The Potawatomi wove light weight huts out of cattail plants to live in while harvesting wild rice in the autumn season.

Potawatomi Tribe Declared Citizens

The Potawatomi wove light weight huts out of cattail plants to live in while harvesting wild rice in the autumn season.
The Potawatomi wove light weight huts out of cattail plants to live in while harvesting wild rice in the autumn season.

In several cases advanced aboriginal Indian tribes, have by act of Congress been declared citizens and endowed with all the rights and privileges of citizenship. Still they were conscious of their inability to properly exercise and enjoy those rights and privileges. They knew they could not exercise the franchise side by side with the white man, with the same degree of intelligence and judgment, and so they scorned to use it. Perhaps it would have been better for them could they have ignored the real distinction which existed between them and the white race, and persuaded themselves, or been persuaded by others, that they were the equals of any. They had too much shrewdness to be thus blinded, and so they recognized a truth which another disposition would have concealed from them, and submitted to what seemed to be a fate in a sort of reckless, sullen silence, at least till a possible opportunity should occur for a striking blow, though it might be an expiring one, for what they believed existence; and if not for existence then for revenge-if not for the future then for the past.

Laying aside what all must recognize as palpable evils introduced among them, as fraud, whisky, and demoralization, there is, upon a deeper look beneath the surface, a fatal difficulty which all the kindness and service which civilization, philanthropy, and Christianity can render them cannot overcome.

The proud and haughty chieftain clearly sees in the coming of the stranger, and in his proffered kindness, the unavoidable degradation of his people from that lofty estate of proud independence which his forefathers maintained, and that at last, after being driven from their envied inheritance, and finding no place of rest but in the grave itself, their final extinction from the face of the earth. It is a sad picture, and yet it stands out before us in the light of the past as if painted on the wall before us by the Divine finger. We may not deny that the sacrifice is necessary to promote the greatest good to the greatest number, but surely we may heave a sigh of sympathy for the victim whose immolation is necessary to carry out even a Divine plan. And so may we have some compassion for him if in his death-throes he manifests his savage and untamable nature. If it was his misfortune to be born a savage, with no rights which the white man is bound to respect, then it was his misfortune also to be born with a nature which renders him incapable of civilization, a lofty desire for independence, a profound detestation for everything like servitude, a deep-seated sentiment of revenge, and, above all, a total inability to appreciate how it is that he has no rights which he may call his own, and which even a superior race should regard.

We must admit that even our boasted civilization has its strange phases, and sometimes its manifest inconsistencies. We repeat the maxim that might makes right always with reproach, and yet act upon it whenever the public weal is supposed to require it. Perhaps the truest and the best justification which we can plead for insisting upon taking the lands of the aborigines whenever we wish them, using no more force than is necessary to accomplish what we deem necessary whether the owner is willing to sell them or not is that a few useless savages, who can do no good for the world at large, and little good even for themselves, must not stand in the way of the march of civilization; that God made the earth and all that is upon it for His own honor and glory, and that both they and we are but tenants at His will; and that it is His undoubted right, whenever in His good pleasure He sees fit, to eject those who in His estimation do Him no honor, and replace them by those who may contribute more to His glory, and that thus He is working out His great scheme conceived from the beginning of all time. I say if we can but thus console ourselves that in what, to the superficial observer seems to be spoliations of the weak by the strong, we are but instruments in the hands of the Almighty to work out His great purposes and to execute His solemn decrees, then, indeed, we may feel that we have washed our hands in innocency. For myself, I have never been a very ardent believer in what is sometimes called special missions, and merely suggest this as the most plausible justification, which I have ever been able to contrive. Still, I do believe that my old friends did not see it exactly in that light when they turned their backs upon Chicago, the scene of so many of their grave councils and of their happy gatherings-when they looked for the last time upon the ever bright waters of the lake, and bent their slow and reluctant steps to a land of which they knew not, and in which they would be strangers; and yet there were old men among them who could have told them that their fathers had with bloodier hands expelled another nation who had occupied the land before them, and that no doubt the title had been thus transferred many times, the conveyance always sealed by the blood of the last owner.

At this last gathering of the tribe at Chicago the total number of souls was about five thousand. While here they were well fed by the Government; and when they went they were removed by the Government under the charge of the late Capt. J. B. F. Russell. By him they were transported to their new home on a reservation assigned them by the Government in Clay County, Missouri, opposite Fort Leavenworth. Almost from the beginning a feeling of hostility was manifested toward them by the citizens of Missouri, which finally resulted, at the end of two years, in another removal by the Government, when they were located in Iowa, near Council Bluffs. Here, again, their home was of short duration, and they were removed a third time by the Government to their present location in Kansas, where they have remained for over thirty years. This reservation, however, they have now sold, and are about to remove for a fourth time within little more than a third of a century. Their new location is in the Indian country south and west of Kansas. How long it will be before the pressure of advancing civilization will again push, them on in search of a new home, we cannot certainly predict. We may safely say, however, that it cannot be very long. We may scarcely hope that they will ever find a quiet resting-place above the earth.

In their Kansas home, the Indians of the woods have continued to manifest their greater adaptability to conform to the habits of civilized life. They have there subsisted to a large extent by agriculture. Some progress has been made in teaching them in schools, and the influence of religion still exerts its sway over them, or at least their religious teachers still command their attention and respect. Out of seventeen hundred and fifty of which this band still consisted, according to the last report which I have seen, sixteen hundred are represented as subsisting by agriculture.

The prairie Indians yet remain as wild and untamable as ever. They are still averse to the labors of the field, and enjoy the life of indolence or else the excitement of the chase; by which and their annuities from the Government they eke out a scanty subsistence. The finger of fate seems to be pointed alike at the most civilized and -the most savage. Final extinction is the end of the way down which all are swiftly rushing, and it would seem almost practicable to calculate with mathematical certainty, the day when they will live only in memory and in history.

They left Illinois thirty-five years ago with five thousand souls. At the date of the last report they had dwindled down to three thousand five hundred, and at this moment their numbers can scarcely exceed three thousand. From this each one may calculate for himself when the last day shall have passed when there will be no living representative of that powerful people who but a century ago exterminated a nation at a single blow at Starved Rock. The last of the Pottawatomie will then have ceased to be.

Caton, John Dean. The last of the Illinois, and a sketch of the Pottawatomies published Chicago.

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