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Native History: Potawatomi Removed at Gunpoint, Trail of Death Begins

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This Date in Native History: On September 4, 1838, mounted militia forced 859 Potawatomi at gunpoint to leave northern Indiana for “Unorganized Territory” in Kansas. And Potawatomi Chief Menominee tried to stop it. Menominee was chief of the largest of four communities, the other three chiefs sold their lands under pressure from the federal government in exchange for lands in the west, but Menominee refused. The Treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832 sold the lands without his approval, according to the Kansas Historical Society.

Chief Menominee accused the government of using whiskey to get the younger tribal chiefs to sell their lands. “I have not signed any of your treaties, and I will not sign any,” Menominee declared.

President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830, which gave him power to negotiate treaties with tribes east of the Mississippi in exchange for lands in the west. Removal was supposed to be voluntary, but it was anything but for tribes who didn’t want to leave their homelands.

RELATED: Today Marks the 182nd Anniversary of the Indian Removal Act


This plaque shows the Trail of Death route from Twin Lakes, Indiana to Kansas.

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“He [Menominee] didn’t want to go west,” Shirley Willard, Fulton County historian and former longtime president of the Fulton County Historical Society in Indiana, told “Kansas is much different from Indiana. ‘I’m not going to go,’ he said.”

The white settlers in the area complained about the remaining Potawatomi to then-Gov. David Wallace, who appointed Gen. John Tipton to lead a removal effort. That was the beginning of the end for Menominee, who was tied up like a dog and forced to go west with the other Potawatomi.

“The President does not know the truth. He, like me, has been imposed upon. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and 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,”?Chief Menominee wrote to Abel C. Pepper, a federal agent, in 1838.

Though not as large as the Trail of Tears—where some 4,000 Cherokee died—some 42 walked on during what became known as the Trail of Death.

The NWITimes reports that since 1976, the Fulton County Historical Society has remembered the removal with a living history festival. Every five years, Potawatomi descendants and others travel the 660 miles from the Chief Menominee monument near Twin Lakes, Indiana to St Phillippine Duchesne Memorial Park in Kansas.


A closer view of the Chief Menominee statue in Plymouth, Indiana.