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Forced Potawatomi Migration


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson prompts students to think about the hardships the Potawatomi Indians faced during their forced march out of Indiana to Kansas.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Discuss the hardships faced by the Potawatomi Indians during their forced removal from Indiana in 1838
  • Write a 4 t0 5 paragraph essay relating what they would do and how they would feel in similar circumstances

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Fourth Grade Social Studies)

Social Studies

4.1.15 Using primary source and secondary source materials, generate questions, seek answers, and write brief comments about an event in Indiana history.

4.1.5 Describe the removal of Indian groups from Indiana in the 1830s.


4.1.1 Read aloud grade-level-appropriate narrative text (stories) and expository text (information) with fluency and accuracy and with appropriate timing, changes in voice, and expression.

4.2.3 Make and confirm predictions about text by using prior knowledge and ideas presented in the text itself, including illustrations, titles, topic sentences, important words, foreshadowing clues (clues that indicate what might happen next), and direct quotations.

4.4.3 Write informational pieces with multiple paragraphs that:

•  provide an introductory paragraph.

•  establish and support a central idea with a topic sentence at or near the beginning of the first paragraph.

•  include supporting paragraphs with simple facts, details, and explanations.

•  present important ideas or events in sequence or in chronological order.

•  provide details and transitions to link paragraphs.

•  conclude with a paragraph that summarizes the points.

•  use correct indention at the beginning of paragraphs.

4.6.3 Create interesting sentences by using words that describe, explain, or provide additional details and connections, such as adjectives, adverbs, appositives, participial phrases, prepositional phrases, and conjunctions.

4.7.11 Make narrative (story) presentations that:

•  relate ideas, observations, or memories about an event or experience.

•  provide a context that allows the listener to imagine the circumstances of the event or experience.

•  provide insight into why the selected event or experience should be of interest to the audience.


Lesson Activities:

1. Read the introduction to the “Journal of an Emigrating Party of Potawatomi Indians” aloud to students. As you read, stop after the bolded text and ask the students to think about and respond to the question. Then finish the paragraph.

Introduction to "Journal of an Emigrating Party of Potawatomi Indians, 1838"

In 1837 and 1838 most of the few remaining Native Americans within the state of Indiana were forced out of their settlements by soldiers and militiamen and marched to government lands more than 600 miles away. In late August 1838, more than 700 Potawatomis living in and around the town of Menominee, Indiana, were forced from their homes, gathered together, and marched through Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, to an area in Kansas already settled by the first group of migrants in 1837. It took more than two months for the group to arrive at their final destination; many adults became ill and many children and elderly people died. [Ask students to think about why this might have happened.] The march began in hot, dusty weather; it ended in snow and cold weather. Food was sometimes scarce until the men were allowed to send out hunting parties; lack of water was a frequent problem. Many of the Indians walked the entire distance (there were less than 300 horses for more than 700 people); some of the sick were carried in the supply wagons. The soldiers and militiamen who accompanied them rode on horseback or on the wagons.

What follows are a few brief excerpts from an account, probably by William Polke, who was one of the men in charge of the forced migration.

Journal of an Emigrating Party of Potawatomi Indians, 1838
Probably written by William Polke (IMH, December 1925, pp. 315-36)

2. Read the journal entries, in small sections, to the class and then discuss:

  • Read the Sept. 1 and 2 entries.
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    Point out that 714 Indians began the trip and all of their possessions (except their clothes and a few small objects that could be carried in packs on horseback) were in only 13 wagons. That means every wagon held the possessions of 55 people. Ask the students to think about how much each person might have been able to take. What sorts of objects would have to have been left behind?
  • Read the Sept. 4, 5, and 9 entries.
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    Discuss the lack of food and water. What might happen to someone who had marched for 21 miles in one day without adequate food and water?

    The September 5th entry notes the birth of a child. Ask students to discuss that child's future. How did their childhood differ from those on the march?
  • Read the Sept. 10, 13, and 14 entries.
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    Polke says on the 13th that the march is mostly "very pleasant." Do you think that the Indians would have agreed with him?
  • Read the Sept. 24 and 25 entries.
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    Note that many of the Indian men were finally allowed to hunt for food. Ask students to discuss the risks this might have caused for those in charge.
  • Read the Oct. 17 and 24 entries.
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    Note that many of the Indians who were walking all of the way from Indiana to Kansas received shoes only when it began to snow. Ask students to speculate why they were not given shoes either before or at an early stage of the march.

Conclude by reading the Nov. 4 entry

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3. Ask students to think about what kind of items the Indians may have taken with them to their new home. What else would they have needed when they reached their new home in Kansas? List the student responses on the board for discussion.


Bring a large cloth laundry bag to class and show it to the students. After reading the text and answering the questions, show students the laundry bag and give them a copy of the essay assignment sheet.