A few weeks later, on January 2, 1839, Father Petit, set out for Indiana, accompanied by Abram “Nan-wesh-mah” Burnett. At the time Burnett had to hold Petit on his horse, as the priest was very sick with sores all over his body. When they reached Jefferson City, Missouri, Petit was so sick he could no longer ride a horse and was forced to ride in a wagon. The pair reached the Jesuit seminary in St. Louis, Missouri on January 15th. Father Petit was too sick to travel further. He died at the seminary on February 10, 1839 at the age of 27. He was initially buried in the Jesuit Cemetery in St. Louis, but years later, in 1856, was re-interred at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Today, many of the Potawatomi feel that Father Petit is a saint.
The St. Mary's Sugar Creek Mission was the true end of the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Though they still had no houses, they found shelter along the steep rocky walls of the creek bank, where they could hang blankets and keep warm with camp fires. Thus they spent that first winter in Kansas. Later they built wigwams and log cabins, and lived at the mission for the next ten years.
Three years after their arrival, Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne came to the mission in 1841, where she taught school to the young members of the tribe. She established the first Indian school for girls west of the Mississippi River. By that time she was 72 years old and her health was failing. Unable to do much work, she dedicated herself primarily to a ministry of contemplative prayer, impelling the Indians to name her Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, Woman-Who-Prays-Always. She was canonized in 1988, the first female saint west of theMississippi River.
Map courtesy Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana.
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The Potawatomi of the Woods Mission Band remained in eastern Kansas for ten years. In 1848 they moved further west to St Marys, Kansas, close to the Prairie Band PotawatomiReservation at Mayetta, Kansas. During their years at the mission more than 600 of the Potawatomi died, many of them shortly after their arrival. Chief Alexis Menominee died on April 15, 1841, at the age of 50. All are buried at the site. In 1861, the Potawatomi were offered a new treaty which gave them land in Oklahoma. Those who signed this treaty became the Citizen Band Potawatomi because they were given U.S. citizenship. Their headquarters today are in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Though the mission is no longer there, the site continues to commemorate the Potawatomi struggle at the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park. In the 1980s, the Eastern KansasDiocese bought 450 acres where the original Sugar Creek Mission had stood and the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park was dedicated in 1988 with a large circular altar and a 30 foot tall metal cross. The park also features seven wooden crosses with metal plaques to honor those who died there, as well as a number of interpretive signs that display information about the Potawatomi Indians and the original mission buildings.
Today, the Potawatomi Trail of Death has been declared a Regional Historic Trail, and since 1988 a commemorative caravan follows the same trail every five years, starting at the Chief Menominee statue south of Plymouth, Indiana and ending at the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park near Centerville, Kansas.