AFTERGLOW... ending my trek
(Seconde leg)The second place I had to visit to end this trip properly was 20 miles south of Osawatomie
. In an hour and two quick hitches I got back to the mall where I had parked my car. I drove back south to Osawatomie again then 20 miles beyond where I knew the “spiritual destination” of this journey turned out to be.The Potawatomi did not stay at Osawatomie long
. The promised houses did not exist—not the final time the promises of the government would be forgotten. The bitter cold prairie wind came soon after their arrival in November. By Christmas they were shivering and cold and felt abandoned by the government and perhaps even their God. As the bitter cold swept in they heard of the St. Mary’s mission just 20 miles south of them. Here was a band of about 150 Potawatomi that had moved there t3wo years earlier. On this smaller band's arrival they had sent for a priest to teach them religion. Father Christian Hoecken responded who had been working with the Kickapoo tribe with slim results. He founded the St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek. By March most of the Pottawatomie had relocated to Sugar Creek joining the Indians who had been living there already.Here they found a refuge
--a fresh flowing spring, a small creek and plentiful rock formations in the creek’s ravine where poles, blankets and bark could be arranged to provide protection from the bitter prairie winds and snow. Besides Father Hocken and some other lay missionaries the Indians were most influenced by a devoted nun, Rose-Philippine Duchesne. The Indians called her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always
.” Mother Duchesne was a Mother Teresa to the Indians.Philippine Duschene was called to missions as a young person.
She had grown up in a wealthy French lawyer’s family then heard a Jesuit missionary speak about evangelism. She immediately felt called to missions--to evangelize in America. She joined a religious order but her missionary call was delayed by the French revolution which outlawed organized religion of her type. Even when she could publically practice her calling she was delayed again. Finally at age 49, (1818) she was sent as a missionary to the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. She arrived in New Orleans and worked her way up the river.When the opportunity came to join the new mission to the Potawatimi
at Sugar Creek she had her lifelong calling fulfilled—working with the American Indians. Here at the St. Mary's Mission she ministered to the Potawatomi through prayer, teaching and service. Soon a small town grew up that including a chapel, blacksmith shop, a school and houses. The Potawatomi practiced their devoted Catholic spirituality though not without opposition. (Within a year two rascals from Logansport--the Ewing Brothers--went all the way to Kansas and set up a trading post so the Potawatomi did not get beyond the evil influences of white civilization for long--and liquor became available at a price so much so that the fathers at the mission had to operate a kind of bottle-smashing crusade reminicent of what would become the temperance crusades of later years). Since whole books have been written on the Sugar Creek Mission I will not tell the whole story here, having previously restricted myself to the 62 day journey alone in my writing. The story is powerful, the devotion of the missionaries inspiring, and the devoted response of the Potwatomi is moving. I had to go to this place to end this walk.AS FOR ME I drove my rental car to the out-of-the-way site of Philippine Duschene Memorial Park
, the spiritual terminus of the Trail of Death . Charismatic and Catholic Christians along with Native Americans agree on the notion of sacred place—there are places that offer “holy ground” where one is drawn closer to God and His work. I had heard of such power in this place from historian Shirley Willard and several Native Americans who had been writing me at my mail drops along the way. Sure enough, it was a powerful and intense experience for me and properly wrapped up the trek.Here I walked among the rock formations
where the Potawatomi huddled that first winter. I saw the location of the chapel and foundation of the cabin of Mother Duschene. I lay on my back stariung at the seven raised crosses on the hill with the inscribed names of all the Indians who died and were buried here.But I knew where I would be moved most of all so I saved it for last
. Near the spring is a stone monument where the entire diary of the 1838 journey is inscribed. I sat and read the daily summary of the journal that I had been living with two months straight. I recalled day by day the events of the Indians I had pondered so much. Logansport
where more than 300 were sick. Danville
and a dozen other memories I had of the Indian’s journey. Where General Tipton turned back, where father Petit arrives, where they hunted for game and “filled the camp with venison.” Where it rained, where it snowed, where they were issued shoes, where they smoked a keg of tobacco, where they argued over the power of the various chiefs.I sat for several hours as the sun sagged in the sky
reading and re-reading this journal and pondering all the memories I had created of the 1838 journey which flooded back. And I recalled the pertner memories of my own journey: rainy days, mental and physical exaustion, blisters and the people--the Mountain family’s care for me, of Don, Liz Gander, the dinner and night at Josephine Gander's house, Steve & Janet Tieken, Phil Woodbury, Brooks Sayer, Jason Dennison, Mark & Jess Schmerse, Kerry Kind, and a score or more of others who faithfully sent letters and even snacks to my mail drops along the way—I recalled them all tied to this day by day journal on the stone monument. The memoried of the past two months flooded back--the Potawatomi memoried mixing with my own memories--1838 with 2006.The sun sank slowly and quiet darkness crept in as I pondered
both journeys: the Potawatomi's and mine. I realize I can never completely feel what they felt. I’m a modern white man. It can’t happen. Y et living with this story for two months as I took the actual steps every day experiencing my own blistering heat and chilling rain has helped me catch a bit of what they experienced better than sitting in an air conditioned office reading about it. And I know what happend was wrong, sin, evil. And sin should not be dismissed easily, even if it is the sins of our forefather's government.As the final glow of the light leaked from the sky
I reluctantly left the park. I headed and headed out to complete the third leg of my completion journey--meeting the survivors of the trek in person.