Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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The Potawatomi occupation of the Platte Country was indicative of the lack of organization that plagued Indian removal during the 1830s. Part of the dilemma was the result of poor communication upon the western frontier, but federal policy makers, Indian agents, and Indian leaders also contributed to the problem.

Federal officials never should have acquired the Platte Country as a relocation region for Indians. Surely, a precursory glance at western geography should have convinced them that the area soon would be overrun by whites and attached to Missouri.

It was finally decided by the factions in the tribe to have one group go to the present area of Council Bluffs, Iowa and the other group was to go to a sub-agency in Kansas.

The group going to Council Bluffs was to become the Prairie Band of Potawatomi. The group going to the new sub-agency on the Marais des Cygnes River in Lynn County, Kansas was to eventually become the Citizen Band of Potawatomi.

The tribal members who went to this new area of Iowa, the Prairie Band, wanted a greater share of political and economic independence to avoid the damaging efforts to make them part of white society and to sustain a distinctive Potawatomi culture and social identity that the tribe had maintained for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the white civilization.

Potawatomi leaders spent the next full decade fending off American efforts to remove and civilize them. They tried to restore tribal morale and develop skills that would serve their descendants well in later generations. They were successful, partly because Iowa was more isolated, both geographically and culturally.

The location was 200 miles from the nearest American settlement, government offices and missionary establishments. They were cut off from contact with the outside world nearly half the year. It was even rare for the Indian agents to spend more than six months in Council Bluffs.

But the tribe deliberately isolated themselves in social ways, erecting a barrier around their communities, refusing to have anything to do with missionaries or the distant white schools. The land was described as uninhabited except for wandering parties of Otoes and Sioux.

Old grudges emerged during this time. The Sioux, called the "little snake" by the Potawatomi in earlier times, had already sent a pipe to the Omahas and Otoes inviting them to join in a war excursion against the Potawatomi even before they arrived in Council Bluffs. This well known hostility came from time immortal between the Dakota band and all the Indians of the stock of the Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Chippewas.

In addition, the Potawatomi requested the government to create a military fort near their boundaries to keep the peace with the Otoes who threatened to kill them and their stock.

Meanwhile, the government used this perceived threat of war with the Sioux and Otoe as one of the reasons to continue the Removal Policy, and such plans began as early as August of 1839.

Captain John Gantt was instructed by Joshua Pilcher, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to organize a party of Potawatomi for the purpose of examining and exploring the country of what is now Kansas.

In addition, when the territory of Iowa was established in 1838, agitation started among the whites to expel the Indians, and the government sought a speedy removal of the Potawatomi. They cited as a factor that to not remove the tribe would mean remaining a territory longer instead of becoming a state. Thus, the pressure of the expanding frontier failed to diminish the influx of settlers which was unrelenting.

Ironically even the "traders of Missouri" objected to the proposed removal. They feared this would put the Potawatomi out of their reach. Over the years, they had grown accustomed to taking advantage of the tribe by cheating them out of their annuities and selling liquor to tribal members.

This move would cost them dearly.

Finally, when it looked as if there was no solution in sight from all these problems, and removal was inevitable, the Potawatomi set out to get the maximum best deal possible. They requested that the government send some of their chiefs and principle men to met President Polk, who they called the Great Father, face to face to iron out all these problems.

These efforts were agreed to, and the delegation to Washington did succeed in getting the initial offer of $250,000 raised to $850,000 for the land in Iowa. By the fall of 1846, all of the Potawatomi had abandoned their villages in Iowa, making the move to Kansas.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, March 30, 1995 and later reprinted in the Potawatomi Traveling Times in Crandon, Wisconsin, 1996.
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