Indiana Indian Day

Join us to apologize for the forced removal of Native American Indians from Indiana.

Adam Friesen, 4th grade teacher at Bethany Christian School, and I have been conferring on this. Please share this letter with your committee and let us know if you are willing to partner with us on Indiana Indian Day Apr. 22, as described below. Please reply what you decide. We hope your group will work with us on this project. Thanks. Shirley

Letter from Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian
3063 S 425 E, Rochester, IN 46975 Phone 574-223-2352
Email: Website:

February 2017
Greetings to all who are interested in Indiana’s Indian history:

We are embarking on a new project and invite you and your group to partner with us. Please show the DVD documentary about the Trail of Death, Like Birds in a Wind Storm, which we are offering to give to you for a program for your group.

Chief Menominee was the leader of the resistance who refused to leave Indiana but Indiana Governor David Wallace came to investigate the disturbance. Some Indians had broken down a white man’s cabin door, and some white men had burned a wigwam. On his way back to Indianapolis, Indiana Gov. David Wallace stopped in Logansport and authorized General John Tipton to hire 100 volunteer militia and remove the Potawatomi from Indiana. They started out Sep 4 and camped the first night at the Tippecanoe River and Michigan Road (Old 31) north of Rochester. They were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sep 5, 1838. The first death occurred at Mud Creek six miles south of Rochester. This became the Trail of Death: 42 died on the way to Kansas, about 100 escaped, and Father Benjamin Petit died on the way home to Indiana.

I asked Gov. Mike Pence to issue an apology to the American Indians for all the forced removals from Indiana. Indiana means “Land of the Indians,” but they were forced to leave and go west. Pence declared Sep 20, 2014, as Potawatomi Trail of Death Remembrance Day. We were grateful for that but still hoping to get Indiana to apologize. This would not be without precedence. In 2013 Kansas Governor Sam Brownback apologized to the Potawatomi and other tribes for the unjust way they have been treated and their trails of tears. The United States Congress apologized to all the Indians in 2010. But it was attached to an appropriations bill and not publicized. When the Indians heard about it, they held a public reading but the news media did not pay much attention. I did not hear about it until 2013 when I saw it on the Internet.

We have learned that if something needs to be done, don’t wait for the government - Do it yourself.

Therefore we are asking you all to partner with us to plan and do a special day for all of us Indiana residents to acknowledge and apologize for the forced removals. We have picked Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017, and are working on the plans. Because the Potawatomi were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street, we feel this would be a logical place to hold this event. We could offer people the chance to park at the north end of Main Street and walk to the Catholic Church at 1310 Main, a distance of about 10 blocks. Instead of carrying rifles, they could bring scrolls with signatures of people who support the apology, including schools, clubs, churches, and groups. At the Catholic Church Fellowship Hall, we could have a ceremony and program.

Ideas for the program: school children tell stories about children on the Trail of Death and other removals, offer hoecakes which is what Rochester housewives gave to the Potawatomi as they went through town in 1838, and show a clear jar of creek water, which was what they had to drink. We would also offer real cookies and good water for refreshments. George Schricker, Plymouth, will sing his “Menominee” song.

We would declare that we the people of Indiana lament that the Native American Indians were forced by our government to leave Indiana. We are saddened and wish it had never happened.

Please discuss this with your group and get back with me on your thoughts. Will you partner with us and get signatures? Will you be able to attend? Do you have ideas for the program? Will you pray for the success of this effort, that it will be healing and spiritual, not political?

Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

About Adam Friesen & 4th Graders

Adam Friesen, 4th grade teacher at Bethany Christian School, Goshen, and I have been conferring on this program. This Mennonite School is very interested in the American Indians being driven from Indiana. There were many removals, from the Delawares in 1820 to the Miami in 1946, and Potawatomi in several removals - the worst being the Trail of Death in 1838. Removals continued until 1851, when Indiana decided it had removed all the Natives from Indiana. It became official state policy that all the Indians had left Indiana and this was taught in the school texts. I know because I taught 8th grade Indiana history at Kewanna School 1960-67.

As Fulton County Historian I interviewed many senior citizens since 1982 and some had Indian ancestors. One man told me that when he and his brothers were kids walking to the one-room schools, the white children would sometimes throw rocks at them and call them “dirty rotten lazy Indians.” Others told me that their grandparents kept it a secret that they were of Indian descent because they were afraid they would be forced to go west and lose their land. Also white people treated them better if they did not know they were Indians.

This is what Adam Friesen recently wrote me:

I have been working quite a bit on our April 22nd event.

  1. There is a Rooted and Grounded conference happening at the local Anabaptist seminary. This conference focuses on spirituality and justice and how those relate to land issues. After talking with the conference planning group, we were surprised that the dates for the conference are April 20-22! Our event fits in perfectly with the theme of the conference, so we are looking at ways that I, or my 4th graders, might work with them. But I’m sure that this conference will bring in a good number of supporters to our event.
  2. If we move forward with this event, there appears to be quite a bit of support from the Mennonite groups in our area. I’ve reached out to the director of our national Mennonite Church organization and I think that there is a real possibility that we could get a representative form that, if not the director himself.
  3. My 4th graders are still planning how to spread the word about our April 22nd event and teach our community about the Potawatomi and the Trail of Death.

I agree that this is a time when people are yearning to hear this story.

Thinking about how our community might have a presence at this event has been in the front of my mind since we talked back in November.

Shirley speaking again:

Now I am inviting you to help with this event and get people to join us in apologizing to the Indians of Indiana, most of whom have left but had ancestors here.

This is a big job and it scares me. I have felt for many years that God is calling me to get Indiana to apologize to the Indians. But I am 80 years old and had back surgery Jan 24, so I cannot no longer go around giving speeches and programs like I used to. If God wants us to do this, I pray He will send us helpers and move the hearts of those in power to feel the pull that we feel. I have cried many many times for the babies and all who died on the Trail of Death.

This is what Millicent Pepion, Navajo from Arizona, said at Chief Menominee statue on their Trail of Broken Promises walk from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, to Washington D.C. “The spirits of the dying babies on the Trail of Death did not know which way to go, back to Indiana or to an unknown place ahead.” Millicent and her friends sprinkled water at each place on the Trail of Death because 1838 was a year of terrible draught and the Indians cried “Bish bish” (water) as they walked in thirst. What water they found was stagnant and carried typhoid, that deadly fever that caused sores and killed over 40 Potawatomi on the 660 mile trek to Kansas in the fall of 1838.

These are some of the stories that need to be told. Please talk to others and invite them to take part April 22 in Rochester for Indiana Indian Day. Help us spread the word, partner with us, help make this happen. Thank you.

Some Indians say they don’t want an apology but equal rights and better living conditions. True, but I do not have the power to give that. And I think an apology is the first step. I know when someone has hurt me, I feel better if they apologize, even though it does not erase the sadness nor make things right. God is calling me to get Indiana to apology to the Indians. It needs to be done. Don’t you agree? Please email or write me your thoughts.

Report Feb 22, from Shirley Willard

We have been sending a free DVD of “Like Birds in a Wind Storm,” to Indiana county historians, museums, libraries, schools, interested people who say they will show it as a program to groups. We got 500 copies and they need to get out to interested people. Just give me the name and address and name of organization or group. We also sent copies to the 11 prisons in Indiana that have Native American Circles. I have heard back from many people on this project and they support it and want to help in whatever way they can.

I talked to the local priest, Father Mike McKinney, of St. Joseph Church, Rochester, where we plan to have the Indiana Indian Day program at 2 p.m. April 22. Here are his suggestions.

  1. The Catholic Church has a format for apologies. First name the sin, then absolution is given, and a representative needs to be there to accept the apology, and reconciliation declared or planned. Focus on future.
  2. Write the wrongs on paper and then burn them.
  3. Close the Main Street in front of the church for at least 5 minutes and the priest will sprinkle Holy Water and dedicate it to peace, recalling the sin that happened, etc. This sounds good to me because several people have told me of feeling evil on our Main Street and wondering where it is coming from. I tell them about the Potawatomi being marched at gunpoint down Main Street Sep 5, 1838.
  4. Have a special place in the church that day for mourning, meditation and prayer. This is what the Holocaust Museum has.
  5. He will contact a Holy Cross priest from Notre Dame and invite him to participate. As you know, Father Petit and other missionary priests were involved with the Potawatomi and Petit went with them on the Trail of Death and died in St. Louis on his way back to Indiana.
  6. There is a group meeting on last Friday of each month at Rochester Library to discuss how to improve Fulton County in many ways, including spirituality, suicide rate, poverty, etc. Our county and area have high suicide rate and people are trying to figure out why and how to help stop it. A couple of women who attended the meeting had told me about it and said that the evil from the Trail of Death had been mentioned. I am not able to attend yet because of my surgery - Humana Insurance is sending me Home Health Care nurse, therapist and a woman who helps me shower 2 or 3 times a week. Until that is over (probably a couple more weeks) I am not allowed to go anywhere but Dr., church and beauty shop. I don’t go to beauty shops because my grandson’s wife is a beautician and cuts my hair for me at home. Father Mike and others who attend will mention our plans at next meeting and tell me what the responses are from individuals in that group.

What do you think of the above? Father Mike has been thinking about it and trying to figure how to help us. I emailed the Governor and applied for the Apology. But whether he apologizes or not, we will go ahead with Indiana Indian Day.

I emailed Wes Clark Jr., the soldier who apologized to the Lakota, and invited him or if he cannot come, give us permission to have a local soldier read his apology to Chief Leonard Crow Dog. Clark’s apology is at the bottom of this page - it is on You Tube. Very moving and accurate.

I also sent a DVD of “Like Birds in a Wind Storm” to Jane Pauley, on CBS Sunday Mornings and asked if she would do a story about it and our seeking an apology from Indiana government. Pauley is originally from Indianapolis.

Your suggestions are most welcome here. Just email me at

A parade on Main Street was suggested but I am afraid of attracting protestors. We want this to be healing and spiritual, not political.

Wes Clark Jr.’s Apology at Standing Rock
(This is from the Internet Dec 5, 2016, on You Tube.)

Wes Clark Jr., the son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO Wesley Clark Sr., apologized to Lakota spiritual leader and medicine man Chief Leonard Crow Dog:

“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”

Hoosiers plan to apologize to Indians April 22 at Rochester

Many people in northern Indiana are planning a special event, Indiana Indian Day, to apologize to the Native American Indians. These people include Mennonites, Catholics and other churches, county historians, museums and schools. There were 14 tribes native to Indiana but most of them left because of the push by white settlers taking over. Two tribes were driven out at gunpoint: the Potawatomi and the Miami. Members of both tribes will attend Indiana Indian Day to accept the apology. Most of them have some white ancestors too, as there are very few people who are 100 percent one ancestry.

It started with Adam Friesen, fourth grade teacher at Elkhart’s Bethany Christian (Mennonite) School, and Shirley Willard, Rochester, who serves as Fulton County Historian, appointed by Indiana Historical Society in 1981. They selected Earth Day, April 22 as a day to apologize to the Native American Indians. Willard applied to Governor Holcomb for an apology to the Indians for the state government driving the Indians out of Indiana - “Land of the Indians.” It is not yet known if the governor will issue an apology but there are several other states, including Kansas, that have already apologized to its natives. Even the U.S. Congress apologized in 2010.

But whether he apologizes or not, Hoosiers are planning to apologize. “If something needs to be done, don’t wait on the government - do it yourself,” is Willard’s motto. She has spearheaded in the last 30 years the erecting of over 80 historical markers on the 660 mile Potawatomi Trail of Death from Indiana to Kansas. Over 30 markers were done by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The apology program will be held at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 1310 Main Street, Rochester, beginning at 2 pm April 22. The Potawatomi were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sept. 5, 1838. Father Mike McKinney will bless Main Street with Holy Water and reclaim the land for peace. The program will then move inside the church. School children will tell stories as if they were on the Trail of Death. A jar of water from the Tippecanoe River will illustrate what they had to drink. The 42 deaths in 1838 were a result of bad water which spread typhoid fever. Rochester housewives gave the Potawatomi hoecakes to eat on their journey. Friesen plans to have hoecakes for people to sample. A number of people will tell their experiences and apologize for Indiana. Public participation is invited.

Willard got involved with the Potawatomi Trail of Death in 1988, the 150thanniversary of the 1838 forced removal from Indiana to Kansas. She saw a letter in HowNiKan, the tribal newspaper of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Shawnee, OK. The letter was from George Godfrey, CPN member, who thought something should be done to commemorate the Trail of Death. Up until then, it was considered a shame and seldom spoken of. Godfrey and Willard organized commemorative caravans every five years to travel the 660 mile Trail of Death across Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. See for photos of 80 historical markers, 1838 diary, history of Father Petit and St. Philippine Duchesne.

Many people have been meeting to share their concerns about the high suicide rate and addiction occurrences in northern Indiana. They have been meeting at libraries, talking about how to improve the situation. Churches and discussion groups have been seeking answers through prayer. Revive Indiana started in Goshen a couple of years ago. Now local missionaries will travel to Dallas to Revive Texas. A movement has started to appreciate the Native American Indians and regret how our government treated them.

“There is an old Indian prophecy that a Great Awakening will start in Indiana and spread across the nation and world, reviving Christianity. We believe it has started,” Willard said.

This is a spiritual movement. Some report ghosts being seen in school halls, feeling evil on Rochester’s Main Street, hearing reports of native sacred sites that have been desecrated, and other phenomenon. With the idea that one reason might be the fact that Indiana drove the Potawatomi out on the Trail of Death, marching them at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sept. 5, 1838, Willard has been contacting people and suggesting that an apology to the Native American Indians would help make this a better place.

She has contacted hundreds of people, sending DVDs of the Potawatomi Trail of Death documentary to schools, county historians, libraries, museums, and churches. Every day people call, write, email or come to visit her. She had back surgery Jan. 24 and is recuperating at home so is not yet recovered enough to drive. The documentary is titled “Like Birds in a Wind Storm” and was enabled by a grant from Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Shawnee, Oklahoma. Many Citizen Potawatomi had ancestors on the Trail of Death. Susan Green, Rochester professional filmmaker “YourStory Digital” made the documentary which features clips from the six caravans from Indiana to Kansas 1988-2013, interviews with Potawatomi elders, re-enactments from the Trail of Courage Living History Festival, and music such as George Schricker’s “Menominee.”

The DVD is being offered free to schools, museums, libraries, and groups that will show it for programs to educate the public. To receive a complimentary copy, email Willard at and give your name, address and group name. Donations are welcome to help cover postage.

Examples of other groups seeking to make the public aware of Native American Indians’s importance in Indiana are the Circle of Stones erected at Prophetstown State Park, the state allowing the Pokagons to buy land for housing and a casino at South Bend, various programs at venues in northern Indiana. On March 22 a new historical marker will be dedicated at Pendleton for the murder of Indians in 1824. Over a dozen news reports have been published in the past month about Native Americans in Indiana.

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This page updated Mar 20, 2017.