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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What happened after the Trail of Death ended?

Dr. George Jeroloman.
The oft-absent doctor for the emigrating party was only 27 years old when he accompanied the party. He had graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY and rowed himself from Ft. Wayne to Logansport but his rowboat capsized and he lost all his medicines causing him to rely on natural medicines for sicknesses and of course there was always “bleeding” a patient, so popular at the time. He was sick for much of the journey staying in nearby towns. The Indians tried to get him expelled from the party but Polke suggested they were free to not use his services but he would be retained for the officers. On returning from the trek he increasingly practiced farming more than medicine and after a successful and lucrative career in farming he built a large house at the corner of Walnut and 10th street in Logansport which is the present day home of the Cass County Historical society. He lived until March 4, 1883 dying at the age of 72 and was generously praised by his home town newspaper. He was not remembered much for his role on the Trail of Death.

General Tipton
Indian-hater Tipton left the party just after Danville, Illinois and returned to Logansport with 85 or so of the Indiana Militia since his authority expired at the Indiana State line. He continued to send and receive letters from those on the journey as if he were still in charge in some way, though he was not officially so. Maybe his position as the former Indian agent and (perhaps more so) as a US Senator gave him this sort of clout with Polke and even Father Petit who also wrote to him regarding promised money for the new mission and education for the Indians. But he did not influence things long. On returning the Logansport his young wife died within five months. Then on March 3 his term in the U.S. Senate ended and just a month afterward, on April 5, 1839 Tipton himself died in his home at Logansport, just seven months after he commanded the round-up of the Potawatomi at Twin Lakes. Some say the Indians pronounced a curse on him, but weather or not, the man of oft cursed today by both white and red men and women for his role in this ugly affair.

Judge William Polke
Judge Polke did not leave Kansas for home until December 3 so perhaps he kept his promise to stay around to ensure that the new Indian agent understood the oral promised given to the Potawatomi. However he had relatives in the area so he likely visited them too while in Kansas. With rushed travel it would have been possible for this 63 year old man to have made it home for Christmas, but he would have to average 30 miles per day with no days off, which was possible for a man on a horse but unlikely for a 63 year old man on a horse. Whatever, a few years after returning he was appointed Registrar of the land office in Ft. Wayne and moved there to die in 1843, five years after leading the Potawatomi to Kansas. He was 68.

Chief Menominee
Menominee “the Potawatomi preacher” had refused to sign the treaties selling his land and was thus confined with several other refusing chiefs to a jail wagon until Father Petit arrives in Danville, Illinois and got him released (just as General Tipton left, probably no coincidence). Having not signed away his land the government leaders simply refused to consider him a “Chief” but only as one of the “head men” even though he was a signatory on four major treaties before the dastardly 1836 treaty he had refused to sign. He probably was about 48 years old when he was forcibly removed to Kansas without receiving any payments for his land. Did he survive the journey? He did. He was among the Potawatomi who relocated from the Governments drop-off point to Sugar Creek and he lived another three years. He dies at the St. Mary’s Mission on Sugar Creek April 15, 1841. He was about 50 year old.

Father Petit
Petit, the priest to the Potawatomi had been commanded by his Bishop to stay long enough to hand over his congregation to a Jesuit priest assigned to them in Kansas. He did this but waited for his next orders from his Bishop back in Vincennes, Indiana. Soon he took sick with the fever again (as he had been all along on the journey). This time he was cared for in the home of Joseph Bourassa for the next 19 days, probably not right in the camp but somewhere nearby. When he did recover nineteen days later instead of traveling home he returned again to the camp still awaiting a letter from his bishop—always in submission to church authority. Just a few days before Christmas, 1838 he received his letter commanding his return and he bought several items to prepare for the long journey—still weakened by the fever and thumb-sized sores all over his body. Accompanied by his faithful Potawatomi assistant Abram Burnett (of whom I shall write far more in the final book).

Petit arrived in St. Louis January 15, intending to take a steamboat home once the Wabash river thawed. He arrived exhausted and once came down with the “fever.” Until now he had only described the agony of the Potawatomi in the trek but now on January 18th he wrote to his Bishop describing his own anguish. “”After a horseback ride of 160 miles I found it impossible to continue: my weakness growing worse every day… The good Lord permitted me to make this journey with an open sore on the seat, another on the thigh, and a third on the leg—the remainder of the numerous sores which covered my whole body during my illness at the Osage River.” He closed his hopeful letter to his superior with “I close, thinking that I shall be restored in a fortnight, and that, when the Wabash opens, I shall have the long-denied happiness of receiving your benediction.” This letter was dated January 18, 1839. Petit did not make the trip in a fortnight. He weakened and on February 10 he died in the hand of the Jesuits who were caring for him. He was 28 years old.

*Father Petit was buried then in St. Louis but in 1856 his body was brought back to St. Mary’s Lake, now the site of the University of Notre Dame where it lies today.

The Potawatomi

As mentioned elsewhere in this story the Potawatomi did not stay at the drop-off site near Osawatomie Kansas but relocated 20 miles south to the new St. Mary’s Mission where they came under the spiritual direction of Father Hoecken and Mother rose Philippine Duchesne a Catholic sister who was at the time in her 70’s but could not master the language so she gave herself to tangible acts and prayer. But the Sugar Creek location was not to last. As always “the US Government got a new idea.” IN 1848 the government decided all the Potawatomi West of the Mississippi should be gathered in one place so the generation that a decade before had endured the removal from Indiana now were removed another 150 miles to St. Mary’s on the Kansas river where a Catholic school for them was opened. They remained here another 20 years until the Civil war when threatened by the duel threat of the Confederate forces and the plains Indians many were scattered to the winds. Today many Potawatomi can be found in Kansas and Okalahoma though they are found in Indiana, Canada and throughout the USA. Many are spiritually devout and many have clung diligently to the Roman Catholic spirituality.

COMING NEXT.... the influence the journey ahd on me spiritually and theologically... coming as soon as this emereges for me... I can see some of it already... it will take a few weeks for all of it to jell.


Blogger Gary said...

I know a Cherokee brother who sometimes speaks to groups about Indian history and their present situation. He says he's often asked by well-meaning non-natives, "What can we do to make things right?" To which he replies, "You could start by giving us back some land."

1:22 PM  
Blogger Keith.Drury said...

I LOVE it... clever response... same resposne as the Palestinians (which is not going so good recently either). IN my final book I will be adding some essays "towrd reconciliation and restitution" suggesting some practicalk factors a nation can take to "do restitution" for sins of the past: things that can be applied across the board to past injustices done to the Native Americans, Afro-Americans, Japanese during WWII, and that would also apply across the board to all "land swiping activity" including a great part of eh Southwest USA siezed from Mexico by land-lust warfare. But even these actions are only symbols... the only way to really make past injustice right woudl be to turn the clock back and "do the right thing" in the first place to those Potawatomi in the Twin Lakes area. And, one generation has a hard time doing restitution for another generation's sins...but they shoulkd try. At least collectively I think, and that is where government comes in. The short answer "give some land back" raises the right question even if it won't be the actual solution eventually. Whatever solution cannot be only to one generation either (in my opinion)--the restitution needs to continue for some longer period to future generations... it would be another injustice to make restitution to onley the 4th or 5th generation of those wounded and ignore those before and after--

BUT I'M NOT TOTALLY CLEAR ON THIS and am open to suggestions. I am not interested in "justice" in a secular sense (but the country should be) but I am interested in what the spiritual solutions are.... this is my take on the TOD in the book... it is easier to say what "the Christian thing to do"
was then than now--yet there is a Christian action now too... and the spiritual response to past injustice involves the things I mentioned in my conclusion (among others) for the whites.... confession, repentance, pennance, restitution, reconciliation.

For the Native Americans there are similar spiritual solutions... but I should not speak to those, that's a role for a Native American... perhaps these will be highlghted in Ginger Pearl's book--she seems to have a keen understanding of religious-spiritual approach.

Thanks for the post gary.

6:54 AM  
Blogger The AJ Thomas said...

Just want youp to know I have been following this trek all summer and have read alot of your posts and it's been really moving. I don't have much to say, this is to significant and issue for flippant commenting and that's the only kind I have a knack for.

2:24 PM  
Blogger One Hand Clapping said...

Great meeting of the Minds and Spirits!
Nice gestures, reparations etc, but, the Past is over, and luckily we weren't a part of those deeds, to whomever/wherever they occurred.
Remember Roots. We had neighbors who we'd get together and have dinner with on alternating Fridays. After the first couple of nights, the wife asked us if we weren't ashamed etc. All I could say at the time, and I was much younger, was that our family history has not shown slave traders, and no one came anywhere near Africa. With that, of course it's no good, but we can't take responsibility for actions of others, done to people no longer here.
As with most things in Life, what's done, is done, and we need to move forward, and make things better, so people don't have to go through anything negative and be treated as such.
Alas, with the Middle East, the Poverty here and around the World, I think our so called leaders aren't doing a very good job for the Human Race ; (

4:57 PM  
Blogger Kelli B said...

I've really appreciated reading your posts. I will appreciate it when the chance arises to read how it impacted you spiritually/theologically.

Thanks for taking this walk.

10:38 AM  
Blogger kelly heiple said...

That sounds as if it would be really fun to cover a trail such as this one where you can really step back in time...I still look back on last semester fondly..and am hoping to do some more hiking in the future when the opportunity arises. God Bless.
Kelly Heiple

10:56 PM  

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