History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


The Potawatomi Indians

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The Potawatomi, 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, they were bound by compact to support each other in peace and war.


The Potawatomi were divided into two bands -- the Northern of Wisconsin and Michigan (Potawatomi 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.


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 Potawatomi, in common with the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes. At the Greenville Treaty, the first annuities were paid the Potawatomi, the amount being $1,000. This treaty was signed by the chiefs of the Potawatomi of the River St. Joseph and of the Potawatomi of Huron.


Potawatomie Rain Dance

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




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 Potawatomi 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 Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa tribes ceded to the United States about five million acres. By this treaty, the Potawatomi 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 Potawatomi 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, Iowa.

By treaty of February 11, 1837, the United States agreed to convey "to the Potawatomi 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."


One band of Potawatomi, led by Chief Menominee refused to leave their homelands at their Twin Lakes village in Indiana. Menominee was soon joined by hundreds of other Potawatomi who did not want to leave their homeland. Over time, Menominee's band grew from four wigwams to more than a hundred in 1838. However, in August, 1838, they were forced by soldiers to begin a march to Kansas, which is now known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death. During the forced removal, 42 of  the 859 Potawatomi had died.


The tract selected was in the southwest part of what is now Miami County. The Potawatomi 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.


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.


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 Potawatomi, 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.


An accurate census of the tribe was then taken, showing the names and ages of those desiring lands in severalty, and of those desiring lands in common, and designating the chiefs and head men of the tribe. Each adult then chose his own allotment, and each head of a family chose for the minor members with  chiefs assigned one section; head men, one half-section; heads of families, one quarter-section; and other members of the tribe, eighty acres each.


Article 4 provided that those members of the tribe desiring to continue tribal relations and hold lands in common should have an undivided tract, equal to the same quantity for each person, as those received who chose allotments.


Article 5 provided for the sale of the remainder of the lands to the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad, at $1.25 per acre, under certain conditions.


Lands were conveyed to John F. Diel, John Summaker, and M. Gerilain, in trust, for school and church purposes, for St. Mary's Catholic Mission, and a reservation of 320 acres, including Baptist Mission buildings to the Baptist Board of Missions.


This treaty was made at the Potawatomi Agency at Rossville, Kansas on November 15, 1861, between William W. Ross on the part of the United States, and the chiefs and head men of the tribe. It was signed by Shawque (chief), To-penubbee (chief), We-weh-seh (chief), Shomen (brave), and Joseph N. Bourassa, George L. Young, B. H. Bertrand, M. B. Beaubien, L. H. Ogee, John Tipton and Lewis Vieux.


Chief Strong Arm, Potawatomi, photo by C.F. Squires, 1909. This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!


When the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad Company (Union Pacific) did not buy the Potawatomi lands, a treaty was concluded in 1867, that provided for the sale to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company.


In 1870, those of the Christian or Mission Band who so desired, moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), the last payment to the tribe being made in that year. The annuities, which amounted to about $80,000, had been for many years paid at Rossville.


The Prairie Band, which numbered 780 at the time of the treaty, was given 77,357 acres in whole, or a tract of about twelve miles square, upon which they still live in Jackson County, Kansas. In 1883, there were about 440 Potawatomi in Jackson County, Kansas, 280 in Wisconsin, 30 in Iowa and 24 in Indian Territory.





Today the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi continue to hold their reservation in northeast Kansas. More history and current information regarding the tribe can be found at:


Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation

16281 Q Road

Mayetta Kansas 66509-8970


The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is located in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation
1901 S. Gordon Cooper Dr.
Shawnee, Oklahoma 74801


More Potawatomi continue to live in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada.


Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, March, 2017.


Prairie Band Potawatomie Pow Wow

The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation hosts a pow-wow each year where visitors are invited to attend. Photo courtesy Travel Kansas.


About the Article: The majority of this text was published in Kansas: History of the State of Kansas, by William G. Cutler; SA. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1883. However, the text that appears on these pages is not verbatim, as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.



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