Trail of Death Caravan Across Illinois
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

The Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan traveled Sept. 22-28, 2003, retracing the route taken by the Potawatomi in the fall of 1838. Unlike the Indians in 1838, we traveled in cars and trucks, stopping at each of the74 historical markers that our committee has gotten placed on the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail.

Quincy, Ill. - New historical marker dedicated by Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan in Quinsippi Island Park by the Mississippi River as a memorial to all the Indian removals. Erected by Boy Scout Aaron Bair for his Eagle project. (Photo by Bill Willard)

Sept. 22, Mon. - Plymouth to Independence, Ind., 136 miles. Ceremony at Chief Menominee statue at 9 a.m. Visited 15 Trail of Death markers: three near Plymouth, three near and one in Rochester, Logansport, three in rural Carroll County, Battle Ground, three in or near Lafayette, Independence. Also visited Burnett Creek Arch - a boat bridge over the canal, Burnett trading post - built c. 1790, oldest cabin in Indiana. We visited Mrs. Cable Ball’s house to see George Winter pictures of Potawatomi made in 1837-38. Lafayette television interviewed us for Channel 18 news.

Sept. 23, Tue. - Independence, Ind., to Monticello, Ill., 118 miles. Visited nine Trail of Death markers: Williamsport, Gopher Hill Cemetery, Danville, Catlin, Homer, Sidney, Sadorus, and two at Monticello. At Ellsworth Park in Danville, Hugo Zeiter, Hubert Powell and other members of Society of Indian Lore who erected the Trail of Death marker in 1993 met us. Danville Commercial News reporter took pictures. This is the only plaque that mentions the humiliation the Potawatomi suffered. No one greeted us at Catlin or Homer, but at Sidney and Sadorus people came to meet us, including the Mayor of Sadorus. We gave a program at Philo Elementary School at 2:00 and a public program sponsored by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Illinois 19th District in Monticello United Methodist Church at 6:30. George Godfrey, Tom Hamilton and I told about Trail of Death history. Larry Prichard told about his ancestor, William Polke. Carol Layman told about Isaac McCoy and his mission at Niles, Michigan, and showed the book she wrote about him. Galen Kabance told about the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation at Mayetta, Kansas, where he grew up. Mike Dodson told about the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and enterprises today. The CPN owns Fire Lake Entertainment: golf course, casino and bingo hall, miniature golf, restaurant, museum, tribal offices, Pow Wow and campgrounds, grocery store, bowling alley, employment and training center, bank, health care center and wellness center. There were lots of questions from the audience. I sold several of our Trail of Death booklets. After the program, George Godfrey went to meet his wife and go home to Maryland. Thelma Tuggle, Piatt County Historical Society, led us campers to Argenta campgrounds, about eight miles away. The caravaners in cars stayed in Monticello or Decatur motels..

Sept. 24, Wed. - Monticello to Exeter, Ill., 100 miles. Visited 10 Trail of Death markers: Sangamon River Crossing, Decatur, Niantic, two at Springfield, Riddle Hill, Island Grove, two at Jacksonville, Exeter. Thelma Tuggle and friends brought us breakfast at the campgrounds. Sister Joan Sullivan met us and placed a pink rose at the Trail of Death marker in Decatur. Cindy Smith, the mother of the Boy Scout who placed the marker in Niantic, greeted us and said he is in college. Illinois PBS TV video- taped us at Springfield’s Old Capitol Plaza. We ate lunch at the Holy Land restaurant by the Old Capitol building. New Salem Methodist Church served us refreshments when we visited the Trail of Death marker at Riddle Hill. The Jacksonville High School band serenaded the caravan at the town square as the town band did in 1838. In Exeter Roger Lovelace and George Knisely families had supper for the caravan in Lovelace’s house. An evening campfire was held in Exeter town park. We presented them with a plaque in appreciation for having a hog roast for our caravans of 1988, 1993, and 1998. Remember the $20 given us by the waitresses at Independence, Ind.? We gave it to Roger to help pay for the supper they served us because he is out of work.

Sept. 25, Thurs. - Exeter to Quincy, Ill., to Monroe City, Mo., 112 miles. Visited 10 Trail of Death markers: Naples, Perry, Liberty, Mill Creek, three at Quincy, West Quincy, Mo., two at Palmyra. The Mayor of Naples greeted us when we stopped at the TD marker in their town park. We drove to the levee to look at the Illinois River where the Potawatomi were ferried across in 1838. There is no ferry or bridge at Naples now so we drove to the Meredocia bridge. We were greeted by a large crowd at Perry, including the eighth graders from the local school. Dean, Wayne and Bill Mountain, brothers who made the Trail of Death monument at Perry, joined our caravan. A Kickapoo/Potawatomi Indian, Rudy Vallejo, did the eagle dance at the Mill Creek marker. Bob Pearl and Sister Virginia and Janet Pearl went ahead to take Father Petit’s chalice to the Quincy Catholic church. We attended Mass at St. Boniface Church where Father John Carberry led the communion, as it was in 1838, with Father Petit’s chalice, on loan from the Vincennes Church and carried by Bob Pearl on the caravan. After lunch, we toured the Indian Mounds Park, which has a Time Line with one panel that tells about the Trail of Death. At 4:30 we dedicated a special memorial to all the Indian removals at Quinsippi Island Park. The Public Television of Illinois interviewed us and made a documentary. Supper in the park was provided by Quincy donors, organized by Steve Tieken of the North American Archealogical Institute. Steve is a real go-getter and organizer. He had gifts for each member of the caravan: tobacco, yellow roses, cookies, fudge and a big Good-bye card for everyone to sign. We crossed the Mississippi River at 6:30 and visited the last three markers after dark. Some went to motels but the campers went to the farm home of Clifford and Josephine Gander to spend the night.

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This page updated Mar 27, 2011.