Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

A Long, Tiresome Journey

(from the Aug. 26, 1992, Lowell Tribune)

An interesting story was found in an old diary written by Judge William Polke, an Indian trader from Rhode Island who had settled first in the Ft. Wayne area. The diary told the story of the Potawatomi Indians from northern Indiana by Polke, an assistant to General John Tipton who was in charge of the troopers moving the Indians to Kansas. Judge Polke's diary was found in 1936, and a copy appeared in an Indianapolis newspaper that year. The following is a shortened version of the story written by Polke as he traveled with the expedition to Emporia, Kansas:

"Thursday, 30 August, 1838: Commenced collecting the Indians at Twin Lakes encampment, Marshall County, Ind. -- about 170 by nighttime. Friday, 31 August: received considerable accessions to the numbers. Saturday, 1, September: Succeeded after much difficulty in enrolling the Indians and found the number in camp to be 714. Sunday, 2 September: Loaded 13 wagons with baggage belonging to the Indians and prepared for march. Monday, 3 September: a party of 42 more Indians brought into camp."

[Although the Indians had already disposed of their lands, they were, nevertheless, totally unwilling to remove peacefully to the new home beyond the Mississippi which the government had selected for them. Many difficulties arose, but they were all eventually overcome by the tact, energy and diplomacy of General Tipton. Previous removal of some of the tribes had already been accomplished. Tipton, Ind., was named after the general.]

"Tuesday, 4 September: Left encampment at Twin Lakes at half past nine, leaving behind on account of sickness Chief Saugana, with his family consisting of 13 persons, three of whom were very sick. The day was exceedingly sultry, roads choked with dust. Much distress on account of the scarsity [sp] of water. Reached Chippeway, a distance of 21 miles. Number of horses belong to the Indians, is estimated at 218 (26 wagons in the expedition). Provisions and forage rather scarce and not of the best quality."

[Fifty-one persons were left behind on the 5th of Sept., unable to continue the journey on account of illness. A child was buried on the 7th, and a baby was born the same day.]

__ Click on map to enlarge it.

"Friday, 7 September: Two wagons with 13 persons left behind at Chippeway arrived in camp today, and more arrived making a total of 18 that day. Saturday, Sept. 8: Chief Wewipsa came with his family consisting of six persons, himself sick. [That day General Tipton received a report that during the night of the 4th of September at Chippeway, twenty persons escaped, stealing two horses from other Indians.] Soldiers were sent to return those who were left behind on account of illness.

"Sunday, 9 September: Physicians came into camp at Logansport today and reported three hundred cases of sickness, generally of a temporary nature, which may be removed by a two-day course of medicine. A kind of medical hospital has been set up today. The priest formerly attached to the Catholics among the Indians asked and obtained leave to say Mass today and to perform the ceremonies of his church in camp. A child died since dark."

[On Mon., Sept. 10, camp was broken at Logansport and the command was given to continue the journey. Judge Polke mentioned "Old Winamac Village" (not near the present town of Winamac), a site where Chief Winnemac moved his tribe at a later date.]

"September 10, Monday: Prepare for removal. Under way at 10. Left 21 behind sick and attendants. Reached Winnemac's old village about 5 p.m., ten miles from Logansport. One man died tonight after several days' illness.

"Wednesday, September 12: Started at 8 and reached the Tippecanoe River which we forded, and passed the Battle Ground (near Lafayette) soon after twelve noon. The Indians were assembled and dry goods to the amount of $5469.81 was distributed to them. A very old woman, mother of a chief, said to be about 100 years old, died since arriving into camp.

"Saturday, 15th September: Started early, traveling without stopping until noon -- arrived at an unhealthy and filthy looking stream at which we were forced to camp. Twenty-five of the young Indians were permitted to go hunting. Two small children died along the road.

"Sept. 16: In saddles by 8 a.m. -- seven persons left behind sick at camp. A few minutes' travel took us to the Grand Prairie, arriving at Danville, Ill., about 3. Heat and dust distressing. Horses are jaded, Indians sickly, and every town has its sick and invalids. Four persons died at a nearby town in one day, a population of about 800.

"Monday, September 17: Preceeded to Sandusky's Point, distance six miles. A young child died directly after coming into camp.

"Tuesday, September 18: Health of emigrants continues very bad. During the evening a woman and a child died. A baby was born today. Sixty-seven sick." [The expedition stayed at camp on the 19th due to all the illness.]

"Thursday, September 20: At 3 we were up and are busily preparing the discharge of some of the volunteers [soldiers]. During the March, General Tipton left us in charge of the Conductor Wm. Polke. While on the march another child died on horseback. We are now encamped at Davis Point, a distance of ten miles from the Camp Ground of yesterday." [They camped on the banks of the Sangamon River for five days.]

"Friday, September 28: We are now within a few miles of Springfield, Ill., which will pass tomorrow. Judge Polke requested Ioweh, one of the principal chiefs, to arrange and accoutre the Indians as to insure a good appearance. They were promised tobacco. The day had been warm, adding to the fatigue. The illness of the camp is disappearing gradually. Forage and provisions becoming plenty as we nearer approach the settled portion of the state [Ill.]."

March through Springfield -- "Saturday, September 29: On our way at 8. To pass through Springfield at as early hour as possible. The Indians proudly arranged themselves into line, and with an unusual display of finery and gaudy trumpery, marched thru the streets of the city. At 3 we reached McCoy's Mills, 17 miles traveled."

[The Indians for many days had passed beyond the borders of their beloved Indiana, and as they witnessed government officers and troopers being paid off and returned to their homes, it does not require any great stretch of the imagination to picture the feelings of the Potawatomis.]

[The story of the trek to Kansas will be continued in next month's column.]

Last updated on September 17, 2001.

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