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 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!


Blogger Keith.Drury said...

There is a break in the rain until afternoon so I rushed to PO, got mail (THANKS to many of you!), answered letters then stopped by Library for this quick post and will leave town sonner than I planned--in this window of rainlessness... headed on west!

7:26 AM  
Blogger Ken Schenck said...

When and where's your next mail drop?

7:57 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

loving every minute of this coach!!

Ken - scroll to the bottom of this website for a complete list of mail drop addresses and dates...

8:57 AM  
Blogger sassafras245 said...

I wish you well on your journey. I would have love to join you on your long walk. I am from Rochester and hope you can come to the Trail of courage in September. I am Cherokee and Miami.
May the winds stay at your back and the sun be shine on you on your long journey.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Josh... I read the whole thing today from start to here. Absolutely wonderful... and infuriating!

9:05 PM  
Blogger Keith.Drury said...

KEN, OK you found the mail list--it is also at

JOSH, HA! Those sour balls you sent were great--I puckered up all the way from Danville to Sidney so that when Sharon arrived to take a day off together on the wekend I was adequately puckered up to kiss her!

SASSAFRAS, Great idea--see you there this fall! Aas for the wind-- the last two days it was in my face... all 40 MPH of it, then adding on the blowback from the 18wheelers hauling corn for Fritoes and I got blown back a few steps each tiem they passed... but eprhaps the wind will shift for this coming week!

KEN: You said "infuriating"--good word, I've been pondering on where I would have stood in 1838... the removal position was actually the moderate position then... the coinservative-radicals simply wanted extermination--kill them all and wipe them off the map like rats... the "liberals" of the day either called for assimilation (which was actually chief Menominee's position) or removal away from the sinful temptations of the white man... so it is curious where folk lined up. I THINK I may have personally favored assimilation but that essentially would have accomplished the genocide of their culture... so I've been pondering this myself as I walk. And, of course, it has some influence on my position today as well. Thanks for reading the blog, ken!

5:14 AM  
Blogger Kathy Drury said...

Great article in the Danville News! Glad the word is getting out on your trek and the story you are telling. Stay well...ksd

5:52 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

Heather and I watched Schindler's List last night and commented on how incredible it seems that people could have done this--remove and/or exterminate a race of people.

If the Nazis (like Spielberg) hadn't photographed it all in black-and-white, we would have no poignant reminder that the holocost ever happened. It would be largely forgotten by now, like this lesser bit of ethnic cleansing.

Thanks for what you are doing, Keith--reminding us of the great evil that can somehow seem "moderate" at the time.

I like to think of myself as a moderate ... about Iraq. About abortion. About Immigration. Hmm...

7:10 AM  

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