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Trail of Death

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.m.  

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 for schedule, registration form, 1838 diary, photos of all 80 historical markers, and more.

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 2008.   

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 participate.”

For more information, schedule, list of motels and a registration form, see Or contact Shirley Willard at 574-223-2352 or

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