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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas People
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The Pottawatomies were of Algonquin descent and were termed "Firemakers," in reference to their secession from the Odjibwas and becoming the makers of their own fires. The Odjibwa tradition says that there were two brothers at St. Mary's Falls. The fishing-rod of the younger was taken into the rapids by the other and accidentally broken. A quarrel ensued. The elder brother went south. This was the origin of a new tribe. The Pottawatomies of the Woods, located in Wisconsin and Michigan; and the Prairie Bands, of Illinois and Indiana, formed the two principal divisions of the nation, whose homes were scattered from the shores of Lake Superior to the Illinois River. In language and customs, the Pottawatomies were similar to the Ottawas and Chippewas, with whom they were closely allied. They crowded the Miamis from the vicinity of Chicago.

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In the war of 1812, the Prairie Bands, under the leadership of Suna-we-wone, fought against the Americans, and were at the massacre at Fort Dearborn. The United States effected a treaty of peace with them in 1815, and afterward purchased a portion of their land. Eighteen years later, the cession known as the Platte Purchase was made, in consideration of which the Government granted 576,000 acres adjoining the Shawnees and Delawares, in Kansas. Subsequently, the tribe became widely scattered. Portions located in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and the Indian Territory.

The Pottawatomies believed in two Great Spirits, Kitchenonedo, Good Spirit, and Matchemondo, Evil Spirit. Kitchenonedo made the world and its first inhabitants; they looked like people, but were wicked ungrateful dogs that never lifted their eyes from the ground, to return thanks.

In punishment, the Creator dropped the earth, with everything upon it, into a great lake, from which it emerged only after the destruction of the race. Then a handsome young man appeared, who seemed sad because of loneliness. Kitchenonedo pitied him and sent a sister to brighten his life. Many years later the young man had a dream. Telling it to his sister, he said:

"Five young men will come to your lodge door this night. The Great Spirit forbids you to answer or even look up and smile at the first four, but when the fifth comes, you may speak and laugh and show that you are pleased."

She obeyed his directions. The first who arrived was named U-sa-ma, or Tobacco, and being repelled, he fell down and died; the next, Wa-pa-ko, or Pumpkin, meeting a like reception, followed his example; the third, Esh-kos-si-min, or Melon, and the fourth, Ko-kees, or Bean, had the same misfortune; but she smiled upon the fifth, who was named Tamin, or Montamin (Maize), and opened the lodge door that he might enter. They were married; and from them are descended the North American Indians.

Tamin buried his ill-fated rivals; and from their graves sprang tobacco, melons, beans and pumpkins; and the Pottawatomies said that was the way in which the Good Spirit furnished his people something to put into their _a-keeks_, or kettles, with the meat, and something to offer as a gift at feasts and ceremonies.

Long after a majority of the nation had become Christianized, they clung, in a great measure, to the ancient superstitions.

Not many miles distant from the place where Topeka now stands, lived a chief called Menweshma. Menweshma was a believer in the Indian doctrine of transformation, and gravely asserted that he could turn his four hundred and eighty pounds of flesh into a bird or beast. Tradition says that it was a favorite pastime of his, to assume the form of an owl.

Being an inveterate gambler, he at one time became the victim of a scheme by which he was defrauded. This so enraged the Pottawatomie that he killed the seven Indians who participated in the trick, and according to the laws of the tribe, was called upon to pay a heavy ransom or submit to death. After surrendering all his possessions, Menweshma was yet indebted to the amount of five hundred dollars. This sum was borrowed from the trader, and year after year passed and the chief continued to disregard the solicitations of the white man to pay.

One night, after Menweshma had appeared particularly annoyed by these requests, the settler and his family were disturbed by the hooting of an owl. Seizing a rifle, the man shot in the darkness at what appeared to be the outline of the bird, and saw an object fall to the ground. On reaching the spot, he stooped to pick it up--and the nocturnal visitor could not be found.

At nine o'clock next morning came a messenger with the request that he go at once to Menweshma, who was dying. Entering the hut, he was left alone with the medicine man and the dying chief. The Pottawatomie, disclosing a great wound in his side, said:

"Didn't you shoot an owl at your house, last night? I was that owl, and had gone there to poison your children."

Queer explanations were accepted without question, by the Indians, and often white folks were puzzled to account for strange events.

Even the most warlike tribes did not hesitate to resort to deception, if, perchance, a victory were to be gained without striking a blow.

Below the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers was a reservation of the Pottawatomies. Just without its limits, the Pawnees, always at war and straying from rightful boundaries, were wont to lie in wait for their less courageous neighbors.

On a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1856, seven or eight hunters and trappers, going westward from Fort Riley, were confronted by a panic-stricken band of several hundred Pottawatomies. The fugitives, galloping toward the reservation, shouted, "Pawnee! Pawnee!" Later in the day, the plainsmen came upon the Pawnees, a party of fifty men, celebrating with great satisfaction, their success in putting the foe to flight. The latter, in the morning, had camped not far from a large hill, or bluff, behind which the enemy were holding consultation as to the best mode of attack. In order to give the impression of numerical strength, the fifty braves filed around and around the bluff, seemingly an interminable line, then, with blood-curdling war-whoops, dashed toward the camp. The Pottawatomies fled precipitately, leaving the entire supplies to fall into the hands of the strategists, who took advantage of every opportunity to intimidate the more pacific nations of eastern or southern origin, removed west by the Government.

With the exception of the Shawnee Prophet, the cruel and vindictive war-chief, Wa-baun-see, was, doubtless, the most famous Indian among the emigrant nations. His brave deeds have formed the subject of many interesting anecdotes. Notable among them is

THE STORY OF THE FLAT-BOAT.

Near the close of the eighteenth century, the Americans again commenced to encroach upon Indian territory, and some of them proceeded southwestward down the Ohio River in large boats about thirty-five or forty feet in length and ten or twelve feet in breadth, with barricaded decks. The rightful owners of the soil, determined to prevent further settlement, disputed every mile of progress by all possible means.

One day the scouts, led by Wa-baun-see, watched a floating fort from the north bank of the river. An attack was feasible, since the pilot kept well to the middle of the stream, beyond reach. The Indians consulted as to the best method of overcoming this difficulty. Word was sent to the main body of warriors to conceal themselves at a certain point that jutted out into the water, at some distance below their present location. They were also instructed to be prepared for battle when the boat should go ashore. Meantime, despite all efforts to the contrary on the part of the pilot, the raft showed a decided tendency to approach the river bank. The man at the helm was admonished again and again, but insisted that he had been doing all in his power to keep off from shore. The pilot then made a careful examination of the boat on the side next to land. A black object bobbed up occasionally, then disappeared. Closer scrutiny revealed a nude Indian, swimming under water and tugging away at a rope held in his teeth. The other end was fastened to the boat. Once in a while the swimmer was compelled to come to the surface for breath.

Quietly obtaining his bayonet, the pilot watched the water with interest. Again the dark head and shoulders emerged. They were those of the war-chief. Quick as a flash, the bayonet plunged downward into his back. Wa-baun-see sank out of sight, keeping under water until he reached the shore. The braves conveyed him to a place of safety and carefully dressed the dangerous wound. The daring chief recovered.

When the Osages were strong and powerful, and claimed thousands of broad acres south of the Missouri River, they were frequently at war with the Pottawatomies. During a battle, Wa-baun-see was routed, in addition to losing a friend in the sally. The proud spirit of the war-chief was injured; and the humiliation caused by defeat and the death of the brave rankled in his mind after other warriors had seemingly forgotten the circumstances. He determined to seek revenge, should it ever become possible. Years passed without the gratification of his wishes. Then came the news that, at an appointed time, a delegation of Osages would visit a certain western fort. Wa-baun-see, with some of his best men, repaired to the post, and, after a formal interview, withdrew. They galloped a few miles away and waited for darkness. The Osages feared treachery and communicated their suspicions to the commandant. Permission to sleep inside the fortifications was asked and granted.

In the night, when all was silent, Wa-baun-see rode quietly toward the place. He stationed his men at a safe distance and went forward to inspect the defenses. It was necessary to employ the utmost caution, in order to avoid the guards. Approaching, he threw himself upon the ground and crept around the walls, finding, at last, an embrasure, almost too small to permit the passage of a man's body. The chief was seeking revenge and was not to be daunted, therefore, after a long and painful effort, succeeded in writhing through the aperture, and warily sought out the adversaries of his people. They were sleeping soundly, feeling secure in the protection afforded by the presence of soldiers. Wrapped in a blanket, and lying upon the ground a short distance from the group, was the head chief. Crawling through the grass, the Pottawatomie reached his side. There was no disturbance, only a dull thud, as the tomahawk buried itself in the head of the slumberer. Securing the scalp, Wa-baun-see retired as noiselessly as he had come.

In the morning the Osages were greatly surprised and enraged to learn that the enemy had been in their midst.

The impression that the relentless chief was the most ferocious Indian of his time, was confirmed by the frightful punishment of one of his wives, accused by another wife, probably a favorite, of cruelty to his children. Without giving the poor woman an opportunity to plead her cause, he commanded the accuser to split open her skull.

 

Wa-baun-see accompanied his tribe to Kansas in 1846, and during the latter part of that year, went to Washington, with other influential men, to conclude a treaty with the Government. The stage-coach, in which they passed through Missouri on the way home, overturned near Boonville, and Wa-baun-see sustained severe injuries, which ultimately resulted in death.

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