by Delia

 A new original document has been added to The Genealogy Center's Native American Gateway that details the journey of removal of a group of Potawatomie from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. Entitled “Journal of an Emigrating Party of Pottawattamie Indians from the Twin Lakes in Marshall County, Iowa (sic) to Their Homes on the Osage River in the West Territory,” this handwritten document details a journey known as The Potawatomie Trail of Death.

By the 1830s, the federal government already was moving many Native American groups from all over the eastern United States to lands in the west. In the early 1830s, most of the Potawatomie had signed treaties and had already moved, but Chief Menominee’s band at Twin Lakes, near Plymouth, Indiana, refused to leave. Indiana Governor David Wallace instructed General John Tipton to utilize the Indiana Militia to gather the Band for the journey.

The Potawatomie, conducted by William Polk, left their home September 4, 1838, and arrived at Osawatomie in eastern Kansas on November 8, 1838. The heat of late summer, the scarcity of water, and the poor quality of the provisions all contributed to make the reluctant emigrants miserable and susceptible to disease. Forty-two of the 859 Potawatomie died during the journey, and more died after arrival from disease facilitated by exhaustion. Deaths are recounted day by day, such as “A child died to-day” (September 10th), “A child died since we came into camp” (September 10th), and “A very old woman … died since coming into camp” (September 12th), but no one, other than chiefs, are identified by name.

The typed cover of the bound photocopy that The Genealogy Center owns states that these Potawatomie were from Twin Lakes, in Marshall County, Iowa, but the handwritten, original cover properly says “…in Marshall County, IA.” The old abbreviation for Indiana, before Iowa was a state, was “Ia,” hence the error in transcription. Both covers further indicate that the journey was “conducted by Wm. Polk, Esq.,” and, written in a different hand, “Property of Judge William Polk, if called for. S.M.” It is assumed by some that Polk is the author of the diary, but that statement seems to be in dispute.

It has been reported that the Allen County Public Library owns or owned the original journal. However, when queried by a customer recently, all the staff of The Genealogy Center could locate was the negative image photocopy that had been bound. When it was realized that we had such an important document, steps were immediately taken to digitize it and post it on our Native American Gateway page, both for preservation, but also to make the fascinating original document readily available to all.

There are several online sources that can provide more information concerning this document, and the forced journey described, which I have used in the writing of this piece. They are The Pottawatomie Indians of Elkhart and South Bend, by Richard Dean Taylor (2005), the Indiana Magazine of History article on the event (December 1925, last updated 2012), and Wikipedia.

Take a few moments to examine this original document to see the events of one who was there.