Since 1988 the Potawatomi Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan has been organized and traveled once every five years by a group of Potawatomi and historians and interested persons the third week of September. The 660 mile journey from Indiana to Kansas begins immediately following the annual Trail of Courage Living History Festival, Sept. 15-16, 2018, at Fulton County Historical Society grounds, four miles north of Rochester, Indiana, on US 31 and Tippecanoe River.
The Trail of Courage portrays frontier Indiana with historic camps, canoe rides, foods cooked over wood fires, two stages with period music and dance, Indian dances, traditional crafts, and much more. All vendors are pre-1840 style.
Potawatomi who had ancestors on the 1838 Trail of Death are honored at this festival, a different family each year. In 2018 it will be Gary Wiskigeamatyuk, enrolled member of Prairie Band Potawatomi, who does hoop dancing at Knott’s Berry Farm in California.
The caravan begins at Chief Menominee monument at Twin Lakes south of Plymouth, Indiana. Chief Menominee refused to sell his land so his band was rounded up by Indiana militia and forcibly marched to Kansas in the fall of 1838. They were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sept. 5, 1838. Over 40 died on the way – thus it is called the Trail of Death.
The Trail of Death Caravan ends at St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park, south of Mound City, Kansas. This year is the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Philippine Duchesne, a nun who was a missionary to the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek in 1841. She was canonized in 1988, the first female saint west of the Mississippi River. The Potawatomi named her “She Who Prays Always.”
The 7th Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan will be Sept. 17-22, 2018. Participants will meet, register and get instructions at 7:30 a.m. at the Fulton County Museum, Rochester, Indiana, on Monday, Sept. 17, the day after the Trail of Courage Living History Festival. They will then drive to Chief Menominee monument for a beginning ceremony at 9 a.m. There they will begin the drive of 660 miles from Indiana to Kansas on the original 1838 route taken by the Potawatomi on the forced removal known as the Trail of Death. The caravan members will stop at historical markers, give programs at schools and museums, stay in motels and eat together. Individuals pay their own motels and meals. Some are planning to camp out.
Interested persons can sign up to go on the Trail of Death caravan by printing out the registration form at www.potawatomi-tda.org and mailing to PTDA (Potawatomi Trail of Death Association), Fulton County Historical Society, 37 E 375 N, Rochester IN 46975. There will be a $30 fee per person to cover expenses of organization, postage, and the PTDA newsletter.
People along the Trail of Death route can meet the caravan as it makes stops at various places. The itinerary will be posted on www.potawatomi-tda.org. They will be crossing Indiana from Plymouth to Lafayette Sept. 17; from Lafayette to Decatur, Illinois Sept. 18; from Decatur to Quincy, Illinois Sept. 19; from West Quincy to Moberly, Missouri Sept. 20; from Moberly to Independence, Missouri Sept. 21; from Independence to Olathe, Kansas, to Sugar Creek in rural Linn County, Kansas, Sept. 22.
The caravan welcomes drop-in followers who wish to travel along for a day or two, or across their county.
For more information, contact Shirley Willard, Rochester Indiana, phone 574-223-2352 or wwillard[at]rtcol[dot]com.