The Potawatomi also spelled Pottawatomie and Potawatomi, are a Native American people of the Great Plains, upper Mississippi River, and Western Great Lakes region.
They traditionally speak the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquian family. The Potawatomi called themselves Neshnabé, a cognate of the word Anishinaabe.
The Potawatomi were part of a long-term alliance, called the Council of Three Fires, with the Ojibwe and Ottawa.
In the Council of Three Fires, the Potawatomi were considered the "youngest brother" and were referred to in this context as Bodéwadmi, a name that means "keepers of the fire" and refers to the council fire of three peoples.
In the 19th century, they were pushed to the west by European/American encroachment in the late 18th century and removed from their lands in the Midwest to reservations in Oklahoma. Under Indian Removal, they eventually ceded many of their lands, and most of the Potawatomi relocated to Nebraska, Kansas, and Indian Territory, now in Oklahoma. Some bands survived in the Midwest and today are federally recognized as tribes. In Canada, there are over 20 First Nation bands.
Potawatomi Tribe Facts: History
The Potawatomi are first mentioned in French records, which suggest that in the early 17th century, they lived in what is now southwestern Michigan. During the Beaver Wars, they fled to the area around Green Bay to escape attacks by both the Iroquois and the Neutral Nation, who were seeking expanded hunting grounds.
As an important part of Tecumseh's Confederacy, Potawatomi warriors took part in Tecumseh's War, the War of 1812, and the Peoria War. Their alliances switched repeatedly between Great Britain and the United States as power relations shifted between the nations, and they calculated the effects on their trade and land interests.
At the time of the War of 1812, a band of Potawatomi inhabited the area near Fort Dearborn, where Chicago developed. Led by the chiefs Blackbird and Nuscotomeg (Mad Sturgeon), a force of about 500 warriors attacked the United States evacuation column leaving Fort Dearborn; they killed most of the civilians and 54 of Captain Nathan Heald's force and wounded many others. George Ronan, the first graduate of West Point to be killed in combat, died in this ambush. The incident is referred to as the "Fort Dearborn Massacre." A Potawatomi chief named Mucktypoke (Makdébki, Black Partridge) counseled his fellow warriors against the attack. Later, he saved some of the civilian captives who were being ransomed by the Potawatomi.
French Period (1615 - 1763): The French period of contact began with early explorers who reached the Potawatomi in western Michigan. They also found the tribe located along the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. By the end of the French period, the Potawatomi had begun a move to the Detroit area, leaving the large communities in Wisconsin.
- Madouche during the Fox Wars
- Onanghisse at Green Bay
- Otchik at Detroit
British Period (1763 - 1783): The British period of contact began when France ceded its lands after the defeat in the French and Indian War. Pontiac's Rebellion was an attempt by Native Americans to push the British and other European settlers out of their territory. The Potawatomi captured every British frontier garrison but the one at Detroit.
The Potawatomi nation continued to grow and expanded westward from Detroit, most notably in the development of the St. Joseph villages adjacent to Miami in southwestern Michigan. The Wisconsin communities continued and moved south along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
- Nanaquiba (Water Moccasin) at Detroit
- Ninivois at Detroit
- Peshibon at St. Joseph
- Washee at St. Joseph during Pontiac's Rebellion
United States Period: The United States Treaty period of Potawatomi history began with the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War and established the United States' interest in the lower Great Lakes. It lasted until the treaties for Indian Removal were signed. The US recognized the Potawatomi as a single tribe. They often had a few tribal leaders whom all villages accepted. The Potawatomi had a decentralized society, with several main divisions based on geographic locations: Milwaukee or Wisconsin area, Detroit or Huron River, the St. Joseph River, the Kankakee River, Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, the Illinois River, and Lake Peoria, and the Des Plaines and Fox Rivers.
The removal period of Potawatomi history began with the treaties of the late 1820s when the United States created reservations. Billy Caldwell and Alexander Robinson negotiated for the United Nations of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potowatomi in the Second Treaty of Prairie du Chien (1829), by which they ceded most of their lands in Wisconsin and Michigan. Some Potawatomi became religious followers of the "Kickapoo Prophet," Kennekuk. Over the years, the US reduced the size of the reservations under pressure for land by incoming European Americans.
The final step followed the Treaty of Chicago, negotiated in 1833 for the tribes by Caldwell and Robinson. In return for land cessions, the US promised new lands, annuities, and supplies to enable the people to develop new homes. The Illinois Potawatomi were removed to Nebraska and the Indiana Potawatomi to Kansas, both west of the Mississippi River. Often, annuities and supplies were reduced or late in arrival, and the Potawatomi suffered after their relocations. Those in Kansas later were removed to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The removal of the Indiana Potawatomi was documented by a Catholic priest, Benjamin Petit, who accompanied the Indians on the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Petit died while returning to Indiana.