Potawatomi Powwow Peace

Potawatomi Powwow Peace

From the 1870 County Gazetteer: When “whites” first settled along the St. Joseph River in the Michigan Territory in the 1830’s, the Nottawa tribe of the Potawatomis was settled on the prairie a few miles west of today’s Centreville. Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox tribes had recently crossed into Illinois into an area they had already sold to the United States. This resulted in the “Black Hawk War” of 1832. Black Hawk and his band had been reduced to a shadow of what it had been. They were now made up mostly of the elderly, women and children. That didn’t matter. The worry was that the two forces would combine. Those white settlers scattered in the area just north of what is now the Indian-Michigan border some 25 miles northwest of Elkhart became greatly alarmed. They had thoughts of being assaulted in their cabins by hordes of intoxicated savages. Some fled in haste, while others prepared to defend their homes. Despite their alarm, based on little but wild rumors, there were prominent individuals who did not believe that their settlements were in any immediate danger from Black Hawk’s ragged band. Soon, however, some were heard calling on the local militia to play a part in what was certain to be a deadly conflict. Truth was, the Potowatomi could muster only about 50 light-armed warriors. Fears of an invasion by Black Hawk’s forces from Illinois led to a meeting which initially called for a messenger to travel the 30 miles to Niles and plead for a detachment of the militia to come to the aid of the setters in the area. Benjamin Sherman, of Elkhart County agreed to take a message to Niles. Over the objection of Captain Thomas Powers, head of the militia, Cyrus Schellhous wanted to hold a meeting with the Nottawa chief to learn of their intentions. At the meeting, Schellhous, Powers, and Chief Cush-ee-wes and an interpreter talked for a while and the chief asked, “what does the white man want?” Powers asked why were the Indians planning to attack them and kill and scalp their women and children? He accused the chief of having agreed to join forces with Black Hawk to attack the settlers. Chief Cush-ee-wes’ reply silenced Powers and brought a shout of relief from his followers. “The Sauk is the enemy of the Potawatomi,” declared the chief. “There never was any friendship between our nations. The Potawatomi hates the Sauk as the eagle hates the filthy crow.” The once-militant crowd dispersed after learning of the deep division between the tribes. Not long afterward, Squire Sherman brought word from Niles that Black Hawk had been captured. And that, Virginia, is how war on the Nottawa Prairie was averted, just a simple powwow.