Chief Menominee Memorial

The statue of Chief Menominee, photo by Jim Schwartz

NEAR THE HEADWATERS of the serene Yellow River, three miles southwest of Plymouth, Indiana, stands the first monument that any state has ever erected to an Indian. It is a heroic-sized statue of Chief Menominee (1791-1841), arrayed in full Potawatomi regalia, gazing across the land that once was his. The statue was commissioned in 1909 by a $2,500 legislative grant, and serves as a monument to the peaceful Potawatomi Indian chief for his efforts to save the homes of his people.

In the early 1800's white settles were eager to claim the fertile lands of the Yellow and Kankakee rivers. The lands of Chief Menominee, shared by three other chiefs, were protected by a treaty of 1832. Abel C. Pepper, assigned by the federal government to remove the Potawatomis, negotiated the purchase of the land with the other three chiefs. Chief Menominee refused to participate in the negotiations, and charged that the sale was fradulent, since the treaty of 1832 awarded the land to all four chiefs.

Inscription on the statue, photo by Jim SchwartzChief Menominee and his followers continued to protest the illegal sale of their land. But their pleas for justice were ignored. On August 6, 1838, the deadline for their removal arrived. Pepper demanded that Menominee and his people leave their village. Menominee wrote to Pepper:

"The President does not know the truth. He, like me, has been imposed upon. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and the graves of my tribe, and my children, who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog. The President is just, but he listens to the words of his young chiefs who have lied; and when he knows the truth, he will leave me to my own. I have not sold my lands. I will not sell them. I have not signed any treaty, and will not sign any. I am not going to leave my lands."

This made no impression on the scores of white settlers poised at the borders of Menominee's land. When the deadline was reached, the settlers overran the reservation, scrambling to get the best farmland. Pepper called in for military assistance.

The governor of Indiana sent in Senator Tipton and a hundred troops to remove the Potawatomis by force. On August 28, Pepper lured Chief Menominee to a council. Tipton's troops were waiting, and Menominee was arrested.

On September 4, more than 850 Indians started for Kansas.

The Trail of Death

Sign marking the Trail of Death, photo by Jim Schwartz The trip was a disaster. The food issued to the Indians was so bad that the troops refused to eat it, and demanded government funds to purchase their own rations along the way. As they trekked west, they passed areas in the midst of a typhoid epidemic, and nearly 300 Indians fell victim to the disease. Forty-two Indians were buried along the trail.

Location of the Chief Menominee Memorial

Overall map of the Chief Menominee memorial, photo by Jim Schwartz

Closeup map of the Chief Menominee Memorial
Maps from Delorme