Potawatomi’s Secure All Illinois Tribe Territory

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Summertime was when the families of the village lived together in a village.
Summertime was when the families of the village lived together in a village.

This great event in Indian history secured to the Pottawatomie all the territory then belonging to the Illinois, and the exclusive right to which was undisputed by other tribes. It extended their possessions to the lands of the Peoria on Peoria Lake. They occupied to the Wabash as far south as Danville and even beyond. On the other side they occupied to the Hock River, though their right to a strip of land on the east side of that river was disputed by the Sac and Fox Indians who ranged the prairies west of there and beyond the Mississippi. They extended north into Wisconsin as far as Milwaukee, though their northern boundary was never well defined, but their friendly relations with the Chippewa prevented this from ever becoming a source of disagreement between them. After the extermination of the Illinois, their general condition was that of peace, and I have learned of few incidents since worthy of record. As before intimated, they had a perpetual difficulty with the Sacs and Foxes about the lands bordering on the east side of Hock river, and when the braves of the contestants met on the disputed territory they fought it out, but I have not learned that the war was often carried beyond the contested grounds, though the eastern boundary of these was quite undefined.

As a tribe, the Pottawatomie may not have taken an active part against the United States in the war of 1812, yet it is certain that many of their young chiefs and braves did so. On this subject they were extremely reticent. At one time, when riding over the prairie south of Blue Island, in 1833, with Billy Caldwell, when the old chief as usual was answering my questions about the past and what portion of the country he had visited, as it seemed inadvertently, he commenced giving an account of an expedition of the British from Canada across to Ohio, of which he and a number of his warriors formed a part, but he had hardly got them landed on our shores, when he seemed to remember that I was an American and that it was better not to enlighten me further on the subject, and he broke off suddenly, nor could I by any means prevail upon him to return to the subject.

During the Black Hawk war, as it was called, in 1832, as a people they remained loyal to the United States, but it was with great difficulty that many of the young men were kept from participating in the affray with the Sacs and Foxes. But the part they acted in that affair may be found in the written history of the times.

Chicago was ever a favorite resort of the Pottawatomie. Here they chose to hold their great councils, and here they concluded the last treaty with our Government as they had the first, as I have already stated, twelve years before. This last treaty was made in 1833, and I was a daily attendant upon the deliberations of the council. By this time the Ottawa and the Pottawatomie had become so blended and intermixed that they had become practically one people, and were generally designated by the latter name. I do not remember the number of Indians in town at the time of the treaty, but the assemblage was by no means confined to the chiefs who participated in the deliberations. There were certainly several thousand natives here, who were supplied with regular rations of beef and flour by the Government, and it was manifest that they were quite willing to protract the conference so long as these should last.

At the close of each important deliberation, especially if much progress seemed to have been made, a keg of twisted plug tobacco was rolled into the council house, the staves cut in the middle with an ax, and the chiefs told to help themselves. This was accompanied with a box of white clay pipes. They helped themselves with great decorum, and even some ceremony.

By this last treaty, concluded at Chicago, in 1838, the Indians disposed of all their remaining lands to the United States, except some specific reservations to some of their chiefs, and agreed to remove to a limited location assigned them west of the Missouri river. When the treaty was finally concluded and the presents all distributed, and no more rations served out, they gradually dispersed till only those who resided in and about Chicago remained. For two years longer this people continued among us, subsisting as they had done before, nothing worthy of note, so far as I know occurring in the meantime.

In 1835, and for the last time, the whole assembled at Chicago, to receive their annuity from the Government, and to make their final start for their new home. I was absent at the time of their assemblage, and have no means of stating at what date they began to make their appearance in the town for now Chicago had really begun to present an appearance which would well justify the name. Here for the first time many who had through their whole lives been in the habit of visiting this favorite location, when the rank grass grew waist high where the Tremont and the Sherman houses now stand, must have been deeply impressed with the marks of civilization vastly more extensive than any they had ever seen before or been able to comprehend. It assured them, and they comprehended it, that they were already strangers in their native land. That a mightier race had come, so far their superior that they must fade away before it. It is emphatically true of all our American Indians that they cannot exist, multiply, and prosper in the light of civilization. Here their physical vigor fails, their reproductive powers diminish, their spirit and their very vitality dwindle out, and no philanthropy, no kindness, no fostering care, of government, of societies, or of individuals can save them from an inevitable doom. They are plainly the sick man of America; with careful nursing and the kindest care, we may prolong his stay among us for a few years, but lie is sick of a disease which can never be cured except by isolating him from civilization, and remanding him to nature’s wildness, which in truth has more charms in many cases for even the white man, than the refinements and the restraints of the white man’s mode of life. Our tastes for these are the results .of artificial training, and our tendency is constantly to relapse to a wilder life in the woods and in the mountains. The bivouac of the soldier has a charm to which he often recurs with animated pleasure. The campfire of the hunter has a fascination, which he who has enjoyed it can never forget. And in our earliest childhood we showed our natural tastes and inclinations by listening to stories of these, with more avidity than any other. Mayne Reid built his hopes on this juvenile taste, which he knew was stronger than any other, when he wrote his charming stories which have made his name so popular, yes, and so dear, too, to the rising generation. Accounts of hunting and fishing, of living in the woods and in the plains, or in some sweet little nook at the foot of the mountain down which the babbling brook comes from the melted snows far above, and where nature in her unbroken beauty and her sublimity reigns around her supreme silence, and there is no mark and no sound of civilization near, these have fascinations for even the white race as well, which are entirely wanting in the most glowing accounts of cathedrals, and palaces and pictures, descriptions of which fail to interest those whose tastes have not been cultivated up to their full appreciation. If a love of nature in her wildest moods and scenes be a relic of barbaric taste, which civilization has failed to eradicate, then, to that extent, at least, I am a savage still.

This tendency in the white race to revert to what we may-term the natural tastes is strongly manifested whenever we see one taken in infancy and brought up among savages. Almost always he is the greatest savage of them all, notwithstanding the hereditary influence through many generations of those cultivated tastes and habits which distinguish the civilized man from the savage. This observation may not be confined to the case cited although that is perhaps the most convincing of this tendency to revert to the savage state. We often see cases-where men have grown to maturity in the midst of civilized society, uniting themselves with the native tribes, and enjoying that life better than the former, and choosing to spend their days with their new found friends, although it involves a sacrifice of all those ties which so strongly bind us to friends and kindred and early associations. In such cases we rarely find them practicing those arts, which they had early learned or those habits of industry, which is the distinguishing characteristic of civilized man. It is undoubtedly true, in these latter cases, that he who becomes a savage after puberty has an ‘exceptional inclination to revert to the wild state; still the number is so considerable as to show us that civilization has not been so long continued as to wholly change our natures, and that it is almost, if not entirely artificial.

I think the facts will warrant the conclusion that this tendency to reversion is much stronger in the male than the female. In the few instances where the white female has been reared in savage life, and has then been reclaimed, she has more readily conformed to civilized habits, and has shown less longing for the wild scenes among which she was reared; and when she has been introduced to savage life after maturity, she seems always happy to escape it. In observing this fact, however, we ought not to forget that the harder lot of the female among savage peoples may tend to make her more willing to escape from what is really a state of bondage and servitude than with the man, who is in every sense an equal, or, from his higher intellectual endowments, may most likely occupy a superior position.

Reverse the state of things, and how rarely do we find the savage ever civilized. In the numerous instances where the savage infant has been removed from the influences and allurements of his ancestors, and reared entirely among us, and taught all that civilization and Christianity could teach him, but very few have been wholly weaned from the tastes and inclinations which they have inherited from their savage ancestors. Some notable and brilliant exceptions are no doubt to be met with, but they are so rare as to inspire rather our remark and admiration than a well grounded hope that we can ever succeed in reclaiming them as a people.

The Native American is in some respects a proud and a sensitive being, and is not wanting in reflective powers. When brought in contact with civilization, he recognizes his inferiority, and appreciates his inability ever to overcome it. He feels that he cannot live with the stranger, except as an inferior, and, inspired by his native pride, he would rather cease to be than to do this. He appreciates his inevitable doom. He ceases to hope, and them comes despair, which contributes more than all else to hasten the result, which he foresees. While all have seen from the beginning that the aborigines ‘melt away and die out before the advance of civilization, in spite of the most humane efforts to produce a different result, we may not have appreciated all the causes, which have contributed to this end. Those which have been the most readily understood, because the most patent, are the vices and diseases and poisonous drinks which the white race has introduced among them from the very first. If these were the only causes we might deem it possible, by municipal regulations, to remove them. While this would be a great boon which civilization undoubtedly owes to the original owners of the soil where we are so rapidly expanding into a great nation, I am satisfied it would not secure the great end which philanthropy must most ardently desire. Still they would not amalgamate with civilization, nor become civilized as a separate people. They can only live and prosper and multiply by continuing as their ancestors have lived, in a wild state, roaming over large areas sparsely populated, depending upon what they can secure of nature’s raising, and when their numbers become too great for subsistence upon such supplies, they must become reduced by wars, disease, or famine.

The views I have suggested, of the effect upon the mind and the sensibilities of the Indian, which is produced by his observations of advancing civilization as it intrudes upon him, and its reflected influence upon his physical organization, I think well illustrated and confirmed by the observations of Mr. Sproat in his ” Scenes and Studies of Savage Life.” He employed a large number of natives about his sawmills at Barclay Sound, on Vancouver’s Island. Here the natives were settled around him in comfortable dwellings with their families, and. worked promiscuously with the white laborers. The strictest temperance was enforced throughout the settlement and no violence was permitted toward the natives, but they were treated with the utmost kindness and fairness. They were well fed, well clothed, and carefully taught. Here they were surrounded with all the best influences of civilization and as few of the vices as we may expect to find, when the red man is brought in contact with the white.

For a time, all seemed to go on well, and the experiment promised a success. At length, however, a change became observable, especially among the Indians who lived nearest the white settlements. A few of the sharpest of the young natives had become offensively European, as he calls it, but the mass of the Indians had ceased to visit the settlement in their free easy, and independent way, but lived listlessly in their villages, brooding seemingly over heavy thoughts. They seemed to have acquired a distrust, nay, almost disgust for themselves. At first they had looked upon mills and machinery, upon steamships and upon great houses, indeed upon all the wonderful works of the new comer, with curiosity and interest, but now, with distrust, with disgust, and even with despair; the effect of this despair was now manifest. They even began to abandon their old tribal habits, practices, and ceremonies. Presently, without any apparent cause, an unusual amount of sickness was observed among them, and the death rate was largely increased, and so continued during the five years that our author remained among them. Nobody molested them. Notwithstanding all their comforts and all the care bestowed upon them, they sunk into a gradual but sure decay.

The light of civilization instead of warming them into new life seemed to bring a blight upon them; they felt that they were an inferior race. They lacked the energy, and therefore the ability, to become and live as civilized men, and their proud hearts were crushed at .the thoughts of living with the white race as inferiors and therefore a degraded race, and then necessarily followed disgust and despair, and then came disease and death.

Had they lacked that lofty pride and that love of independence which are so marked a characteristic of our Indians, they might have enjoyed the comforts which civilization brought them, without mortification at the consciousness of living as inferiors among a superior race. But no kindness, no assistance, no proffered recognition of equality, could hide from their view that they were and must be inferiors, while they could in contentment brook no superiors in fact.



MLA Source Citation:

Caton, John Dean. The last of the Illinois, and a sketch of the Pottawatomies published Chicago. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 3 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/potawatomi-secure-all-illinois-tribe-territory.htm - Last updated on Feb 23rd, 2013


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