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 62 Potawatomi Creek Mile 660
Nov 4, 1868

After two hours delay allowing for the Catholic Indians to have worship they ended their 62 day journey with the 8-9 mile walk from Bull Town to Osawatomie Kansas to “Pottawatomie creek” where they were to be deposited and “welcomed by many of their friends.” The journey was over. The Indians had been “relocated.” “Removed.” The journal-writer tried to put the best light on the Indians response saying, “The emigrants seemingly delighted with the appearance of things—the country—its advantages—the wide spreading prairie and the thrifty grove, the rocky eminence and the medowed valley—but particularly with the warm and hearty greeting of those who have tested (and but to become attached to,) the country assigned to them by the Government.”

The journal overestimated their positive response. A speech would be made by chief Pe-pish-kay (which is recorded in the official journal putting a different light on their response including the following: “We have been taken from our homes affording us plenty, and brought to a desert—a wilderness—and we are now to be scattered as the husbandman scatters his seed.” Pe-pisj-kay’s speech probably better represents the Indian reaction than the “spin” reported in the official journal.

The mileages are confusing. Again today the journal-writer uses the cryptic words “The distance of to-day’s travel is computed at twenty miles.” There is hardly any campsite on Bull Creek that would produce a 20 mile journey to Potawatomie Creek at Osawatomie Kansas. Probably this day produced eight or at the most nine miles. It’s odd. The mileages have been meticulously recorded for six weeks then in the final days they got sloppy either recording no miles at all or listing longer-then-possible miles according to their time traveled or the geography. In the cumulative miles above I have used the nine mile figure which is about as far as can be stretched.

The journal curtly reports, “Mr. Davis the (Indian) agent, we found absent.” We can imagine how Polke and the soldiers felt about this. They had traveled two months to deposit more than 800 Indians into the hands of the Indian agency here and the agent was not even present. Pe-pish-kay noted the same in his speech the next day. The Indians wanted to assess what sort of man they would now be at the mercy of. Polke they knew and trusted, but they knew nothing of this absent Mr. Davis. Indeed they plead with Polke to stay with them until Davis showed up. Polke could not, having to go back to Independence to report on the successful mission, but promised to leave his son with them until he returned. We do k=not know how this turned out. Did Polke actually leave his son? Did he return? There is no record and my answer to the question (or yours) is based on an assessment of Polke’s character. I tend to believe that he kept his word. However there is not enough evidence to say either way.

The journal continues for several days beyond this Sunday. On Monday it records Pe-pish-key’s speech and the Indians request that Polke stay with them, and his promise to leave his son behind. It also records the death of an old man. One of the most surprising reports in Monday’s journal is the arrival of a wagon belonging to Andrew Fuller, a Potawatomi from Michigan who had traveled all the way on his own bearing all his own expenses for the trip. Here is an example of tribal loyalty—if a tribe was being forced to move west, he and his family would go too—even at his own expense. The Indian’s anxiousness to arrive was replaced on Tuesday by the anxiousness of the soldiers to depart and get home. It was the first week of November and if their journey home took two months that would miss Christmas. However they were a small party and probably could actually make it by late November.

THAT’S THAT! The Indians were simply “dropped off” at Potawatomie Creek near present day Osawatomie Kansas with a new and still-absent Indian agent. Certainly Polke and his soldier’s thoughts turned to home the moment they headed East again. However they must have felt like a father who had just dropped off the sick family pet in the country. The Indians were in the way of progress. “Something had to be done.” Removing them all to the “Indian territories” was the nationally agreed-upon popular political solution for the “Indian problem.” There! That’s that” The “Indian problem” was solved. Indiana only had to clean out the remaining pockets of Indians and it could becomes, “the land of the free and home of the brave.” The Miami Indians and others would soon follow. Indiana would soon be “clean” of Indians and the white Europeans could have “their” land free and clear. Out of sight out of mind. No longer would they have to see the poverty of the once-proud race of Indians. No longer would they be bothered by drunken Indians in their towns. They were largely expunged from the state—though it would retrain the name of the state as Indiana –“Land of the Indians.

AS FOR ME I had decided several weeks ago on my three-point plan for ending this trek. Several folk had offered to come and meet me or arrange a “ceremony” at the ending. I asked them all to let me finish this trek privately. Living with this story for two months made my finish an intensely private and personal thing.

I rose at 4 AM soaked from the night fog resulting from yesterday's rain, but knowing I would not be using my sleeping bag tonight. I walked into nearby Paola then on the Osawatomie and found Potawatomie Creek where I sat on the bank trying to feel like the Indians must have felt. Relief that the hard journey was over. Grief for the many dead children buried along the way. A sense of injustice at the whole affair. Maybe a feeling of resignation—a sense that power and the lust for land had won over justice and goodness and their life from here on would be as wards of the state—children hidden in the back closets of the country. Who knows?

I buried in the creek bank the precious arrowhead given to me by Josephine Gander. The ceremony was not fancy--just a simple affair that I had determined was perfectly suited to reflect how this whole unseemly affair had ended itself--they simply dropped off the Indians then heading home to Indiana. Covering over the arrowhead and tamping it with my foot into the soft creekbank, I turned back to town and hitched the 30 miles north back to my rental car because I had two more things to do before this trip could end in my mind. To do this I needed a car. (see next entry)


Blogger Kathy Drury said...

Well I don't think congrats are what I am trying to say as the Indians surely wouldn't have been congratulated but you did it as did most of them. And their life went on as will yours. Looking forward to seeing you!

8:56 AM  

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