Podcast – History of Pokagon State Park – Part 1 – The Potawatomi Tribe and the Trail of Death

History of Pokagon State Park – Part 1 – The Potawatomi Tribe and the Trail of Death


From the Book:
Pokagon Indiana State Park

Greetings, today I will discuss my newest book release, Pokagon Indiana State Park. In this episode you will hear the History of Pokagon State Park – Part 1 – The Potawatomi Tribe and the Trail of Death

The Potawatomi tribe lived in the region now occupied by Pokagon State Park. The original name of the park was to be Lake James State Park, however that was changed to reflect the history and heritage of the Potawatomi tribe that had inhabited the region. The name of the park derives from two tribal leaders, Leopold and Simon Pokagon, that led the tribe in the early 1800’s.

The word “Potawatomi” derives from the Ojibwe word, “Boodewaadamii,” which means “Keeper of the Fire.” This name is in reference to the alliance between the Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Ottawa tribes, referred to as the Council of Three Fires. The tribe speaks a form of Algonquian, which makes the tribe akin to the Delaware, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, and Sauk and Fox tribes.

Early in the Seventeenth Century, the Potawatomi tribe lived in southwestern Michigan. Iroquois expansion during the Seventeenth Century Beaver Wars with the Iroquois in the Seventeenth Century drove them out. This war was fueled by Dutch and English desire for furs, which were abundant in the northern regions. The tribes of the Iroquois League initiated a series of wars to expand their territory into the Great Lakes area in the Seventeenth Century. The wars displaced many tribes, including elements of the Shawnee, Huron, Odawa, Ojibwe, Mississaugas, Potawatomi, and the Miami. The forced migration left Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and parts of the Ohio country almost depopulated of native tribes. Sometime around 1687 the Algonquin tribes of the Great Lakes area struck back against the Iroquois and began taking back their lands. During this period, the tribe moved into the Green Bay area. During the middle part of the Eighteenth Century, they expanded into what is now northern Indiana. The Potawatomi established many villages into what is now northeast Indiana and southweast Michigan.

Each member of a tribal community belonged to a clan, which is a group of families. Clan relatives raised the children, imparting them with the traditions of the clan. Normally, one of the clan leaders became the village chief. Among the Potawatomi, the village chief could be either a man or woman.

Potawatomi women wore long deerskin dresses, the men breechcloths, leggings, and deerskin shirts. Both men and women wore moccasins to protect the feet. Many men wore a leather headband with one or two feathers stuck in the back. Some men also wore otter-fur turbans. Both men and women had long hair, but during times of war, the men would shave their heads Mohawk style. The tribe used both wigwams and rectangular lodges as houses. Wigwams were oval huts constructed from woven reeds. The wigwams served as winter homes in the hunting camps. They built the lodges using bent saplings and covered them with birch bark. The tribe lived in these lodges in the summer when they occupied their villages. They also used birch bark to build canoes. They would also build dugout canoes. For overland travel, the tribe used dogs to pack supplies. The tribe migrated frequently after the soil in their gardens became depleted. Men cleared the fields for planting, hunted and served as warriors to protect the tribe. Women tended the garden and raised the children. In the fall, the men hunted buffalo. After this hunt, the tribal members left the villages and formed smaller hunting camps.
Potawatomi Diet
The Potawatomi women grew corn, beans, squash, and tobacco. They also gathered wild rice, nuts, berries and other fruits for the tribe. Men hunted whitetail deer and elk. They used traps and snares for smaller game like rabbits, squirrels and birds. In the spring, they tapped sugar maple trees and boiled the sap to make maple sugar. They also grew medicinal herbs in their gardens.

The tribee inhabited the region until 1838, when they were ordered to leave. The resulting migration became known as the Potawatamie Trail of Death. Father Benjamin Petit Requested Permission to Accompany Potawatomie West on this tragic journey.

Benjamin Petit (April 8, 1811 – February 10, 1839)
The son of Chauvin Petit and his wife, Benjamin was native to Rennes, in Brittany, France. After graduating from the University of Rennes law school, he practiced as an attorney for three years before deciding to enter the priesthood. After graduating from the Seminary of Saint Sulpice in 1836, he left France to perform missionary work in the United States among the Amerindian tribes. Assigned to the Catholic Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana, Vincennes Bishop Simon Bruté ordained him as a priest on October 14, 1837 in Vincennes. Petit took up his mission among the Potawatomie at Twin Lakes, Indiana in November 1837. He managed to learn their language by June, 1838. Beloved by his new charges, the Potawatomie called him “Chichipe-Outipe” (Little Duck). General John Tipton and his militia troops showed up unexpectantly on August 29, 1838 to remove the Potawatomie to Oklahoma. Members of the tribe entreated the priest to accompany them on their perilous journey. On September 2, Petit requested Bishop Brute for permission to accompany the tribe. The bishop at first refused, but relented on September 7.
On January 9, he started back to Vincennes. Terribly sick and with open sores that drained his strength, he made it as far as St. Louis and the Jesuit Seminary there. The fathers in the seminary cared for him the best they could, but he died of the fever on February 10, 1839. His remains are interred under the Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame.
Visitors to Marshall County Indiana will find this historical marker at the intersection of Indiana State Road 17 and County Road 12.

Visitors to Twin Lakes in Marshall County, Indiana will find this historical marker noting the event.

Title of Marker:
Trail of Death
SR 17 & CR 12, 1.3 miles NE of junction of SR 8 & SR 17, 2 miles west of Twin Lakes. (Marshall County, Indiana)
Installed by:
Indiana Historical Bureau
Marker ID #:
Marker Text:
Two miles east, on north bank of Twin Lakes, some 800 Potawatomi Indians were collected in August 1838 and forced to begin their long march to new homes in the West. Many perished on the way
Brief History by the Author
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law on May 28, 1830. Using the law, Indiana Governor David Wallace authorized General John Tipton to use the militia to round up the Potawatomi tribe under Chief Menominee and force them from the state. The forced march became known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.
John Tipton (August 14, 1786 – April 5, 1839)
John was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, where his father died in an Amerindian raid. He moved to Harrison County, Indiana in 1803 and married Martha Shields. He farmed and fought natives, leading a unit of the famed Yellow Jackets during the Battle of Tippecanoe. His next military experience was commanding Fort Vallonia as major during the War of 1812. He gained election to the Indiana State House of Representatives from 1819 to 1823. During this time, he was involved in the formation of Bartholomew County and its county seat, Columbus.
Indian Removal Act
The Indian Removal Act gave the President the authority to grant Amerindian tribes in the east lands in the lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their eastern lands. The law was meant primarily for the Cherokee in the southeast United States, but it was used as a tool to remove other tribes, also.
Indiana Governor David Wallace (April 24, 1799 – September 4, 1859)
The eldest of seven children of Andrew and Eleanor Wallace, Wallace was a native of Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The family moved first to Cincinnati, then to Brookville, Indiana in 1817. His father and Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison had become friends during the War of 1812. Harrison helped secure a berth for David in the United States Military Academy. He later attended West Point, from which he graduated in 1821. After graduation, he served as a second lieutenant at the school, where he taught math. After resigning around 1822, he returned to Brookville to study law. He gained admittance to the bar in 1823 and opened a practice in Brookville. During these years he served in the Indiana militia, as lieutenant, captain, and finally colonel. His political career began with his election to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1828. The voters elected him lieutenant governor in 1831, serving under Governor Noah Noble. He was elected governor in 1837, an office he held until 1841.
Menominee (circa 1791 – April 15, 1841)
Historians know little of Chief Menominee’s early life. Many think he was born in Wisconsin or northern Indiana. He became a religious leader of the Potawatomi, combining elements of Amerindian spirituality with Roman Catholicism. He signed various treaties with the Americans, ceding lands to them. He refused to sign a treaty that would have deprived the Potawatomi of their final lands in Indiana. many of the Potawatomi gathered at Menominee’s village. Whites continued to encroach on his lands, leading to conflicts between the Potawatomi and the trespassers. Minor incidents occurred, resulting in the settlers appealing to Governor Wallace to protect them. Wallace authorized Tipton to use force to remove the Potawatomi.
Potawatomi Trail of Death
Tipton gathered a force of about 100 militia and surprised the Potawatomi at their village and rounded them up. On September 4, the militia forced the 859 natives from their homes. The following march of 660 miles crossed Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. About forty-one Potawatomi died on the way, mostly of cholera from contaminated drinking water. Most of the victims were children. The Potawatomi crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri at Quincy, Illinois. They arrived at their destination of Osawatomie, Kansas on November 4, 1838. the refugees had no shelter, which the government had promised them, and little food.
For more information about the Potawatomi Trail of Death and their history, contact:

Potawatomi Trail of Death Association
The Association maintains a Trail of Death Historic trail that travels the approximate route of the Potawatomi. A series of markers along the trail commemorate their journey.
Leopold and Pokagon and his son Simon Pokagon managed to obtain a treaty allowing a small band of the tribe to remain in the area.

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi
After Simon Pokagon’s successful bid to allow the Potawatomi to remain in Michigan and Indiana, the tribe sought tribal recognition. They finally achieved this on September 21, 1994, a day the tribe celebrates as Sovereignty Day.
The Potawatomi tribe still has a presence in Indiana. For more information about the Potawatomi in Indiana, contact:
Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi
58620 Sink Road
Box 180
Dowagiac, Michigan 49047
(800) 517-0777

Simon Pokagon (c. 1830- January 28, 1899)
The son of Leopold Pokagon and his wife, Simon was native to County, Michigan. A great deal of historical lore surrounds the life of Simon Pokagon, with much of his story disputed as fact or fiction, depending upon the source. After his father’s death when he was 11 years old, apparently pioneers in the area took on the task of providing him with an education. Variously, he is credited with attending four years at Notre Dame, Oberlin College, St. Mary’s Academy or the Twinsburg (Ohio) Institute. During these years he met, and married, a Potawatomi girl named Lonidaw. The couple would have two children. During his lifetime he gained the sobriquet “Red Man’s Longfellow,” because of his prolific writing. Books attributed to him include The Red Man’s Greeting, Algonquin Legends of South Haven, Lord’s Prayer in Algonquin, Potawatomi Book of Genesis and Algonquin Legends of Paw Paw Lake. Pokagon became popular on the lecture circuit and spoke at many of the East Coast Chautauqua literary groups, Chicago literary groups and was a featured speaker at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He passed away in Hartford, Van Buren County, Michigan and is interred in the Rush Lake Indian Cemetery there.
Leopold Pokagon (1775 – July 8, 1841)
History has recorded little of Leopold Pokagon, most of which is regarded as historical lore. Reportedly the son of a Chippewa father and Ottawa mother. According to legend, a Potawatomi chief abducted him when he was a baby from a Chippewa village. The chief subsequently gave the child to Potawatomi Chief Topenebee. The name Pokagon allegedly derives from the Potawatomi word for “the rib.” According to lore the boy wore a headdress which had a human rib as part of its construction, thus the name. His son Simon disputed this tale, however, in one of his books. Another theory indicates that the true meaning of the word is “something used to shield.” Pokagon’s actions on the behalf of the tribe led to the name. Chief Topinbee passed away in 1826, leading to the assumption of his position by Leopold. Believing that by associating the tribe with the Roman Catholic Church he could help avoid the tribe’s deportation, he traveled to Detroit in July 1830, to visit Father Gabriel Richard. Pokagon and his wife Elizabeth received baptism later that year, along with several other members of the tribe. Father Stephen Badin traveled to Niles, Michigan to establish a mission and converted many of the Potawatomi tribe. Pokagon also participated in the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. The treaty’s terms allowed the Potawatomi to remain on their ancestral lands in southwestern Michigan and northeastern Indiana. The Pokagon band of the Potawatomi thus avoided the rest of the tribes removal during the Potawatomi Trial of Death in 1836. Leopold passed away on July 8, 1841.
Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi
58620 Sink Road
Box 180
Dowagiac, Michigan 49047
(800) 517-0777

This story is exerpted from my book, Pokagon Indiana State Park. you can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online book retailers. You also purchase the book on my web site, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com. You can contact me at mossyfeetbooks@gmail.com
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