The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | Articles | United States/19th Century | Chief Menominee

Email to a friend
Printer friendly

Chief Menominee

Chief Menominee

© 2001 By Shirley Willard

President, Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester,IN

I. Chief Menominee and the Trail of Death

    Everyone traveling U.S. 31 has noticed the small sign: Chief Menominee Monument and an arrow toward the west at the south edge of Plymouth. This is where the Michigan Road (Old 31) meets New U.S. 31, and is part of the Trail of Death. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? A trail of death right down an Indiana highway! How could that have happened? And who was Menominee, that the Indiana State Legislature erected a statue of him in 1909, many years after he was forcibly removed from Indiana.

    Some old books written before 1900 say he died on the way to Kansas. But that was before research became so much easier with today's cars, telephones and internet. Many people do not realize there are real records of the Trail of Death, such as the diary, muster roll, payments made to the Indians for lost property, annuity payments, letters of John Tipton and Father Petit, Notre Dame baptismal records, George Winter journal and paintings, burial records in Kansas, etc. People think the only place to look is in the books and magazines, which are secondary sources and not always to be trusted. According to Linn County, Kansas, burial records, Chief Menominee died in Kansas in 1841 at age 50.

    Some old books also say the death toll during the long sad trek was 150 men, women and children. Actually about 40 died according to the diary and official government records now on microfilm in the National Archives. The muster roll when the Potawatomi were rounded up at Twin Lakes was 859 and when they arrived in Kansas, there were 756. So that is where people get the idea that 150 died on the way. It actually means that over 100 escaped and some returned to Indiana.

    Was Menominee a famous Indian chief? Yes and no, certainly not as famous as those who came later and went down in history as fighters, such as Crazy Horse, Geronimo, and other western Indians. The state of Indiana, named for the Indians, forced its Native Americans to leave early in the 19th century before most of Indiana even had newspapers. The western Indians who gained a nation-wide reputation fighting for their freedom, were born at a time when telegraph and news reporting and publishing were more advanced - hence their names entered many more books and their exploits were recorded in history in a more prominent way.

    Menominee was revered by his followers as the Potawatomi Preacher, but he did not attain the fame of The Prophet or other well known leaders. The Prophet and his brother Tecumseh wanted to create a separate Indian nation and drive the whites out. After their defeat at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, another Indian prophet came along, named Kenakuk. He was a Kickapoo and he taught humility, avoidance of warfare, sobriety and hard work. Kenakuk led his people west of the Missouri River to a new reservation. That left Menominee as the final of the Indian prophets of Indiana.

    Menominee preached abstinence of alcohol too. He had a coup stick on which he made a notch for every sermon he preached. Apparently he did not travel widely so was not known widely as a preacher. However his village grew from four wigwams in 1821 to about 100 wigwams and cabins in 1838. At that time what he was preaching was to become Christians, adopt white man's ways and become farmers, so the Potawatomi could stay in Indiana instead of going west.

    Menominee's claim to fame is that he refused to sign the treaty and sell his land for $1 an acre and agree to move west. He did sign four other treaties, the first one being the treaty made in Oct. 2, 1818, in which the Potawatomi ceded the land south of the Wabash River. The next treaty Menominee signed was Oct. 16, 1826, at the mouth of the Mississinewa River, which ceded land for the Michigan Road and required the government to provide a blacksmith and a mill at Lake Manitou for the Indians' use. The Oct. 26, 1832, treaty, signed on the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester, gave 22 sections (same as 22 square miles) of land to Menominee and three other chiefs to share: No-taw-kah, Muck-kah-tah-mo-way, and Pee-pin-oh-waw. He also signed the treaty of Dec. 15, 1834, which shut down the mill at Lake Manitou dam. But he did not sign the other treaties, a whole series of them at the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester, which contain the X marks of various chiefs. Abel C. Pepper, the Indian agent, was the bad guy in this story. He was under orders to get the Indians to sign the treaties, and he used whiskey and anything he could think of to get them to sign. He made many treaties that all say the same thing: sell the land and move west in two years. At the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester there were five treaties signed in 1836, and two treaties at Logansport.

    Menominee's partners, No-taw-kah, Muck-kah-tah-mo-way (Black Wolf) and Pe-pin-oh-waw, gave in and signed a treaty Aug. 5, 1836, at the Yellow River south of Plymouth. But Menominee held out and still refused to sign. He even traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to the President (Andrew Jackson).In February 1837, a delegation of Potawatomi from Indiana went together to D.C. and the group signed the treaty Feb. 11, but not Menominee. In this treaty they agreed to move to land southwest of the Missouri River. This last treaty was meant as a confirmation of all the other treaties with individual chiefs for their respective bands and families. Those who signed were supposed to be the Head Chiefs. Because Menominee's name is not on the treaty, Pepper claimed Menominee was an insignificant person and not a real chief.

    Chief Pokagon also refused to sell his land, but he was able to make a treaty with the state of Michigan allowing his people to stay. Menominee had no such luck. The governor of Indiana just wasn't going to allow the Indians to stay, partly because he wanted money from land sales to build roads and canals.

    But who was Menominee really? How did this preacher talk? The 1883 Atlas of Fulton County records that he was the principal chief of the Potawatomies of this locality and quotes his speech: "The President does not know the truth. He like me has been imposed upon. He does not know that your treaty is a lie and that I never signed it. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He does not know that I have refused to sell my lands, and still refuse. He would not, by force, drive me from my home, the graves of my tribe and my children who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog, if he knew the truth. My brother, the President, is just; but he listens to the word of his young chiefs who have lied; and when he knows the truth, he will leave me to my own. I have not sold my lands. I will not sell them. I have not signed any treaty, and I shall not sign any. I am not going to leave my lands, and I do not want to hear anything more about it."

    The Marshall County History (1881) stated that a man named Wise interpreted and wrote down Menominee's speech. He had to be able to write fast or used some form of short hand. He must have thought Menominee's words were the best speech given at the council for those are the only words recorded. "When Pepper made his final appeal and threat of force, and all had had their say, Menominee rose to his feet and drew his costly blanket about him, showing below his splendidly worked leggings and moccasins, a wonder of skill. His white head towering above those around him, he said in substance: The President does not know the truth...." This was sometime before Aug. 6, 1838, the deadline for moving west peacefully. No date is recorded with the speech, simply that it was given in a council meeting on the north bank of Pretty Lake in Marshall County.

    Almost everyone with an interest in Indiana history has read Menominee's speech, but did you know that he apologized for it? That's what Father Benjamin Petit wrote to Abel C. Pepper in a letter dated July 31, 1838. Maybe Menominee did not actually apologize and Petit was trying to smooth things over. Petit realized that Menominee's defiance would attract the wrath of the government and maybe bring soldiers.

    We have been unable to document when Menominee went to D.C. The Marshall County History states he went in November 1835. But he might have gone shortly after the treaty of Feb. 11, 1837, to try to undo it. Or he might have been with the delegation of Potawatomi who went in February. Unless we can discover some mention of his visit in a D.C. newspaper or government document, we will never know for sure if he even went. His speech sounds as if he met the President and yet he says the President does not know that he did not sign the treaty. How could the President not know if Menominee met him and talked to him? Maybe he met him before the treaty of Feb. 11, 1837. Maybe Menominee met with government officials (the young chiefs who lied) and never met the President. Andrew Jackson was still President until his successor, Martin Van Buren, took office Mar. 4, 1837. So maybe Menominee met Jackson but figured Van Buren did not know about Menominee's refusal to sign the treaty. We may never know for sure. But we will reveal more facts uncovered by research next week.

II. Menominee Became The Potawatomi Prophet

    Chief Menominee was revered as the Potawatomi Prophet, also the Potawatomi Preacher. He was born approximately 1790, possibly in Wisconsin or Indiana. Much speculation has been made because his name is also the name of a tribe, the Menominee. Maybe one of his parents was a Menominee and the other a Potawatomi. Menominee means "wild rice." This was an important food to the Indians in the lake regions of Wisconsin. Abel C. Pepper wrote in a letter in 1838 that "both Menominee and Macketemoah (Black Wolf) did not properly belong to the Potawatomies, they were recognized as chiefs." He did not write what tribe he thought they were originally from.

    Menominee signed four treaties, the first in 1818, when he was about 28 years old. It must have been sometime after that that he began preaching. Rev. Isaac McCoy, founder of the Carey Mission at Niles, Mich., recorded that Menominee came to Ft. Wayne to visit him Apr. 1, 1821, and to learn how to be a preacher. Menominee said the Great Spirit had called him some years ago to preach to the Indians to give up their evil ways, which he enumerated as drunkenness, theft, murder, and many other wicked practices. At Menominee's request, McCoy gave him a paper on which he wrote that he had heard Menominee preach and pray and that he hoped his instructions would do his people good and therefore requested all to treat him with kindness. Menominee promised to go home and preach for the rest of his life.

    Later McCoy visited Menominee at his village at Twin Lakes south of Plymouth. In his book, History of Baptist Indian Missions, published in 1840, McCoy wrote a full account of the wonderful treatment he received from Menominee, that Menominee sent a messenger to surrounding villages to announce McCoy's arrival and had a feast of boiled turtle eggs, sweetened water, corn and beans. They ate from wooden bowls with wooden ladles. Menominee had two wives, each of whom presented McCoy with a bark box of (maple?) sugar containing about 30 pounds each.

    Menominee was worried that McCoy would not allow him to be a preacher and have two wives, but he explained: "It is a common custom among our people, and often the younger sister of a wife claims it as a privilege to become a second wife that she too may have someone provide meat for her. This is the case in regard to my two wives who are sisters. I did not know it was wrong to take a second wife, but if you say it is wrong, I will put one of them away." McCoy said he would think about it, as it seemed like cutting off a hand or pulling out an eye to require an Indian to choose one wife and discard the other. It would certainly cause the discarded wife much pain, hardship and disgrace.

    McCoy stated that in most tribes the women did all the cultivating of the fields, but when he returned in the fall, he saw men and women and children working in a field. They had only some pigeons, corn and beans to eat.

    James Clifton wrote in his book, The Prairie People, that "Menominee was in a quandary for he as a good okama (village chief) was married to two sisters who did not want to be separated. He did a traditional Potawatomi form of decision making and fasted, seeking a vision and supernatural guidance to show him which sister to send away. But no vision came to him."

    Later Menominee issued a call to the Black Robes, and a Catholic mission was established at his village at Twin Lakes in 1834. He apparently did give up one wife in order to be baptized by the Catholic priest. Father Louis Deseille recorded in his journal (now at the University of Notre Dame library) that he baptized Menominee on Aug. 24, 1834, "under the branches of an old shady oak tree" and gave him the Christian name of Alexis. He also recorded that he married Menominee to Angelique Sagike and baptized their daughter Mary Ann Menominee, born 1835. Menominee was about 45 years old so this was probably his last and youngest child. According to Menominee's descendants, he had other grown-up children by that time.

    In the spring of 1835 Father Deseille and Bishop Brute visited Chechaukkose' s village, which had an Indian chapel on the Tippecanoe River in Kosciusko County. News spread of the visit and Indians came from all directions to see "the Black Robes, of whom their fathers had spoken so much, whose departure several had regretted until their last breath and died bidding their children to listen to them, if the great Lord of Life sent them again." Menominee and his band came to hear them, and after a few days, because of the congestion of so many people, Father Deseille sent the Yellow River band home, saying he would visit them next. Ten days later he visited them and found that Menominee and his band had built a chapel of logs. There is a metal plaque on a stone at the site of Menominee's chapel now, but the date it gives for the erection for the chapel is 1827. Which date is right? Research indicates 1835. This log chapel stood for many years but was razed before 1900.

    Father Deseille continued to visit Menominee's village. He saw the plight of the Indians and sympathized with their desire to stay in Indiana. He is reputed to have told them that if they could get their petition into court, they could legally stay, especially if they became farmers and Christians. He helped them by writing a letter detailing how the treaties were illegal because the signers did not own the land and they were given whisky to sign it. The chiefs all signed the letter, even the ones who had signed the treaties. The letter was sent to General John Tipton, who was a senator living in Logansport. This angered the government officials, and Deseille was ordered to leave. He did and a young priest, Father Benjamin Petit, came in the spring of 1837 to take his place. Petit became a great favorite of the Potawatomi and was nicknamed Chichipe Outipe, which means "little duck." Chichipe Outipe was also the name of the place where the chapel was on the lake. Father Petit was under strict orders not to tell the Indians they could stay in Indiana, so he tried to console them about moving west peacefully. He made a trip to Washington, D.C., in July 1838 but it was useless. He reported in a letter to Bishop Brute: "I do not wish to speak of it," said the President. "Your names are on the treaty; your lands are lost," said the Secretary of War. "But here is one of the witnesses to the treaty who will show you how everything was a fraud." "I do not need to be shown, and we did not need your signatures: the great chiefs of the nation were entitled to sell your reserve." That sounds as if Menominee was with him. Could that have been the trip that Menominee made to D.C.?

    Menominee was the only chief who had not signed the treaty and sold his land. Abel C. Pepper, the Indian agent, called council meeting after council meeting to try to talk him into signing but Menominee stood firm. "I will not sell my land. I am not going to leave my lands and I do not want to hear anything more about it," he said. He stated that "My brother, the President is just; but he listens to the word of his young chiefs who have lied, and when he knows the truth, he will leave me to my own." Perhaps he had a premonition, because he also said the President would not "allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog, if he knew the truth." After his speech, the other chiefs decided that he was right and they regretted signing the treaty. Word spread among the Indians that Menominee was not going to go west, so all who did not want to go west came to his village to live. His village grew to over a thousand inhabitants. But Father Petit could see the writing on the wall and he wrote a letter July 31, 1838, to Pepper that Menominee apologized for his speech.

III. Menominee and His Band Were Forced at Gunpoint to go West

    Despite Menominee's belief that the President would save him, it was left up to the state government. After the deadline came in August 1838 for the Potawatomi to move west and they were still occupying the land here in Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, St. Joseph and other counties, some white settlers moved in and started claiming land. A man named Joseph Waters is the name recorded as the rascal who caused a fight and then contacted Pepper and demanded that the Indians be removed, that the treaties be enforced. Waters claimed that Indians had kicked in his door and threatened his family. Then some Indian homes were burned in retaliation. Fearing war, several Marshall County residents signed a petition to send to Governor David Wallace. Wallace came and personally inspected the situation, according to his speech to the legislature made Dec. 4, 1838. He did not say who he talked to or what he saw, but Wallace concluded that the Indians were ready to go to war. When he got back to Logansport, he signed executive orders to Gen. John Tipton to gather volunteer militia and take the Potawatomi Indians out of Indiana. Tipton did just that and went down in history as a wicked man. One of the Indians on the Trail of Death, Abram Burnett, reported that Tipton did not allow them time to rest and drink from the streams. Tipton's wife died in February and then he died April 5, 1839. An Indian curse? There are those who believe so.

    On the muster roll for the emigration (later called the Trail of Death), Menominee is listed with a number 3 after his name. Apparently this included him, his wife and baby Mary Ann. But he had other children. In a government memorandum (now on microfilm) of Indians drawing rations in Oct. 1826, Menominee has the number 20 after his name, indicating there were 20 in his family. This probably included married children and little grandchildren. At the time of the forced removal in 1838, Menominee was about 48 years old.

    Just as Menominee had predicted in his speech, he was tied in ropes and placed in a jail wagon along with two other chiefs. The other chiefs had signed the 1836 treaty and sold their land but they changed their minds and did not want to go west. They were transported across Indiana in that jail wagon, until Father Petit caught up with them west of Danville, Ill., and got General Tipton to release the chiefs. Tipton and his Hoosier militia went back home to Indiana, leaving the federally-appointed conductor, William Polke, Rochester's first white settler, in charge. They walked or rode horses or wagons for 61 days, burying babies and elders at nearly every camp in Illinois. The fall of 1838 was a year of terrible drought and what little water that could be found was stagnant, so they got sick with a fever. People were dying of typhoid in the white villages too. They did not know to boil the water. And all the medicine they had was tea and sugar but Polke and Petit did the best they could to help the sick. When they reached Missouri, the weather turned cooler and their health improved. By the time they reached the end of the trek at Potawatomi Creek in eastern Kansas on Nov. 4, over 40 had died, buried in unmarked graves along the trail. Father Petit recorded in his journal: "When we encamp I am entrusted with the sick and assigned to the doctor as interpreter. On the march I have general supervision over all and decide upon whatever can be alleviating." Later he wrote: "We soon found ourselves on the grand prairies of Illinois under a burning sun and without shade from one camp to another. They are as vast as the ocean, and the eye seeks in vain for a tree. Not a drop of water can be found there - it was a veritable torture for our poor sick, some of whom died each day from weakness and fatigue." The soul of a poet, Petit also wrote: "Nearly all the children had fallen into a state of complete languor and depression. I baptized several who were newly born - happy Christians who with their first step passed from earthly exile to the heavenly sojourn."

    What happened to Chief Menominee? He spent the rest of his life at St. Mary's Mission at Sugar Creek in Linn County, Kansas, south of Osawatomie. He died April 15, 1841, age about 50 years.

    Daniel McDonald, Marshall County historian and newspaper editor, wrote in his book, Removal of the Potawattomie Indians from Northern Indiana, published in 1898, that "the 22 sections of land ceded to him and Pe-pin-a-wa, Na-ta-ka and Mak-a-ta-ma-ah, were never transferred to the government by Menominee, and were he living whatever interest he then had would still be his. The other chiefs, who shared with him in the ownership received $14,080 for their interest, but Menominee refused to sign the treaty, and never transferred his interest either by treaty or sale to the government or others." He went on to say they were forced to move out west and lost their identity and disappeared.

    McDonald did not realize that the Potawatomi did not disappear and that Menominee has living descendants even to this day. What would the interest be on $14,080? How could they collect it? The descendants would have to prove it by a paper trail, which is often missing in Indian genealogy. Fearing for their lives, the children of Menominee, including his grown sons, were on the Trail of Death, but they kept a low profile and did not reveal their identity. Seeing their father tied in ropes and placed in a jail wagon to be taken west must have been a very traumatic experience for them.

    Only now, over 160 years later, is the family of Menominee willing to step forward and acknowledge that they exist and they have not disappeared. Last year Jim Thunder and Don Perrot, great-great-grandsons of Menominee, wrote what happened to their family after the Trail of Death. Thunder and his family were honored at the Trail of Courage Living History Festival. Don Perrot will bring his family to the Trail of Courage this year. It will be Sept. 15-16 at the Fulton County Historical Society grounds, four miles north of Rochester.

IV. Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail memorializes Potawatomi

By Shirley Willard

    Chief Menominee's statue portrays a handsome man with a typical Indian profile and big feather headdress. Located on Peach Tree Road a half mile north of 11th Road in Marshall County, the statue seems hard to find and many people drive and drive and give up. Many signs have been erected but they seem to disappear. You have to remember to turn north on Peach Road. The statue is an imposing sight and the site of many pilgrimages of the American Indians and historians and school children. This is where the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail begins.

    Just north of the statue the road goes between two lakes, known as Twin Lakes. But you won't find the name Twin Lakes on all maps. They are small lakes, not a big resort area. On 12th Road there is a boulder with a metal plaque telling about Menominee's chapel, a log church established by Catholic missionaries in 1827, according to the plaque. Across the road toward the north was the site of Menominee's village. These locations figure prominently in a dramatic episode of history that took place there in the fall of 1838.

    When Menominee and his people were forcibly removed from Indiana to Kansas, so many died along the trail that it has gone down in history as the Trail of Death. They were rounded up by soldiers (actually volunteer militia) who rode horses for three days capturing all the Indians they could find and forcing them to go to Menominee's village. Given that amount of time and knowing that horses travel about 15 to 20 miles a day, and allowing half the time going away and the other half coming back, one can figure that the soldiers rounded up all the Indians within a 30 to 40 mile radius of Twin Lakes. Those who were not Potawatomi were allowed to stay, but the Potawatomi were marched at gunpoint down Rochester's Main Street Sept. 5, 1838. How can we ever forget?

    The descendants of Chief Menominee will be the special honored Potawatomi family at the Trail of Courage Living History Festival Sept. 15-16 at the Fulton County Historical Society grounds, four miles north of Rochester on US 31.

    In 1988 for the 150th anniversary of the Trail of Death, we decided we needed to do something to commemorate the event and not continue to sweep it under the rug of Indiana history. Dr. George Godfrey, a member of the Citizen Band of Potawatomi, got a committee together in Illinois. I got a committee together here in Indiana and we started planning.

    We planned four events: planting a pine tree for each death and a Great Peace Tree, re-enacting the Trail of Death on Rochester's Main Street using a horse and jail wagon, and traveling as a caravan along the entire length of the Trail of Death to Kansas.

    The 40 trees were planted beside US 31 along the Fulton County Historical Society grounds, assisted by Tom Hamilton, descendant of Abram Burnett, who was on the 1838 Trail of Death. The Great Peace Tree was planted by Chief White Eagle during the Trail of Courage Rendezvous. A Great Peace Tree is planted on top of two crossed tomahawks, symbolizing burying the hatchet so as not to go to war anymore. William O. Wamego, descendant of Chief Wamego, who was on the Trail of Death, rode the jail wagon down Main Street to portray Chief Menominee, who had refused to sell his land.

    The Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan was organized to start on Monday the day after the Trail of Courage Rendezvous ended. It began with a ceremony at Chief Menominee's statue, and then went east to the Michigan Road or Old 31 and south to the Tippecanoe River where the Indians camped the first night in 1838. The caravan went on through Rochester and south on State Road 25 to Mud Creek, the site of the second night's camp and where the first death occurred. My son Allen earned his Boy Scout Eagle award by erecting a historical marker there in 1976.

    Logansport was the next stop. Then the emigration followed the Wabash River across Cass and Carroll counties, sometimes on the Tow Path Road by the former canal. The Trail of Death diary records they passed by the Tippecanoe Battle Field and camped near Lafayette. Then they camped at LaGrange, a town that no longer exists on the Wabash River that forms the Tippecanoe - Warren county line. They camped at Williamsport, and lastly in Indiana at Gopher Hill, a cemetery about a mile from the state line. All of these sites are now marked by historical markers, most of which are big boulders with metal plaques.

    The caravan crossed Illinois from Danville, through Springfield, and crossed the Mississippi River at Quincy. They trekked on across Missouri following approximately the route of old Highway 24, through Paris, Huntsville, Carrollton, and ferrying the Missouri River at Lexington. They crossed into Kansas south of Kansas City, and the end of the trail was at Osawatomie. The Potawatomi then moved south to St. Marys Mission on Sugar Creek, where they lived for the next 10 years. Small pox forced them to move further west in 1848. So they burned the cabins and went to St Marys, Kansas, where they lived until a new treaty was offered in 1861 that gave them US citizenship. Those who signed that new treaty became citizens or the Citizen Band of Oklahoma. Those who stayed in Kansas are known as the Prairie Band.

    In 1993 we again organized the Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan. That was the year of terrible floods and we faced rain nearly every day and had to detour. We crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Hannibal because the bridge at Quincy was not accessible. We rescued an old Potawatomi man, Paxico Wabaunse, at the end of the trail. We decided to get the Trail of Death declared a National Historic Trail. The US Park Service said it was of regional, not national importance, so we enlisted the help of state and county historical societies along the trail, and got resolutions passed by the four state legislatures declaring it the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail in 1994.

    We traveled the caravan again in 1998, and reached out to the schools along the way. We gave speeches at 12 schools and dedicated nine new historical markers. Every year we have gotten more new Trail of Death markers erected, many by Boy Scouts, some by Girl Scouts, youth groups, individuals, clubs and museums. Our goal is to have a Trail of Death marker at each camp site every 15 to 20 miles. There are now 66 markers. Only about five more markers are needed to complete the job. Most of the Trail of Death historical markers are huge boulders with metal plaques. The boulders are free but a metal plaque costs about $400. Persons interested in helping should contact Fulton County Historical Society at 219-223-4436 or

    We plan to travel the Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan again in September 2003. For more information or to go along, contact FCHS. To meet descendants of the Trail of Death, come to the Trail of Courage Living History Festival Sept. 15-16. See our web page at

    Indiana means "land of the Indians" and it is only appropriate that we honor them and try to find and preserve their true history. The Potawatomi signed more treaties than any other tribe. Because of Father Petit's letters, the Trail of Death diary, and George Winter's journal and paintings, the Potawatomi are probably the best documented tribe.

    For those who might be confused, the Trail of Death was the forced removal of the Potawatomi from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. The Trail of Tears was the forced removal of the Cherokees from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma in 1838. The Trail of Courage is the name of our festival, which shows frontier life in Indiana before the forced removals. Former Indiana Governor Otis Bowen came up with the name of Trail of Courage when he gave the dedication speech in 1976 for the Trail of Death marker at Mud Creek.

V. Menominee family survives, teaches Potawatomi language

By Jim Thunder, member of Forest Band, Potawatomi, Wisconsin

      Each year the Trail of Courage Living History Festival honors a different Potawatomi family that has roots in frontier Indiana. They write a brief history to be published and preserved at the Fulton County Museum on US 31 four miles north of Rochester, Ind., where the festival is held annually.

      My grandfather John Mike (Nole Mck) was born in Mexico to my great-grandparents, Kawsat and Mike Kwewe. Kawsat (spelled Kau-rawt on the muster roll of 1838 emigration that became known as the Trail of Death) was a son of Chief Menominee. My grandfather's recollection was that Kawsat and Mike Kwewe were on the Trail of Death in 1838 from Indiana to Kansas. He said that they escaped and fled to Mexico along with some Kickapoo people. He said that he was a small boy when they were forced back from Mexico - he remembered vividly some of the events of that trip. The area is near La Naciamento south of the Texas border where he was born. He had always talked about the Bodewadmie (Potawatomi) having a reservation there at that time. I had the opportunity to go there around 1995. And a couple of years later I took my family there.

    We found relatives among the Kickapoo people and affirmed that the Bodewadmie had a reservation there at one time. This reservation was awarded to them because they fought off the Apaches on the Mexican - U.S. border. The area is at the foot hills of a big mountain range and on our first visit they had no electricity at all. On our last visit one side of the Kickapoo Reservation had electricity.

    U.S. soldiers went into the interior of Mexico, rounded up the Potawatomi, and brought them back over to the U.S. side. That same night a lot of the soldiers were celebrating (drinking) so security was a little lax. Some of our people escaped that first night and made their way to Kansas mostly on foot. My grandfather, who was eight or ten years old, talked about the narrow escape from the soldiers as they were being hunted down. However, they made it to Kansas. Sometime later my grandfather moved to Wisconsin with his brother Bill Pamoske. Bill Pemoske lived and died on the Potawatomi settlement in Zoar on the Menominee Reservation. John Mike lived in Wabeno, Wis., on the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation. He joined the Forest Band in 1946. He died when over 100 years old and is buried at the old Frank Kah Kah home on Indian Market Road. John Mike had a sister in Kansas by the name of Julia Greene. Some of our family joined the Prairie Band of Potawatomi in Kansas and lived there.

    I was born to Frank and Jenny (Mike) Thunder in 1936 near Rat River, Wis. I worked as a Forest Ranger, and served 12 years as Chairman of the Forest Band of Potawatomi, headquartered at Crandon, Wis. I married Joan Pruitt and had six children: Ken, Joni, James, Alyce, Jennifer, and Jessica. The last two girls are still living at home, ages 18 and 14. Alyce is a nurse at a clinic in Madison, Wis. We have 10 grandchildren.

    Nowadays I spend most of my time teaching Potawatomi language and culture to the Potawatomi bands. I wrote my own materials, drawing from the Potawatomi language I heard my grandparents speaking. I published three books and a tape of Potawatomi language lessons. I have traveled to Indiana, Michigan, Kansas, and Oklahoma, teaching the Potawatomi language to gatherings organized for the purpose of learning Potawatomi. I currently teach classes in Wisconsin and also at the Hannahville Band to help my cousin Don Perrot teach Potawatomi to kindergarten to grade 12. Last fall I traveled to Kentucky to teach a gathering there.

    My clan is the bullhead catfish clan. Potawatomi follow the clan of the parent of the same sex.

    My cousin, Virginia Menomin, is the great-great-granddaughter of Chief Menominee. Menomin was their last name. Menomin means "wild rice." Virginia is married to Gerald Jacobson and lives in Rhinelander, Wis. Virginia was born in 1949 in Hayward, Wis., to Agnes (Jim) and George Menomin. George's parents were Julia (Barney) and Sam Menomin. Virginia worked in the Forest Band Potawatomi tribal office at Crandon, Wis., until retiring last year. Virginia has a sister Ruth Menomin Weso, Crandon, Wis. Virginia's cousin Lucy Menomin married John Menomin and their son John Jr. came to the Trail of Courage with Virginia. Virginia has four children: Gerald, Kevin, Sheila and Nicole. Several of them and their children attended the Trail of Courage also.

    The following was added by Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian, from phone conversations with Don Perrot.

    Don Perrot is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi with headquarters at Mayetta, Kansas. He also is a teacher of Potawtaomi language and has made a tape of lessons. He teaches K-12 at the Wah Tah Wahsh School of the Hannahville Band of Potawatomi at Wilson, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Don is working on a project called HOW - History on the Web, to be done by students and teachers from the Hannahville Indian School. Don Perrot is a great-grandson of Nanimnekshkek (Rolling Cloud), son of Menominee. He wrote: "The truth is Menominee had more than one child. It became necessary to hide the identity of one's offspring in those days for fear there might be reprisals against them by the government and its many agents within the church and communities. Many of the people never knew who they could trust as there were many sell-out Indians (neshnabs) among the people.

    "I am sorry I do not know of the descendants of Mani (Mary, daughter of Menominee, a little girl born in 1835) as she probably had an Indian name and they hid her well. The proof they did their job well to protect her and folks like her is the fact that not much information can be found today."

    Don's parents were Donald and Marian (Young) Perrot. His mother's parents were Frank and Sarah Young, whose parents were Fred and Susan Young. Fred's father was John Young whose wife was Menominee's granddaughter. So it is through his mother that Don is descended from the famous Chief Menominee. Don is a member of the Thunder clan.

    Don is divorced. He has 12 children and 11 grandchildren. He attended elementary and high school in Wisconsin, then the University of Kansas and the University of Minnesota. As a child he spoke only Potawatomi at home but he learned English when he started to school at age six.

    Don has been teaching Potawatomi for 35 years, longer than any other teacher of the Potawatomi language. He wrote two books about teaching the Potawatomi language.

    Because both Don Perrot and Jim Thunder were teaching at the same school last fall, they couldn't both leave at the same time. So Jim and his family came last year, and Don will come this year. Perrot and his family will be honored at the opening ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Chippeway Village stage, and also at the Indian dances from 2 to 4 p.m. both days of the Trail of Courage Sept. 15-16.

    For more information, contact Shirley Willard at 219-223-2352 or