Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


Go back to previous page Return to table of contents

In Potawatomi history, treaties made with the federal government usually translated into bad news and huge losses of land.

The last two treaties made in 1861 and 1867 were no exception.

In the 1850s and 1860s, tribal factionalism, encouraged by outside interests, flared to the point in which a split of the tribe was inevitable. While this was bad enough, add in railroad fraud and not so well-meaning religious interests, and these factors were enough to bring about another sad chapter in Potawatomi history.

The "divide and conquer" theory of the past was again successful, and the Potawatomi actively pursued this course, becoming the big loser again --- a recurring theme throughout Potawatomi history.

In a few short years after the relocation to Kansas, the problems between the two bands manifested themselves so that a split of the factions was the only answer. The political and religious differences were beyond repair. At this point in history, 1861, there were 2,170 Indians living on the 30-mile reservation.

Of this total, 1,400 Potawatomi wanted to take their land allotments as individuals and sell them. They had ambitions to become citizens of the United States and to no longer be considered Indians. They were seduced by the prospect of enrichment as land speculators and traders.

The other 780 stood firm for communal holdings. They were neither interested in becoming citizens nor rejecting their heritage. These Potawatomi remembered the past and all the land lost at the mere mention of a treaty. In fact, one of the least known and forgotten chiefs of the Potawatomi is Wab-sai or "White Robe" who counseled his people to stick together.

He said, "You will become paupers if you sell."

Although in most tribal matters an elder's advice is usually heeded, the wise words of the old chief were disregarded. One reason was the influence of the Jesuits upon the 1,400 future "citizen" Potawatomi.

The Jesuits had their own agenda and motivations. They urged the Indians to sign treaties which dissolved communal holdings and conveyed private title of parcels to individual Indian families and persons.

The federal government, in return for this cooperation, would grant title to the Jesuits of 320 acres for a mission with the idea to guarantee continued services to the tribe.

In fact, the wording of the 1861 treaty said the land was given to the Catholic church "on the condition that as long as the Potawatomi shall occupy its present reservation, the land shall be used exclusively to the maintenance of a school and church for their benefit."

The Baptist Board of Missions also received 320 acres under the same conditions.

Both the Jesuits and Baptists established schools on these plots and did a commendable job in educating the Potawatomis who wanted it, but in later years the practice stopped. Educating the Potawatomi forever was another hollow promise and only a pretense to get the land.

But there was added incentive for the missionaries. Once the railroad purchased the surplus lands, which amounted to two thirds of the reservation, the railroad would resell a thousand acres to the Jesuits for fractional price to enlarge the mission holdings.

Additionally, Jesuits were able to buy more land from individual Indian owners to further their land holdings.

For Jesuit cooperation, the railroad promised to use its influence in Washington to promote other Catholic interests and to dampen anti-Catholic sentiment. As a result, the Catholic Indian leadership among the tribe quickly went to work to promote the package to the rest of its members.

As an incentive, the Federal government would give U.S. citizenship in five years to those accepting sectionizing (individual land-ownership) and would also use the threat of troops and forced removals to create an atmosphere conducive to the desired choice.

The strategy worked.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, April 20, 1995 and later reprinted in the Potawatomi Traveling Times in Crandon, Wisconsin, 1996.

Go back to index - - 16 - - Go on to next page

Return to: Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe Language
A Kansas History & Kansas Heritage Group site.