DANVILLE — A group of people determined to keep the Potawatomi history alive will stop in Danville next week to dedicate an historic marker.
A caravan with more than 20 cars will leave Rochester, Ind., on Monday, and travel to Kansas, stopping along the way to pay tribute to the native people who suffered in the 1838 Trail of Death.
The group will arrive in Danville around noon Tuesday, and have a private lunch at the Vermilion County Museum. About 1 p.m. or so, they will dedicate the new Trail of Death historic highway sign at Turtle Run, 332 E Liberty Lane.
In fact, Danville has 10 historic markers that will be placed at various sites: on Bowman Avenue near the airport, along Liberty to Vermilion, Vermilion to Main, and to Ellsworth Park.
“They’ll be spread out along that route,” said Bob Scott, service and operations manager with the city.
The signs had been bought by Danville Township a couple of years ago, and they were turned over to the city this year. The signs are affixed to utility poles, and were set up Tuesday.
The sign at Turtle Run marks a campsite where the Potawatomi rested during the forced march from their homelands in northern Indiana to reservation land in Kansas. Forty-two died along the way.
The Potawatomi were rounded up by volunteer militia and began their journey at Twin Lakes south of Plymouth, Ind. They were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street on Sept. 5, 1838. They walked 660 miles in 60 days, losing more than 40 elders and babies to death from disease and stress.
Before 1988 — when the caravan first began — many people weren’t aware that the Potawatomi Trail of Death came through this area.
“That history had been swept under the rug,” said Shirley Willard, a volunteer with the Fulton County Historical Society in Rochester, Ind. “It’s especially hard because there isn’t a paper trail.”
The group has made trips every five years since 1988, and this one (the sixth) marks the 175th anniversary of the 1838 Trail of Death. The trail passes through 26 counties in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, covering 660 miles.
“It’s a big trip,” Willard said. So far, about 20 cars will make up the caravan, but 10 or 15 more vehicles may join the group for a short distance.
Willard said several Potawatomi tribal members will be on the caravan, including — for the first time — an 8-month-old child, Lila Mavis Lowery. Her mother is Millicent “Millie” Pepion, Navajo/Blackfeet, who organized the Trail of Broken Promises Walk in 2012; that walk also came through Danville and participants held a ceremony at Ellsworth Park.
Also accompanying the group will be the baby’s uncle, Stanley Perry, a Navajo elder from Arizona.
When the caravan nears Danville, the participants will stop at Old Town Park in Williamsport, Ind. After lunch at the museum in Danville and the marker dedication, the group will go to Ellsworth to visit the tomahawk-shaped marker at the west end of the foot bridge over the North Fork River.
The monument was installed in June 1990. A plaque explains that the marker commemorates the 1838 Potawatomi Trail of Death. About 850 Potawatomi camped along the North Fork on Sept. 16, 1838.
In addition to the marker in Danville, the group will dedicate new historical markers along the way.
The participants will acknowledge 80 historical markers designating the original Trail of Death campsites every 15 to 20 miles.
The caravan will draw attention to the Potawatomi plight in the Midwest, but the walk also is getting attention on the national level. Willard is excited the National Museum of the American Indian, a part of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., is working on an exhibit on the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Employees have contacted her for photographs and to proofread the wording and the map.
“I am so happy that after over 30 years of work to preserve this history and get it recognized by the national media, it is beginning to happen,” she said.
George Godfrey of Springfield is president of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, and has written books on the topic.
The following times are estimates, and people should allow the caravan 30 to 60 minutes leeway to arrive at places designated. Anyone is welcome to join the caravan at any time. More information is available on the website.
Group leaves Rochester, Ind., and spends night in Lafayette, Ind.
10 a.m. — Stop in Williamsport, Ind., at Old Town Park on Main and Old Second Street.
11 a.m. — Drive by Gopher Hill Cemetery on Route 900 West, which is 1½ miles east of the Indiana-Illinois state line.
Noon — Lunch at Vermilion County Museum, Danville.
1 p.m. — Dedicate new Trail of Death historic highway sign in Danville at Turtle Run Golf Course, 332 E Liberty Lane.
1:30 p.m. — Follow Trail of Death through Danville’s Ellsworth Park, walk to bridge to see marker.
2 p.m. — Drive by Trail of Death markers in Catlin, Sidney and Sadorus.
3 p.m. — Dedicate new Potawatomi Trail of Death historic highway sign at Monticello.
4 p.m. — Stop at Sangamon Crossing marker, recently restored from accident that rolled it over.
4:30 p.m. — Drive by Trail of Death marker in Mueller Park, Decatur.
Decatur to Quincy
Quincy to Moberly, Mo.
Moberly to Independence, Mo.
Independence to Spring Hill, Paola, Osawatomie, Trading Post, Kan.
St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park (Sugar Creek Mission) in rural Linn County.
FYI For a complete schedule, go to www.potawatomi-tda.org. People may join the caravan at any time, although pre-registration is encouraged through the website.