Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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Shortly after arriving in Kansas, the Potawatomi had a short-lived battle with a party of Pawnee, west of the reservation with the Potawatomi winning the battle.

This was to be the last battle with another tribe, but many battles lay ahead with the white civilization and those were to be waged in the courts and the halls of the legislators over that premium commodity - land.

For example, a traveler to the area in 1851 commented how some of the tribe had fields of corn, oats and wheat. Some had cattle and many comforts of life yet they had the look of discontent brought upon by constant removal. He said they were fearful that the whites would want their land and move them westward towards the Rocky Mountains.

Several tribal members mentioned to this traveler that they would make additional improvements and bring more land into cultivation if they were certain they could remain.

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill on May 30, 1854, the law had larger implications, but for the Potawatomi it meant another assault on their lands. The territory was opened to white settlement, which less than a quarter of a century earlier (1830) had been set up as Indian Country.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill started a stream of immigrating white settlers who, usually without even waiting for the land to be taken from the Indians by treaty, squatted on the Indians' lands.

At this time, the only persons lawfully in Kansas territory were the Indians, missionaries, squaw men (about 50 men who married Indian women) and few soldiers at the forts. A contemporary observer estimated there were not more than 1,200 in all of Kansas Territory in 1854, with half being single men. The rest were squatters on Indian land.

Another important factor in this period was that much of the west was settled by migration to Sante Fe and Oregon areas and now the lands like the Kansas Territory were suddenly very appealing. The country had experienced the expansionist times of the 1840s, and would leave no lands untouched.

In this context, Indians posed a threat to this expansion, which is why less than ethical land deals occurred. Many tribes, such as the Pawnee, Delaware, and Kanza, etc., in the territory were forced by treaty to move into the future state of Oklahoma.

This disregard for Indian rights was traditional on the frontier. It was no violation to settlers' ethics to intrude upon Indian lands, but to encroach upon squatters' claims was another thing, for that was contrary to the common law of the frontier.

In earlier times, the settlers lobbied their congressman to get necessary treaties signed to get the Potawatomi out of the way of their plans. Later, though, the farmer was more likely to purchase from the land department of the railroads---the Santa Fe, Kansas Pacific, Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific, Burlington or Northern Pacific.

Railroad executives argued their activities were benefiting the public interest and that the government should aid them by giving them the land from public domain. Congress was sympathetic to these pleas and, in order to encourage construction, the government gave railroad companies over 180 million acres, mostly to interstate routes chartered between 1850 and 1871.

These grants usually consisted of a right-of-way, plus alternate sections of land in a strip 20 to 80 miles wide along the right of way. In Kansas, for example, three railroad companies received 19 million acres in grants.

Railroad promoters were eager to attract immigrants from Europe and that wasn't too hard to understand when each new settler meant money for the railroads as well as for the state coffers in tax payments and support for its economy in exportable agricultural surpluses.

Each male immigrant, it was estimated in 1866, was worth $1,500 to the community in the taxes his family would pay and the economic activity he would generate.

This is how entrepreneurs hoped to realize the dream of a transcontinental railroad, first envisioned by Asa Whitney in 1845.

It was in this context that the 30-mile reservation of the Potawatomi Indian tribe, and the other tribes, held a lure for the railroad promoters and land speculators. This choice land lay in the projected path of this new transcontinental railroad.

In fact, when Topeka was founded in 1854, and Shawnee County began filling with settlers, the old demand to move the Indians off that rich land was heard all the way from Kansas to Washington.

It was in this context that the 30-mile reservation of the Potawatomi Indian tribe, and the other tribes, held a lure for the railroad promoters and land speculators. This choice land lay in the projected path of this new transcontinental railroad.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, April 13, 1995 and later reprinted in the Potawatomi Traveling Times in Crandon, Wisconsin, 1996.
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