Treaty Narratives

6 Sketch of Shau-be-na, a Pottowattamie Chief

By N. Matson (Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. 7, 1876)

This sketch provides a Indigenous perspective—slantwise as it is—on the treaty & its repercussions, from the Potawatomi leader Shab-eh-nay. It is transmitted by the white historian Nehemiah Matson, & the treaty itself appears only in passing, & in the context of removal. The Potawatomi leader also appears in the last part of this digital reader (“Removal & Return”).

The following incidents in the early history of Shau-be-na are principally taken from his own statements, and the truth of them, no person acquainted with the old chief will doubt. My first acquaintance with Shau-be-na occurred nearly forty-two years ago, while his whole band, one hundred and forty-two in number, were hunting on Bureau River, Illinois. Being encamped near my father’s residence, I visited them almost daily for many weeks, and always felt myself at home in the old chief’s wigwam.

Shaubena. [Portrait of North American Indian]
Shaubena. (From the Online Archive of California.)

Shau-be-na was above the medium size, tall and straight, with broad shoulders and intelligent face, while his bearing and general appearance showed him to be no ordinary Indian. According to his statement, he was born in the year 1775 or 1776, at an Indian village on the Kankakee River, now in Will county. He was of the Ottawa tribe. His father came from Michigan with Pontiac, about the year 1767, being one of the small band of warriors who fled from their native country with that noted chief, after his defeat.* Shau-be-na married a daughter of a Pottawattamie chief who had a village on the Illinois, a short distance from the mouth of the Fox River; and, at his death, which occurred a few years afterwards, Shau-be-na was made head chief of the band. The following year they abandoned their village on the Illinois River, on account of sickness, and made a new one at Shau-be-na’s Grove, now in DeKalb county, where they were found in the early settlement of the country.

[* It was in 1764—See Parkman’s Pontiac. Lyman C. Draper (Corresponding Secretary)]

In 1810, Tecumseh after meeting Governor Harrison, in council at Vincennes, came west for the purpose of enlisting the different Indian tribes in repelling the encroachments of the whites. On a warm afternoon in the early part of Indian summer, Tecumseh accompanied by three other chiefs, all mounted on spirited black ponies, arrived at the village. On the following day, a dog was killed, a feast made, and the succeeding night spent in songs and dances. Shau-be-na accompanied the visitors to a number of villages on the Illinois River, and listened to Tecumseh’s stirring eloquence in behalf of his great scheme of uniting all the Western tribes in a war against the whites. After visiting many Pottawattamie villages, they went on Rock River among the Winnebagoes and Menomonies, touching at Green Bay and Praire Du Chien, and descending the Mississippi as far as Rock Island. At this point, Shau-be-na parted from his companions, and returned home; while Tecumseh and his friends continued their journey as far south-west as Missouri.

The ensuing summer, Shau-be-na was with Tecumseh in his council with Governor Harrison, at Vincennes, and accompanied that chief South, spending the summer and fall among the different Southern tribes, in efforts to induce them to join Tecumseh’s Indian confederacy. It was late in the fall when they reaching home, about two weeks after the Battle of Tippecanoe; and passing over the field of slaughter, they saw the remains of the soldiers which had been disinterred by the Indians, and scattered over the ground.

Runners from Tecumseh visited many of the Pottawattamie villages in the ensuing summer of 1812, informing the people that war had been declared between the United States and Great Britain, and offering the warriors large rewards to fight for the latter. They also wanted a force raised to go immediately to Chicago and take Fort Dearborn before the garrison was aware that war had been declared. Shau-be-na intended to stay at home and take no part in the contest; but on learning that a large company of warriors from other villages, as well as a few of his own band, had gone to Chicago, he mounted his pony and followed them, arriving there after the soldiers were massacred. The part he took under the leadership of Black Partridge in saving the lives of prisoners and guarding the house of John Kinzie, was thus related by Shau-be-na himself to the writer:

It was in the afternoon of the fatal day, a few hours after the battle, when, in company with twenty-two warriors, he arrived at Chicago. Along the beach of the Lake, where the battle was fought, lay forty-one dead bodies – the remains of soldiers, women, and children – all of which were scalped, and more or less mutilated. The body of Capt. Wells was lying in one place, and his head in another; these remains were gathered up by Black Partridge, and buried in the sand near where he fell. The prisoners were taken to the Indian encampment, and closely guarded, to prevent their escape. John Kinzie, an Indian trader, whose house stood on the north side of the river, opposite to Fort Dearborn, had been for some years trading with the Indians, and among them he had many friends. By special favor he was allowed to return to his own house, accompanied by his family, and the wife of Lieut. Helm, who was badly wounded.

That evening, about sundown, a council of chiefs was called to decide the fate of the prisoners; and it was agreed to deliver them to the British commander at Detroit, in accordance with the terms of the capitulation. After dark, many warriors from a distance came into camp, who were thirsting for blood, and were determined to murder the prisoners, regardless of the stipulated terms of surrender. Black Partridge, with a few of his friends, surrounded Kinzie’s house, to protect the inmates from the tomahawks of these blood-thirsty savages. Shau-be-na said that he and other warriors were standing on the porch, with their guns crossing the doorway, when a body of hostile warriors, with blackened faces, rushed by them, forcing their way into the house.

The parlor was now full of Indians, who stood with their tomahawks and scalping knives awaiting the signal from their chief, when they would commence the work of death. Black Partridge said to Mrs. Kinzie: “We have done everything in our power to save you, but all is now lost; you and your friends, together with all the prisoners of the camp, will be slain.” At that moment a canoe was heard approaching the shore, when Black Partridge ran down to the River, trying in the darkness to make out the new comers, and at the same time shouted – “Who are you, friend or foe?” In the bow of the approaching canoe stood a tall, manly personage, with a rifle in his hand. and as the canoe came to shore, he jumped off on the beach, exclaiming in a loud clear voice, the musical notes of which rang forth on the still night air: “I am the Sau-ca-nash!” Then,” said Black Partridge, “hasten to the house, for our friends are in danger, and you alone can save them.” Billy Caldwell, for it was he, ran to the house, entering the parlor, which was full of Indians, and by threats and entreaties prevailed on them to abandon their murderous design; and by him Kinzie’s family, with the prisoners at the Fort, were saved from death. Such was Shau-be-na’s unvarnished narrative.

The Potawatomi agent Billy Caldwell or Saw-ka-nosh also appears in parts one (“Letter”) & four (“Committee on Indian Affairs”) of this digital reader.

Late in the fall of 1812, as Shau-be-na and his band were about going to Bureau for their winter hunt, a runner from Tecumseh arrived with a large package of presents, consisting of rings, beads, and various kinds of ornaments, mostly for the sq***s, and with an offer of money, goods, etc., if he and his warriors would join him. The winter hunt was abandoned, and on the following day, Shau-be-na and twenty-two warriors started for the River Raisin. On the St. Joseph’s River they overtook Col. Dixon’s recruits of about five hundred warriors under the command of Black Hawk, who had followed around the Lake from Green Bay.

Shau-be-na was aid to Tecumseh, and stood by his side when the noted Shawanoe chief was shot by Col. Johnson, at the battle of the Thames. Shau-be-na related that Johnson’s mounted men charged the Indian line at a gallop, and the forlorn hope of the party were all killed or wounded except a single one; and the old chief added, that he was by Tecumseh’s side when the officer on a white horse – whom he always referred to as Col. Johnson-shot him with a pistol; and at the same moment Shau-be-na sprang forward to tomahawk the slayer of the great chief; but Johnson’s horse reared and fell dead, having been pierced by many bullets, and his wounded rider was rescued by his white comrades. With the fall of their chief the Indians fled, and Shau-be-na with them, and, he said, he never after fought for the British cause. He was fond of talking about this battle.

Years after, when Col. Johnson was Vice-President, Shau-be-na visited Washington and called on the Colonel, and together they talked over the incidents of the Thames campaign, after which the Vice-President took the old chief by the arm, and introduced him to the heads of the Departments. On leaving Washington, Johnson gave him a heavy gold ring as a token of friendship, which wore on his finger to the day of his death, and by his request it was buried with him.

In the summer of 1819, John C. Sullivan, under the direction of Commissioners Graham and Phillips, surveyed the old Indian boundary line extending from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, at the mouth of Rock River. Shau-be-na was employed by this surveying party, and them over the whole route. while his hunters supplied them with meat.

When the early pioneers settled in this section of the country, he became a frequent visitor to their cabins, and was known everywhere as the white man’s friend. During the year 1831, ‘32, and ‘88, as the settlers were frequently alarmed by reports of threatening hostilities, Shau-be-na was often consulted, and his advice generally taken. Thus he became known personally, or by reputation, throughout the country, and all that was necessary for him to receive a hearty welcome at any cabin was his peculiar manner of introducing himself as “Mr. Shau-be-na.”

In February, 1832, the chiefs of most of the Pottawattamie villages met in council at Indiantown. Black Hawk and the Prophet were in attendance, and made long speeches in favor of uniting all the different tribes to make war on the frontier settlements. After the death of Black Partridge and Se-nach-wine, no chief among the Pottawattamies exerted so much influence as Shau-be-na. Although not a great orator, his knowledge of human nature, and his earnest manner of making his appeals, more than counterbalanced the eloquence of others. At this council, no Pottawattamie chief of note, except Wau-bun-sie, spoke in favor of union. Thus Black Hawk’s scheme was thwarted and the council broke up. Shau-be-na said to the writer a few years afterwards, if he had favored this union, all the Pottawattamies from the Lake to the Mississippi would have taken part with Black Hawk.

In the spring of 1832, when the Sacs and Foxes crossed the Mississippi, Black Hawk sent two runners, one of whom was his own son, to notify the Indians on Bureau, and to obtain volunteers among the warriors. At that time Shaw-be-na with his band were encamped at a point of timber about two mile, south-east of Princeton; and Joel Doolittle, whose cabin stood near by, noticed these emissaries, with painted faces, and their heads adorned with eagle feathers, enter the camp. Their arrival appeared to cause much excitement and confusion – the camp was broken up, ponies caught, and Shau-be-na and his band left for their home, saying to one of the settlers as he took his departure, he feared there was trouble ahead.

On the day after Stillman’s defeat, Shau-be-na knowing that more parties would immediately attack the frontier settlements, lost no time in notifying the people of their danger. He sent Py-pa-gee, his son, and Pyps, his nephew, to Fox River, and Holderman’s Grove settlements, while he hastened to give warning to the settlers on Bureau and Indian Creek. The morning of May 16th was bright and clear, and the settlers on Bureau were busy putting in their crops, not knowing that hostilities had commenced, nor thinking of danger from their red foe, when Shau-be-na was seen riding at full speed, without gun or blanket, his long hair streaming in the wind, and his pony covered with foam, calling at each cabin, and in his bad English telling the people to flee for their lives, as the enemy would in all probability be on them before the setting sun. A few hours afterward, not a family was left in the Bureau settlement; and the sequel shows they had no time to lose, as the notorious half-breed Girty, with seventy or eighty warriors, visited some of the cabins, while the fire was still burning on the hearth. Shau-be-na continued his mission of mercy to Indian Creek settlement; some of the settlers fled from their homes, but the families of Davies, Hall and Pettigrew disregarded the warning, and paid the forfeit with their lives–fifteen persons were slain, and two girls taken prisoners.

In 1836, the Indian Agent notified Shan-be-na’s band that they must go west to lands assigned them by the Government, in accordance with treaty stipulations. As no one but the chief and his family could remain on the reservation, Shau-be-na concluded to accompany his people, as he could not think of parting with them. Accordingly in August of that year, they left their ancient homes, came to Bureau, hunted about two months, and then left for the west.

About one year after going west, Shau-be-na, with his family, returned to this country, saying that he barely escaped with his life. The Sacs and Foxes, on account of the part he had taken in the late war, tried to kill him; they killed his son and nephew, and hunted him down as though he was a wild beast.

Chief Sha-bo-na.
Chief Sha-bo-na. (From Wakefield’s History of the Black Hawk war; a reprint of the 1st edition, 1908.)

Shau-be na, with his two wives, children and grand children, making in all some twenty-five persons, lived at the Grove until 1849. Some time previous to this, he sold a tract of land to Azel and Orrin Gates, and with the proceeds of the sale had his farm improved so that the rents of it would clothe his family. In the spring of 1849, Shau-be-na with his family went to Kansas, leaving his farm in care of Mr. Norton, who agreed to collect and save the rents until he came back. He was gone three years, and on his return found his land had been sold by the Government at a public land sale at Dixon, the Land Office Commissioner having decided that it was only a reservation to Shau-be-na, not a title in fee simple, and when he left it, his title failed. When Shau-be-na returned and found all his possessions gone, he cried like a child. The owner of the land, where he camped, cursed him for cutting tent poles, and ordered him to leave. This Grove had been his home for nearly fifty years; here was the grave of his first wife and two of his children, as well as many of his friends, and with a sorrowful heart he left it forever.

Federal government documents about Shab-eh-nay’s ultimate removal from his home tell another version of the story; they appear in part four of this digital reader (“Removal & Return”).

The friends of Shau-be-na raised money to buy for him a small tract of land on the Illinois River men Seneca, on which they built a house, and put part of the tract under cultivation. Shau-be-na used the house for storing purposes, while he lived in a tent near by. The old chief died on the 10th of July, 1859, at about the age of eighty-four years, and was buried with much pomp in Morris cemetery. In 1861, money was subscribed to raise a monument over his remains; but the war broke out, and the scheme was abandoned. Only a small board marks the resting place of this friend of the white man.

Princeton, Bureau Co., Ill.

Nehemiah Matson, “Sketch of Shau-be-na, a Pottowattamie chief.” Wisconsin Historical Collections, 1855-1915, vol. 7 (Wisconsin Historical Society, 1876): pp. 415-421.