Source: Legends Of The Kaw
The Pottawatomies were of Algonquin descent and were termed
"Firemakers," in reference to their secession from the Odjibwas and
becoming the makers of their own fires. The Odjibwa tradition says that
there were two brothers at St. Mary's Falls. The fishing-rod of the
younger was taken into the rapids by the other and accidentally broken.
A quarrel ensued. The elder brother went south. This was the origin of a
new tribe. The Pottawatomies of the Woods, located in Wisconsin and
Michigan; and the Prairie Bands, of Illinois and Indiana, formed the two
principal divisions of the nation, whose homes were scattered from the
shores of Lake Superior to the Illinois River. In language and customs,
the Pottawatomies were similar to the Ottawas and Chippewas, with whom
they were closely allied. They crowded the Miamis from the vicinity of
In the war of 1812, the Prairie Bands, under the leadership of
Suna-we-wone, fought against the Americans, and were at the massacre at
Fort Dearborn. The United States effected a treaty of peace with them in
1815, and afterward purchased a portion of their land. Eighteen years
later, the cession known as the Platte Purchase was made, in
consideration of which the Government granted 576,000 acres adjoining
the Shawnees and Delawares, in Kansas. Subsequently, the tribe became
widely scattered. Portions located in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and the
The Pottawatomies believed in two Great Spirits, Kitchenonedo, Good
Spirit, and Matchemondo, Evil Spirit. Kitchenonedo made the world and
its first inhabitants; they looked like people, but were wicked
ungrateful dogs that never lifted their eyes from the ground, to return
In punishment, the Creator dropped the earth, with everything upon it,
into a great lake, from which it emerged only after the destruction of
the race. Then a handsome young man appeared, who seemed sad because of
loneliness. Kitchenonedo pitied him and sent a sister to brighten his
life. Many years later the young man had a dream. Telling it to his
sister, he said:
"Five young men will come to your lodge door this night. The Great
Spirit forbids you to answer or even look up and smile at the first
four, but when the fifth comes, you may speak and laugh and show that
you are pleased."
She obeyed his directions. The first who arrived was named U-sa-ma, or
Tobacco, and being repelled, he fell down and died; the next, Wa-pa-ko,
or Pumpkin, meeting a like reception, followed his example; the third,
Esh-kos-si-min, or Melon, and the fourth, Ko-kees, or Bean, had the same
misfortune; but she smiled upon the fifth, who was named Tamin, or
Montamin (Maize), and opened the lodge door that he might enter. They
were married; and from them are descended the North American Indians.
Tamin buried his ill-fated rivals; and from their graves sprang tobacco,
melons, beans and pumpkins; and the Pottawatomies said that was the way
in which the Good Spirit furnished his people something to put into
their a-keeks, or kettles, with the meat, and something to offer as a
gift at feasts and ceremonies.
Long after a majority of the nation had become Christianized, they
clung, in a great measure, to the ancient superstitions.
Not many miles distant from the place where Topeka now stands, lived a
chief called Menweshma. Menweshma was a believer in the Indian doctrine
of transformation, and gravely asserted that he could turn his four
hundred and eighty pounds of flesh into a bird or beast. Tradition says
that it was a favorite pastime of his, to assume the form of an owl.
Being an inveterate gambler, he at one time became the victim of a
scheme by which he was defrauded. This so enraged the Pottawatomie that
he killed the seven Indians who participated in the trick, and
according to the laws of the tribe, was called upon to pay a heavy
ransom or submit to death. After surrendering all his possessions,
Menweshma was yet indebted to the amount of five hundred dollars. This
sum was borrowed from the trader, and year after year passed and the
chief continued to disregard the solicitations of the white man to pay.
One night, after Menweshma had appeared particularly annoyed by these
requests, the settler and his family were disturbed by the hooting of an
owl. Seizing a rifle, the man shot in the darkness at what appeared to
be the outline of the bird, and saw an object fall to the ground. On
reaching the spot, he stooped to pick it up--and the nocturnal visitor
could not be found.
At nine o'clock next morning came a messenger with the request that he
go at once to Menweshma, who was dying. Entering the hut, he was left
alone with the medicine man and the dying chief. The Pottawatomie,
disclosing a great wound in his side, said:
"Didn't you shoot an owl at your house, last night? I was that owl, and
had gone there to poison your children."
Queer explanations were accepted without question, by the Indians, and
often white folks were puzzled to account for strange events.
Even the most warlike tribes did not hesitate to resort to deception,
if, perchance, a victory were to be gained without striking a blow.
Below the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers was a
reservation of the Pottawatomies. Just without its limits, the Pawnees,
always at war and straying from rightful boundaries, were wont to lie in
wait for their less courageous neighbors.
On a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1856, seven or eight hunters and
trappers, going westward from Fort Riley, were confronted by a
panic-stricken band of several hundred Pottawatomies. The fugitives,
galloping toward the reservation, shouted, "Pawnee! Pawnee!" Later in
the day, the plainsmen came upon the Pawnees, a party of fifty men,
celebrating with great satisfaction, their success in putting the foe to
flight. The latter, in the morning, had camped not far from a large
hill, or bluff, behind which the enemy were holding consultation as to
the best mode of attack. In order to give the impression of numerical
strength, the fifty braves filed around and around the bluff, seemingly
an interminable line, then, with blood-curdling war-whoops, dashed
toward the camp. The Pottawatomies fled precipitately, leaving the
entire supplies to fall into the hands of the strategists, who took
advantage of every opportunity to intimidate the more pacific nations of
eastern or southern origin, removed west by the Government.
With the exception of the Shawnee Prophet, the cruel and vindictive
war-chief, Wa-baun-see, was, doubtless, the most famous Indian among the
emigrant nations. His brave deeds have formed the subject of many
interesting anecdotes. Notable among them is
THE STORY OF THE FLAT-BOAT.
Near the close of the eighteenth century, the Americans again commenced
to encroach upon Indian territory, and some of them proceeded
southwestward down the Ohio River in large boats about thirty-five or
forty feet in length and ten or twelve feet in breadth, with barricaded
decks. The rightful owners of the soil, determined to prevent further
settlement, disputed every mile of progress by all possible means.
One day the scouts, led by Wa-baun-see, watched a floating fort from the
north bank of the river. An attack was feasible, since the pilot kept
well to the middle of the stream, beyond reach. The Indians consulted as
to the best method of overcoming this difficulty. Word was sent to the
main body of warriors to conceal themselves at a certain point that
jutted out into the water, at some distance below their present
location. They were also instructed to be prepared for battle when the
boat should go ashore. Meantime, despite all efforts to the contrary on
the part of the pilot, the raft showed a decided tendency to approach
the river bank. The man at the helm was admonished again and again, but
insisted that he had been doing all in his power to keep off from shore.
The pilot then made a careful examination of the boat on the side next
to land. A black object bobbed up occasionally, then disappeared. Closer
scrutiny revealed a nude Indian, swimming under water and tugging away
at a rope held in his teeth. The other end was fastened to the boat.
Once in a while the swimmer was compelled to come to the surface for
Quietly obtaining his bayonet, the pilot watched the water with
interest. Again the dark head and shoulders emerged. They were those of
the war-chief. Quick as a flash, the bayonet plunged downward into his
back. Wa-baun-see sank out of sight, keeping under water until he
reached the shore. The braves conveyed him to a place of safety and
carefully dressed the dangerous wound. The daring chief recovered.
When the Osages were strong and powerful, and claimed thousands of broad
acres south of the Missouri River, they were frequently at war with the
Pottawatomies. During a battle, Wa-baun-see was routed, in addition to
losing a friend in the sally. The proud spirit of the war-chief was
injured; and the humiliation caused by defeat and the death of the brave
rankled in his mind after other warriors had seemingly forgotten the
circumstances. He determined to seek revenge, should it ever become
possible. Years passed without the gratification of his wishes. Then
came the news that, at an appointed time, a delegation of Osages would
visit a certain western fort. Wa-baun-see, with some of his best men,
repaired to the post, and, after a formal interview, withdrew. They
galloped a few miles away and waited for darkness. The Osages feared
treachery and communicated their suspicions to the commandant.
Permission to sleep inside the fortifications was asked and granted.
In the night, when all was silent, Wa-baun-see rode quietly toward the
place. He stationed his men at a safe distance and went forward to
inspect the defenses. It was necessary to employ the utmost caution, in
order to avoid the guards. Approaching, he threw himself upon the ground
and crept around the walls, finding, at last, an embrasure, almost too
small to permit the passage of a man's body. The chief was seeking
revenge and was not to be daunted, therefore, after a long and painful
effort, succeeded in writhing through the aperture, and warily sought
out the adversaries of his people. They were sleeping soundly, feeling
secure in the protection afforded by the presence of soldiers. Wrapped
in a blanket, and lying upon the ground a short distance from the group,
was the head chief. Crawling through the grass, the Pottawatomie reached
his side. There was no disturbance, only a dull thud, as the tomahawk
buried itself in the head of the slumberer. Securing the scalp,
Wa-baun-see retired as noiselessly as he had come.
In the morning the Osages were greatly surprised and enraged to learn
that the enemy had been in their midst.
The impression that the relentless chief was the most ferocious Indian
of his time, was confirmed by the frightful punishment of one of his
wives, accused by another wife, probably a favorite, of cruelty to his
children. Without giving the poor woman an opportunity to plead her
cause, he commanded the accuser to split open her skull.
Wa-baun-see accompanied his tribe to Kansas in 1846, and during the
latter part of that year, went to Washington, with other influential
men, to conclude a treaty with the Government. The stage-coach, in which
they passed through Missouri on the way home, overturned near Boonville,
and Wa-baun-see sustained severe injuries, which ultimately resulted in
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