Trail of Death Pilgrimage

Spending Veterans Day Honoring Potawatomi
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Bill and I were asked to give a program about the Trail of Death to school children. Bethany Christian School, Goshen, brought 4th graders to Chief Menominee monument at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. Menominee’s statue is south of Plymouth at Twin Lakes.

Brenda Bowyer, WNIT-TV Senior Producer, called and asked to interview me about the Trail of Death, so we combined that with the school program. It is a coincidence that Brenda is the granddaughter of Ed Paxton, Rochester. Bill and I have coffee with Ed at McDonalds.

George Schricker, Plymouth, sang the Menominee song he wrote, and taught the kids to sign the words in sign language. He taught them to sing and sign “Holding the Hoop in Our Hands,” about the circle of life and how the American Indians value the land and the animals, the rivers and plants, the circle of life. It was chilly and the wind made it downright cold when it blew in gusts. George had the students rub their hands together to warm up and at times he and they jumped up and down. It reminded me of rock stars. I looked up at Menominee’s statue and he winked at me.

I told the group of 18 students and 12 adults about Menominee being the leader of the resistance who refused to leave Indiana and how 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, Wallace stopped in Logansport and authorized General John Tipton to hire 100 volunteer militia and remove the Potawatomi from Indiana. They started out Sept. 4 and camped the first night at the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester. They were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sept. 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 told them how I have tried to get Gov. Mike Pence to issue an apology to the 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 Sept. 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.

The school children walked from Menominee statue to Menominee’s Chapel, a mile there and back. Then they rode their vans to the Tippecanoe River where the first camp site on the Emigration that became a Trail of Death. Teacher Adam Friesen gave them each a piece of hoe cake but nothing to drink so they would be thirsty like the Potawatomi children were. They stopped at Rochester courthouse and were given a small cup of water. They went to Mud Creek and were told the story of the Boy Scouts who erected the marker for the baby that died there, the first death on the Trail of Death.

Their pilgrimage was over so they went to the City Park for a sack lunch.

Trail of Death Pilgrimage Litany
By Katerina Friesen.

This was read by the school children on their tour of the Trail of Death from Chief Menominee monument to Mud Creek. The teacher read the regular lines, and the students read the lines in bold type.

Standing where you walked,
We remember you.
Exile under gunpoint,
Loss of sacred land,
We remember you.
Bruised feet and weary bodies,
Choked by dust and heat,
Sickness stalking young and old,
We remember you.

We lament this Trail of Death,
Trail of Broken Promises,
Theft of homelands for white man’s profits.
We lament this Trail of Death.
We lament that our ancestors
did not dwell in peace.

Creator of all, we long for new vision today,
Open our eyes and give us sight
To seek the things that make for peace,
To see the Image of God in all peoples,
Especially those persecuted and oppressed.
Make a new way for us together.
Guide our feet, O Lord, on a Trail of Life.
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This page updated Feb 3, 2017.