About 175 years ago, the Potawatomi Indians were forced out of the place they’d called home for generations.
A caravan of vehicles will retrace their path, the Trail of Death, through 26 counties from Indiana to Kansas in September for the sixth Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan.
The caravan takes place every five years to retrace the Trail of Death, the forced removal of Potawatomi Indians from north central Indiana to eastern Kansas in 1838.
Shirley Willard, Fulton County historian and former Fulton County Historical Society president, has been involved as coordinator for the Trail of Death caravan since it began in 1988, on the 150th anniversary of the Trail of Death. She was previously president of the Fulton County historical society for 30 years and is a member of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association.
The caravan will begin Sept. 23 and continue until Sept. 29. All 26 counties along the trail in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas are invited to participate, Willard said.
Although people will be able to register for the caravan Sept. 23, they should register and book hotel rooms as soon as possible, Willard said.
There are now 80 Trail of Death historical markers, making it most likely the best marked historical trail in the U.S. and the world. Historic highway signs have been erected on the Indiana and Kansas portions of the Trail of Death and in parts of Illinois and Missouri, Willard said.
Willard noted they will dedicate two new historical markers at Spring Hill and Trading Post, Kan., and new historic highway signs at Danville and Monticello, Ill., and Brunswick to DeWitt, Mo.
Willard continues to participate because it is important to her.
“It has become very much a part of me,” Willard said. “We love the Potawatomi and the people we have traveled with on the caravan have become family. It is a spiritual journey.”
The number of people involved in the caravan vary from day to day and state to state, Willard said.
“People can go with us as long as they want,” Willard said. “They can go a day, an hour or the entire trip.”
Anyone is welcome to join, but Willard asks that people register. A printable registration form is available online at www.potawatomi-tda.org/carav13/carav13.htm.
Caravan participants will stop for lunch in Logansport Sept. 23 at the Cass County Historical Society Museum.
Willard called Thelma Conrad, director of the Cass County Historical Society months ago to schedule the stop, Conrad said.
“The caravan is her baby,” Conrad said. “Fulton County, because of Shirley, is very into native American history. We’re just a stop along the way.”
While planning the caravan, Willard said they were aware the Potawatomi had been marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street and thought something could be done to commemorate it.
“It’s kind of wiped out of history and we can’t really know how that feels,” Willard said.
The Potawatomi Trail of Death Association is a branch of Fulton County Historical Society and is connected with the Trail of Courage, Willard said.
Registration for the caravan will be at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at the Fulton County Museum and then will begin at Chief Menominee’s monument at Plymouth and continue to Kansas.
If you go WHAT: Sixth Trail of Death caravan WHERE: Registration for the caravan will be at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at the Fulton County Museum WHEN: Sept. 23 to Sept. 29 INFO: Visit http://www.potawatomi-tda.org/carav13/carav13.htm to find more information about the schedule, stops along the way and more.