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The Potawatomie Indians


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The Potawatomie, signifying "the place of the fire," were closely related to the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes and had a common or similar language, manners and customs. At the beginning of the 19th century, were bound by compact to support each other in  peace and war.


The Potawatomie were divided into two bands -- the Northern of Wisconsin and Michigan (Potawatomie of the Woods), and the Southern, of Illinois and Indiana (the Prairie Band). Their homes were scattered from Lake Superior to the southern shore of Lake Erie, and to the Illinois River, they having crowded the Miami Indians from the vicinity of Chicago.


Potawatomie Rain Dance

Potawatomie Rain Dance, probably at the Prairie Band Reservation in Kansas, 1920.

The first treaty between the tribe and the United States government was made at Fort Harmar, Ohio, the Commandant at the fort, Arthur St. Clair, being Commissioner on the part of the United States. This, like the treaty negotiated at Greenville by General Anthony Wayne on August 3, 1795, the one negotiated at Fort Wayne by William Henry Harrison in June, 1803, and several that succeeded, was a treaty of peace and settlement of boundaries with the Potawatomie, in common with the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes. At the Greenville Treaty, the first annuities were paid the Potawatomie, the amount being $1,000. This treaty was signed by the chiefs of the Potawatomie of the River St. Joseph and of the Potawatomie of Huron.

During the war of 1812 with Great Britain, a portion of the tribe allied themselves with that nation, and under the leadership of Sunawe-wone, Chief of the Prairie Band, made war upon the Americans, and were engaged in the Massacre at Fort Dearborn in present-day Chicago. A treaty was made with this band at Portage des Sioux, on July 18, 1815, William Clark, Ninian Edwards and August Choteau being United States Commissioners. By the terms of this treaty, the tribe again placed themselves under the protection of the United States, were reinstated in their privileges, and solemnly agreed to preserve "perpetual peace and friendship" with the Americans. The treaty was signed by Sunawe-wone, and it is said that it was never broken by his band. The following September, a general treaty with the remainder of this tribe and others was made near Detroit, Michigan.

By the treaty of August 29, 1821, at Chicago, the Potawatomie of the St. Joseph River, Michigan, ceded a large portion of their land, reservations being granted to John, James, Abram, Rebecca and Nancy Burnett, "which are children of Kaw-kee-me, sister of Top-ni-be," principal chief of the Pottawatomie nation. Land was also reserved to the Bertrands and the Beaubiens.

On September 26, 1833, a treaty was concluded at Chicago, by which the United Potawatomie, Ottawa and Chippewa tribes ceded to the United States about five million acres. By this treaty, the Potawatomie were assigned a tract between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers for a permanent home. Their first location was in the irregular triangle afterward known as the "Platte Purchase," then a part of the Indian Territory. In 1836, the land thus occupied became a part of Missouri, and those of the Potawatomie who had removed to the reservation, numbering between 1,000-2,000, again removed to a tract above the northern line of Missouri, in what is now Southwest Iowa, their village being on the river near the present site of Council Bluffs.



 Kee-Waw-Nay  Potawatomi Village in Indiana

Kee-Waw-Nay Potawatomi Village, council

 between Potawatomi leaders and U.S. government representatives in July 21, 1837 to settle details for

 the impending removal of the Potawatomi from

 northern Indiana. Painted by George Winters.

By treaty of February 11, 1837, the United States agreed to convey "to the Potawatomie of Indiana a tract of country on the Osage River, southwest of the Missouri River, sufficient in extent and adapted to their habits and wants."


The tract selected was in the southwest part of what is now Miami County. The Potawatomie of the Woods and the Mission Band settled on this tract, made many improvements, and remained nine years, when the United States granted to the tribe a tract bought from the Kanza Indians. The two bands disposed of their lands on the Osage River and in Iowa, for the sum of $850,000, and in 1847 moved to the new reservation. The treaties were made June 7 and 17, and the tract granted was described as "a tract of land containing 576,000 acres, being thirty miles square, and being the eastern part of the lands ceded to the United States by the Kanza tribe of Indians on January 14, 1846.


The tract adjoined the Shawnee Indians on the south, and the Delaware and Shawnee on the east, on both sides of the Kansas River." it was located in the present-day counties of Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, Jackson and Shawnee, Kansas.

In 1850, a band of Michigan Potawatomie, numbering about 650, joined the tribe at St. Marys. The two bands occupied the reservation in common from 1847 until November 15, 1861, when a treaty was made with the tribe, by the provisions of which "land was to be allotted in severalty to those members of the tribe who have adopted the customs of the whites, and desire to have separate tracts assigned to them," and a portion of the reserve was to be assigned, in a body, to those who should prefer to hold their land in common. The Mission Band generally were allotted land in severalty. The Prairie Band elected to continue tribal relations.



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