Tag Archives: Native Americans

Pawnee Indian Museum in Republic County, Kansas

The history and current stories of the native and emigrant tribes of Kansas have been on my mind these past few days. My Sisters in Crime chapter (that would be a group of writers, not a group of criminals) was lucky enough to host tribal law expert Traci McClennan-Sorrell as our speaker this past weekend. And today, a story of a Wisconsin bill that would loosen the protection afforded to earth mounds constructed by indigenous people more than a thousand years ago–protection put in place after nearly 80 percent of these mounds were destroyed by farming and development–showed up in my Twitter feed.

The more I study Kansas history, the more I realize how little I know and understand the stories of the people who were here long before the rectangle that is Kansas came to be. Which is why during our Republic County research trip last May, Jim and I made a point of allowing time to visit the Pawnee Indian Museum, which is just north of Belleville and a short jog from the Nebraska border.

The Pawnee Indian Museum is Kansas' first state historic site.

The Pawnee Indian Museum is Kansas’ first state historic site.

Here’s the first thing to know about the Pawnee Indian Museum: The land was not originally preserved because it tells the story of an amazing group of people who lived in Kansas hundreds of years ago. Landowners George and Elizabeth Johnson deeded it to the state of Kansas in 1899 (which accepted it in 1901, making it the first state historic site) because of the mistaken believe that explorer Zebulon Pike (of Pike’s Peak fame) stopped here in 1806 to raise the American flag west of the Mississippi River for the first time. And while he did stop in a Pawnee village to do so, it turns out that he was actually in the Pawnee village 40 MILES NORTH of the state historic site in the village the Pawnee moved TO after abandoning the one that was preserved.

However, this error in geography probably went a long way to protecting the Republic County site from being plowed into oblivion. The result is a truly wonderful site dedicated to sharing the story of the Pawnee in the late 1700s.

A map of the earliest tribes to live in the area now called Kansas.

A map of the earliest tribes to live in the area now called Kansas.

In this area by the Republican River, a band of Kitkehahki Pawnee built an entire village of earth lodges, which were surrounded by a fortification wall. After the village was abandoned, the earth lodges, which were built over carefully packed depressions, settled in place, complete with any remaining contents. Part of the fortification wall still exists. A handful of the depressions have been excavated. In 1967, the museum was built over the largest unexcavated depression in the shape of a Pawnee earth lodge, and archaeologists carefully unearthed the contents, exposing them but leaving them in place.

Pawnee Indian Village Scale model

A model of what the Pawnee lodge would have looked like when it was still in use.

As a result, when you enter the Pawnee Indian Museum, you don’t feel like you’ve entered a museum. You feel like you’ve entered a Pawnee earth lodge. Wooden posts that once held up the roof fell in place. Grains, shells, pottery, and other tools lay exactly where they were found. The storage pit–which is several feet deep (the Pawnee buried their supplies underground, hiding them from anyone poking around their village during the seasons they were elsewhere)–is visible. And then there is the faint scent of wood smoke, which will make you feel like the inhabitants could return at any moment.

A view of the excavated area in the Pawnee Indian Museum.

A view of the excavated area in the Pawnee Indian Museum.

The Pawnee did not live in the village all year long. During the hunting seasons, they followed herds of bison. The women also cultivated crops and stored them in the storage pits.

Earth lodge storage pits were very deep.

Earth lodge storage pits were very deep.

A sacred bundle–a bundle of items important religiously and symbolically to a Pawnee family–is reverently displayed over the sacred area of the earth lodge. It is the only artifact that cannot be photographed.

Around the perimeter of the excavated area are several displays about the history of the Pawnee. Audio recordings of memories, journals, and the Pawnee language make the visit to this site even more meaningful.

The museum does not end in the building. The site includes numerous depressions, and a walking trail and signage help you interpret the depressions and remaining fortification walls.

Signs along the walking trail help you interpret the depressions and remaining fortification walls.

Signs along the walking trail help you interpret the depressions and remaining fortification walls.

After centuries on the Plains, the Pawnee’s population began to decline. As other tribes were pushed into the area that would become Kansas, the Pawnee were pushed out, and the tribal members who were not killed off by disease ultimately ended up in Oklahoma. By 1900, only about 600 Pawnee remained.

Pawnee populations declined rapidly in the 1800s.

According to one of the displays at the Pawnee Indian Museum, Pawnee populations declined rapidly in the 1800s.

If you visit the Pawnee Indian Museum, give yourself several hours to explore the museum, listen to the audio clips, and wander the grounds. It’s also a great museum for asking questions. Museum site manager Richard Gould has been researching the history of the Pawnee for years, and his insight made our visit even more meaningful.

This site does an amazing job of making the story of the Pawnee accessible to visitors regardless of what knowledge they may have of the history of native tribes. I highly recommend making the time to visit this museum.

The Potawatomi Trail of Death and St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park

On one of our weekend drives to nowhere in particular, Jim and I found ourselves heading east on K-68 and circling the roundabout to exit onto the Old KC Road when we encountered a sign.

Potawatomi Trail of Death directional road sign.

These brown “Potawatomi Trail of Death” signs point the way.

We definitely would have remembered if we had previously encountered signs marked “Trail of Death.” Curious, we turned our destinationless drive into a quest to follow the signs.

We found ourselves at a pretty little green square in Paola, where, serendipitously, a staff member from the Miami County Historical Society happened to be enjoying the early evening sun. She outlined the story of the Potawatomi and how they ended up in Kansas.

Like many Native Americans in the 19th century, the Potawatomi held lands that encroaching settlers wanted. In 1838, two years after signing a treaty that gave away all of their land for $8,000 in exchange for transportation to their new lands, 660 Potawatomi men, women and children were forced to leave their homeland. Mostly on foot, the Potawatomi marched across Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri before reaching Kansas, a trip that would take two months. They lacked proper nourishment and shelter, and despite being tended to by a Jesuit priest named Benjamin Petit, many became ill and died.

When they arrived at the Sugar Creek Mission, they discovered that no houses had been built for them. It was November in Kansas, and the Potawatomi were forced to shelter they best they could along the creek banks.

Fr. Petit became very ill and ultimately died February 10, 1839 after returning to St. Louis.

“You should follow the signs to the park,” the woman from the historical society told us. “The memorial park is worth seeing.”

***

Generally speaking, the signs were easy to follow. They are, however, spaced just far enough apart that you start to worry you missed an important turn somewhere before the next sign appears to reassure you. Travel tip: If you happen to be using the GPS on your cellphone and your cell service is through Sprint, Virgin Mobile, or Verizon, be warned: you WILL lose your signal. Because of this lost signal, I couldn’t get this handy map to work for most of our trip. Also important to note: we picked up the trail near Paola, but the trail begins in Indiana.

We traveled through Osawatomie, which is a historic town that deserves attention all on its own and merits a return trip. A charming bridge takes you across Pottawatomie Creek on the south end of town.

Osawatomie bridge

The bridge at the southern end of Osawatomie.

As you approach the tiny town of Beagle, the lack of signage will sorely tempt you to continue following the smooth and silky K-7 Highway instead of continuing south on Plum Creek Road. DON’T DO IT. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself having this conversation:

Diana: Shouldn’t we go straight? There’s no sign that says to turn.
Jim: There’s no sign that says to get off of the main highway, so we should keep following K-7.

Ten minutes later…

Diana: Have you seen any signs?

Ten minutes after that…

Jim: I think maybe we should have gone straight back there.
Diana: I think you might be right.

After Beagle, the signs reappear and and reassure you that you’re on the right path and will take you into Parker before turning south again.

If you’re a taphophile, Goodrich Cemetery is a short detour off the marked path and worth the visit. The cemetery includes at least one CSA Civil War veteran and one likely War of 1812 veteran, as well as many great examples of Victorian hand art. We found it by accident when the Trail of Death road, 1077, was closed for repairs, and we had to detour. Take a left at W 1800 Rd and a right onto Evangeline and you’ll find it. Travel tip: this area is pretty isolated and the west end of the cemetery leads to a woodsy creek area.

At a crook in the road, you’ll turn onto W 1525 Rd. As you grind down the gravel, you’ll be startled by a tiny cemetery on the southeast corner of Flint Rd and W 1525 Rd. There are only three headstones, but they’re worth examining.

Sharp-Morrison Cemetery.

The Sharp-Morrison Cemetery on W 1525 Rd in Linn County, Kansas.

Another mile or so east, and you’ll see the entrance to St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park, which stands on the land once occupied by the Sugar Creek Mission.

Entrance

St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park.

Jim and I were gobsmacked by this park.

Owned by the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, this park honors the Native American, Jesuit, and archeological history of the land. The foundations and locations of buildings are carefully marked with informative signs. The park’s sainted namesake was once a nun serving the Potawatomi community at this site.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha memorial

Beautiful memorials and art honor both the Jesuit and Native American men and women who once lived here. This memorial honors Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, an Indian princess who was canonized in 2012.

A nature trail winds through the eastern side of the park. A fabulous discovery: the only known portion of the original Fort Scott and California Road is preserved in this hiking trail. Travel tip: When we arrived at this park last summer, we discovered the words “Beware of Ticks” scrawled on a paper plate and nailed Roanoke-style to the meeting hall wall, so we stayed away from the hiking trail that day. Winter or early spring might be a better time to explore the area under the canopy of trees.

Fort Scott and California Road sign

This sign marks the post of the only remaining fragment of the original Fort Scott and California Road.

I was most moved by the burial ground. Each of the crosses lists the names of the more than 600 Potawatomi men, women, and children who died at Sugar Creek.

Memorial crosses

Memorial crosses mark the area where more than 600 Potawatomi are buried.

Memorial Cross, list of names, detail

The names of every man, woman, and child are listed on the memorial crosses.

As we followed the path back to the entrance of the park, we found two more surprises. The first was an archeological site marking what might be a rock pit originally constructed by the Kanza Indians.

Possible Kanza Indian archeological site

This rock pit may have been constructed by the Kanza Indians.

The second was the text of the diary of Jesse C. Douglas, enrolling agent, who documented the struggles of the Potawatomi on their long journey to Kansas.

Trail Journal Display

Jesse Douglas’s trail journal is preserved in a series of panels at the park.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, has manged to create a spirtual space that honors the individual men, women, and children who tried to make a life for themselves at the Sugar Creek Mission. There is a serene quality here that I have not found in many Kansas parks. There is no charge to visit, but the park does accept donations. It is one of my favorite accidental discoveries and I recommend it whenever I can.

***

What happened to the Potawatomi?

Despite building a settlement, the Potawatomi would not stay in Linn County for long. Just ten years later, the Native American band would be forced to move again, this time to St. Marys, a small town near Topeka, Kansas.

Further reading:

Trail of Death, Miami County Historical Society

Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn.

Potawatomi Trail of Death, Legends of America

Sunday Snapshot: The Jesuit Origins of Pottawatomie County

An angel perched atop a grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery watches over St. Marys, Kansas.

An angel perched on a grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery watches over St. Marys, Kansas.

A few weeks ago, Jim and I were feeling a little wanderlust and decided to drive to a town we’d never before visited. In Lawrence, we parted from the turnpike and found ourselves wandering through towns like Tecumsah and Silver Lake and Rossville.

And then we found ourselves in St. Marys.

St. Marys is an old Kansas settlement. The Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, who had served the Pottawatomie tribe for over a decade in Eastern Kansas, moved with them to what is now St. Marys in 1848. There they established St. Mary’s Catholic Mission, which was a stop on the Oregon Trial. The first cathedral built between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River was a log construction that served as the See of Bishop Miege (known as the “Bishop of the Indians”) from 1851 to 1855 (though other sources suggest the first cathedral was in Leavenworth). The land where it stood would serve as a college and Jesuit seminary for many years. Charles Curtis, a Native American who would serve as vice president to President Herbert Hoover (and whose signature appears on the guest registry at the Old Castle Museum in Baldwin City) was baptized at the St. Marys parish in 1860. The U.S. Pottawatomie agency was also located in St. Marys, and the building still stands today.

Mount Calvary Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Jesuits who served the Pottawatomie community in the 1800s.

Mount Calvary Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Jesuits who served the Pottawatomie community in the 1800s.

Today the old college and former seminary belongs to a new order, the Society of Saint Pius X, a Catholic community that has returned to a more conservative interpretation of Catholicism that predates Vatican II. Although we clearly looked out of place–I was wearing jeans on a campus where all of the women wore conservative skirts–we were made to feel incredibly welcome by a community of traditionally garbed nuns, priests, and students who were celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. The congregation was an international one, and we learned that Catholics from all over the world have moved to St. Marys in order to be a part of a religious community that celebrates the Tridentine Mass in Latin as well as send their children to St. Mary’s Academy and College, which uses many of the historic old buildings built by the Jesuits.

Our final stop in St. Marys took us to Mount Calvary Cemetery, which is also known locally as the Jesuit Cemetery. High up on a hill that lets you see miles and miles of the surrounding countryside, the cemetery’s population is strikingly diverse for a small community in central Kansas. A large portion of the graves belong to the Jesuit priests, whose headstones are carved with Latin epitaphs. A large angel looks out over the town far below.

We hope to find our way back to St. Marys. The little town rests upon a wealth of history worth exploring.

Dusk photo

Mount Calvary Cemetery at sunset.

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Shawnee Indian Cemetery

A small, half-acre cemetery surrounded by suburban backyards is the final resting place for some of Johnson County’s earliest known residents. Shawnee Indian Cemetery, also known as Bluejacket Cemetery, can be accessed from beneath a basketball goal where 59th Terrace comes to a dead end just east of Nieman Road.

The cemetery includes the remains of Shawnee Indian chiefs as well as others; the first known burial was that of Nancy Parks in 1837. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to this cemetery, and many of the markers have broken or fallen and are slowly being reabsorbed into the ground. Other pieces of broken markers have been saved by securing them to a large, shared concrete base. Today, the grounds themselves are well maintained and protected.

Sunday Snapshot: Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas

High above street level on a mound of prime downtown real estate lay the final resting ground for many members of the tribe that would lend its name to the county of Wyandotte. In 1843, Wyandots migrated from Ohio to what is now Kansas. When they arrived, the land they were promised was no longer available, and instead, they purchased 36 acres from the Delaware, who were already living in the area.

During those earliest months, epidemics of disease swept through the Wyandot, and they buried their dead on the hill overlooking the river. As the area was opened up to White settlement, the cemetery land was supposed to be protected ground, but as much of the surrounding land changed hands, several attempts were made to sell the cemetery and remove the graves–especially as the business district grew around it.

Huron Cemetery hovers over the intersection of 7th and Minnesota in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

Huron Cemetery hovers over the intersection of 7th and Minnesota in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

When such an attempt was made in 1906, three sisters with some Wyandot blood in their veins–Helana, Eliza, and Ida Conley–padlocked the cemetery gates, built a shanty over their parents’ graves, and pointed shotguns at anyone who tried to remove tombstones or bodies. Eliza “Lyda” Conley studied law and was thought to be the first woman to¬† argue a case before the Supreme Court. The three sisters kept up this occupational protest for several years as court after court ruled in favor of the sale, but the public sided with the Conleys and in 1913, Congress denied the sale and instead appropriated funds to improve the grounds.

Today, the cemetery includes winding paths and is a scenic, green overlook for an otherwise paved downtown. The cemetery is thought to be the final resting ground for several hundred early area residents, though only a few dozen graves are specifically marked. Many are graves of Wyandot chiefs, a few of which are still marked today.

Early settler Lucy Armstrong's recollection of the Huron Cemetery. Armstrong was a member of the Wyandot.

Early settler Lucy Armstrong’s recollection of the Huron Cemetery. Armstrong’s husband was a member of the Wyandot.

Because many White settlers had assimilated and married into the Wyandot nation, graves sometimes carry traditionally European names, English translations of native names, as well as Native American names. In many places, a marker indicates only that there are many unmarked graves.

The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is easily accessible (it’s right next to the Kansas City Kansas Public Library). Detailed plaques at the entrance outline the history of the Wyandot and the burial ground. It’s worth a visit, both to remember those who came before us and to understand just how valuable two acres of land can be to different people.