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 7 Winnemac’s old village, IN
May 4, 2006; Sept. 10, 1838

The Pottawatomie party left Logansport Monday morning. Since we know that tea and sugar are feeble remedies for the likes of Thphoid must have been the rest for they were off by 10AM. It this point the party turned West for the first time on their trek. They had first headed east several miles to pick up the Michigan Road, then south on that road to Logansport. Now they turned west along the Wabash river toward Kansas. It took the Pottawatomie seven hours to cover the ten miles along the north shore of the Wabash river from Logansport to the former site of Chief Winnemac’s villiage. Winnemac had been killed November 22, 1812 and the village by now was just a “former site.” Of course Twin Lakes where the Pottawatomie left would some day also join this site as a “former village site.”

The atmosphere of the journey might have shifted at this point. The route now lay along the Wabash river and most likely was more shaded then their walk along the Michigan road. The Wabash and Erie canal was under construction at the time (having been already finished west to Logansport) so they may have walked along the developing towpath of this famous canal. If they did the Pottawatomie and the canal were related in other ways.

Indiana purchased the land for the Wabash and Erie canal by treaty with the Pottawatomie. The scheme was clever: Buy the land cheap from the Indians, sell it at a couple hundred percent markup to white settlers, use the profits to build roads and canals like the Erie and Wabash.

The Wabash and Erie canal was the longest canal in the USA, connecting lake Erie and the eastern states with the Mississippi River VIA the Wabash. Begun in Ft. Wayne, the highest point on the route (hence the nickname “Summit City) the canal originally was intended only to get to the Wabash which was purported to be deep enough to let boats travel all the way to new Orleans. Alas, someone did not measure right—the Wabash River was too shallow for the heavily laden canal boats and the canal eventually had to be continued all the way to Evansville to connect directly to the Ohio River. In the process it bankrupted the state who was unable to pay back even the interest on the bonds and it influenced the state’s constitution who changed forever how the state can borrow money. Canals were great ideas of the day. Owners make millions on the canals in Pennsylvania and New York. Once established price of shipping dropped by ten times—this would be like gasoline dropping from $3 gallon to 30 cents just by building a canal to your town. No wonder most everyone on those days was a canal booster. But Indiana’s canals came too late—the Railroad was already invented when the first section of canal was dedicated. Railroads got the stuff there just as cheap and far faster. The railroads did the canals in, just as today trucking and air travel seem to be returning the favor.

I suppose the great public works project like the canal may have appeared to the Pottawatomie as a prime example of the white man’s supremacy. Crews of the latest immigrants including especially Irish laborers were busily digging and building up the sides of the canal. Surveyors were carefully measuring the fall of land to make sure the flow was right. Masons were building great stone locks. It must have appeared to the Pottawatomie a crowning achievement of the white man. Yet in less than a generation this canal would fall into disrepair and people walking it toady must have a trained eye to even spy to indentation where it once crossed this state. It is easier to find a Pottawatomie than the site of the Wabash and Erie canal in these parts today.

The Pottawatomie made camp at Winnemac’s old site. A man died today while they were traveling who had been sick since Logansport. He was the first adult to die on the trek. After coming into camp another child died.

AS FOR ME, my former student Pastor Brook fixed a gigantic breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes complete with home-boiled down maple syrup I headed West for the first time in the journey enjoying the shaded “Towpath road” along the beautiful Wabash river. What a change from the last few days where I was constantly turning back to pick up my hat blown off by 18 wheelers driving by a bit too close to me. Here on this forgotten road I saw only one or two cars an hour. I am walking amidst Trillium, wild Flox, Blue and white violets, and Asters. Everywhere flowers are blooming and in the fields the corn is less than one inch high. Since my blisters are painful I am taking a full shoes-off rest stop every 3-4 miles and the day is bright and the sun is beautiful. By early afternoon I reached Winnemac’s villiage site and took a long break, then walked on a few miles until I found a delightful ridge I could climb with a view of the rich bottomland and river and I pitched my little tarp for the night. I ate half of Josh Jackson’s Gummi Bears for lunch, then for dinner I ate the rest along with a packet of Reece’s pieces from Sharon. I am not out of food.

I went fast asleep long before dark and was awakened only a few times through the night, once to raindrops on the tarp, twice to howling coyotes, and twice to dear passing my tarp on their way to the Wabash. I checked in on my cell phone tonight and I have no partners for next week, but the following week, May 15th there are three people interested in joining me—Kevin Wright, a student at Duke Divinity school; Phil Woodbury, a Physician from Indianapolis; and Jason Denniston, a pastor from Indiana. My cell phone service goes in and out along the Wabash, so we’ll see who of these actually shows up on the 15th.


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