Potawatomi Reservation

Pottawatomie and Great Nemaha Agency

Report, of Special Agent Reuben Sears on the Indians of the Pottawatomie, Kickapoo, Iowa, and Chippewa and Munsee reservations, Kansas, August and September 1890.

Names of Indian tribes or parts of tribes occupying said reservations :(a) Prairie band of Pottawatomi, Kickapoo, [Iowa], Chippewa, and Munsee.

The unallotted areas of these reservations are: Pottawatomi, 77,358 acres, or 120.75 square miles; treaties of June 5, 1846, 9 U. S. Stats, p. 853; of November 15, 1861 (12 U. S. Stats, p. 1191); treaty of relinquishment, February 27, 1867 (15 U. S. Stats, p. 531). Kickapoo, 20,273 acres, or 31.75 square miles; treaty of June 28, 1862 (13 U. S. Stats, p. 623). Iowa, 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles (5,120 acres in Kansas); treaties of May 17, 1854 (10 U. S. Stats., p. 1069, and of March 6, 1861; 12 U. S. Stats., p. 1171). Chippewa and Munsi, 4,395 acres, or 5.75 square miles; treaty of July 16, 1859 (12 U. S. Stats., p. 1105).

Indian population 1890: Pottawatomies, 402; Kickapoos, 237; Iowas, 165; Chippewas and Munsees, 75; total, 939.

Pottawatomie Reservation

The returns had been made of the enumeration of the Prairie band of Pottawatomie, Indians, as well as of their school schedule, before my arrival. I examined the census methods, and have no doubt but that they were carefully and correctly taken.

These Indians seem intelligent and apt. Very many can speak the English language, and read and write it as well. There is no lack of mental ability among them. Their physical condition, however, is not so encouraging. They look very well, but a large number of them are troubled with scrofulous eruptions, and many waste away with lung diseases: Many of them are infected with syphilitic poison; some of them are regarded as incurable. They are subject to rheumatic complaints. They dress well, in American costumes of the present styles. Many of them dress richly. Many of the women are neat and clean housekeepers, having good furniture, pianos, organs, and sewing machines in their homes. They are good, industrious wives and kind mothers, and are generally virtuous. Polygamy is not practiced among them, and when a man and woman marry they expect’ to continue the relation of husband and wife for life. The men are more or less industrious, but unfortunately a large portion of them will drink whenever they can get whisky. In appearance these people will compare very favorably with many communities of white people.

Their children are sent to school. Some of the children are very bright, and learn quickly in all branches except arithmetic. This seems to be a common trouble among Indian school children, and at the stores an Indian always asks for an article and the price, and then pays for it, then asks for another article and pays for it. In like manner they continue until their trading is finished. This is done to avoid adding up the cost of all. They are all able to count what money they have and tell readily the denominations of paper currency as well as of gold or silver. There is a government boarding school provided for them. In their homes they sleep on beds and bedsteads like the whites; have good cooking stoves and utensils, good heating stoves, and dishes and crockery in abundance. They have wells near their houses, and many have windmills for raising the water. Their orchards and gardens are numerous, and they have an abundance of domestic fowls. They are farmers and stock raisers. They have some farms of from 128 to 190 acres fenced and cultivated; many of them have large herds of cattle, horses, and hogs. They raise good crops. One herd of shorthorn Durhams was especially noticeable, many of them thoroughbred and registered. They have 2,650 cattle and 2,712 horses and mules; also 400 hogs of good breeds, and large fields of corn and other crops. One Pottawatomie has a herd of over 1,000 head of cattle and many horses and carriages. He has a number of fine farms off the reservation, and owns a large portion of the stock of a neighboring bank. He deals largely in cattle, and is the trader for the tribe.

Most of these Indians now desire to own cows and have the milk for their children and to make butter, which is a new feature in Indian life. Many of them are becoming rich. Their women sometimes marry white men quite superior to the ordinary squaw men.

The older houses are built of logs, but look comfortable; all the later houses are of frame and well built; some quite, commodious and of more than a single story. A few are built of stone, of which there is an abundant supply on the reservation. Some also have good barns and outhouses, but the most improved farms belong to those who have a large percentage of white blood in their veins.

The larger part have progressive ideas and desire, that the tribe shall move forward. The others do not desire any improvement in aboriginal life, and are opposed to change. They do not desire schools or to have their children taught white man’s ways. This portion is ignorant and very superstitious.

These Indians increase slowly. The births in the year ending June 30, 1889, were 16, deaths 12; in the year ending June 30, 1890, births 19, deaths 14 Their roll shows for 1889, 447; for 1890, 462. (a) This very slow increase among these Indians, and in fact among all others partially civilized, must be due to some cause out of the ordinary course. It no doubt lies in their superstitious belief in the necessity of separating the sexes during the period of menstruation. The women during this period are compelled to live apart in a separate tepee or wigwam for a period of not less than 10 days, or until ovaryation, thus preventing in many or most cases the chance of conception. Where their women are married to white men and become more accustomed to the ways of white men they have as many children and as large families as white people. This also seems to be the result where Indian men are married to white women, so that small Indian families are usually the result of custom. Another thing that accounts for their small increase is the fact that after the birth of the child the mother and child are isolated from the remainder of the family and confined in a separate habitation for 30 clays. This exposure frequently causes the death of the child and impairs the health of the mother. They frequently take their boys out of the schools because they think that being in company in the school room with the larger girls during menstruation they are liable to get sick, and if they do get sick at school they are apt to attribute it to such cause, and they believe that allowing the women to live with the family within the period of 30 days after confinement is a prolific source of disease and death to others.

In general appearance the reservation is a most beautiful land, with rich, rolling prairie’s and a number of streams running through them and fringed with timber, giving the casual observer an idea that it is a reservation of marvelously rich and productive soil. This is true of a part, but not by any means of the whole. On the creek bottoms, in the hollows between the hills, and on the sloping hillsides the soil is rich and productive in ordinary seasons; but the appearance of much of the land is very deceptive, it being underlaid with stone near the surface and covered with grass growing in shallow soil and with so much loose stone among it as to render it unfit for cultivation, thus making its meadow land fit only for grazing purposes. Some of these lands are dotted here and there with spots of alkali. Many of the hills are covered with a fair soil, which will in a wet season raise crops. Ordinarily the greater part of this reservation can be used only for grazing.

The timber along the streams is of a very inferior quality for posts and is used for fuel only. There are numerous ledges of rock, a poor quality of limestone fit only for foundations for houses or for walling wells. Some ledges may perhaps be found fit for building purposes. Not to exceed one-half of the reservation is fit for farming purposes. The good and poor lands can not be divided into tracts and allotted purely by themselves, but good and poor lands will have to go together. The lands are not arid, strictly speaking, but the rainfall here is quite uncertain. For the last 6 years they have not been saturated with water, and in the majority of the years the rainfall has been so deficient as to make the crops a partial failure. Still it is a soil which can stand much drought and produce fair crops. The lack of rain for the last 6 years has caused the subsoil to dry out, with a consequent drying up of the streams, so that in midsummer they cease to flow.

The water of the wells is alkaline in many cases from the surface, but many of the wells are supplied from an undercurrent of pure and wholesome water.

The Pottawatomies in their original belief held to the existence of one great Supreme Creator and to a future state of rewards and punishments. They believed that if an Indian was good, honest, kind, hospitable, and true in all things he would go when he died to a happy limiting ground where timber was plenty, with beautiful running streams, ponies, and game, where he would live, in peace and plenty, and Where he could get his game easily and live a life of ease and quiet abundance; but if he was a bad Indian, had lied, stolen, and debauched other Indians’ wives and murdered his fellows, after death he would go to a place where wood and streams were scarce, where there were no ponies to ride, and where all his travel would be on foot. If he saw a deer or other game he would have to pursue it day after day, it being able to elude him so that he would never be able to catch up with it. He would be weary and hungry and have to live in the storms and winds without shelter or protection.

He would he forever living a life of constant desires, always to be unsatisfied, and with no hope of anything better in the future.

While one-third of these Indians belong to the Roman Catholic church and hold to its faith tenaciously, the remainder hold to their original belief.

The agency buildings are of the value of about $7,000, and are in fair repair, except the boarding house and the wagon and smith shop. The boarding house is in bad repair.

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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