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 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.


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