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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AFTERGLOW... ending my trek (Seconde leg)

The second place I had to visit to end this trip properly was 20 miles south of Osawatomie. In an hour and two quick hitches I got back to the mall where I had parked my car. I drove back south to Osawatomie again then 20 miles beyond where I knew the “spiritual destination” of this journey turned out to be.

The Potawatomi did not stay at Osawatomie long. The promised houses did not exist—not the final time the promises of the government would be forgotten. The bitter cold prairie wind came soon after their arrival in November. By Christmas they were shivering and cold and felt abandoned by the government and perhaps even their God. As the bitter cold swept in they heard of the St. Mary’s mission just 20 miles south of them. Here was a band of about 150 Potawatomi that had moved there t3wo years earlier. On this smaller band's arrival they had sent for a priest to teach them religion. Father Christian Hoecken responded who had been working with the Kickapoo tribe with slim results. He founded the St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek. By March most of the Pottawatomie had relocated to Sugar Creek joining the Indians who had been living there already.

Here they found a refuge--a fresh flowing spring, a small creek and plentiful rock formations in the creek’s ravine where poles, blankets and bark could be arranged to provide protection from the bitter prairie winds and snow. Besides Father Hocken and some other lay missionaries the Indians were most influenced by a devoted nun, Rose-Philippine Duchesne. The Indians called her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” Mother Duchesne was a Mother Teresa to the Indians.

Philippine Duschene was called to missions as a young person. She had grown up in a wealthy French lawyer’s family then heard a Jesuit missionary speak about evangelism. She immediately felt called to missions--to evangelize in America. She joined a religious order but her missionary call was delayed by the French revolution which outlawed organized religion of her type. Even when she could publically practice her calling she was delayed again. Finally at age 49, (1818) she was sent as a missionary to the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. She arrived in New Orleans and worked her way up the river.

When the opportunity came to join the new mission to the Potawatimi at Sugar Creek she had her lifelong calling fulfilled—working with the American Indians. Here at the St. Mary's Mission she ministered to the Potawatomi through prayer, teaching and service. Soon a small town grew up that including a chapel, blacksmith shop, a school and houses. The Potawatomi practiced their devoted Catholic spirituality though not without opposition. (Within a year two rascals from Logansport--the Ewing Brothers--went all the way to Kansas and set up a trading post so the Potawatomi did not get beyond the evil influences of white civilization for long--and liquor became available at a price so much so that the fathers at the mission had to operate a kind of bottle-smashing crusade reminicent of what would become the temperance crusades of later years). Since whole books have been written on the Sugar Creek Mission I will not tell the whole story here, having previously restricted myself to the 62 day journey alone in my writing. The story is powerful, the devotion of the missionaries inspiring, and the devoted response of the Potwatomi is moving. I had to go to this place to end this walk.

AS FOR ME I drove my rental car to the out-of-the-way site of Philippine Duschene Memorial Park, the spiritual terminus of the Trail of Death . Charismatic and Catholic Christians along with Native Americans agree on the notion of sacred place—there are places that offer “holy ground” where one is drawn closer to God and His work. I had heard of such power in this place from historian Shirley Willard and several Native Americans who had been writing me at my mail drops along the way. Sure enough, it was a powerful and intense experience for me and properly wrapped up the trek.

Here I walked among the rock formations where the Potawatomi huddled that first winter. I saw the location of the chapel and foundation of the cabin of Mother Duschene. I lay on my back stariung at the seven raised crosses on the hill with the inscribed names of all the Indians who died and were buried here.

But I knew where I would be moved most of all so I saved it for last. Near the spring is a stone monument where the entire diary of the 1838 journey is inscribed. I sat and read the daily summary of the journal that I had been living with two months straight. I recalled day by day the events of the Indians I had pondered so much. Logansport where more than 300 were sick. Danville-Jacksonville-Qunicy and a dozen other memories I had of the Indian’s journey. Where General Tipton turned back, where father Petit arrives, where they hunted for game and “filled the camp with venison.” Where it rained, where it snowed, where they were issued shoes, where they smoked a keg of tobacco, where they argued over the power of the various chiefs.

I sat for several hours as the sun sagged in the sky reading and re-reading this journal and pondering all the memories I had created of the 1838 journey which flooded back. And I recalled the pertner memories of my own journey: rainy days, mental and physical exaustion, blisters and the people--the Mountain family’s care for me, of Don, Liz Gander, the dinner and night at Josephine Gander's house, Steve & Janet Tieken, Phil Woodbury, Brooks Sayer, Jason Dennison, Mark & Jess Schmerse, Kerry Kind, and a score or more of others who faithfully sent letters and even snacks to my mail drops along the way—I recalled them all tied to this day by day journal on the stone monument. The memoried of the past two months flooded back--the Potawatomi memoried mixing with my own memories--1838 with 2006.

The sun sank slowly and quiet darkness crept in as I pondered both journeys: the Potawatomi's and mine. I realize I can never completely feel what they felt. I’m a modern white man. It can’t happen. Y et living with this story for two months as I took the actual steps every day experiencing my own blistering heat and chilling rain has helped me catch a bit of what they experienced better than sitting in an air conditioned office reading about it. And I know what happend was wrong, sin, evil. And sin should not be dismissed easily, even if it is the sins of our forefather's government.
As the final glow of the light leaked from the sky I reluctantly left the park. I headed and headed out to complete the third leg of my completion journey--meeting the survivors of the trek in person.


Blogger Mark said...

Wow. Thanks for allowing us all to share in this journey with you. To learn the story, have glimpes of the feelings, and sense the weight of the wrong.

4:36 PM  
Blogger kerry said...

At a time when our country tolerated slavery, those of African descent were not the only ones who suffered from racist attitudes and policies. Your journey brings that into sharp focus, especially for us Indiana residents. Today, are there still people without full rights of humanity, whose inconvenient presence is met with an analagous response? Thanks for the ministry of your journey, Keith.

8:01 PM  
Blogger One Hand Clapping said...

"Today, are there still people without full rights of humanity, whose inconvenient presence is met with an analagous response? "
After moving here from the Bay Area, and with all the Churches, I thought surely, the treatment of "other than white" would be more tolerated. After 10 yrs, I'm sad to say a majority of people I've met and done business with, under their breath, take great pride in shunning others. Blacks and Mexicans (not my words) here especially.
Disconcerting and with the political games being played around the world and in our country, times are indeed going backwards, not forwards ; (
I'm an optomist, but after 53 yrs on this Earth, it simply isn't ; (

7:00 AM  
Blogger David Drury said...

I was curious how you would complete the journey and your recounting of it seems appropriate: somber, solitary, brooding.

No comment beyond that from me but instead I'll just take a moment of silence...


7:59 AM  
Blogger JMKendall said...

congratulations on completely this journey coach! Can't wait to hear more the wisdom and insights you have gained while walking this trek.

Hope the rest of your summer goes well, I'll see ya this fall.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Ken Schenck said...

I've been struck in these last entries at the point of view you've drawn our attention to throughout. Rarely enough is the native American perspective known... I used to think that the name "Indiana" was a misnomer because I didn't even realize any displacements of native Americans had even taken place. This voice needs heard by we complacent 21st century slugs.

But you've given voice to a point of view almost never spoken at all, namely, that so many of these native Americans had invested their existential being to Christ. Christianity is not the white man's religion in this story. In this story, the native Americans and a handful of Roman Catholics were the Christians. The white man was largely the godless pagan here.

5:59 PM  
Blogger One Hand Clapping said...

KS: in my humble opinion, the World would be better off, if each and every one of us did not impose their beliefs/gods on others, and simply did,lived and lived those beliefs. To expect anyone from another country and lifestyle to see as we do is wrong. Besides, who's to say who's right or wrong at this point.
Being and believing and doing right by others speaks much louder than words and lack of deeds.
Don't be fooled though, I firmly believe from what I've read, the Indians had their own beliefs still. That they did not waste what they had, and took care of their territory according to their beliefs, defintately did show them under these circumstances to have similar beliefs to the Christians, yet lived them fully.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Ken Schenck said...

For me, the key word you use here is "impose." A person forced to believe is rarely a person who truly believes. The idea of this land as a neutral zone where all can believe as they see fit (accepting that those beliefs do not harm others) seems intuitively obvious, even if we here continue to wrestle with what seems such a straightforward principle.

And allowing someone to believe differently beside us need not at all imply that we do not truly believe to be true what we believe.


8:54 AM  
Blogger One Hand Clapping said...

In simplicity: regardless of what/who you believe and what that entity is called, who are we to judge whether the person next to us "believes" or not?
What I've seen is, and within our rather large extended family, if you don't say "exactly" what the other part says or believes, they then feel the need to bring you to their side.
Again, not an argument, just that this is what happens, and we need to let each and every person believe what they will, no matter what the label that is put on their belief.
I know there are weird beliefs, and I'm not saying these are right, just that we all face these things on a personal level, and that's really how it should be. Cheers!

12:41 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Thanks for sharing the journey. Loved every minute of it! Thanks!

8:52 AM  

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