Trail Of Death Journey

Journal notes walking the "Trail of Death" tracing the Potawatomi Indians forced removal from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. This blog is in process of being re-ordered and moved to

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Location: Marion, Indiana, United States

Professor Emeritus


Day 35-37 Quincy Mile 384
Oct. 8-10, 1838 May 27-28, 2006

This was an entire city moving to Kansas—young people, babies, pregnant women, middle aged men with bad knees, the elderly. It would be like going down the street to select in order 900 people from your neighborhood announcing they are about to walk to Kansas. And they had white militia guarding them, plus wagon-drivers on contract with the government. All this mixed group of people had more to do than travel. There were moccasins to make, clothes to wash, wagon spokes to repair and salaries to the contract workers to be paid. The party did this on the west shore of the Mississippi facing Qunicy.

When the Indians passed through Quincy they attended the St. Boniface church-a brand new congregation of German Catholics. Quincy was at the time perhaps 300 people, with 250 of them being German Catholics. Their little frame church had just been built that year and this is the only constructed church the Catholic Indians worshipped in since they had left behind in Twin Lakes the beloved log chapel they had built with their own hands when they heard that they’d get a priest.

Accounts were organized and the officers, laborers and wagoners were paid. Two soldiers and a wagoner decided they’d had enough and requested discharge to go home—and they were left go. There were talks to hold—with several of the chiefs meeting with Polke asking that they not travel any more on the “Sabbath” so they could hold “devotional exercises.” Our intermittent Doctor Jerolaman returned to the party here in Quincy, having joined the party late then gotten sick Septermber 24, left the party in Springfield the 29th and now returned to work October 9th—having just missed about 25% of the trip in this instance alone—it will be interesting to see if he is “docked” for this when he is paid at the end of the trip (the payment records still exist).

These days were given to organizing, paying, sorting, packing and repacking the wagons along with shoeing the horses and repairing the wagons for the second half of the trip. All this required them to ferry back and forth into town for supplies since they were camping on the opposite shore from town. The official journal spins the frequent shuttles this way: “This might have been avoided by remaining on the Quincy shore, but the dissolute habits of the Indians and their great proneness to intoxication, forbid such a step...” This seems to be a change of tone in the journal from previous entries where the writer seems to brag about “nothing of the sort” of drunkenness being allowed. And it is particularly hard on the Indians, many of which were Catholics committed to total abstinence. What had changed?

By evening of October 10th they were ready to push on for their second leg of the journey.

AS FOR ME I too took several days off in Quincy with Sharon. We both had a delightful supper with Steve & Janet Tieken. Steve is an Archeologist and plans to walk with me Monday through Quincy. Also got to interview the priest at St. Boniface church and attend a service there. The rest of the weekend was spent on sleeping and giving myself to purposeful laziness in order to charge my batteries physically for the walk across Missouri which Shirley Willard (the foremost historian on the Trail of Death) warns me will be like walking through a ninety degree steam room.

I leave Monday morning to walk with Steve Tieken. On Tuesday Ryan Robertson, a recent IWU graduate headed into teaching will join me for the day. After that I’m on my own in the steam room.

I'VE BEEN THINKING TODAY about alcohol and the Indians...(dictated for final book)

Monroe City
Kansas City
Payola KS
Potawatomi Creek
Cherry Creek mission


Day 34 Mill Creek (near Quincy, IL) Mile 378
Oct. 7, 1838 May 26, 2006

Polke generally camped outside of a large city or on the opposite shore of a river town, probably to avoid any trouble in town and to especially deprive the soldiers, Wagoneers and Indians of alcohol which often led to trouble between an organized traveling party and a town. In the case of Quincy he did both -- stopping short of town at Mill Creek then crossing the Mississippi river and staying several days on the western shore.

The twelve mile trip from Hobson's Choice campsite to Mill Creek passed over rolling holls then across a high level prairie before dropping slightly to Mill creek. Polke planned to get up early in the morning and get the entire party safely across the river then take several days and "to allow the teamsters and others engaged in the service, sufficient time to repair their wagons, etc."

Other than reporting the journey pleasant and "better than usual supplied with water" the only other item is the almost daily common line closing out the journal, "a child died shortly after we arrived in camp."

AS FOR ME, after checking the marker in Liberty I walked to Mill Creek with little news and little thought. At the Mill Creek historical marker I sat soaked in the humidity until Sharon arrived the now-410 mile distance from our home in Marion, Indiana. The party of Indians took several days off on the western shore of the Mississippi and so shall I.

The half-way mark should be a celebration for me but it's not. It seems like this journey should be over by now, not merely half-over. I am tired and worn-out, have blisters on my feet and the bones in my ankles, heels and knees are screaming, "Go home with your wife tomorrow!" I am tired of walking, tired of eating whatever I can find, tired of sleeping on the ground, tired of the sun, tired of noisy trucks and dirty roads and the overly humid heat. I am tired of writing blog entires that I'm not sure are being read by many, tired of thinking about Indians 150 years ago constantly and continually, I'm tired.

I want to switch channels. I want to think of something else. Go home and write great prose in my air conditioned writer's studio. Attend a good movie. Read a book I don't have to carry in my pack all day. Sleep in my own bed. Go out to a quiet dinner with our friends. I'm tired of this trek. The romance and adventure have been displaced by drudgery. I want to quit. This is how I''m feeling here at the Mill Creek marker, waiting for Sharon to arrive.

I'VE BEEN THINKING TODAY (dictated for book)

Day 33 Hobson’s Choice (Liberty, IL) Mile 366
Oct. 6, 1838 May 25, 2006

Dust was a constant trial for the Potawatomi. The drought had left the land powder dry and by the time almost a thousand people and more than 300 horses pass down a road there would have been several inches of dust on the road like talcum powder billowing up and choking the riders and walkers. In a letter to his bishop, Father Petit described catching up to his congregation thus: “Soon afterward I saw my poor Christians under a burning noonday sun, amidst clouds of dust, marching in a line, surrounded by soldiers who were hurrying their steps.” The billowing dust must have blurred the eyes of both Indians and the soldiers and brought in hacking coughs.

On this day they got wonderful relief—Rain! The journal puts it, “During the night we were visited by a fall rain which rendered the traveling to-day unusually pleasant. The dust has been completely allayed, and the air much cooled.” After seven hours of travel over the rolling prairies they pitched camp at a site they labeled “Hobson’s Choice” near present-day Liberty, IL. “Hobson’s choice” was a idiom of the day based on a Thomas Hobson who owned a livery in Cambridge England in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. When a customer wanted a horse he supposedly told them to take the horse nearest the door or none at all—“Hobson’s choice” the rough equivalent of our phrase today “take it or leave it.” The site was roundly condemned in the journal “from the barrenness of the spot in everything save grass, brush and weeds, we have appropriately names Hobson’s Choice.” By now the party was used to ending the day as this one ended: "A child died since we came into camp." Somewhere near Liberty this child lies burried.

AS FOR ME I walked this day blessed repeatedly by the Mountain family—brothers, uncles, wives, husbands took it on themselves to meet me every hour or two on the road with ice water, bananas, apples, oranges, beef jerky and nuts so that on this day I probably actually gained weight! Interesting turnaround: when the Potawatomi passed through Jacksonville just a few days ago the white blessed them with gifts. Now more than 150 years later these Potawatomi descendants bless a white man on the road with gifts.

I’VE BEEN THINKING TODAY (dictated for book)


Day 32 McKee’s Creek (Perry, IL) Mile 348
Oct. 5, 1838 May 24, 2006

The entry for October 5 is one of the shortest entries of the trip. It only says, “Left encampment opposite Naples at 8 o’clock and reached at a little after 12 our present encampment, at McKee’s creek, twelve miles from the Illinois river. We were forced to-day to leave the road and travel a considerable distance to find water—even such as it is—standing in ponds—the streams are nearly all dry. Subsistence, beef and flour. Forage of a good character.”

That’s it. Nothing more. Just the location of the campsite, assessement of forage and food, and the perennial complaint about water. ON any long trek there are many days that have no stand-out event. This one too. At least there were no deaths on this day.

AS FOR ME, once I left the river I walked on what the locals call ‘John Deere road” with only four vehicles passing me all afternoon. The fourth was a Schwans Ice Cream truck and I half-in-jest flagged it down with an ice-cream-cone pantomime. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the truck’s brake lights go on, then turn around in a lane down the road and come back to open up the store for me. I purchased a pint of raspberry-chocolate ice cream and ate all 1100 calories of my supper walking toward the now-setting sun.

In Perry I found Darin and Nikki Mountain who have been faithfully flowing my journey on this blog and have written to every mail drop. Darin’s great-great grandmother was Potawatomi but kept it wuiet until the family unearthed the evidence in pictures and family memorabilia years later. Darin makes gigantic radio transmitters sold mostly overseas and Nikki is a junior high school teacyher with the energy you’d expect from someone who is successful at that task. The Mountains gathered together a delightful collection of folk all involved in setting the Potawatomi monument here in Perry and we had a sweet evening of discussion. A reporter for the local newspaper, a retired school teacher joined in and took notes as we talked. I spent the night in the Mountain’s pop-up camper which avoided my packing up a soaked tent the next morning since there was a huge pop up thundershower in the night.


Day 30-31 Naples Mile 336
Oct. 3 & 4, 1838 May 24, 2006

In a quick three hour walk the Potawatomi walked the nine miles from Exeter to the Illinois river at Naples, IL. This was the first mighty river of their journey. Naples was a primary port city on this river so it offered both keel boats and flatboats to ferry the Indians and large wagons to the west shore. They spent the entire day crossing and re-crossing the river so that by 9 Pm they had landed the final baggage wagon and camped on the shore opposite Naples. A child died right after. On their arrival at the river a child had died.

William Polke, the federal conductor of the expedition decided to take the next day off. Crossing the river had been exhausting work and the party had been traveling every day now for a long time. Everyone needed a break so they took a zero mileage day to rest and catch up on the little duties that had been ignored too long. The Indians had been successfully hunting deer for more than a week so they now had plenty of deerskin to make new moccasins. Certainly they had previously made moccasins since it is unlikely that a single pair of moccasins could have lasted all 336 miles to the Illinois River. The Lewis and Clarke expedition had made them every few days on the roughest part of their journey. Perhaps they even made some to put in stock for later use. The blankets and clothing needed washed. The journal was optimistic” “the health of the Indians is now almost as good as before we commenced our march from Twin Lakes—a few days more will entirely recruit them.” The sick and weak—mostly children had mostly died off including one child the day before. Immediately following this optimistic report the journal closes with “A young child died this evening.” Apparently all the Indians were not in such good health. Soon there would be few children left.

AS FOR ME I left the delightful night’s rest at the Herrings and walked the quick four miles to Bluff, IL and picked up my mail. I had used Exeter as a mail drop, but discovered no post office in the tiny town. The “big” town in this region is Bluff (Population 749). When the Post Office opened at nine I was there to collect several letters form friends and readers of this blog—THANKS! In the little park across the street I answered every letter and mailed them before stopping off that the one-room library and chatting with the librarian about the region then she let me use the library’s dial-up to catch up on my blog.

I then walked into naples in another two hours. Seven cars stopped in this short trip asking if I wanted a ride—usually only one or two a day do this. The difference? Huge dark thunderclouds with slicing lighting were rolling in from the west. I wonder if people have a natural inclination to “race for cover” in the presence of a severe thunderstorm and thus are quicker to offer to help you find cover as well? I do know that almost nobody ever offers a ride during a rainstorm, yet they all want to help as it threatens. It's interesting--what is this about people? Anyeway, I declined of course but thanked each of them arriving in Naples just as the strome broke loose with a torrential downpour. I took cover in one of those little roadside wait-for-the-school-bus sheds for the next hour’s crenching.

While sitting cozily in the lean-to up drove two matching golf carts driven by two gigantic men with matching beards and mathcing bellies—"we're brothers and kind of the sheriffs around here " they told me. “You that guy walking the long Indian walk?” I said I was. “Jerry’s told us about you--he had surgery and is recovering--but Bud here could take you across the river.” I was unable to rouse Jerry from his afterglow sleep so I left a note for him tucked in his door. Finding a person in a town of 137 people is not hard. Bud was a twentysomething local guy living in a trailer next to his dad. "It's my house and I own this land" he said. helped Bud clean out his fishing boat on the trailer when Bud’s mother insisted showed up insiting, "You’re not going out on that water—there’s gold ball size hail coming.” Indeed another great dark thunderfront was moving in so we waiting for it to blow off a few dozen branched then as soon as it broke we launched and he dumped me on the western side of the river saying “just walk through those woods until you find the power line then follow that to a road.” He was right—I pushed through the woods and found the levee, then gravel road and finally a paved road—though all the names of the road were different from my maps (why do counties do this?).Here on this side of the river is where the Potawatomi camped. two days. I would move on toward McKee’s creek 12 miles further.


Day 29 Exeter, IL Mile 327
October 2, 1838; May 23, 2006

In the morning as the Potawatomi passed through Jacksonville the town band came out to lead them. They arranged with Judge Polke for the band to lead the Indians into the city square “where they remained for fifteen o twenty minutes." "Presents of tobacco and pipes in abundance were made by the citizens to the Indians.” How did this happen? Who suggest it? How hatched the idea of the presents? Who spread the idea around the night before and in the morning? Incidents like these seldom “just happen” –somebody thinks of the act of kindness then speaks up. When the Potawatomi marched through Springfield they got tobacco from the federal conductor as pay-for-good-behavior (and for dressing up) . In Jacksonville, however they got tobacco and pipes as gifts directly from the Jacksonville citizens. What a tribute to these folk. And here we are remembering their hospitality 158 years later.

Today they will make 16 miles to Exeter on a warm and dusty day with scarce water along the way.

AS FOR ME, I breakfasted with Wolf and Ann-Marie for several hours over coffee and a wonderful omelet seasoned with spices grown in their yard. Wolf is a retired professor of political science in this town of two colleges. Marie was a professor of German. Wolf has written a weekly column for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier for 23 years, more than twice as long as my 12 year run online--so I consider him an experienced master of the craft. Following this multi-hour stimulating breakfast conversation I headed to the Jacksonville library where the archivist helped me with accessing the county’s resources on the Trail of death then graciously permitted me to write and post these drafts of my diary online. I heading Exeter near lunchtime assuming I would not make it all the way. I simply drifted westerly and before long was in the town by accident, not due to purpose as much as my sloth in selecting a campsite for the night.

I have crossed the point in this trek where psychologically it is as if I am floating in a westward flowing river—my only job is to pick up each foot and let them float forward with the "current" toward the setting sun. This is how I found myself in Exeter just before dusk. However my autopilot indolence paid off. Here in this town of 75 people I stayed with Paul Herring who with his wife Kate restored an old three story hotel/school into a comfortable house that was built in 1860 on word that the railroad route would come through Exeter. It didn’t but went 3 miles to the north. The man finally sold his hotel and it became a school for 75 years, then fell into total disrepair. Paul and Kate bought the remains for $500 in 1973 and took the next few decades to restore it into a beautiful home. Paul is a math teacher in Jacksonville and Kate, once an attorney now works for the Girl Scouts in Quincy and is in process of credentialing for ministry among the United Methodists. I arrived while Paul still had some supper left in the large iron skillet so once again the kindness of a Jacksonville-related person brought to me a wonderful meal and I was asleep by 9PM having walked 16 miles after lunch today.

Wednesday: Get mail at Exeter by noon; walk through Bluffs (Potential Internet at library?) to Naples IL by dark (on the Illinois river) Contact Jerry Smith in Naples (thanks for this hook-up to Gary & Judy from decatur who drove their motorcycle over here a few days ago to see if I could get across the river at Naples like the Potawatomi did rather than taking the day-long detour up to rt. 104)
Thursday morning: Cross river in morning and walk to Perry IL –contact local Potawatomi, the “Nikki Mountain” family who has written me on the trail twice so far.
Friday: Leave Perry and walk to “Hobson’s choice” camp near liberty IL… walk until Sharon (my wfie) shows up to take the weekend off together in the Quncy area and around.
Monday: On the trail again, hoping to contact Ryan Robertson who is from Qunicy IL at the Mississipiand left a message on my cell phone without a call-back number.

All this of course is subject to the general "drift mentality" of "taking whatever miles the trail gives me" attitude."

Day 28 Jacksonville, IL Mile 311
October 1, 1838; May 22, 2006

What is it that makes one city (or a family) a place of hospitality and another one of hostility? Why are some towns suspicious of outsiders while others open their arms? Or families? Who knows, but Jacksonville was such a town of hospitality in 1838. Leaving island Grove the Potawatomi traveled to a spot just outside of Jacksonville to camp. During the day two more Indians escaped. One wonders who and why. Was it two braves intent on returning to Indiana? Or was it a young couple—husband and wife who snuck away to blend into the local citizenry and their heirs are our mayors and senators? We don’t know, the journal simply states, “to-night some of the chiefs reported two runaways, who left this morning.” The name “Trail of death” arose especially because of the greatly reduced number of Indians arriving in Kansas from those who left Indiana. It was originally thought by some that the death rate was over a hundred, maybe even 200. But these runaways constantly reduced the number in the party and the best estimate now is that maybe 42 people died, mostly children. But that is not to dismiss even that number—the death rate of 20 people per month out of 1000 is enough to wipe out the entire population in a few years, so 40 deaths is a tragedy just the same. And, of course when it is your own child even a single death can never be dismissed.

This day had brought such a tragedy. A little , a member of Chief Metteah’s family, had fallen and been crushed under the wheels of one of the wagons. She had not yet died by the time they arrived at the campsite outside Jacksonville. Imagine the parent’s grief. Did they blame themselves for not holding on to her more carefully? How did they feel as their little daughter lay groaning in their tent about to die?

This is where Jacksonville’s hospitality emerged. As darkness settled the Indians heard music. The Jacksonville city band had gathered and marched to the edge of camp to serenade the Indians. The music must have been a soothing melody for the grieving parents—and for all the Indians. Why did the band come? Who suggested the idea first? Was it like the movie “It’s a wonderful life” – a single person made a difference by simply saying, “let’s go out and serenade the Indians?” We don’t know. We just know they did it. It must have brought some Indians to tears.

But that would not be all to the story. The next morning (October 2) Jacksonville showed even more hospitality. (See next entry.)

AS FOR ME Jacksonville showed me a similar knod of hospitality 158 later. Wolf and Ann-Marie Fuhrig had contacted Shirley Willard back in Indiana offering to host my stay in Jacksonville. Wolf picked me up at the city square near the Potawatomi memorial. I soon found myself eating an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner at the restored train station in Jacksonville with five PhDs ranging in field from theater to German to American history. The gathering including both the president and vice President of the county historical society. After my three-licorice-stick meal this was an inviting fill-up! But the conversation was even more delightful than the food with one after another person filling in the local history as it related to the 1838 removal. It turns out Jacksonville has a long history of hospitality. The Potawatomi incident was not an anomaly. I heard the fascinating story of thousands of persecuted Portuguese Presbyterian protestants who also were received with hospitality when they fled their country. Perhaps a collective attitude of hostility to outsiders breeds more such hostility as does an open attitude of hospitality. I surely benefited. I spent the night in Wolf and Ann-Marie’s back yard sleeping on their soft grass.

Day 27 Island grove Mile 294
September 30, 1838; May 22, 2006

The Potawatomi only went six miles this day, camping at the idyllic “Island Grove.” For whatever reason in this vast open spaces of prairie there were “islands” of great trees groves and shade periodically—such was “Island Grove” as was Sidorus Grove before. The next water was another 10-15 miles which would have made for a 20 mile day, a distance that may have killed off more Indians than were already dying, so the party stopped at only six miles.

The journal recorded a doctor-less report “health of the sick still improving” it also recorded “the death of a child occurred a few hours after encampment.” It is interesting how many of these children apparently survived the day then would expire once they got into camp. In many cases Father Petit would preside over their funeral at night or in the morning before the party would move westward. While there are large stone boulders and bronze plaques marking this route I’m following, the real markers are unmarked—the invisible graves of more than 40 people who died along the way, mostly children.

The Indians were still bringing in “large quantities of sufficient for their subsistence” so the government was saving money on issuing rations. It is ironic that the Indians now saving the government money in their own forced removal. No matter—they enjoyed both hunting and eating the wild better than the standard beef and flour rations given them by the government. Today a soldier was also dismissed for intoxication stating “nothing of the kin is permitted.” It was important that the soldiers not get drunk when the leaders of the migration wanted to keep as many Indians from intoxication as they could. They had already dismissed a driver of a wagon for drunkenness, now one of the soldiers is fired and would have o take the long walk back to Indiana alone.

AS FOR ME I drifted past Island Grove since getting water was not my problem, getting food was. My last food was yesterday in Springfield so I kept looking forward to a gas station on the “Old Jacksonville Road” as I traveled…all day long, the next 23 miles I looked but got none--not even a soda machine. Each house I knocked at was empty--the farmer was out on the field and the spouse teaching school or working at a factory. I could not even buy a can of beans. I knew this is one risk of my “living off the land” approach to this walk—sometimes I have to go hungry, but that is part of the experience. Ane by late afternoonI was indeed hungry. I even found an unopened pack of gum along the road and chewed all five sticks for the sugar value. That didn’t last.

Finally, after more than 20 miles and a day and a half without food a pickup stopped. A man in his 30th with odd beads of perspiration all over his face said, “What you up to?” I told him and he asked, ‘How can I help?” I suggested if he had anything to eat it would be great and he promptly gave me three stick of red licorice and a Mountain Dew. I profusely thanked him and he responded with a pained look in his eyes, “Would you pray for me—I’m on my way to the Psychiatrist—they just can’t get my medicine right." I did pray for him aloud right then, and when I said “Amen” he reached out and grasped my hand saying, “Thanks—I needed that.” I’m not sure who got more out of this interchange.

I went to a grassy spot beside the road and laid out my three course dinner, savoring one stick of licorice at a time washing them down with Mountain dew and no Outback steak has ever tasted so good to me. Renewed with sugar-energy I walked the rest of the way into Jacksonville (my overnight stay in Jacksonville is on tomorrow's entry for it is more relevant to that theme).

Day 26 McCoy;s Mill (Riddle Hill) Mile 288
September 29, 1838; May 21, 2006

The migrating party made a scene in Springfield, the new capitol of Illinois. Promised some tobacco for their best behavior the Indians dressed up in their finery and “arranged themselves into a line with an unusual display of finery and gaudy trumpetry marched through the streets of Springfield.” The citizens completely crowded the streets so that it hampered the party’s progress. They saw how a neighboring state had handled “the Indian problem” and seeing the Indians in fancy dress was their entertainment for the day. Right down town and through the Capitol square they marched. To us today this seems a demeaning act—like using children for entertainment of s, but perhaps at the time it was less so?

The Indians would have seen the impressive new Capitol under construction already for a year. Here, more in line with the awe of Greek construction rose up a mighty stone building no match for the natural Indian wigwams. It was a sign of the future. The new owners of this country would build great stone Capitol buildings, skyscrapers, Interstate highways, go to the moon and introduce big box stores in the coming years. The simple life of the Indians would become a minority sidetrack in a culture of BIG—to be observed like the Amish.

Did 29 year old Abraham Lincoln see this parade? He had moved to Springfield a year before and lived only a few blocks from the city square. Perhaps. Or he may have been out practicing circuit riding law in one of the county seats around Illinois at the time. Whatever, it was a city-wide spectacle that day. As a sidelight, just nine years later from this city square would leave the ill-fated Donner party for California. Here in comfortable Springfield our intermittent physician, Dr. Jerolamon requested permission to stay behind to recuperate—the late-coming doctor was still sick.

After marching through Springfield the party camped a half dozen miles past the city at McCoy’s mill (near present day Riddle Hill) where a marker is found in from of the New Salem United Methodist Church. The journal calls the stream east of the church a stream ‘affording little water.”

AS FOR ME I checked in at all the Lincoln sites and moved west, including his home and offices (which were not yet occupied at the time of the Potawatomi emigration) then headed westerly. I’m in my fourth week of walking now so a sort of westward drift has settled in—less goal oriented and less scheduled, just constantly drifting west unconcerned about distance and mileage. I pitched my tent in a grassy spot overlooking a new millionaire "gentleman’s farmhouse" under construction but not yet occupied.



Like General Tipton, William Polke, the federal conductor of this “migration” had a negative experience with Indians as a child. Only different form Tipton, Polke chose to let the experience turn his hart toward the Indians rather than away from them. He became a friend of Indians--at least as much as any white man was in those days.

When Polke was born in (what is now ) West Virginia but moved west (as many aggressive whites did in those days did) down the Ohio river to Kentucky in 1780. When Polke’s father was gone Indians attacked and killed many of the families in the “station” where several families had gathered for safety. On the last day of August in 1782 little seven year old William Polke was captured along with his mother and two sisters. The Indians force-marched about 30 survivors north completely across Indiana to Detroit--a "forced migration" of the whites in this case.

During the forced walk William Polke’s mother who was pregnant gave birth to a fourth child. And on this trip the Indians adopted little William and he learned their language and essentially forgot English.

When Polke’s father came home he recruited others and set about finding his family. Thirteen months later, on Christmas eve he was reunited with his family and William learned to speak English again. Yet this experience did not turn Polke botter, but turned his heart toward the Indians.

William Polke fought with “Mad” Anthony Wayne at age 17 and at age 33 he became an associate judge in Knox county--hence his nickname thereafter Judge Polke.” He had fought (and was wounded) at the battle of Tippecanoe. He ran for lt. Governor of Indiana in 1822 and came in second.

His life took a sharp turn at age 49 when he became a missionary when he began teaching Indians at Niles Michigan with his brother-in-law, Isaac McCoy which he continued for several years. He was appointed a superintendent for building the Michigan Road from the Ohio river to Michigan and was the first white settler in Fulton County—founding the village of Chippeway, the location of the first campsite of this emigrating party. He had built the first frame house (called the “white house”) which is still on the grounds of the Fulton country historical society—the “round barn place” in existing route 31 just south of the Menominee statue).

His wife, Sarah was known as a friend of Indians too and a devout Christian—she was remembered as having memorized the four gospels and the psalms (though this is probably stretched by those who reported—it probably seemed like that to others).

In 1838 when the nation needed a federal “conductor” to take charge of the “removal” of the Indians they turned to “Judge Polke.” Once General Tipton escorted the Indians to the state line Polke took over. It was an injustice—this entire affair. But when something evil is going to be done, at least you hope for a good man to do it. Polke was such a good man. The Indians trusted him. He was wise and fair. In other removal stories the leaders may have intentionally attempted to “lat nature execute” the Indians. Not in this journey. While many died, and the trip is referred to as the “Trail of Death” Polke cannot (in my opinion) be accused of dire evil considering the day. William Polke was 63 when he led this trip.

William Polke was a good man who did an evil deed the best way possible. This is no strange assignment for anyone in leadership.

AS FOR ME, today is Sunday and I'm moving west after a great visit with Gary & Judy from decatur who rode over on their way to an Indian Methodist church to have breakfast with me--wonderful people who were former missionaries to mexico and now attend either Afro-American churches or Native American churches. I'm off to church myself then points west.


Day 25 Sangamon Crossing #2 --271 miles
Sept. 28, 1838; May 20, 2006

After 18 miles the party now reached their second Sangamon River crossing a few miles before they were to enter Springfield the first major city on their route. The federal conductor of the “migration,” Judge Polke, asked Chief I-o-weh to get the Indians to dress up to make a snazy appearance as they would apss through this town. The journal expected that they would “present quite a gaudy appearance” to the city folk, and to get them to dress up fancy they were promised some tobacco, something they ahd been wanting for several days.

This would be their last camp on the pleasant Sangamon Rver and they journaled that they expected there would be a greatly reduced number of sick once the doctors quit being sick themselves and could chack on the Indians again. However, inspite of the cheery entry two children died during the night. What must it be like to wake up in the morning to find your child dead beside you in the tent?

AS FOR ME I walked a hard and quiet day. My companions are now gone which makes it quiet, and the 85 degree heat makes it hard. I walked from one town of 500 to another. In Illopolis I had breakfast at a tiny diner and answered my mail received at Decatur and listened in to the conversations of the local farmers and other complainers at the next table.


Then hopped from tiny town to another until I was wonderfully rewarded in Buffalo IL where the friendly postmistress of the tiny post office steered me to the only store in town—B & D grocery where I got the best meatball sandwich in my life—piled high with onions and cheese and ate it along with a quart of chocolate milk in the perfectly manicured Buffalo Park across the street which even offered a pavilion. How I appreciate public parks, benches, and especially pavilions as a walker. Automobile travellers can always drive on ten miles for a place to stop—that’s a half day’s journey for me though.

An hour or two later I started feeling seasick--with the hot 85 degree afternoon sun blazing down on me, and that quart of chocolate milk churning in my stomach and the seven meatballs that were on that sandwich floating around—I simply had to lay down in a shady place for several hours for my stomach to deal with what was by now chocolate buttermilk meatball stew. By 6PM I was able to walk again and I walked to the Sangomon river to discover the bridge completely out and I took a bypass road and spent the night courtesy of a field between a cell phone tower and a local model airplane club’s “airport.”

ON THE MORNING OF SATURDAY THE 20th I walked the 3-4 remaining miles into Springfield where I headed south on a three-mile “side trail” to the Drury Inn (appropriate) where I will stay all day tomorrow, picking up my journey again Monday, hopefully refreshed and scrubbed clean. Also I can catch up on my blogging and writing tomorrow after church--refining thse rough posts a bit, and writing up a short bio of my favorite white man on this journey--the federal conductor, William Polke. ON SECOND THOUGHT. After one night in a smoking room which did not improve the cough I've had since Thursday night I decided on Sunday morning to "walk on" catching a worship service on my way out of town. It's funny...when hiking I almost always sleep so much better in a tent than in a hotel... looking forward to a better sleep tonight in my tent again. (That's no slight to Drury inn--if you're gonna' stay in a hotel they're the best!)

Day 24 Long Point --253 miles
Sept. 27, 1838; May 18, 2006

Continuing down the river the party passed through Decatur as the Indians continued to “scour the prairies in seach of game.” They were seccessful. The quantity of venison was so great the leaders did not have to issue rations of beef and flour The journel puts it “the camp- is now full of venison.” One of the assistant conductors left the group today sick, turning back to indiana and he was not replaced. Water was plentiful and the leaders were encouraged that the future might improve. Even forage for the horses was less difficult to procure. With a feast of venison to enjoy and nobody dying on this day the journal-writer was encouraged, though there was no official report from the docors, they were still sick. They camped at long Point (near present Niantic) after 14 miles.

AS FOR ME I ate a big breakfast of something besides venison, then found a laundramat where I could fluff up my sleeping bag and dry out its constantly more soggy condition in the rain, then walked into downtown Decatur for a long interview with the newspaper who featured the story on Friday including a great map and Picture Thanks Alicia for a good story!

I gathered up a pile of mail for answering the next days, and dumped my Solomon shoes in the garbage can in the city park, consumating my remarriage to my new balance sneakers at the city park. By evening I had reached Long Point/Niantic, where Michael McNamer (pastor of the local Wesleyan Church) met my two companions of the last fours days—Phil and Jason and hauled them back to their car left at the Sidney post office at the beginning of the week. I found the stone marker in Niantic then walked West out of town until I found a tiny slice where I could put up my tent next to a field of winter wheat. For the last four nights I had lots of conversation and friendship—this night was quiet except for the occasional howling of farm dogs checking up on each other through the night. And I read mail.

Day 23 Near Decatur --239 miles
Sept. 26, 1838; May 17, 2006

The Indians traveled 14 miles today down the river and camped just outside of Decatur. The doctors were still sick so no official report was made on sickness but the journal-writer says “the sick appear to be somewhat recruited.” A child died after dark this day.

AS FOR ME my party of three walked a “double day” today—covering both their party’s journey the day before (to the Sangamon Crossing) then walking their next day’s route almost to Decatur. I got to see my first funnel cloud today—I have lived in the Midwest since 1972 and have hoped to see one some day—today I got my wish. It never touched down but made for an impressive spiral in the sky. Finding an abandoned railroad grade we pitched out tents longways and looked forward to a break in Decatur in the morning. We took turned listening to the repeated tornado warnings on our little radio until finally the warnings were lifted and we fell asleep more bothered by the eight railroad trains passing on the occupied tracks 20 feet from us than the tornado warnings--though several times though the night we did think of the idea that "a tornado sounds like a freight train roaring in."

Day 21-22 Sangamon Crossing --225 miles
Sept. 24-25, 1838; May 17, 2006

The party now walked downstream for 15 miles along the banks of the Sangamon River where game was plentiful and there was shade from the burning sun. They had left 29 behind at Piatt’s Point sick who would catch up to them later Two people died today as they passed downstream. In the day they stayed in camp another two died: a woman from the group left behind died as they caught up, and a child died in the evening--four deaths total here at the crossing. In spite of the previous hopeful entries in the journal now the writer states, “So many emigrants are now ill that the teams now employed are constantly complaining of the great burthens imposed upon them in transporting so many sick.” The standard procedure was to let the sick ride in wagons.

The great joy for the Indians was that they were permitted to go hunting. They brought in a "considerable quantity of game." Indeed, along the Sangamon River they would hunt daily to the delight of the Indians and their white guards. The wagons spent the second day reloading and re-weighing the wagons after the river crossing.

The party stayed two days here at the Sangamon crossing to allow the sick left behind to catch up and the rest to get well. On this day’s entry is where the report is given that the doctors were also sick and had been the last several days. However the weather was delightful and they seemed cheered by the country being more thickly settled—at least the white men who wrote the jounal were.

AS FOR ME the journey along the river was a welcome treat for us too—sweet shade, chirping birds, a dozen deer and and peaceful roads. We looped to out for a breakfast-lunch-snack at Judy’s diner st Cerro Gordo including several hamburgers and fresh pie then walked on to cover the next day’s miles too—interested keenly in getting to Decatur where I would get back a pair of New Balance shoes and I could summarily dump the present Solomon shoes in the nearest trash bin. My Solomon shoes are excellect at making hamburger out of my feet and I regret switching several days ago thinking I’d give my feet a break from New Balance sneakers. That’s what I get for leaving my faithful NB shoes! Sharon is sending them to Decatur.

Day 20 Pyatt’s Poiint (Montcello) --210 miles
Sept. 23, 1838; May 16, 2006

Father Petit persuaded William Polke to let the group leave late this Sunday—so he could hold mass. Polke was the official federal “conductor” of this journey, and he was now in charge since General Tipton had left, his authority expiring at the Indiana state line.

After mass the party walked across 15 miles of open land without a tree until they reaced the Sagamon River at Piatte’s Point (Montecello, Ill). The doctor must have improved in health and gave a report of 40 sick Indians. Two deaths occurred, a child early in the morning and on on the road to this camp on the river.

The river must have been a welcom site to these woodland Indians. There were not used to living in open prarie and thus the next few days as they followed the Sagamon River would be a treat.

AS FOR ME and my new partners we walked the roads and once some sun came out we dried out bags on a grassy spot across from a farmhouse who responded by calloing the Sheriff who ran ouor IDS through his system and half-apologized for the landowner’s response to us “doing our laundry” across the road. In Montecello I ate two pounds of fresh fruit salad from the grocery store salad bar (to the tune of $6.04) and we sat several hours in the McDonald’s waiting for the rain to lighten up. Here an 85 year old man who watched us come in offered his stories of runnning the rails and living in the Hobo Jungle in the 1930’s—assuming we were today’s equivilent. Once the rain cleared we walked out of town and camped on the ridge just above the Sangmon river—a river we will generally follow all the way to Springfield, as the Indians did.

Day 19 Sidoris Grove --195 miles
Sept. 22, 1838; May 15, 2006

Up to now heat and dust had been a problem but now, on the way to Sidoris’ Grove it turned cold late in September when the Potawatomi made this journey. Heay rain brought a cold front and they walked the 16 miles from Sidney to the grove of trees at Sidoris on open prarie. The official journal assesses the health of the camp improving “not a death has occurresd to-day.”

Sidoris Grove had been a traditional gathering place for the prarie Indians long before Henry Sidoris settled here 14 years before the Potawatomi passed through. Henry drove six yoke of oxen pulling a prairie Schooner to this site, the oxen strong enough to break the foot-thick sod of the prarie to “turn the land into something useful.”

The westward moving band discharged a wagoner for drunkeness today, which meant he had to turn around his wagon and head home on his own, no small punishment. And they needed the wagons for the sick too. In the evening two Indians also became intoxicated and were arrested and put under guard. (Of course they did not dischare and send the drunken Indians back to Indiana, however.) This may be a good point to remind us that though Menominee preached total abstinence from alcohol this migrating group included many not in his band, who followed other chiefs, and who were not Catolic or Christian. While I am especially interested in the Christian aspects of this story as a Christian minister, not all these Indians were devout Catholics any more than all of Americans religious today. Menominee is perhaps the most famous of the chiefs (General Tipton refused to even consider him a chief, but only a “principal man”) because he refused to accept payment for his land, but there were a variety of other chiefs in this traveling band—at least a hafl dozen. Same for religious affiliation.

AS FOR ME I now have two companions for the next four days: Phil Woodbury, a retired Physician from Indianapolis, and Jason Denniston, a youth pastor from Fairmount, Indiana. We started out Monday morning in steady rain, passing through Tolono then on for a rest at the only “store” in Sidoris, owned by the local entraneprenuer who is also the mayor—a storage unit that had a coke machine in front of it. We headed past Sidoris and a giant thunderstorm came up so fast we got soaked us before we could pitch our tiny tents between two Alfalfa fields. We slept wet tonight.


Day 18 Sidney --179 miles
Sept. 21, 1838; May 12, 2006

They are on the Grand Prairie now—open for miles across unbroken sod with trees only in groves clinging near creeks or streams. It was hot with blistering sun and the dry dust billowed up chocking the riders, walkers, and especially those in the sick wagons where the canvas tops only served to capture and collect the dust. The journal reports the Indian health “scarcely a change” from yesterday with fifty sick in camp and three dying since the last journal entry. Once they made camp near the present town of Sidney even that was “poorly watered” and a child died since coming into camp. This morning one of the chiefs died, Muk-kose “a man remarkable for his honesty and integrity” states the journal for the day. The journal for the day does report that forage for the animals was a bit easier to procure and they were even occasionally to purchase some bacon to add to their usual diet of beef and flour.

While Indians continued to die, one or more daily, they were at least accompanied by their beloved priest now, Father Petit, and they would be for the next six weeks as they made gradual progress to their new homes in Kansas. This seems like a good place to give a short sketch of Benjamin Petit’s life so far.


Benjamin Petit did not start out as a missionary or a priest, but as a lawyer. He prepared for a career in law in Rennes, France where he felt called to become a priest and a missionary to America. He arrived at the Twin Lakes village at age 27 just one year before the removal. In a single year he learned their language and became their trusted friend. He assisted chief Menominee in attempting to get the President to relent on the removal but as a foreigner Petit had to walk the fine line between condemning wrong and condemning it so stoutly that the US government would send him packing.

One example of this careful negotiating of the political minefield is in his letter to General Tipton on September 3, 1838. In Petit’s draft of the letter he condemns the action stating, “…to make from free men slaves, no man can take upon himself to do so in this free country. Those who wish to move must be moved, those who want to remain must be left to themselves. …of course it is against men under protection of the law, that you act is such a dictatorial manner; it is impossible for me, and for many to conceive how such events may take place in this country of liberty.” However, when Petit copied his draft to actually send he omitted these words and the entire scathing paragraph to Tipton. Since his predecessor priest had been banished for stirring up trouble against the government’s wishes, Petit apparently decided to be a priest to the crushed rather than attack the crushers. Whether he made the correct choice or not is debated by every minister and missionary every week—should they stay at the bottom of the river pulling out bloodied and broken souls to mend them, or go upriver and engage the thing that is doing the bloodying and breaking. Petit did a bit of both, but by the time he joined the expedition west in Danville the die was cast—the deed was done. He was downstream with a bloodied and bruised people and he did his best to bringing healing and care.

His bishop refused to allow Petit to have any part in the immoral removal initially fearing it would appear that the church somehow approved of the shameful deed. But after the Potawatomi were gone he gave permission for Petit to g along so this is why Petit caught up to the party in Danville, Illinios13 days and 150 miles after they left Twin Lakes.

He buried the dead, comforted the bereaved, led prayers morning and night, and generally cared for the sick along with celebrating mass each Sunday morning. His job was to provide spiritual care for his flock and turn them over to a Jesuit father at the Sugar Creek mission in Kansas near the site where the Potawatomi were dropped off. The journey was no easy trip for this young missionary. He frequently came down with the fever—probably Typhoid. For half of his journey—an entire month—one of his eyes was infected and inflamed and the constant dust clouds did no help. He became increasingly exhausted as he moved west. By the end of the trip Petit’s body became covered with a kind of infected boils as large as a person’ thumb so that he could not lie or sit in any position without pain. But even in the depths of pain he wrote glowingly about his Indian flock, describing their religious zeal: “Often through the entire night, around a blazing fire before a tent in which a solitary candle burned, fifteen or twenty Indians would sing hymns and tell their beads.” And again, “The Indians would attend Holy Sacrifice, during which they astonished the ears of the spectators by singing hymns, some of which—for me at least—had a sweet harmony indeed.”

This 28 year old missionary priest was willing to pay the price to perform his ministry. At this point he doubtless knew what that price would finally be.

AS FOR ME I continued a “double day” covering the two day’s Potawatomi journey in one day, walking into Sidney half frozen in the 40 degree wind and rain where Sharon met me at Clancy’s gas station, the only “restaurant” in Sidney. We are taking the next day or so off at the Drury Inn at Champaign/Urbana… I may have two companions joining me this coming week it appears—at least if my phone messages are right.

Day 17 Davis Point IL (Homer) --167Mi.
Sept. 20, 1838; May 12, 2006

The party rose early (3AM) in order to discharge the Indiana Militia this morning. By sunrise they had lined them all up, marched them to Tipton’s headquarters and paid them off based on the accounting they’d been organizing the last few days. Only sixteen of the volunteers would remain, and they’d now be under the command of William Polk, the federal “conductor” of the emigration. Here the command of the column transitioned from General Tipton of the Indiana Militia to William Polke, the federal conductor who would escort the Indians the rest of the way to Kansas. This is the point in the story where we bid Tipton farewell—or good riddance depending on your view. So it seems wise to outline his biography at this point and you can decide.


John Tipton was an Indian-hater and a military man at heart. At age 23 (1809) he become a member of the “Yellow Jackets” a local militia in Harrison County Indiana. He fought at the battle of Tippecanoe with William Henry Harrison at age 25 (1811) and wrote descriptive accounts of what happened there as the Indians were perceived to have broken their promise to not attack. He was able to cash in some of his military glory for political gain. He became sheriff of Harrison county and got elected to the state legislature. He got appointed to the commission to select Indiana’s new capital (they chose the tiny town of “Fall Creek” which later was named Indianapolis). He divorced his first wife (his cousin) at age 35. He landed the appointment as Indian Agent for both the Potawatomi and the Miami tribes at 37. At 39 he remarried, this time the daughter of his best friend Spier Spencer whom he had seen die in the battle of Tippecanoe.

Tipton at age 42 moved the Indian agency from Ft. Wayne to the Eel river and there he laid out the city of Logansport, Indiana. During his time as Indian agent he negotiated the treaties that got the government land for the Michigan Road and eventually significant lands for white settlers. As we already mentioned, he also personally purchased the land where the battle of Tippecanoe occurred and gave it to the state. When U.S, Senator Noble died, Tipton was appointed to replace him, filling out his term—he was 45 at the time and was reelected at age 46. When Tipton was 52 Governor David Wallace appointed “General Tipton" (he held the rank of Brigadier General in the Indiana Militia) to recruit volunteers and swear them into a militia to forcibly remove the Potawatomi Indians from Indiana. Tipton recruited 100 men and marched them to the Twin Lakes village of Menomonee and surrounded the Indians while in a council of peace. Intimidating the Indians into submittingthe began this sad march to Kansas where they were promised new homes and a year’s worth of government payments to help them get on their feet.

General Tipton may have received glory on the Tippecanoe battlefield but there was no glory in this assignment. He may have been a famed Indian-hater, but the poor tattered tribe he forced to Kansas were remnants with little fight remaining and he certainly sensed no gory in it. His letters about the removal carry no feeling of glory or even hate—just a sense of doing a messy clean-up task that needed to be done. He may have hated the Indians at one time, but the worst feelings coming through his letters by now is contempt or scorn for the defeated nation--his hate had lost its edge. For a powerful and triumphant nation to force a remnant band of leftover Indians living in abject poverty off their lands at bayonet point holds no glory—and Tipton must have known it. This was a messy thing that "had to be done" according to the governor, and Tipton would do it. He would get rid of this “Indian problem” once and for all by removing the remnant far from the borders of Indiana.

So was Tipton a bad man? There were reports that he did not allow time for the Indians to drink along the way but hurried them before they were finished drinking with a threatened prick of the bayonet. The Logansport newspaper reported these rumors and denied them defending their founder and leading citizen. Were they true? I think they were. Any person who has led a traveling group knows how hard it is to get the group to move and how they tend to lag behind at every stop. I’ve led groups of college students through Europe and have experienced the frustration of “one more stop at the bathroom before we leave” then one more, then another, until finally the first person who went to the bathroom has to go again! I’ve hiked with students who languish at every break stop and the only way to get them going again is to start up and leave them sitting by the stream. I think it is human nature when people are in large groups to lazy around at every stop until their leader forces them to march on. I suspect at streams when the command was given to move on any normal human being (especially while crossing the dusty prairies in1838) would want to take one more drink. And I suspect that the militia rode up to shout at them, even threaten them with bayonets to get moving. So I think it happened. Tipton hated Indians and it is no wander He had a personal history. When he was just seven years old living in Tennessee the Cherokee killed his father Joshua Tipton. At age seven he took on the role of “man of the house” and cared for his family. He and his mother moved the family to Indiana at age 21. How much his hate came form being robbed of his father at such a young age we do not know, we just know he hated Indians, as was in fact the norm for the day (hence the term “Indian lover” rose to label a person who had the unusual attitude departing from the average collective attitude).

Whatever, General Tipton is not remembered today for his fighting at Tippecanoe nor even for his two terms in the Senate, but he is remembered for this crowning achievement of removing the Indians from Indiana in 1838 at the age of 52. A the time it made him a hero to his fellow citizens. Today it stains his entire life’s contributions.

It would be convenient for us to blame John Tipton for this entire shameful thing but that would let too many others off the hook. Tipton did not act alone. This was no lynching, it was the legal and intentional act of government. Others must carry the blame too. Governor Wallace made the decision from his safe location in the state Capitol. The treachery of Col. Abel Pepper in using alcohol and deceit to coerce the unwary Indians in signing over their land deserves robust condemnation, of course But there is also the entire state legislature to blame—people who voted on resolutions that encouraged whites to take land by “pre-emption.” And certainly the national congress must share blame for their “humane” removal acts forcing Indians across the Mississippi River. And certainly we cannot let the arrogant law-defying President Andrew Jackson off the hook either. No, this was an action of the entire government and its leaders against the Indians. A wrong action. It was a sin. Evil. But Tipton alone cannot be blamed for the line between good and evil is not drawn between Tipton and Petit, white men and red men, this nation or that one—the line crosses through the heart of every man and woman—ours too.

AS FOR ME I continued walking into the wind and rain pondering Tipton’s life and its lessons as I tried to reach the party’s next campsite at Sidney IL where I hoped to meet my wife, Sharon for a weekend off. Maybe the rain and cold will pass while we rest in the Champaign area this Saturday Sunday.

(When I assemble all this into something mroe passable than a "walking blog" I will certainly give credit to the various sources and interviews that have enriched my understanding of this story. So much credit will have to go to Shirley Willard of course, as I've mentioned already. And Potawatomi Susan Campnell has done a treffic job at a John Tipton biography which I relied heavily on and have read every day this week as I've pondered his career. Also, Irving McKee's 1941 book on the letters of Benjamin Marie Petit, and the Indiana Magazine of History's Vol 21--but I've said enough or this will turn into a bibliography When I gagther these thoughts together and add my essays on theology and spirituality I shall then cite the sourses. If you are realy hot to read them sooner--Shirley Williard and Susan Cambell have collected many of them into a recent 2003 book "Potawatomi Trail of Death" which is available from the Fulton County Historical Society in Rochester Indiana (37 E 375 N, Rochester, IN 46975)

Day 14-16 Sandusky’s Point IL (Catlin)
157 Miles
Sept. 17-19, 1838; May 11, 2006

The Indians and their guards stayed three nights at Sandusky’s Point (near present day Catlin) for two reasons. First, the Indiana militia had to be discharged since they were beyond the state borders and thus no longer had any jurisdiction. Second was the “weak condition of many of the emigrants demanding rest.”

On the first day here several of the sick who were left at the “filthy stream” near the state line caught up with the column, including among them a new child who was born to the woman left behind in labor. However the birth of a new child was countered with the journal entry, “a young child died directly after coming into camp.” Plus one minus one.

On their second evening a child and a woman died though they had also another birth. On this day more than two weeks into their eight week journey Dr. Jerolaman the official physician of the party finally arrived. After inspecting the Indians he reported 67 sick, 47 of them with “intermittent fever” among other physical complaints. He considered eight “dangerously ill.”

On the third day at Sandusky’s Point the administrators completed their record-keeping and finished organizing their accounts. The doctors reported not much improvement among the sick, and there continued to be “six or eight cases as very dangerous.” In the evening a child of six or eight died which was no longer unusual. During the night an adult person dies too. The camp simply buried their dead in the evening or morning along the route—more than 40 of them in unmarked graves “marking” this “Trail of Death.”

AS FOR ME I left the Danville Post office in high spirits with a pack of mail in my hand. Letters and cards (and sometimes even packets of candy) came from all sorts of people—some I know and many I’ve never met. Former students like Josh Jackson and Beth Lahni, my wife who faithfully sends clippings and news from home, Larry Wilson my editor, plus a half dozen folk I’ve never met who learned about the walk in their local newspaper or online. I read and responded to them all before leaving town.

Today as I walked the road out of Danville a carload of giggling high school girls slowed down to simultaneously shout out the window garbled and giggling things I couldn’t make out as they drove by giggling and laughing their way as if they were out of school forever and not just the day. Then I saw far ahead their car turn into a driveway and back up, coming my way again. Assuming they might toss out a bottle or something at me I veered off the road into the grass. Sure enough, as the car slowed a bit their sniggering rolled out of the car as a window rolled down and out came a scarf at me. Or, what I thought was a scarf, which actually turned out to be a pair of panties floating down to the grass on the wind. I could hear the girl’s laughing and giggles as their faces filled to windows looking back at me. I walked past the underpants recognizing that what may seem like forward flirting to a young man was simply old-man-taunting to someone my age. As more evidence of my age, the first thought that crossed my mind when I recognized what they’d done was, “Boy I wonder how much those underpants cost?”

Today I walked into the wind all day, like swimming against a powerful current. In this case the “current” is about 40 mph and I walked leaning toward it as the rain increased all day. And it is cold today—in the 40’s with 40 mph wind and raining—the very worst conditions for walking. I’d far rather walk in snow than 40 degree rain. Having only a tee shirt and a windbreaker with me my body temperature gradually dropped until I could no longer tie my shoes Finally I found shelter in the leeward side of a farm implement shed and pitched my tiny tent and crawled in and went to sleep by suppertime hoping for a warmer and drier day in the morning.


Day 13 – Danville IL 151 Miles
Sept. 16, 1838 May 10, 2006

The migrating party left seven sick people behind at the "filthy stream", one of whom was about to go into labor. They would catch up later. The heat and dust distressed the travelers today. The journal reported, “the horses and jaded, the Indians sickly, and many persons engaged in the emigration are more or less sick.” After a fifteen mile trip they camped by the town of Danville, Illinois which was a village about the size of the emigrating Potawatomie—about 800-1000. No person was recorded to have died among the Potawatomie Indians today, but the journal reported that in the nearby town of about the same size four people died today. He says, “it is worthy of remark, perhaps, that such a season for sickness in this country is almost unparalleled.”

But no deaths in the party today is only one of two great bright points . The other is the arrival of Father Benjamin Petit, the Potawatomie’s beloved priest who caught up to the party today. He had left Twin Lakes when the trouble started. The Indian’s homes had been burned to the ground but as soon as Father Petit dismantled the articles from his log cabin chapel so lovingly built by the Indians, a white settler moved in behind him and took possession. (see later writing on the law of pre-emption)

Petit’s Bishop had refused to allow him to accompany the party from Twin lakes, believing it might appear that the Catholic church somehow approved of this shameful thing. But, after the party was well along its way he relented and allowed Petit to catch up and join the party. Here in Danville he caught his beloved following on a Sunday, to the delight of the Indians who trusted him so completely.

Seldom has it ever paid for Indians to trust a white man completely (and never has it paid off for them to trust a white institution completely). But Petit was a true Christian and a true missionary and he was as worthy of their trust as you could expect. On arrival he immediately prevailed upon Tipton to release Menominee and all other chiefs from the jail wagon on Petit's word. Soon he would negotiate for Sundays off for a full mass and rest. Now he joined the Indians in their twice daily morning and evening prayers (which they had continued without him all this time).

Father Petit was not an old man at the time…he was 28. It is Petit’s story that has so captivated me about the Trail of Death. There is plenty of bad to go around in this story. But Benjamin Petit is some of the good that goes around. Along with William Polke—but we’ll hear more about him soon enough.

AS FOR ME I walked hurriedly into Danville where a reporter from the Danville commercial connected with me for an interview just as it started to pour down rain. (The story will probably run Friday) As a reward for walking the first 150 miles, and entering a new state, (but most of all because of the downpour) I got a room at the Days Inn where the delightful night manager allowed me to use their business computer to write late into the darkness and finally to upload this journal. Tomorrow I go to the post office to collect my mail—thanks in advance to those of you who send a letter to cheer me up. I crawl in my tent tomorrow night and read them all!

Day 12 – Filthy Stream --136 Miles
Sept. 15, 1838 May 10, 2006

The removal party only made ten miles today, stopping at noon an “an unhealthy and filthy stream” near the Illinois line. Later reports from the leaders of this journey said they drank water from streams that even the horses refused to drink—perhaps this was one of such streams. The local folk had reported too far a distance to the next water source so they stopped early—it was too far to make it all the way to Danville, yet this stop seemed too short. Supplying water for 900 Indians plus the militia was no easy task from the trickling streams and still puddles.

For the Indians the highlight of the day was permission to go hunting. The whites allowed 25 of the young Indians to hunt for the fist time on the journey. While nothing is reported of their catch, it is doubtful that they hunted without adding something to the pot that night. The party was now 136 miles from home so the chances of these young men disappearing and going home was reduced by now.

On this day “two small children died along the road.” Again, the journey wiped out so many of the young. These two simply gave up and passed away while traveling. And perhaps the leaders didn’t even know about it until they got into camp and the dead bodies were produced. They were getting used to death.

It is worth noting that all of these days Chief Menominee did not ride with his people but was forced to ride in the jail wagon. Why? What crime had he committed? He stayed sober and refused to sell his land to the state of Indiana. For insisting on his right to not sell his land at a dollar an acre he was jailed as a criminal and forced to ride in this jail wagon right behind the flag of the militia who arrested him. A flag representing the state of Indiana—land of the Indians.

There were lots of chiefs among the Indians, why did Menominee get the impressive statue at Twin Lakes? Because, though they all experienced injustice, his was perhaps the greatest injustice of all the shameful deeds of the period.

Menominee was known as the Potawatomie Preacher.” As a late-twentysomething he began preaching. He was examined by Rev. Isaac McCoy as to his worthiness for preaching. McCoy was founder of the Baptist Carey Mission just across the Indiana line in Niles Michigan. ON the irst day in April in 1821, 17 years before the removal, McCoy recorded Menominee’s visit. The Indian claimed a call many years before to preach to the Indians to avoid drunkenness, theft and other evil. Apparently McCoy was satisfied with the interview for he issued a paper attesting to having heard him pray and preach and calling all to treat him kindly—a proto ordination of the day—at least for a Baptist.

Menominee did preach and reportedly added a notch to a coup stick each time he delivered a sermon. What did he preach? Total abstinence from alcohol, avoiding stealing, hard work, adopting the white mans ways of farming, and to become Christians and blend into the new country causing no trouble. What did this get him? Nothing—a trip West in the jail wagon with no money for his land. Menominee wound up with neither land nor the money for it. All he got was a statue when long after his death the shame of his treatment roused white men generations later to honor the man their grandfathers cheated. This is how it is—the prophets they once killed get the honor posthumously.

Menominee was a successful preacher too. His village expanded from four to more then 100 cabins and wigwams in the following 17 years. While no preacher’s following are 100% obedient many of Menominee’s Indians did practice total abstinence and were successfully planting hundreds of acres of corn in Northern Indiana.

Menominee’s ties with the Baptists however lasted only 13 years. In 1834 he invited the “black robes” to establish a Catholic mission at Twin Lakes. Why the switch? The journey from Baptist to Catholic is longer than one from Indiana to Kansas—how did this happen? Actually the tribe had originally be “evangelized” by Jesuit missionaries a generation before Menominee was born. Many of the older folk were devout Catholics in their heart and the tribe continued the custom of twice daily prayers after the fashion of the Catholics. They continued this practice though they had not had a missionary priest for more than 40 years. This tribal heritage may have been a factor. Or he could have simply considered the Catholic style of Christianity a more robust form. Or maybe the natural alliances with the French made Catholicism more attractive. For wherever reason, Menominee invited the “black robes’ to establish a mission at Twin Lakes.

Menominee’s conversion to Catholicism cost him. He had taken his wife’s sister as a second wife, which was the custom to care and provide for her. He had asked McCoy if he needed to discard this second wife and Baptist McCoy thought it would be like gouging out an eye so (after a fast seeking God’s leading from which he heard no guidance) Menominee kept both wives. The first “black robe” priest, (Father Deseille) insisted on only one wife so when Menominee was baptized a Catholic he first wife was baptized with him and they received a Catholic marriage ceremony. Thus a Baptist preacher became a devout Roman Catholic.

Menominee’s fame comes from his refusal to sign the treaties selling his land to the state of Indiana. Most other chiefs did sign these treaties and received payment for the land at $1 acre. Menominee wouldn’t sign. He even went to Washington DC intent on seeing the President to defend his right to stay in Indiana but all efforts failed. Father Deseille actively worked to defend the Indian’s rights, but that got him in trouble with the state—after all he was a Frenchman and finally the government got rid of him, which is how Father Petit a young new missionary got assigned to Twin Lakes.

It is this Chief Menominee who has ridden all this way in a jail wagon choked with dust and on parade for all to see as they went through every small town. See the Indian chief defeated and jailed and on his way to unknown parts! All for the crime of refusing to sell his land to the state of Indiana. It is this Menominee who has just camped his 12th night dray and chocked with dust.

As for me I have plenty of water—at every farmhouse full of willing-helping people happy to help me on my journey so I pressed on anxious to get to Danville before the threatening storm-that-never-came last night caught up to its reputation. Saluting the Gopher Hill Cemetery, and State Line City I walked on toward Danville.

Day 11 -- Williamsport -- 126 Miles
Sept. 14, 1838; May 9, 2006

As the party moved further west onto the prairies water became increasingly sparse. Their campsites were determined by water—sometimes at 18 miles distance and at other times just eight or ten miles. Streams for them were literally dried up. The party had been marching now for 11 days and they were weary. Walking with scant water they were likely dehydrated which makes for a bleary-eyed listless staggering. Today the journal writer wrote, “indeed not infrequently, persons thro weariness and fatigue take sick along the route. This occupies much of our time. We places them in the wagons which are every day becoming more crowded.” The party covered 18 miles today. During the evening two deaths occurred, with no mention if they were children or the aged, man or women. Just two deaths.

The journal describes the patches of prairies thus: “passing over a dry and seemingly unhealthy portion of the country.” What does an “unhealthy country” look like? Probably the unhealthy contributor to the party’s sickness was the water which carried invisible Typhoid.

AS FOR ME the “unhealthy portion of the country” was Attica, which was only a mile off my route and announced in the sky by golden arches its unhealthiness. After a big breakfast I talked to a reporter from Lafayette who promised to send out a photographer that afternoon—“keep walking on that route.” After saluting the Trail of Death marker at the part in Williamsport (on one of their two 2nd streets) I pressed on toward the state line. By dusk it was cloudy and threatening rain but in tiny Marshfield I purchased several candy bars for dinner and washed them down with a couple sodas bought at the only other merchant in Marshfield—a body shop specializing in restoring Corvettes from all over the Midwest. “Why locate such a business here in this tiny crossroads?” I asked. “Simple—the wife was raised here and wouldn’t move.” That seemed like a good enough reason.

As I enter increasingly open prairie lands the farmhouses are further apart. And there are fewer trees and thus fewer places to pitch my tiny tarp-tent. I finally found a tiny slick of trees bordering Possum Creek and prepared for what appeared to be a great rain shower overnight.

Day 10 LaGrange IN --108 Miles
Sept 13, 1838; May 8, 2006

Dressed in their new shirts and leggings made from the calico cloth distributed at Battle Ground, the Potawatomie party now passed beside Lafayette skirting the north then west side of the town to return back to the shores of the Wabash river to Lafayette’s rival port town, LaGrange. Here from this bustling town they invited a father-son team of physicians, the Ritchies to examine the Indians. The doctors reported 106 cases of sickness among the 900 Indians. The records of the party shows no record of any payment to the Ritchies so I presume they did this work gratis. There was an official physician of the party, but he had yet to show up (though he was getting paid).

In 1838 LaGrange on the Wabash competed successfully with Lafayette. But, alas, having a good port on the Wabash River would not be enough in the future. When the mighty railroad came through later it bypassed LaGrange and went through Lafayette. Today, Lafayette has both the railroad and Purdue University; LaGrange has a sign telling how it went out of existence.

There is one written record of seeing these Indians. One citizen from Lafayette went out to LaGrange to see the Indian removal, Sanford Cox. His mournful description was published in his 1860 book which has been recently been reprinted under a new title Old Settlers.” He and a few others rode horses out the 8-9 miles West of Lafayette to see the band and he wrote the following: “It was a sad and mournful spectacle to witness these children of the forest slowly retiring form the home of their childhood… All these [lands, trees] they were leaving behind them to be desecrated by the plowshares of the white man. As they cast mournful glances back toward these loved scenes, that were rapidly fading in the distance, tears fell from the cheek of the downs cast warrior, old men trembled, matrons wept, the swarthy maiden’s cheek turned pale, and sighs and half-suppressed sobs escaped from the motley groups as they passed along, some on foot, some on horseback, and others in wagons—sad as a funeral procession.”

It is not clear if this description was written at the time, or as Sanford Cox remembered it 20 years later, but forgiving the sophomoric attempt at poetry, if he did not describe the Indians wholly accurately what he said was nevertheless true—for this was certainly the spirit of the forced removal of these Indians. They were a broken people. A remnant. They had taken on the US Empire and lost. Now they depended on the white man for their calico and blankets. Once proud and ferocious warriors now begged to be allowed to go hunting for a bit of game—and were told no by their white guards. So they marched west to Kansas where they were told they would have houses to live in and a full years welfare payments from the government to help them get established across the Mississippi where there were no “states” and into land now called “Indiana Territory.” If they only had known that even these Indian territories would one day all be states too they might have been less submissive. But as good Catholics they submitted and tried to show their Christian character to be a witness to their guards.

AS FOR ME I returned to this trail after a day off with my wife and began walking through Lafayette Sunday evening when behind me I heard, “Dr. Drury, is that you?” It was Micah, a grad student at Purdue in history who had heard about my walk from Brooks Sayer in Logansport. Micah was on his way to see his girlfriend when he spied me on the road in front of her house. I spent the night on Micah’s couch and left long before he took his first morning rollover I suspect.

For my breakfast I had a hot dog at the Ravines golf course where I also took a census of who plays golf Monday mornings. I counted 37 golfers in all (34 white males, one afro-American and one woman.)

Like the Indians, I too returned to the Wabash and found the site of LaGrange moving right past it since I’d heard from Shirley Willard that Linda Klinger had a great restaurant in Independence. I mentally ordered several suppers before finding the restaurant burned completely to the ground. I ate supper at the only other business in Independence Indiana—the Coke machine where I deposited 50 cents and pressed Root Beer and got a Mountain Dew. I put in another two sets of quarters and this time I pressed a seven up and got—another Mountain Dew. Shrugging I chugged them both down and walked on with enough caffeine in me to get to the next state before dark. In an hour I found a shady spot near a creek and I camped for the night—and was asleep by seven o’clock, long before dark. Despite the 24 oz. of Mountain dew.


Day 9-- Battleground, IN -- 89 Miles
May 5, 2006; Sept. 12, 1838

By 11 Am this day the Pottawatomie had forded the Tippecanoe River the same river they had spent their first night camped along at Chipeway though at this point it was a much larger body of water. Within an hour they passed the site of the old Tippecanoe battle ground which certainly brought back deep memories for everyone. Just 30 years , in 1808 Tecumseh and “the prophet” established “Prophets Town” in an attempt to unify and consolidate all remaining Indians into a single voice that could be the Indian equivalent of Washington DC and the President.

And they came to this Indian field of dreams—up to a thousand of them by 1811 when William Henry Harrison gathered a thousand soldiers together to put down this latest threat from Indiana solidarity. Harrison’s troops arrived and agreed with The Prophet there would be no engagement until the next day. Tecumseh was away recruiting other tribes into the new unified structure and had left word to not get into any scrape with the whites. Harrison posted a strong guard around the camp in spite of the agreement with The Prophet. Sure enough, upon seeing a vision where the white’s bullets could not harm the Indians The Prophet rallied them into a 4AM surprise stack that met strong resistance immediately due to the guard around camp.

The Indians were dealt a hearty turning point defeat in the realm of what Gettysburg would later become for the Civil war. The Tippecanoe battle ground was the end of Indiana hopes to be a strong enough unified body able to negotiate with Washington DC on somewhat equal terms. The Indians left the battlefield defeated and Harrison eventually became President. The Indiana retreat in despair was a painful memory. When Tecumseh did return there was nothing there—no village, no Indians—just ruins of a dream.

Some of the Pottawatomie had fought at Tippecanoe so these travelers were perhaps recalling the humiliation and feelings of betrayal by The Prophet. But so did the whites remember it. General Tipton was an officer in the fight. Judge Polke had been wounded in the fighting. It was a place of powerful memories and meaning for both races.

Perhaps this is why when they made camp an hour after passing the battle ground (15 miles for the day) the expedition’s leaders did what they did. Breaking open the wagons of supplies they distributed dry goods to the Indians: cloth, blankets, calicos—it must have seemed like one gigantic birthday party. And not a little either. That day the expedition distributed $5469.81 worth of dry goods to the Indians—more than $5 per person, man woman and child. Did the leaders of the journey choose this day to shower these gifts on the Indians to make a special point? And, if so, what was that point?

One person died today, a very old womanthe mother of chief We-wiss-sa—who was said to be over 100 years old. How exactly does a 100 year old woman handle a forced trek from Indiana to Kansas? By dying, I suppose. As in plagues and times of trial the children go first, then the aged.

AS FOR ME my day was happy without the calico cloth. Rising an hour before dawn I walked in the dark then twilight and when the sun actually rose I was a long way toward Battle ground where Sharon drove to meet me near Interstate 65. After a weekend together I shall return to the trail on Sunday afternoon and walk into Illinois next week.

By the way, the Tippecanoe Battlefield also has another tie to our story. General Tipton, the leader of the Indiana State militia, and a well known Indian hater was in command of this entire removal to the Indiana border. We will reflect more on this man when we get rid of him at he Illinois border, but for now we will mention here that he had amassed enough wealth that we was eventually able to purchase the battlefield site and give it as a gift to the state. If this good deed balances his evil deeds will be left to you to decide.


Day 8 Pleasant Run, IN
May 4, 2006; Sept. 11, 1838

The trip to Pleasant Run was one of the happiest entries in the journal. The route led over open, Champaign country “which circumstance rendered the traveling more pleasant than that of any previous day.” The sick among the party seemed to “be recruiting” and the writer of the journal hopefully reported “everything bids fair for a comfortable and prosperous emigration.”

The journal-keeper (Jesse Douglas was the scribe for the journal) went on to say on the Indians themselves as follows: “If we may be allowed to judge from the gayety of our encampments—the bright smile that gild the sunny faces of our unhappy wards, and the contentment which seems to mark the sufferance of imposed restrictions, we may safely calculate upon the pleasantest and happiest emigration west.”

Who knows what the reality was. Pleasantness may have been in the eyes of the beholder. Certainly it was not pleasant to Chief Menominee. He was still forced to travel in a jail wagon bouncing along caged up for no other crime than refusing to sell the land he rightfully had been granted by treaty with the US government. Certainly it was not such a happy occasion for the parents of the many children who had already died along the route. But camp was made at Pleasant Run, north of Pittsburg Indiana and 17 miles south of Winnemac’s old village. Pleasant Run is indeed a pleasant place today—a delightful shady creek emanating the invisible feeling that all trekkers understand: “Here’s a great place to camp.” If the journal writer reflects the majority of the party’s feeling we do not know. At least on this day there was one bit of good news: nobody died.

AS FOR ME I walked on past Pleasant Run. In fact this is why I have a bit of doubt about the journal writer’s positive point of view. He recorded 17 miles for the day and I whizzed through it in a half day while purposely shuffling slowly. I’ve done that—optimistically guessed my mileage longer than it was when I was particularly feeling good. But I really can’t argue with him. He was using dead reckoning and so am I, so until I re-travel this route. I’ll take his word for it for now and give myself 20 miles credit by mid-afternoon. (those who have trekked with me in the past will doubt these numbers too.) I’ll let Shirley Willard figure that one out. So far I’d say the journal has been right on the money, or rather mileage.

Whatever, I walked all day in the bright sunshine without my hat until my skin started to tingle. Why does sunburn feel so nice while you’re getting it? Last night’s Gummi Bears and Reece’s pieces had worn off by noon so I stopped at a farmhouse and offered to buy a can of beans or can of whatever. The woman inside happily returned and said, “You can’t buy it—it’s yours” then handed me a can of condensed vegetable soup. Down the street I opened the can and ate it cold. How good something tastes is directly related to how hungry a person is. I was hungry.

I walked pass the Pleasant Run campsite and walked right into Pittsburg since I was now feeling as optimistic as the writer of the journal. At US 421 I left the route and walked a mile or so into to the town of Delphi, Indiana where I treated myself to a huge breakfast erasing the aftertaste of the condensed soup, mailed some letters, and went to the Laundromat to take the dampness out of my sleeping bag. There I met Barbara Humphrey and we struck up a conversation about my journey. It turns out Barbara’s grandfather was a full blooded Pottawatomie and she told several stories that had been passed down in her family. Next I found the Delphi public library where the crew was especially helpful in letting me sit before a computer typing long after a ordinary person should have moved on.

During the evening I met Will and Marsha on the first gravel road I’ve walked on this journey. They showed me a morel mushroom the size of a person’s hand and once they discovered the intention of my walk they drove home and came back at dusk with a meal for me—Hot ham and beans, Macaroni salad, a couple of colas, a half pound of cheese, bread and enough napkins for a Sunday school picnic. “We just wanted to help you on your way” they remarked then headed back home again. Propped against a fence I feasted sumptuously then found a secluded woods at the edge of a field and slept it off. Or tried to, tonight was my first night accompanied by mosquitoes and several farmhouse dogs who barked the days news back and forth to each other until about midnight when they apparently ran out of the day’s gossip[ and we all went to sleep and let the mosquitoes do their work in silence. Thanks Will and Marsha for a wonderful dinner!

Just like the Pottawatomie experienced, today was for me my best day yet on this trek. Why? Was I influenced by their journal? Is it my anticipation of seeing Sharon tomorrow and the successful end of my first week’s walking? Or was it the spirit of place? The Indians believed some places bode ill or good will and that passing through those spots affected the person. So the modern Charismatics. Who knows? Maybe a combination of these things—but as I lay down tonight I felt better than any night yet. Curious.