Local History and Genealogy

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chief Pokagon Speech in Angola

The 22nd annual meeting of the early settlers of this county, held in McConnell's Park (present day location of Carnegie Steuben Library) on Aug. 16, 1894. Chief Pokagon  addressed the crowd.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am indeed glad that I am here. Glad that I am permitted to address you, the pioneer fathers and mothers, with your sons and daughters, who here inherit my fatherland, and enjoy this paradise, which you have reclaimed from a wild and unbroken forest. I assure you that this country still holds a sacred place in this native heart of mine.Tradition tells me that my tribe, the Potawatomies, migrated from the great ocean toward the setting sun, in search of a happy hunting ground this side of the eternal world.
In their wanderings they found no place to satisfy and charm, until they reached these wide extended plains. Here they found game in great abundance. The elk, the buffalo and the deer stood unalarmed before the hunter's bended bow; fish swarmed the lakes and streams close to shore; pigeons, ducks and geese moved in great clouds through the air, flying so low  that they fanned us with their wings; and our boys, whose bows were yet scarce terror to the crows, would often with their arrows shoot them down. Here we enjoy ourselves in the lap of luxury; but our camp-fires have all gone out; our council fires blaze no more; our wigwams, and those who built them, with their children, have forever disappeared from this beautiful land; and I alone am permitted to behold it. Where cabins and wigwams once stood, now glisten in the sunshine, cottages and palaces erected by another race; and where we walked or rode in single file, along our woodland trails, now locomotives scream like monster beasts of prey, rushing along their iron paths, dragging after them long trains of palaces, filled with travelers, out stripping in their course the eagle in his flight.
As I behold the mighty change that has taken place since my boyhood days all over the face of this broad land, I feel about my heart, as I did in boyhood, when for the first time, I beheld the arched rainbows spanning the dark cloud of the departing storm.
I have been requested to speak somewhat of my own history and people. Hence, I would say that in the fall of 1837, my father, Chief Pokagon, with several of our head men, went to Washington to see the great Chief of the United States, in regard to our homes in this beautiful land, for it pained our hearts to think of leaving them. They rode their ponies to Wheeling, a city on the Ohio River, where they left them and went by stage to Baltimore. From there they rode on the cars to Washington, the railroad having just been completed to that place. It took them about three weeks to make the journey.
Twenty-four years after my father's visit, I went along nearly the same route by rail to Washington in less than two days. I went to see the greatest and best chief ever known, Abraham Lincoln. I was the first red man to shake hands and visit him after his inauguration. He talked to me as a father would talk to a son; was glad that we had built churches and school houses. He had a sad look in his face, but I knew he was a good man. I heard it in his voice, saw it in his eyes and felt it in his handshaking. I told him how my father, long ago, sold Chicago and the surrounding country to the United States for three cents per acre, and how we were poor, needing our pay. He said he was sorry for us, and would help us what he could to get our just dues. Three years later I again visited the great chief , he excused delay in our payment on account of the war. He seemed bowed down with care. At this time Grant was thundering before Richmond for its final overthrow, while Sherman was making his grand march to the sea. Sometime after this visit, we were paid $39,000. In 1874 I again visited the city to get the remainder of our pay, and I met the great War Chief, General Grant. I had expected he would put on military importance, but he kindly shook hands with me and gave me a cigar. We both sat down and smoked the pipe of peace. He thanked me for the loyalty of my people, and for the soldiers we had furnished during the war. We still had due us from Uncle Sam between one and two hundred thousand dollars. He said there was a question about our claim; but we got judgment against the government through the Court of Claims, and I believe it is worth one hundred cents on the dollar and that it will all be paid as soon as congress gets through scuffling over the tariff.
I had been requested to state the circumstances of our removal from this state by the national government. But I cannot; my young heart was so touched by the sad story of it, told me by my mother, that all through youth and manhood I have tried to forget it; and again, could I remember the same, I have no desire to harrow my own feelings or the feelings of others by recounting the trying times of other days. But I should dishonor myself on this great occasion should I fail to declare to you that there is a monster evil in this beautiful land, born of the white man, that has swept away and destroyed many of our race; and now I here warn fathers and mothers, sons and daughters that, almost unseen, this deadly monster stalks abroad among us at noonday and at midnight. It is the serpent of the still. Pokagon hates this loathsome snake. There is no place so guarded or secluded in this land as not to be cursed by it. It crawls about your lawns and farms, along your highways and railways, drinks from your springs and wells, enters your homes, hides itself in the folds of your blankets, and crawls among your children while you sleep. The war between labor and capital in this country is carried on by this monster, exciting its votaries to ruin and riot, urging the man to the committal of the basest deeds of violence. I was in Chigaco during the hottest week of the Deb's rebellion, and I there learned that those who cried against capital loudest, drank of the cursed firewater the most freely.
I must close. I am getting old and feeble, and in all probability none of you will ever see my face again this side of the happy hunting grounds; hence as a worn out specimen of the forest, just stepping into the other world beyond, I urged upon you as you value the grand domain you inherit, as you value society, home and all that life holds most dear, to try and do all you can to banish this reptilian monster from your land; then heaven will smile upon you, and the votaries of temperance and intemperance will shake hands and rejoice together; and the sunshine of peace and plenty will lighten with joy and gladness this beautiful land.

 'Former Years'  Wednesday, August 24, 1994 Herald-Republican- page 3B