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

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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.


Blogger tricia said...

Good for you to go for it, and tackle another type of hike, although I understand this one has a sad tone to it.
I thought of you today as I walked my hour for exercise and prayed for your safe travels.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Keith.Drury said...

Thanks Trica... the story is sad, but at the same time there is joy and redemption in it. Perhaps only by walking near the pain can we see the joy.

2:15 PM  

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