Chief Menominee
TV NEWS reporter
Father Benjamin Petit
William Polke (U.S. Government Representative)
General John Tipton (carries long rifle)
U.S. Soldier (carries flag)
5 Potawatomi Indians - 2 men, 2 women and a child (either boy or girl)
Billy Ward - age 6
Mrs. Ward - Billy’s mother
Pioneer woman, carries basket of hoe-cakes

Note: The Woodland Indians lived in wigwams, which are not portable. When traveling, they used teepees, the first mobile homes.

REPORTER --- I am your traveling news reporter and today we have a special report from Twin Lakes, Indiana. Imagine “YOU WERE THERE IN 1838.”

Unrest is rising in Northern Indiana as pioneer families move into Indian territory. Andrew Jackson was President of the United States when the Treaty of 1836 was signed. Under this treaty most of the Potawatomi Chiefs signed away the last lands of the Potawatomi in Indiana and that Treaty also provided for the removal of the Potawatomi to Kansas Territory as soon as possible.

General John Tipton of the U.S. Government has been selected by the Governor to lead the march in moving the Potawatomi West. Here is General Tipton and a letter he received from a friend near Twin Lakes.

GEN. TIPTON --- Dear General Tipton at Logansport,

We have got a problem here in these northern counties in Indiana. I have bought my land fair and square from the government. President Jackson has ordered them to go west. They have agreed to go west. Some went west with the Indian Agent last year. Why do these stubborn Indians around here yet remain?

Let them that can, till and tend the land and use it, not those that waste it.

The state should not have granted these reservations anyways when the earlier treaties were signed, especially to a species of men who murder their own kin, like Paukooshuck murdered his father Chief Aubbeenaubbee. They know no god but whiskey.

Countless cows is getting stole and scuffles with knives is still going on every Saturday night.

This old chief Menominee, egged on by some priests of a suspect and at times traiterus religion, is standing in the way of the whole U.S. government. Who knows when he and his followers may break forth into a massacree in this country, killing, as his ancestors did. The Black Hawk war is not far behind us.

He is an outrage to us and to the U.S. government who he defies. There are those of us who own rifles and know what to do with them.

----- A Friend near Twin Lakes

REPORTER --- The writer of that letter was not very nice. But not everyone felt that the Indians should be removed. Many felt that because the Indians had become farmers, they should be allowed to stay in Indiana. In 1837 Martin Van Buren became U.S. President and he realized there was sympathy building over the plight of the Potawatomi and that if they didn’t get moved out soon, no one would be able to move them from their land. At the treaty council at the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester, Menominee, a very respected chief, stood up and gave the following speech.

MENOMINEE --- 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. When the President 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 will not sign any. I am not going to leave my lands.

GEN. TIPTON --- (Pausing and looking up at the sky) “Ah-h-h, but he will leave”.

REPORTER --- By September 4, 1838, some 859 Potawatomis were rounded up and forced at gunpoint to begin the long 660 mile trek to Kansas. The order of the march was: first, the U.S. flag carried by a dragoon or regular soldier, then one of the officers, next the baggage carts, the jail wagon for six chiefs, one or two chiefs on horseback, and a line of 250-300 men, women and children in single file on foot. On the flanks of the line were the volunteers militia and soldiers, and after this a file of 40 wagons with baggage and Indians.

All actors will march through on stage in this order:
  1. Soldier carrying the U.S. flag on a pole
  2. William Polke in top hat
  3. Indian woman, carrying blanket
  4. Indian woman, carrying baby doll in blanket
  5. Indian man, carrying teepee, folded up
  6. Chief Menominee (with head down)
  7. Indian child, carrying blanket
  8. Indian man, carrying kettle
  9. General Tipton, carrying a gun

REPORTER --- William Polke, Representative of U.S. Government, was 63 years old when he served as the conductor of the Trail of Death march. He was one of the founders of the state of Indiana and helped write the first Indiana Constitution in 1816. I would now like you to meet William Polke, U.S. Government Conductor.

WILLIAM POLKE --- I had a very nasty job, one that would have been enjoyed by a nasty person. I was chosen by the government of my state to do this job because it was widely known that the Potawatomi liked and trusted me. The Indians also liked and respected my wife, who would ride for hours at night to take care of a sick Indian or assist a woman giving birth.

In 1824 and 1825, I was a Baptist Missionary to the Indians near Niles, Michigan. I was a friend of the Potawatomi and I did all I could to alleviate suffering on the treacherous march across 4 states.

REPORTER --- On September 5, 1838, the forced march passed through Rochester, Indiana and that day only 9 miles was traveled. As they marched through Rochester, a line of Indians a mile long could be seen. Sympathetic white settlers gave them hoe-cakes to take on the trip. (Pioneer woman carries basket & gives bread to Indians.)

A little 6 year o1d boy, Billy Ward, followed his Indian friends a mile south of Rochester, wanting to go along, but his mother caught him and took him home. (Mrs. Ward catches Billy & pulls him off stage to take him home.)

Water was very scarce, 54 Indians were too sick to travel, and were left at Chippeway, a village on the Tippecanoe River. When they camped that night at Mud Creek, a child was born and a child died. As they marched across Indiana, the roads were choking with dust, the heat was sweltering and the water, if found, was stagnate. (Indians march & appear hot & tired.)

Of the Indian chiefs on the march, one of the wisest and most stubborn was Chief Menominee.

MENOMINEE --- For many years Indians and animals lived peacefully on the land together. Then white men moved in and Indians ceded their land to United States for 50 cents to $l an acre and agreed to move west of the big Mississippi River. When our families and other tribes were rounded up to move, I was put in a wooden jail on a wagon along with two other chiefs: Black Wolf & Pepinawa (pe-pin-a-wa). Some of my family was left behind due to sickness and age. Days were hot and dry and “bish”, our Potawatomi word for water, was very scarce.

(Indian enters and holds gourd dipper out, saying “bish, bish”.)

REPORTER --- On the evening of Sept. 5, they camped at Mud Creek between Rochester and Fulton. There the first death occurred, a baby died and was buried on the morning of the 7th of Sept. It is not known if the parents stayed behind to bury their baby or if the little bundle was carried with the marching Indians to Logansport, where they camped by the present site of Memorial Hospital. The diary records that so many were sick they set up a temporary hospital for the Indians and called in physicians. Several parties of Indians came and joined the emigration. Some Indians escaped and soldiers were sent to find them but could not. Two more children died at the Logansport encampment. Father Petit and Bishop Brute held Mass for the Indians on Sunday morning, their last Mass in Indiana. The artist George Winter sketched the scene of the Indians leaving Logansport, a long line of marchers and wagons and horses.

(Indian woman and man sadly carry baby in blanket, walk slowly across stage. Father Petit comes and holds cross, kneels and prays.)

On Sept. 10 the march resumed, a long line of Indians leaving Logansport, following the north bank of the Wabash River.

(Same order of march as before: flag soldier, William Polke, Indians carrying belongings, Chief Menominee, Gen. Tipton carrying rifle.)

On Sept. 12 they marched by Battle Ground, the scene of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 which had occurred 27 years before. Some of the older Indians, Gen. Tipton and William Polke remembered being there in that battle. The Indians, under the leadership of The Prophet, had been defeated by Gen. William Henry Harrison’s soldiers. That was their last war - the Potawatomi of Indiana had been at peace with the white people ever since. Because they lost that war, the Indians were a defeated people and had no rights under the government of the United States. Many white people were afraid of Indians and feared that war would come again. The Indians were fearful of the white people too, as many killings had been done on both sides.

On the evening of Sept. 12, the Potawatomi camped near Lafayette. The old mother of Chief We-wis-wa died, said to be over 100 years old. Every day more children died and were buried in unmarked graves by the roadside..

WILLIAM POLKE --- During the first week of the march I realized we needed to send for Father Petit. Over 300 Indians and some of our volunteers were sick and some were dying every day. Typhoid fever from impure water caused many deaths of Indians, settlers and white residents too in the towns we passed by.

REPORTER --- Father Benjamin Petit helped to provide religious services and went with the Potawatomi to visit the graves of their dead before they were forced to leave Indiana. Here is Father Petit.

FATHER BENJAMIN PETIT --- I joined the march shortly after they reached the Illinois state line. William Polke and I did everything we could for the suffering Indians. We hired doctors along the way, we issued tea and sugar as the only medicine we had, and allowed the young Indians to go hunting to increase the supply of food.

(Indian enters with a fish on stick and lays it across campfire, then sits by teepee.)

I was sent to Twin Lakes area to replace Father Deseille when he died in 1837. As an educated French Missionary, I tried to follow the path as started by Father Deseille. He had urged the Indians to resist removal. I tried to take a more neutral position. Because of my ability to get along with the Potawatomi and my great love and devotion to them, I was asked by General Tipton to accompany the march west.

REPORTER --- At the end of the first ten days of the march, the group reached the Illinois state line. They had traveled 155 miles, 12 had died, several hundred were sick and many had been left behind.

FATHER PETIT --- William Polke put me in charge of the sick and asked me to minister to the spiritual needs of the Indians. At the request of the Indians I led worship services and the Indians were allowed to rest on Sundays. After crossing the state line into Illinois, when I joined the emigration, I encouraged the officials to let chiefs out of the jail wagon and I baptized several dying babies.

Later I wrote a letter to Bishop Brute: “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. I baptized several who were newly born - happy Christians, who with their first step passed from earthly exile to the heavenly sojourn.”

WILLIAM POLKE --- At the Illinois state line General Tipton left us and returned to Logansport. From the eastern Illinois line on to Kansas, I was the Federal Conductor in full charge. I tried very hard to meet the needs of both the Indians and the volunteer soldiers and wagon drivers on the way.

This is what my secretary wrote in our diary on Sept. 23rd: “Left our encampment at 9 o’clock, having been detained for an hour at the request of the Rev. Petit, who desired to perform service. The day was clear and cold. Our way lay across another portion of Grand Prairie, which, as was the case yesterday, we found without timber for 15 miles. Physicians reported the health of the camp still improving. ’The number of sick,’ the report says. ’is forty. There have been two deaths since my last report, and four or five may be considered immediately dangerous.’ A child died early this morning. One also died on the way to our present encampment. Distance traveled today 15 miles. We are at present encamped on the Sangamon River, along the banks of which our route tomorrow lies. Subsistence: beef and flour - better however, than usual.”

REPORTER --- During the 5th week 95 miles were covered, crossing part of Illinois. At Jacksonville a child fell from the wagon and was crushed by wheels. They marched into Jacksonville town square where presents of tobacco and pipes and food were given to the Indians by citizens. The Jacksonville town band played and escorted the Indians around the town square.

(Flag man enters with musical instrument, pretends to play for 4 marching Indians. Pioneer woman offers them gifts of food.)

At Naples, Illinois, nine hours were spent fording the Illinois River. Here they were able to wash clothes and make moccasins. Still hunting for water, which was found only in stagnant ponds. Subsistence: beef, flour and potatoes. The flour was made into flat pancakes or tacos.

(Indian enters with small basket of potatoes, sits by the other Indian.)

FATHER PETIT --- On October 10th at Quincy, Illinois, we crossed the Mississippi River in ferry boats and entered Missouri. Permission was granted to remain in camp each succeeding Sabbath for devotional services. We attended Mass at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.

REPORTER --- Crossing Missouri the weather was cooling, but very dusty. Water was still scarce, but health was improving. Upon arrival at Paris, MO, beef, straw, potatoes and corn was distributed.

(Indian enters with basket of corn, puts it by teepee and all 3 Indians exit.)

WILLIAM POLKE --- We marched on across Missouri averaging 12 to 15 miles a day, the health of the Indians improving with the coming of cool weather. On Nov. 2 we crossed the Kansas State line just south of Kansas City.

FATHER PETIT --- On November 4 we reached the end of the long march. At 2 o’clock we crossed the Osage River where the Indians were met and welcomed by many of their friends who had emigrated from Indiana the year before in 1837. At half-past three we reach Potawatomi Creek, the end of our destination.

CHIEF MENOMINEE --- We have now arrived at our journey’s end. The government must now be satisfied. We have been taken from homes affording us plenty, and brought to a desert - a wilderness; and are now to be scattered and left as the husbandman scatters his seed. (Note --- Historically this speech was made by Chief Pe-pish-kay rather than Chief Menominee.)

WILLIAM POLKE --- The Indians asked me to stay on with them. I needed to return to Indiana, but I did leave my son with them and I promised to return.

REPORTER --- The long march across Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and into Kansas resulted in a total of 668 miles traveled in a two months and 41 persons died. This is called the “Trail of Death.”



Trail of Death - Letters of Benjamin Marie Petit, Indiana Hist. Soc., 1941.

“Journal of an Emigrating Party of Pottawattomie Indians 1838,” (Diary of Trail of Death), Indiana Magazine of History, 1925.

“Doings in Fulton County” by William Ward in book: Home Folks - A Series of Stories by Old Settlers of Fulton County, Indiana, vol. 1, Marguerite Miller, 1910, reprinted by Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana.

Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail, Fulton County (Indiana) Historical Society, 1996.

Lords of the Rivers, by Nancy Niblack Baxter, 1988.

John Tipton Papers, vol. 3, 1834-39, Indiana Historical Society, 1942.

Indians and A Changing Frontier - the Art of George Winter, Indiana Historical Society, 1993.



This original play was written by Dora Mae Cravens, Huntsville (MO) Historical Society, 1997, for schools in Missouri. It was edited by Shirley Willard, Fulton County (IN) Historical Society in 1998 so that it fits the schools of Indiana.

William Polke was the first white settler in Fulton County, Indiana. He was the surveyor of the Michigan Road, which is Indiana 25 between Rochester and Logansport. He had a trading post on the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester. His house, built in 1832, was the first frame house north of the Wabash River. It was in this house that Gen. John Tipton slept the night before he rounded up the Indians, and he sat in this house to write his letters and orders for the volunteer soldiers (militia) that came and rounded up the Indians. Polke’s house has been moved to the Fulton County Historical Society grounds where it is part of the Living History Village called Loyal, Indiana. The Trail of Courage Living History Festival is held on the FCHS grounds the third weekend of September each year since 1976. Each year a different Potawatomi family is honored, that had ancestors on the Trail of Death or signed treaties in Indiana. Every five years the Potawatomi Trail of Death commemorative committee organizes a Commemorative Caravan to trail the original route from Chief Menominee’s statue south of Plymouth, Indiana, to the end of the trail at Osawatomie, Kansas, and on about 20 miles south to where the Potawatomi lived 1838-1840 at St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek. Caravans have traveled in 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008. The Trail of Courage Living History Festival will be Sept. 19-20, 2009.

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This page updated Jul 21, 2016.