Potawatomi Trail of Death Association

PTDA Newsletters

The Potawatomi Trail of Death Association was organized in 2005. It replaces the Indian Awareness Center at Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana. Officers were elected at the organizational meeting held Sept. 16, 2005: President - George Godfrey, Athens, Illinois. Vice president - Sister Virginia Pearl, Great Bend, Kansas. Secretary - Dolores Grizzell, Winamac, Indiana. Treasurer - Shirley Willard, Rochester, Indiana. Editor - Susan Campbell, Kalaheo, Hawaii. Board members include Don Perrot, Waupun, Wisconsin, and Don Riddle, Brunswick, Missouri. The Board includes the officers, making a total of seven Board members. Godfrey, Pearl and Campbell are members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Perrot is a member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi. Officers are also Board members.

The Indian Awareness Center was established in 1983. In 1988 this group took on the project of getting Trail of Death historical markers at each camp site every 15 to 20 miles from Indiana to Kansas. In conjunction with the Trail of Death Commemorative Committee, which has several Potawatomi as members, the goal was reached in 2003 at the end of the Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan. The caravan retraced the original route for the fourth time, having also traveled in September of 1988, 1993 and 1998.

While continuing to promote all tribe’s histories, particularly during the removal period, the PTDA will focus on promoting the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail. Shirley Willard, coordinator for placing Trail of Death markers, stated, “Now that we have 78 historical markers and have done the work of researching the original route, we want to promote this Regional Historic Trail. We hope to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the American Indians, the forced removals, and their culture today.”

The PTDA by-laws require that a Board member be from each of the four states and one from the Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana. The Fulton County Museum is the headquarters of the new organization. Because FCHS is a 501-c-3 non-profit corporation in the state of Indiana, donations to PTDA are tax deductible.

Trail of Death logo. David Thomas Anderson, Seattle, Washington, is an artist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He designed the logo for the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail, seen on the Home Page of this web site. The little family is walking the Trail of Death, led by a red-tailed hawk who looks back to make sure they are coming ok. David’s email address is David feels a great responsibility in his artistic gift. “We live in a time that is crucial for Humans to reconnect with the Earth Mother and with all of creation. We need to learn to live in harmony with all our relations. Humanity has wandered away from its roots, from the earth, from one another, and our understanding of our inter- connectedness to all beings. I pray that my art, in its small way, can aid the coming of an awakening consciousness among humanity.”

PTDA Web site - A primary goal was to make a web page with pictures of all 78 Trail of Death historical markers, from the Chief Menominee statue near Plymouth, Indiana, to the Father Petit memorial in the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park near Centerville, Kansas. The web page was compiled by Shirley Willard, using pictures in the Trail of Death Archives in the Fulton County Museum. Also included in the web pages are quotes from the 1838 diary, names of who erected each marker, and driving directions so that motorists, bikers and hikers can follow the original route. Whenever she had an email address, she emailed each county’s portion of the Trail of Death web pages to the county historical society or historians in each county for their input and corrections. It is hoped that the web page will have the driving directions all accurate so people won’t get lost. Susan Campbell edited and proofread it. George Godfrey helped out with Illinois, Dora May Craven helped with Missouri, and many others helped in each state. Money is needed to keep this on the Internet.

Dale J. Travis, Decatur, Illinois, donated his time to convert the material sent him to a web site with clickable boxes. If you have suggestions or corrections, or if you have other (maybe better) pictures, email them to Shirley at Another goal is to post newsletters on the web page, thus saving printing and postage costs.

Vision statement - We visualize the Potawatomi Trail of Death becoming a catalyst for renewal, a spiritual journey for American Indians and non-Indians who wish to travel its route and share in the feelings, reaching out to understand and appreciate the culture and value of the first Americans. This event, called the Hoosier Holocaust, took a terrible toll on the elders and the babies, who died and were buried in unmarked graves along the trail. This trek can be a handhold in climbing the wall of human enlightenment. It can help prevent anything like this from happening again. It can help the public to realize what was done to the American Indians, and what the true history is.

There is an old saying, “Don’t judge another until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” The Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail offers you the opportunity to walk a mile or many miles, or ride a bike, a car, a truck and camper, or an RV from Indiana to Kansas for the full experience. As you travel, please take the time to say a prayer by each Trail of Death historical marker for world peace, that mankind will finally stop hurting himself and others and will accept all others, even the wild things, as brothers and sisters. We are all on planet Earth together and we should help each other.

The first hiker on the Trail of Death was Keith Drury, a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana. He began his trek at Chief Menominee’s statue on April 30, 2006, and he reached the end of the Trail in Kansas the third week of June. He blogged his journey on his web page at www.trailofdeath.org. He plans to write a book of Christian meditations from walking the Trail of Death.

Purposes of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn.

The purposes of the PTDA are to collect, preserve, research and interpret the history and heritage of Potawatomi 1838 Trail of Death and the Trail of Death Regional Historic Trail, and thereby to educate the public and tell the true history of what happened in the 1830s removal period.

PTDA will coordinate and further the programs of the local and state historical societies and historians on the Trail of Death by functioning as a service organization and communication network, encouraging them to establish a Trail of Death Interpretative Center in their respective area. This could be as simple as an exhibit in their museum about the Trail of Death and free materials to give the public about it. Trail of Death counties who wish to be included in this web page need to set up a display about the Potawatomi Trail of Death and email photos to Shirley Willard at

You are invited to become a Charter Member of the new Potawatomi Trail of Death Association. Send in your dues today. Charter membership is available until Dec. 31, 2006. Send check for $20 dues (individual) or $30 (family or group) to PTDA, Fulton Co. Hist. Soc., 37 E 375 N, Rochester IN 46975. You might want to include a donation to help get the web pages on the Internet and pay for highway signs. Thank you.

The second annual meeting for the PTDA was held Friday evening, Sept. 15, 2006 in the Fulton County Museum, before the Trail of Courage Living History Festival, Rochester, Indiana. The current slate of officers was re-elected as we are just getting started. A report was given by Shirley Willard about her trip to Little Rock, Arkansas in July to give a speech to the National Trail of Tears Association (TOTA).They wanted to know how the Potawatomi Trail of Death got so many historical markers. The answer is that our committee did not wait for the government but went ahead and got volunteers and erected the markers with donations. We got the state legislatures of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas to pass resolutions declaring it a Regional Historic Trail. Following our example, the TOTA decided to also ask the state legislature to proclaim the Trail of Tears as a historic trail. They are organized by states with several states having a Trail of Tears chapter. We can learn from them and try this too.

The Trail of Courage Living History Festival had an attendance of 12,500 and good weather both days. This year the honored family was descendants of Chief Keesis. Pat Keesis, her sister Carla Keesis Johnson, and nieces and nephews, members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kansas, attended the festival.

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This page updated Dec 9, 2010.