The Potawatomi Trail of Death was the forced removal by militia in 1838 of some 859 members of the Potawatomi nation from Indiana to reservation lands in what is now eastern Kansas. They were escorted by armed volunteer militia, the march began at Twin Lakes, Indiana (Myers Lake and Cook Lake, near Plymouth, Indiana) on September 4, 1838, and ended on November 4, 1838, along the western bank of the Osage River, near present-day Osawatomie, Kansas. During the journey of approximately 660 miles (1,060 km) over 61 days, more than 40 persons died, most of them children. It marked the single largest Indian removal in Indiana history.
Although the Potawatomi had ceded their lands in Indiana to the federal government under a series of treaties made between 1818 and 1837, Chief Menominee and his Yellow River band at Twin Lakes refused to leave, even after the August 5, 1838, treaty deadline for departure had passed. Indiana governor David Wallace authorized General John Tipton to mobilize a local militia of one hundred volunteers to forcibly remove the Potawatomi from the state. On August 30, 1838, Tipton and his men surprised the Potawatomi at Twin Lakes, where they surrounded the village and gathered the remaining Potawatomi together for their removal to Kansas. Father Benjamin Marie Petit, a Catholic missionary at Twin Lakes, joined his parishioners on their difficult journey from Indiana, across Illinois and Missouri, into Kansas.
Historian Jacob Piatt Dunn is credited for naming the Potawatomis' forced march "The Trail of Death" in his book, True Indian Stories (1909). The Trail of Death was declared a Regional Historic Trail in 1994 by the state legislatures of Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas; Missouri passed similar legislation in 1996. As of 2013, there were 80 Trail of Death markers along the route: they were located at the campsites set up every 15 to 20 miles (a day's journey by walking), in all four states. See www.potawatomi-tda.org for photos, 1838 diary, GPS locations, history. Historic highway signs have been placed along the way in Indiana in Marshall, Fulton, Cass, Carroll, Tippecanoe and Warren counties, signaling each turn. Many signs have been erected in Illinois and Missouri. Kansas has completed placing highway signs in the three counties crossed by the Trail of Death.
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