Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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The Potawatomi started the first leg of their migration to Kansas in 1835 and 1836, with a stop in the "Platte Country" of what is now Missouri. This area was designated as a temporary stop in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. This treaty along with the one made at Chicago in 1833, required the tribe to give up five million acres of land in the Great Lakes in exchange for land in Missouri. The Potawatomi received little in return, but were powerless, and they knew it.

With this move, the news brought the usual protest from the settlers in the area. They wanted this land to be included in the state of Missouri and for eventual settlement by people moving west. The politicians agreed with those sentiments and pushed for legislation in the United States Congress to amend the original treaty to get the Indians out of Missouri.

It was at this point in Potawatomi history that disagreements over treaties intensified. All the way through the treaty process, the government would often grab the most gullible member of the villages and have them sign important treaties and the whole tribe would have to move because of this action.

The government offered these "government chiefs" liquor and choice parcels of land --- great for individuals, but bad for the tribe.

In the early years of white contact, tribal members intermarried with the French and later the English, and the offspring of these marriages attended the local Catholic and Baptist missions.

It was with this new education that many of these "mixed bloods" would intercede on behalf of their more traditional brothers who neither understood the English language nor the complex government treaties.

To the government's advantage, many underhanded deals were completed with mixed bloods receiving extra parcels of land or vast quantities of whiskey for their "expertise."

Additionally, the mixed bloods of the tribe usually agreed with the government position, such as when it came time to make concessions, while the traditional portion opposed having to move again.

The Potawatomi had grown to like the area in Missouri which was described as "fertile and well-watered and timberland." But, it was those very attributes of the area that were also coveted by white settlers.

Despite these objections, the mixed bloods negotiated this anyway and signed the treaty revision on February 21, 1835. They agreed to give up the area as a temporary stop in the relocation process and to move further west.

Two million acres were added to the state of Missouri by means of Indian treaties. The government paid the Indians over $13,870 in cash and goods, plus land grants.

The government had agreed to pay the expenses for a group of Potawatomi to explore new areas for relocation, but they came back complaining that the land they were giving up was better than what they were to receive in return. Those arguments, of course, were to no avail and came too late to make any difference.

When the Potawatomi didn't move out fast enough, state officials and settlers became concerned. The state officials wanted to annex the Platte Country to the state and the settlers wanted to live on the rich lands.

Disagreements and incidents ensued causing tension between the two races. To compound these problems, many Potawatomi were still moving to the Platte Country from the north, unaware of the new treaty stipulations. So the government stepped up the removal program.

One tactic of persuasion was to withhold provisions promised the Potawatomi people. The earlier treaty had a stipulation that provided for the government to give provisions (called annuities) to the tribe while they were moving westward and up to a year after they arrived at their final location. Withholding these provisions resulted in mass starvation among the Potawatomi.

Despite these unethical actions, the Potawatomi were still too slow to move out of the area, so the government called in the military for a forced removal. It was then that Major General Edward P. Gaines intervened on behalf of the Potawatomi to get the needed provisions in order to prevent more starvation or a possible uprising.

He also persuaded the tribe to move before anything else drastic happened. By that time, the Potawatomi were eager to get out Missouri, mostly to avoid being overrun by settlers and to escape the victimization by white whiskey peddlers.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, March 23, 1995 and later reprinted in the Potawatomi Traveling Times in Crandon, Wisconsin, 1996.
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