horseback behind them. Many had been baptized by Father Benjamin Marie Petit who was given permission to accompany the Potawatomi.

Father Petit wrote: “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.”

Father Petit was placed in charge of the sick, but the medicine was mostly rest, tea and sugar. So many died along the trail that it became known as the Trail of Death. Father Petit said Mass every day and baptized the babies who died, saying “who with their first step passed from earthly exit to the heavenly sojourn.

The Potawatomi's death trail ended Osawatomie, Kansas, on November 4, 1838.  Winter was coming, but the houses promised them had not been built. The Potawatomi were very upset. Father Petit stayed for a few weeks but became sick with the fever.  After placing the Potawatomi in the spiritual hands of Father Hoecken at Sugar Creek Mission, Father Petit left for St. Louis where he died in February, 1839.

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