The Potawatomi Indians had left northern Indiana in September 1838, on their way to their new home in Kansas, escorted by troopers under the command of Gen. John Tipton. We continue their story as it was written in the diary of Judge Polke, who was in command on the trip west. (When Gen. John Tipton returned home, his power expriing at the state border, Polke was in command.) The troopers and the proud Indians paraded through the streets of Springfield, Ill., on Sat., Sept. 29, 1838, and at three o'clock that day had reached McCoy's Mills, with 17 miles traveled.
On Sun., Sept. 30, the wagon train left McCoy's Mills at nine o'clock and by noon had reached Island Grove, six miles west. Their march was short because of the scarcity of water, although the health of the sick was improving. The Indians were still bringing in game to eat, and one of the soldiers was dismissed for intoxication.
"Mon., Oct. 1, traveled 17 miles, reached camp near Jacksonville at 3 in the afternoon. During the day a child fell from a wagon and was crushed under the wheels. Two run-aways were reported. All [were] perplexed by the curiosity of visitors. Camp serenaded by the Jacksonville Band."
On Tues., Oct. 2, Polke marched the emigrants into the town square for a few minutes, where the townspeople gave presents of pipes and tobacco to the Indians, who were escorted around the square by the band.
On Oct. 8 parties of the emigration were detached and sent ahead in order to reach Quincy, Ill., where they were to ferry the river by groups. A steam ferryboat was waiting, and by night most of the expedition had crossed the river. By the next evening, all of the remaining wagons had crossed over to the west bank of the Mississippi River.
"Tues., Oct. 11 -- At nine o'clock moved from the encampment of the last two days and now camped at Pleasant Spring, Mo. Captain J. Holman of Peru, Ind., joined the expedition as assistant superintendent. A woman died shortly after we arrived. Distance traveled today, 13 miles.
"Fri., Oct. 12 -- Passed thru Palmyra, Mo., at 10. Two or three Indians procured liquor and became intoxicated, were arrested and put under guard. Now encamped at Lee's Creek, 13 miles from Pleasant Spring. Health of Indians good. General Morgan, who was an assistant superintendent, gave notice that he would resign tomorrow.
"Sat., Oct. 13 -- A number of Indians, headed by Chief Ash-kum, came to headquarters and informed the conductor that they were unwilling for General Morgan to leave them. They felt that the General was near to them as a protector. The Indians also requested liberty to travel less and remain longer in camp. [General Morgan left, with the good wishes of a senior chief, Ioweh.] At three o'clock we arrived at Clinton, a distance of 17 miles from last camp. Tomorrow we shall remain in camp.
"Mon., Oct. 22, 1838 -- Left at early hour, passed thru Keatsville and journeyed toward the Missouri River, At 2 we reached Grand River and commenced its crossing. Distance today, 15 miles.
"Tues, Oct. 23 -- Ferried all morning. Bottom lands too wet to camp. Continued on for 15 miles. The cold is severe.
"Wed., Oct. 24 -- This morning before leaving camp a quantity of shoes were given to the Indians, who were barefooted. The weather too severe for marching without a covering to the feet. Reached Carrollton at 12, distance 12 miles. The country which we passed today is very much excited, Nothing is talked of but the Mormons and the difficulties between them and the citizens of upper Missouri. [In 1838 the feeling against the Mormons became intense; in 1839 Governor Boggs of Missouri issued an order for their expulsion, and 12,000 were driven from the state to Nauvoo, Ill., formerly Commerce, Ill.] Carrollton is nightly guarded by its citizens.
"Thurs., Oct. 25 -- Left encampment at 7, a long journey to Snowden's Farm. Scarcity of water. The citizens of nearby Richmond sent a delegation to Judge Polke for help, for they feared an attack from the Mormons that night. Polke replied that it was not in his line of duty to interfere.
"Fri., Oct. 26 -- At 8 we left our camp and at 10 reached the Missouri River opposite Lexington. We commenced ferrying and found the ferry engaged in transporting females who were fleeing from their homes. Great excitement prevails. Reports of blood shed, houseburning, etc. People seem crazed. By sunset all wagons cross the river. Early in the morning we shall proceed to cross the Indians.
"Sat., Oct. 27 -- At sunrise ferry boats busy. By two all had crossed the river. At 4, the front of the party reached our encampment at Little Schuy Creek, eight miles distant.
"Sun., Oct. 28 -- Remained in camp. Had performed a good week's travel, ferrying two rivers in the time. Health of the camp as good as it has ever been.
"Mon., Oct. 29 -- Fine day for traveling, reached Prairie Creek at 12, traveled ten miles. About five o'clock, Captain Hull arrived at camp with the Indians left at Logansport and Tippecanoe, about 23. They are in good health and spirits.
"Wed., Oct. 31 -- Left camp at 7, at 12 passed thru Independence, Mo. At one we reached our camp south of the city. Traveled 10 miles. More shoes for the Indians. Many Indians came into camp intoxicated.
"Nov. 1, 1838 -- Left camp after nine, allowed Indians an hour or so for their religious exercises. Reached Blue River camp at 3, traveled 16 miles. Journey exceedingly pleasant, weather warm, and road good. Tomorrow we shall cross the state line, the country being almost an entire wilderness."
"Fri., Nov. 2 -- Morning broke rainy and disagreeable, but the word was given to move. On the move by 8, rain increasing as we advanced. At 9 we cross the line into Kansas Territory and found ourselves in the heart of a prairie, with scarcely any traces to mark our route. Large portion of the Indians became detached from the wagons, and wandered over the prairie for four hours in search of the trace of the wagons. We reached the campground at 3, having traveled 25 miles, though we are now but 12 miles from the camp of yesterday. Now at North Fork of Blue River.
"Sat., Nov. 3 -- Left early, reached a settlement of Wea Indians on Bull Town. Journey pleasant, marked by the anxiety of the Indians to push forward to see their friends.
"Sun., Nov. 4 -- Left Bull Town at 9, allowing two hours for devotion. At 2 we crossed the Osage, where the Indians were met and welcomed by many of their friends. At half past three we reached Potawatomi Creek, the end of out trek. The emigrants seemed delighted with the appearance of things, the country, its advantages, the wide spread prairie, the grove, the rocky eminence and the meadowed valley, but particularly with the warm and hearty greetings of those who have tested the country assigned them by the government. Today's travel, 20 miles. Davis, the Indian agent, we found absent.
"Mon., Nov. 5 -- During afternoon a considerable number of Indians expressed desire to be heard. Chief Pepishkay rose from the group, and said that they had arrived at their journey's end, and that now the government must be satisfied. They had been taken from their homes affording them plenty and brought to a desert wilderness, and were now to be scattered as the husbandman scatters his seed. [They were worried about what to expect from the absent Indian Agent Davis.] The Indians hoped that Judge Polke would remain with them to see justice rendered. He told them he would soon return, and told them that his son would remain.
"Tues., Nov. 6 -- Preparing for our return. Left the encampment. Tomorrow we will proceed to Westport." (Note: Westport is now called Kansas City, Missouri.)
More than sixty days were required for the expedition to make the journey from Indiana to Kansas, with inclement weather, hardships, sickness and death. So far as is known, none of the Indians ever returned to their old homes in Indiana and Michigan. They no doubt regretted being forced to obey the government's orders. Today many of their descendents are engaged in farming near Holton, Kan.
About fifty escaped from the Trail of Death and did not go to Kansas. Some went to Mexico and lived with the Kickapoos. Some returned to Indiana and went west again in the 1840 removal. In 1861 they signed a new treaty making them U.S. citizens -- hence the name Citizen Band Potawatomi. Those who stayed in Kansas on the reservation are Prairie Band Potawatomi. Those who signed the 1861 treaty moved to Oklahoma and became citizens with 160 acres per family. Down through the years many came back to Indiana to live. Being citizens, they can live wherever they wish. Some are school teachers in Chicago. Some are truck drivers, etc. Thank God, they did not disappear but survived as a people.
For more information on the Trail of Death, go to "Fulton County Trail of Death" or to "What Is the Trail of Death?"
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