Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
PINE CREEK INDIAN RESERVATION "Yesterday, someone told me I should have ended this workshop on a high note. I thought about it. How could I? "asked Kelli Mosteller as she was conducting the "Trail of Death" workshop on Saturday afternoon at the Gathering of the Potawatomi Nations.
Kelli Mosteller PhD - Citizen Potawatomi and
Director of the Cultural Heritage Center
The Potawatomi Trail of Death was the journey of Potawatomi from Indiana to the prairies of Kansas. The 660 mile journey was the forced removal of 859 Potawatomi in 1838. It began in Twin Lakes, Indiana, near Plymouth, on September 4 and ended two months later on November 4.
Sadly, during these two months, over 40 Potawatomi died along the way. Those who died were mostly children and elders. Most of those who died did so as the result of typhoid fever. This is why the journey is known as the Trail of Death.
Facilitating the workshop four times during the course of the Gathering of the Potawatomi Nations, Mosteller, who is the director of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center in Shawnee, Oklahoma, discovered that even among Potawatomi, the vast majority did not know about the Potawatomi Trail of Death.
This Illustration was Drawn by a Potawatomi during
the Trail of Death in 1838
“The first day I asked for a show of hands of how many people heard about the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Everyone's hand went up. Then I asked about the Long Walk of the Navajo. Most hands went up. But, when I asked the first workshop of 50 people how many knew about the Potawatomi Trail of Death, only about 10 hands went up,”
While the 1838 removal was one of twelve of the Potawatomi from the Great Lakes region, it is the best known because of the stigma associated with the deaths.
The Trail of Death occurred after a Potawatomi leader named Menominee refused to sign a treaty to leave his village at Twin Lakes, Indiana to go to Kansas, as other Potawatomi did. After Menominee's refusal, the governor of Indiana ordered the militia to remove them.
As the deaths occurred, the dead were buried along the route.
“These burials were against the traditions of the Potawatomi, who had certain rituals the performed for their dead. The walk did not allow them the proper time to do what they would have done had they not been traveling. Not only did the Potawatomi have to deal with the loss of their loved ones, but there was doubt about their journey to the spirit world,”
Kelli Mosteller PhD Seeks to Find a High Note
During the workshop, Mosteller pointed to a group ten elders from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation present who are direct descendents of survivors of the Trail of Death.
Mosteller, who will earn a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin this December, said she was pleased on how attentive people in the audience were. Some 120 attended the four, 1½ hour long workshops during the Gathering.
“I guess the high note, if there is one, is we, Potawatomi, have survived from this tragic removal,”
“We can gain strength from knowing there were survivors of the Trail of Death.”
posted August 16, 2012 8:40 am edt