Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Chief Shawanassee

(from the Jan. 30, 1996, Lowell Tribune, page 5)

__ Click on map to enlarge it.

The following story, taken from the 1905 History of Kankakee County, Ill., concerns a pioneer's exciting trip to an Indian village and the death and funeral service of a famous chieftain, Shawanassee.

"Pioneer David Bloom, with his brother George and a guide, were on their first trip down Rock Creek, but were totally unprepared for the waterfalls, chasms, high rock banks and other natural features which made up the beautiful and unusual scenery in Kankakee County, Ill.

"From the mouth of the creek, they traveled upstream to a large Indian Mound, the top of which commanded a splendid view of the surrounding country. About eight rods north of the mound, at the southwest corner near the edge of Rock Creek Grove, was the deserted village of Shawanassee, where took place the history of his great tribe.

"Still standing were many of the lodge poles left by the tribe which sold their land and happiness to the early pioneers. In regular rows running north and south, always facing west, were many graves, and at each grave which covered a warrior was a stake with red marks, in number as many as the scalps he had taken. Some had thirteen marks.

"Pioneer Bloom learned that his guide had been captured and adopted by the Kickapoos and that his knowledge of the country and the tribes was interesting and extensive. 'Heaps of ponies have been raised here,' he said as he pointed out the old corn hills which were visible for two miles.

"To the northeast, he showed them an old Indian dancing ground where feasting took place and many councils were held. The large circle, about eighty feet in diameter, was leveled off as smooth as a barn floor, with the removed sod piled around the edge, where full grown plum trees grew. Nearby was a bubbling spring of clear pure water, which later failed due to the digging of many wells nearby by the new settlers.

"Along with two other Chiefs, Shabbona and Pontiac, Shawanassee shares the most lasting renown of any of the Pottawatomie leaders who lived in Kankakee County. His village was one of the largest and the oldest in the state, and he was one of the most noble, powerful and humane representatives of his race.

"The Chief had a large double log house built by pioneer William Baker in 1833, the first structure built by a white man in the area, but he lived only one more year to enjoy it. He sold his reservation to an early pioneer, Dr. Todd.

"Spared the humility and grief of having to leave the land of his forefathers to journey westward with his tribe, in death he was accorded all of the honors which accompany the passing of a great and noble Chief.

"At his funeral, the old Chief was robed in the picturesque regalia of his rank, and with his face toward the setting sun, he was placed above the ground in a sitting posture, surrounded by a pen of split puncheons [posts] three-and-a-half feet wide. There was a hole, three by four inches, in the west side, and the chief was surrounded by his blankets, rifle, brass kettle, tomahawk, scalping knife, pipes, tobacco, and many other objects with which he was familiar. "But he was soon robbed of his accessories, as Pioneer Bloom, in 1837, saw the old man still sitting upright in his little house, and though three years had gone by since his death, he was but slightly disfigured. But a few years later the skull and larger bones disappeared, never to be found.

"Shawanassee's band of five hundred left the reservation for their new home in Iowa (United Band Reservation) in the spring of 1836, and two years later the last two hundred undertook the same mournful journey, imposed by the government, sometimes called 'The Trail of Tears.'" The last of those Indians found game scarce, as the county was fast being settled, but sometimes they found a deer or some wild turkeys. Their best hunting ground was over to Beaver Lake in Indiana, near Lake Village, where game abounded in large numbers. Hunting trips to that area usually took about a week or more, but they usually returned with wagons full of ducks, geese, crane and deer, enough to last for several weeks.

"The departure of Shawanassee's and the subsequent bands of Indians for Iowa, is described by reliable pioneers as among the most heartrending and mournful of their experiences. Here was everything to make life a continuous song; there was uncertainty at best, and ceaseless longing for a life to which they might never return. Here they had been born, and spent their childhood, and here were buried their courageous sires; here was timber in abundance, water on every hand, as gracious and providing prairies as ever resounded to the echo of the war whoop or song.

"Small wonder that the squaws wrung their hands and tore their hair; that bitter tears fell in the furrows of dark chieftain faces; that little children felt the sob of premonitory desolation rising in their throats.

"They had bartered their land, their piece of mind, the heritage of the little ones for gold, and over their dull consciousness swept the gripping chill of a regretted and unalterable fate. Indian History presents few more pitiable situations."

The "Potawatomi," as spelled by many historians, traditionally a canoe traveling people, lived near the waterways of the Great Lakes area. Caught up in the conflict between the French and the English colonial powers, they fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

They accepted new ideas and adapted easily to change, a proud and democratic people who interacted with other Indian groups as well as with the French trappers and traders.

They live today in scattered locations, with many in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and in Ontario. They have taken part in protests to assert Indian rights and in movements to enhance Indian identity nationwide.

Last updated on November 25, 2001.

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