|Fulton County Historical Society
Trail of Death history trip commemorates 175 years ago
From Sept. 23-29, 2013, a commemorative caravan will retrace the Trail of Death, which took place 175 years ago. It was
the forced removal of the Potawatomi from Indiana to Kansas in the fall of 1838. Every five years descendants of the
Potawatomi join a group of historians and interested people to travel 660 miles from the Chief Menominee monument near
Plymouth to the end of the trail at St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park in Kansas, following the route Menominee and his
followers took on foot and horseback in 1838.
The caravan, led by George Godfrey of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Shirley Willard of the Fulton County Historical
Society, will acknowledge 80 historical markers designating the original Trail of Death campsites every 15 to 20 miles. Rich
Meyer, Millersburg, has created maps and will guide the caravan. All the markers have been erected by volunteers, including
30 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, 4-H, historical societies, individuals, and Potawatomi families. Over 80 historical markers,
mostly big boulders with metal plaques, have been erected at no expense to the taxpayer. Also the Trail of Death has been
marked across Indiana and Kansas with Potawatomi Trail highway signs. Efforts to mark the trail with highway signs
continues in Illinois and Missouri.
All 26 counties in the four states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas have worked with the Fulton county Historical
Society, Rochester, Ind., to help preserve the history of the Trail of Death.
New Potawatomi Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail highway signs will be dedicated at Danville and Monticello, Illinois;
from Brunswick to DeWitt, Missouri; and from Kansas state line to Sugar Creek Mission in Linn County, Kansas.
The original Trail of Death, which witnessed the deaths of 42 Potawatomi during its trying passage through summer heat,
passed through six Indiana counties: Marshall, Fulton, Cass, Carroll, Tippecanoe, and Warren.
The Trail of Death route takes the caravan through Danville, Springfield, Jacksonville, Exeter and Quincy. It crossed
Missouri on Old 24 through Palmyra, Paris, Moberly, Huntsville, Keytesville, Brunswick, Carrollton, Richmond, Lexington,
Independence, and Grand View. A new historical marker will be dedicated this year at Heritage Park, Olathe, Kansas,
research for which was done by Deb Sims, librarian for Spring Hill Middle School, Kansas. The trail winds down at Paola,
Osawatomie and Sugar Creek Mission. The former mission is now the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park, honoring St.
Philippine who was canonized in 1988, the first female saint west of the Mississippi River. She was an elderly missionary to
the Potawatomi in 1841 and was given the name of She Who Prays Always.
Another new historical marker is at Trading Post, Kansas, and will be dedicated Sept. 28 by the caravan members at 5:30 p.
On Sept. 29 they will go to St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park to walk the grounds where the Potawatomi spent the
next 10 years. They will have Mass at 11:00, and share a potluck lunch hosted by Linn County Historical Society. Kansas
Governor Sam Brownback will attend this special occasion. Then the caravan members will bid farewell to all, each person
heading for home.
Caravan members include historians and Potawatomi who had ancestors on the Trail of Death. However, all interested
persons are welcome to travel with the caravan, an hour, half a day, or all the way from Indiana to Kansas. Pre-registration is
encouraged. See www.potawatomi-tda.org for schedule, registration form, 1838 diary, photos of all 80 historical markers,
The Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan is sponsored by the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, a branch of the
Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana. Their goal of the caravan is to make the public aware of this history
and to provide a setting for people to meet and greet Potawatomi, shake their hand, give them a hug. This earth needs more
love and friendship, not bitterness and sadness. They hope for spiritual blessings during and after this journey, just as there
have been during and after past caravans. The Trail of Death caravan traveled every five years: 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, and
Shirley Willard, who is Fulton County Historian and a long-time leader in the movement to recognize Native American
Indians in Indiana, says: “When I taught Indiana history in the 1960s, I noted the text made it sound like the Potawatomi just
dropped off the face of the earth. ‘The last of the Potawatomi went west in 1838.’ They did not follow up with what happened
to them in Kansas. The Bicentennial in 1976 was like a shot in the arm for history. We started the Trail of Courage and
reached out to the Potawatomi. We found that they are a kind and loving people, very intelligent and friendly. They have
become family to my husband and me.” And, she adds, “The caravan is both adventure and spiritual journey for all who
For more information, schedule, list of motels and a registration form, see www.potawatomi-tda.org. Or contact Shirley
Willard at 574-223-2352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trail of Courage honors three Potawatomi speakers
The Fulton County Historical Society produces the annual Trail of Courage, a living history festival at the Fulton County
Historical Society grounds four miles north of Rochester, Indiana on US 31 and Tippecanoe River. The Trail of Courage is
the third weekend of September, which is Sept. 21-22, 2013. Since 1976 this festival has honored the Potawatomi by
showing life in frontier Indiana when this was still Potawatomi Territory. It also features other nationalities who were here
such as British, German, Scottish, Irish, and African.
Special this year will be three Potawatomi speakers who had ancestors on the Trail of Death, members of the Citizen
Potawatomi Nation, headquartered at Shawnee, Ok. Each year a different Potawatomi family is honored. Peggy King
Anderson will represent the Honored Potawatomi Family this year, whose ancestor, John Anderson, was 13 years old on the
removal. Peggy’s son designed the logo used by the Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn. on its highway signs that mark the
Trail of Death. George Godfrey, Athens, Ill., wrote two books about his ancestor Josette Watchekee, and will sell them at the
festival. Sister Virginia Pearl, Concordia, Kansas, will tell about her ancestor Theresa Slavin, who was a little girl on the Trail
Re-enactors set up historic camps and live the pre-1840 frontier era for the weekend. Children enjoy dipping candles,
Indian and pioneer dancing, tug of war, tomahawk throwing contests, and shopping in the many tents and trade blankets for
pioneer toys, necklaces and clothes.
Everybody enjoys the canoe rides on the Tippecanoe River. Adults and elderly love the history, joining the dances or
memories of dancing long ago, talking to people representing the different nationalities from British and Scots to French to
American, including American Indians.
Two stages feature music and dance, history programs and first person interpretations, such as Chief Tecumseh and Ben
Foods cooked over wood fires include buffalo burgers, vegetable soup, barbecue, apple sausage, chicken - noodle soup,
corn on the cob, turkey legs, and more. Also apple dumplings, ice cream and other old-fashioned desserts.
Admission is $7 adults, $3 children six to 11 years old, and free for kids 5 and under. Free admission can be earned by
working a four hour shift at the museum and its village called Loyal, Indiana, or at the festival, ahead of time getting ready or
cleaning up afterward. Call the museum at 574-223-4436, open Mon. - Sat. 9 to 5, closed holidays. See www.
fultoncountyhistory.org for more information.
Photo ID: The original Trail of Death caravaners pause at the monument at Chief Winamac’s Old Village in Carroll County
near Delphi, Indiana, in 2008. From left, George Godfrey, Tom Hamilton, Sister Virginia Pearl, Bob Pearl, Shirley and Bill
Willard. They started the commemorative caravan in 1988, and many others have joined in. The caravan this year will be
Sept. 23-29, 2013. This will be the sixth caravan which travels every five years.
Smithsonian creates exhibit about Trail of Death
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian.
The National Museum of the American Indian, a part of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D C., is working on an
exhibit on the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Carolyn Gilman and Christopher Turner, NMAI employees, have contacted me for
photographs and to proofread the wording and the map. I am so happy that after over 30 years of work to preserve this
history and get it recognized by the national media, it is beginning to happen. They have referred to our website www.
potawatomi-tda.org and our book Potawatomi Trail of Death – 1838 Indiana to Kansas, which we published in 2003.
They asked me for some quotes to use in the exhibit. Here are my suggestions, taken from newspapers and our writings. I
wonder which ones they will use.
“Menominee, the man who won’t sign,
won’t give up his honor or put his land on the line,
They cut down your garden, left hardly a trace
of your beautiful soul or your beautiful race.”
George Schricker, Plymouth, Indiana, in song he wrote: “Menominee.”
“It’s a deeply spiritual journey because it always recalls that first journey that our great- grandmother as a child would’ve
walked… Mother called it The Long Walk. Her voice would change when she talked about it so we knew a lot of suffering
took place. The story was always told through Theresa’s eyes.” – Sister Virginia Pearl, csj, Concordia, Kansas, Citizen
Potawatomi, descendent of Theresa Slavin.
“Her name was Equa ke sec and her name means the risen sun or the rising generation. Her English name was Theresa
Slavin. There were very few children who survived the trip because of illness. My great-grandmother was just a little girl, but
she made it and we are the ‘rising generation,’ who are now commemorating what she went through.” – Sister Virginia
Pearl. Citizen Potawatomi, comment made on 2003 Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan, quote in Liberty Bee-Times,
“I believe Father Petit was a saint. He was a tremendous friend of the Indians. He understood them, and he loved them –
and they loved him. I believe he’s watching over us. He’s still watching over the Potawatomi and will continue to. “ – Tom
Hamilton, Citizen Potawatomi, descendent of Abram Burnett who was on the 1838 Trail of Death and was same age and
good friend of Benjamin M. Petit. Burnett was mentioned several times in Petit’s letters and journal. Burnett accompanied
Petit back east to St. Louis where Petit died. Petit was so sick that Burnett had to hold him on the horse they rode the last few
Nearly every American Indian tribe suffered removal marches in the 1800s. The Potawatomi were rounded up by volunteer
militia and began their trek at Twin Lakes south of Plymouth, Indiana. They were marched at gun point down Rochester’s
Main Street on September 5, 1838. They walked 660 miles in 60 days, losing more than 40 elders and babies to death from
disease and stress. Mindful of this sad event, the Fulton County Historical Society founded its annual Trail of Courage Living
History Festival as a Bicentennial event in 1976. The first Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan was held in 1988, marking
the 150th anniversary of the march from Indiana to Kansas.
“It was a shock and a blow to their culture, and to each Indian personally, when they were rounded up like cattle and forced
to go west to a place that was much drier and hotter, and where wild life was less abundant, and it was harder to raise corn
than in their homelands. It was at this time that most Potawatomi bands, and other tribes, from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois
and Wisconsin were also being forced to go west so that whites could have their homelands. Some escaped to Mexico or to
Canada, and many of their descendants still live there.” – Tom Hamilton, Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
“It was on Sunday, September 16 … I saw my poor Christians, under a burning noonday sun, amidst clouds of dust,
marching in a line, surrounded by soldiers who were hurrying their steps.
“I found the camp … - a scene of desolation, with sick and dying people on all sides. Nearly all the children weakened by
the heat, had fallen into a state of complete languor and depression…
“Early the next morning they (the soldiers) heaped the Indians into the baggage wagons … On the flanks of the line at equal
distance from each other were the dragoons and volunteers, hastening the stragglers, often with severe gestures and bitter
words. (Then) came a file of forty wagons filled with luggage and Indians. The sick were lying in them, rudely jolted, under a
canvas which, far from protecting them from the dust and heat, only deprived them of air, for they were as if buried under this
burning canopy – several died thus. ” -- Father Benjamin M. Petit, who accompanied the Potawatomi on the Trail of Death.
As each Catholic Indian died, the priest wrote that “…the grave would be dug; the family, sad but tearless, stayed after the
general departure; the priest, attired in his stole, recited prayers, blessed the grave, and cast the first shovelful of earth on
the rude coffin; the pit was filled, and a little cross placed there.” These “little crosses” were scattered throughout Indiana,
Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. – Miss Pamela Nolen, member and volunteer at St. Xavier Church, Vincennes, Indiana, where
Rev. Benjamin Petit’s chalice is displayed.
“It was illegal and we hope people learn to get along together and not let things like this happen again.” – Shirley Willard,
Fulton County Historian, Rochester, Indiana. “We cannot change history and what’s past is past. But we can reach out to the
descendants of the Trail of Death to let them know that the people of Indiana no longer feel like the settlers in the 1830s who
drove them out. We can offer friendship and respect, and we can welcome them when they come to Indiana, the land of their