A Sketch of the Potawatomi

Wabaunsee A Pottawatimie Chief
A Pottawatimie Chief

More than thirty-seven years ago, when I first became a citizen of Chicago, I found this whole country occupied as the hunting grounds of the Pottawatomie Indians. I soon formed the acquaintance of many of their chiefs, and this acquaintance ripened into a cordial friendship. I found them really intelligent and possessed of much information resulting from their careful observation of natural objects. I traveled with them over the prairies, I hunted and I fished with them, I camped with them in the groves, I drank with them at the native springs, of which they were never at a loss to find one, and I partook of their hospitality around their campfires.

Wild scenes have always had a charm for me. I have ever been a lover of nature, and the enjoyment of those scenes when prairie and woodland, lake shore and river were almost everywhere as nature made them, have left behind a pleasing memory which sometimes makes me almost wish that I could live over again my younger days. Since nature’s handiwork has been defaced all around us by the hand of civilized man, I love-to hie away to distant shores and the far-off mountains, and with a few friends of tastes similar to my own, enjoy the wild scenery among the rock-bound islands of Puget’s Sound, or the still solitude of the high Sierras. Who would have thought, at the time of which I speak, that he who then here enjoyed the charms which nature throws over all her works, would ever seek the far-off scenes of the Pacific slopes in which to indulge his favorite reveries? There are some who hear me now, who remember the lake beach, with its conical sand-hills covered over by the evergreen juniper, whose fragrance loaded with a rich aroma the soft breeze as it quietly crept in from the rippling waters of the lake.

That old lake shore, fashioned as God had made it by his winds and waves for ten thousand years before, had more charms for me, than since the defacing hand of man has built there broad avenues and great marble palaces, which are as far beneath the works of nature’s Architect, as man himself is beneath Him who made all things well.

I thought that then a romantic place fit for the meeting of native lovers, in which to say soft words, and I felt assured that it was so thought by them when once I was called upon to unite in wedlock there a happy pair, whose ambition it was to conform to the white man’s mode in that solemn rite, and, as the dusky bride explained, that it might last forever.

As might have been anticipated, neither history nor tradition pretends to go back to the origin of any of the native tribes who occupied this land when first explored by civilized man. At that time, the country where we live was principally occupied by the Illinois Indians, who where an important people, who ranged from the Wabash to the Mississippi, and from the Ohio even to Lake Superior, although there were a great many other tribes occupying the same territory. Their chief location was in Northern Illinois. Here was their home, and their great metropolis was where Utica now stands, in LaSalle county. There then stood the largest city ever built by northern natives. It was a delightful place, in the bosom of a beautiful valley, and the city occupied all the intervening space between the river and the bluff, nearly a mile in extent. Their great cemeteries there testify to the populous of the place, even were the testimony of the first discoverers wanting. If we do not know of the beginning of any native nation, we are credibly told of the extinction of this great people, and that, too, within a century after they were found so populous and so prosperous by the enterprising explorers.

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

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