Removal & Return

17 Ceremonies over Senachwine Grave

From N. Matson's French & Indians of Illinois River (1874)

These paragraphs, by the same white historian who transmitted the Potawatomi leader Shab-eh-nay’s “Sketch” that appears in part two of this digital reader, tell one story of the removal & return of the Potawatomi, focusing on the scene of the grave of another Potawatomi leader on the Illinois River.


Although the Pottawatomies had sold their lands, it was stipulated in the conditions of sale that they were to occupy them until required for actual settlement, and they gave them up only when the tide of emigrants obliged them to do so.

These Indians left the country at different times from 1832 to 1836, to occupy lands assigned them by the government on the west side of the Missouri river. But their trails across the prairies, and camp poles were seen here for many years afterwards.

Among the chiefs known by fur traders and early settlers, who dies in this country and buried near their native villages, were Senachwine, Black Partridge, Gomo, Waba, Comas, and Shick Shack. Waubonsie, Autuckee, Meammuse, with other chiefs of less note went west with thei respective bands. Shaubena went west with his band in the fall of 1836, but on the following year returned with his family to this country, and died on the bank of the Illinois river, near Seneca, in the year 1858, and was buried in Morris cemetery.

Federal government documents about Shab-eh-nay’s ultimate removal from his home by the federal government appear at the end of this digital reader (“Report on Shab-eh-nay”).

Indians everywhere are attached to their home—the land of their nativity—but those on the Illinois river were unusually so. Their country was well supplied with game, and the groves filled with bee trees. Here were their sugar camps and the place of holding war dances and annual religious feasts. To their friends among the early settlers and fur traders, many of them with tears in their eyes expressed their regrets of leaving the home of their youth for a new one in a strange land.

For a number of years after the Indians left country, small parties of them were occasionally seen in the vicinity of their native villages, having returned for the purpose of once more looking on the scene of their youth, and the graves of their fathers. But soon their trails were fenced up by early pioneers, and the graves of their ancestors plowed over, so they ceased to return in after years.


In the summer of 1831, Senachwine died and was buried on a high bluff, overlooking the village and surrounding country where his grave is still to be seen. A wooden monument was placed over his grave, and by its side was planted a high pole, on which for many years waved a black flag. Two years after Senachwine’s death, his band left for the west, and are now living in western Kansas.

In the summer of 1835, twenty-three warriors with their heads decorated with turkey feathers, and their faces painted in various colors, encamped on the site of Senachwine’s village, while their ponies were feeding on the prairie near by. These warriors were sons and grandsons of Senachwine, and had traveled about five hundred miles to visit his grave. With their faces blacked and their heads covered with blankets, they knelt around the grave invoking the Great Spirit to protect the remains of the departed chief. For many hours they remained in this position, while their wails and lamentations were heard far away. After the mourning, came the dance of the dead; which is described by an eye witness, Mr. Reeves as very effecting. The warriors divested themselves of their clothing, and smeared their bodies with red paint, while on their cheeks and foreheads were many figures representing the sun, moon and stars. Their clothing, rifles, tomahawks and scalping knives, were placed by the side of the pole that stood at the head of the grave; and were now ready to commence the dance. The warriors joining hands, dancing in a circle around the grave, singing and chanting all the while. At intervals, they would stop dancing, the leader repeat a few words, when all would yell at the top of their voice; after which they would cry for a moment, and then continue the dance as before. When these ceremonies were ended the warriors mounted their ponies and left for their home in the far west.

A few days after the ceremonies, some person opened Senachwine’s grave and robbed it of all its valuables, consisting of rifle, tomahawk, medals, &c., which were buried with him. The bones were also taken out and scattered around the grave, and bunch of long gray hair still adhered to the skull, giving it a ghastly appearance. Some days afterward a party of Indians belonging to Shaubena’s band gathered up Senachwine’s bones, reburied them, and placed the wooden monument again over his grave.

During the summer of 1835 James R. Taliaferro built a dwelling on the site of Senachwine’s village, where he now lives. Mr. Taliaferro was present at the reburial of Senachwine’s remains, and says that Indians from the west at different times made a pilgrimage to the grave. He also says that the pole stood at the head of the grave for many years, as well as the beaten path around it made by the dancing of warriors.

N. Matson. French & Indians of Illinois River (Republican Job Printing Establishment, 1874): pp. 2258-264. Original Source: New York Public Library.