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       Saturday, December 31, 1977

Elizabeth M Filstrup

  Transcribed for the
History of Hartford Internet Site

   By Emma Thornburg Sefcik 2001

Chief Simon Pokagon
Longfellow Of His Race


         Chief Simon Pokagon Chief Simon Pokagon
Portrait is from Chief Pokagon's 
                              book "Queen of the Woods"

In the later part of the Nineteenth Century when the spiritual vibrations for human rights were beginning to encircle the planet, there arose in the Potawatomi Nation a literary genius named Simon Pokagon. He was the Chief of the Potawatomis of southwestern Michigan. During his lifetime he became known as the best-educated full-blooded Indian in North America and was called
the Redskin Bard, the Longfellow of his Race.
       He visited President Lincoln on two occasions and smoked a pipe-of-peace with President Grant.  His account of these meetings is graphic: 
I went to see the greatest and best chief ever known, Abraham Lincoln. I was the first Red Man to shake hands and visit him after his inauguration. He talked to me as a father would to his son and was glad that we had built churches and schoolhouses. He had a sad look in his face but I knew that he was a good man. I heard it in his voice, saw it in his eyes and felt it in his handshaking. I told him how my father long ago sold Chicago and the surrounding country to the United States for three cents per acre and how we were poor and needed our pay. 

He said he was sorry for and would help us what he could to get our just dues. Three years later I again visited the Great Chief; he excused the delay in our payment on account of the war. He seemed bowed down with care. At this time Grant was thundering before Richmond for its final overthrow, while Sherman was making his grand march to the sea. Some time after this visit we paid 390,000 dollars.

In 1874 when I again visited the city to get the balance of our pay, I met the great war chief, General Grant, I had expected he would put on military importance, but he kindly shook hands with me and gave me a cigar. We both sat down and smoked the pipe of peace. He thanked me for the loyalty of my people and for the soldiers we had furnished during the war. We still had due us from Uncle Sam between one and two hundred thousand dollars. He said that there as a question about our claim; but we got judgment against the government through the court of claims and believe it is worth one hundred cents on the dollar ad that it will all be paid as soon as congress gets through scuffling over the tariff.[i]

      In 1893 Simon Pokagon attended the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He was outraged with the discovery that no American Indian had been asked to serve in any official capacity at this worlds fair when dignitaries had come from all over the world to attend. Challenged by this insult, Pokagon sat down and wrote what was perhaps the most eloquent defense of the American Indian ever written. He called it, The Red Mans Greeting.   It became better known as The Red Mans Book of Lamentations.  The booklet was published on birch bark and was sold by the Indians at the Exposition. The booklet caught the attention of the Chicago press, was reviewed at length by the national press, and was quoted eventually by journals in England and Europe. Pokagon became a world celebrity. The Chicago Mayor asked Chief Pokagon to be the keynote speaker for Chicago Day at the Exposition.  Thousands came to hear him. In his speech he asked the Indian to lay aside all bitterness of spirit, to adopt the culture of the white man, to get an education and develop skills and to be loyal citizens of the republic.

     Pokagon wrote one book, Queen of the Woods,  a story of his early courtship with Lodinaw, his wife. This book, published originally on birchbark, is full of native imagery and love of nature in the forest woodlands of Michigan. Pokagon used nature itself to express ideas and abstract thought. The underlying theme was a plea to rid mankind, white and red, of the menace of firewater. 

In addition to The Red Mans Greeting, Chief Simon Pokagon wrote several other birchbark booklets entitled Algonquin Legends of South Haven, Lords Prayer in Algonquin, Potawatomi Book of Genesis, and Algonquin Legends of Paw Paw Lake.

In later years Pokagon wrote a series of ten articles for The Forum, Harpers, The Chautauquan, Review of Reviews and The Arena. These articles concerned the future of the Indian, problems of race, Indian legends, the Fort Dearborn Massacre. The War of 1812, Indian women, naming the Indians, wild pigeons and the mating of geese.

Chief Simon Pokagon possessed a vision and a philosophy as pertinent as when he lived.

He believed mankind to be one and in the eventual integration of his people with people of other cultures.

At the Columbian Exposition he said:  The worlds people, from what they have so far seen of us on the Midway will regard us as savages; but they shall yet know that we are human as well as theyThe Red Man is your brother, and God is the Father of all. [ii]  

       In an article he wrote:   Pokagon, do you believe that the white man and the Red Man were originally one blood? My reply has been: I do not know. But from the present outlook, they surely will be. [iii]

      Of the painful transition for the native American to live in a white mans world, Pokagon wrote: As the hunted deer, when night comes on, wary and tired, lies down to rest, mourning for companions of the morning hear, all scattered, dead and gone, so we through weary years have tried to find some place to safely rest. [iv]

      Our sad history has been told by weeping parents to their children from generation to generation; and as the fear of the fox in the duckling is hatched, so the wrongs we have suffered are transmitted to our children, and they look upon the white man with distrust as soon as they are born. [v]

      The cyclone of civilization rolled westward; the forests of untold centuries were swept away; streams dried up; lakes fell back from their ancient bounds; and all our fathers once loved to gaze upon was destroyed, defaced, or marred, except the sun, moon and starry skies above, which the Great Spirit is his wisdom hung beyond their reach.

    Still on the storm cloud rolled, while before its lightning and thunder the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air withered like grass before the flame were shot for love of power to kill alone, and left, the spoil upon the plains. Their bleaching bones, now scattered far and near, in shame declare the wanton cruelty of pale-faced man. The storm, unsatisfied on land, swept our lakes and streams, while before its clouds of hooks, nets and glistening spears the fish vanished from our shores like the morning dew before the rising sun. Thus our inheritance was cut off, and we were driven and scattered as sheep before the wolves. [vi]

      Pokagons advice to his people was as follows:  Let us not crucify ourselves by going over the bloody trails we have trod on other days, but rather let us look up and rejoice in thankfulness in the present. [vii]

   We must teach our children to give up the bow and arrow that is born in our hearts; and, in place of the gun, we must take up the plow, and live as white men do. [viii]

     By adoption, we are children of this Great Republic; hence we must teach loyalty to our children, and solemnly impress upon them that the war-path leads but to the grave. [ix]

       Pokagon commented in this manner about use of cruelty and violence: It is clear that for years after the discovery of this country, we stood before the coming strangers as a block of marble before the sculptor, ready to be shaped into a statue of grace and beauty; but in their greed for gold, the block was hacked to pieces and destroyed. [x]

     Shall not one line lament

our forest race,

For you struck out from

Wilde creations face?

Freedom the selfsame

Freedom you adore,

Bade us defend our

Violated shore. [xi]

    I recall these facts not to censure, but to show that cruelty and revenge are the offspring of war, not of race, and that nature has placed no impassable gulf between us and civilization. [xii]        

       Simon Pokagon, a true ecologist, deplored hunting for sport: There are too many men, and sportsmen as well, in Michigan and elsewhere, that too much love to show their skill and feel their power. I hate to think that they love to kill merely for the sake of taking life. [xiii] 

      Pokagon, as his father before him, abstained from use of liquor and wrote eloquently of its ravages: Now, as we have been taught to believe that our first parents ate of the forbidden fruit and fell, so we as fully believe that this fire-water is the hard cider of the white mans devil, made from the fruit of that tree that brought death into the world, and all our woes.  The arrow, the scalping knife, the tomahawk used on the warpath were merciful compared with it; they were used in our defense, but the accursed drink came like a serpent in the form of a dove.  Many of our people partook of it without mistrust, as children pluck the flowers and clutch a scorpion in their grasp; only when they feel the sting, they let the flowers fall.  But Natures children had no such power; for when the vipers fangs they felt, they only hugged the reptile the more closely to their breasts, while friends before them stood pleading with prayers and tears that they would let the deadly serpent drop. But all in vain. Although they promised so to do, yet with a laughing grin and steps like the fool, they still more frequently guzzled down this hellish drug. Finally, conscience ceased to give alarm, and led by despair to lifes last brink, and goaded by demons on every side, they cursed themselves, they cursed their friends, they cursed their beggar babes and wives, they cursed their God, and died. [xiv]

       Simon Pokagon did not approve of Indian reservations and the ration system: I am worried over the ration system, under which so many of our people are being fed on reservations. I greatly fear it may eventually vagabondize many of them beyond redemption. [xv]

       It was good economy, no doubt, for the United States to free our people on the great Sioux and other reservations, instead of keeping a standing army to fight them in case they should take to the warpath. And yet the system is a bad one for our people. It kills energy and begets idleness, the mother of vice. [xvi]

    Chief Pokagon believed in education and in the integration of his people into modern society:  I believe those government schools were conceived by the Great Spirit.I fully believe when a great majority of the 28,000 children between six and sixteen who are still unprovided for shall be gathered into school, and when the reservations are broken up and the people scattered in homes of their own, that then and not until then will the great Indian problem be solved. [xvii]

      Pokagon remained throughout his life a faithful Catholic Christian and looked upon Jesus as the mediator between God and man:  To be just, we must acknowledge there were some good men with these strangers who gave their lives for ours, and in great kindness taught us the revealed will of the Great Spirit through his Son Jesus, the mediator between God and man. [xviii]

    Within the recess of

the natives soul,

There is a secret place,

Which God doth hold;

And through the storms of

Life do war around,

Yet still within, His image

Fixed is found. [xix]

     Chief Simon Pokagon was born in the spring of 1830 in Pokagon Village near Niles, Michigan. His father was Chief Leopold Pokagon, a man of sterling character who had been converted to Christianity by Jesuit missionaries.

      Until twelve years of age Simon knew only Indian ways and spoke only native Algonquin. However he displayed such mental curiosity that Catholic priests sent him to the newly founded Notre Dame school for four or five years. Later he entered Oberlin College and then Twinsburg Institute in Ohio. He became fluent in English, Latin and Greek.

      He returned to his tribe which at that time lived at Rush Lake near Hartford, Michigan and acted as tribal chief. When the Potawatomies began electing secretaries to preside over the tribe, Simon Pokagon became Secretary. He was as active as his father in church activities and served as interpreter of sermons into Algonquin for his tribe. He played the church organ, composed poetry, music and hymns and raised a family of four children.

       Those who remember him recall that he had a very kind and cheerful nature, was not talkative but had opinions which were both direct and persuasive. He read constantly and loved to sit, to reflect quietly, and to write. He did not permit rambling at tribal council meetings.

       When the United States government paid 150,000 dollars in 1896 for land cessions, Pokagon kept only four hundred dollars for himself and saw that the remainder was distributed among his people.

Pokagon died penniless in his little cabin in Michigan in 1899 at the age of 69.

     At his death, the Literary Digest published the following editorial: He was a man of great moral strength. His appetites and passions were always under control of an awakened conscience. There was also something of the womans tenderness and sweetness in a nature that could be stern when wrongs were to be denounced. He was a poet, orator and philosopher. In his creations there not infrequently flashed forth much of the fire and impassioned the great chieftains of the Algonquins, and which not infrequently suggest the old prophets of Israel when they fearlessly denounced wrong and justice. With his death there passed from view one of the noblest children of the red race a man whose life, thought and deeds proved how closely akin are the noble natures of all races, ages, and times.

Pokagon Born in  Berrien County

Editors Note:  Back in the days when Michigan was yet seven years from statehood, and this vast peninsula was still Northwest Territory, Simon Pokagon was born.  The year was 1830.  This little papoose, third-born son of Chief Leopold Pokagon, first saw the light of day in Berrien County peering through the ten-flaps of his fathers wigwam at his older brothers, Peter and Francis, playing in the sun in Pokagons village, which was then located near the west bank of the St. Joseph River in Bertrand Township, south of Buchanan.

   Exciting events attended his early years. Had not Chief Leopold been a rugged individualist with independent ideas of his own, Simon might not have been raised as a reservation Indian, and might never have ruled as a chief in Michigan, to watch the state grow to power during the 69 years of his lifetime.

   It was Simons father whose scrawled signature on a treaty at Tippecanoe river, Indiana, on Sept. 26, 1833 gave the site of Chicago into the possession of the whites. But his treaty-signing almost ended his life.

He refused to leave Michigan!

   When, by one stroke of the pen, Chief Topenobee gave to the United States all that area lying south of the St. Joseph river to the Wabash river and west to the Illinois river, Pokagon signed, too-but he attached a reservation.

    Topenobee, mightiest of the Potawatomies, agreed by this treaty to remove all his people to Indiana reservations west of the Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma.

    Leopold demurred. Although he was a sub-chief under Topenobee and had married a niece of the chief, he refused to go. He loved his homeland in Michigan and would not leave it.

     Chief Pokagon was threatened with death. Many of the departing Indians were kinsmen of many in his own tribe. They genuinely liked Pokagon, and wanted him to come with them. The Michigan chief was told that if he refused, he would never see daylight again.

    His tent was guarded as Pokagon slept. And the next morning, Sept. 27, 1833, he signed a distinctly separate treaty with the United States, permitting him to remain in Michigan with his 280 tribesmen.

   One of the tribesmen was of course, Simon Pokagon who not only succeeded his father, but who became nationally celebrated for the quality of his writing. In the accompanying article, Elizabeth Merritt Filstrup member of a long-time St. Joseph family describes highlights of Simon Pokagons life.

   A marker in the old Indian burial ground at Rush Lake Cemetery, in Van Buren Count, marks the spot where Angeline Pokagon, wife of Chief Simon Pokagon sleeps the last long sleep. Between the monument and tree is the grave of Chief Simon Pokagon, but no marker attests the fact that here lies one of the great Potawatomi chieftains.


[i] Buechner, Cecilia Bain, The Pokagons. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Soc. Pub., Vol. 10, No. 5, 1933. pp. 338-339.

[ii] Pokagon, Simon, Queen of the Woods. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Hardscrabble Books, 1972, p. 13.

[iii] Pokagon, Simon, The Future of the Red Man. Forum Magazine, Vol. 23, August 1897.

[iv] Pokagon, Simon, The Red Mans Greeting. Buechner, Cecilia Bain, The Pokagons: Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Soc. Pub., Vol. 10, No. 5, 1933.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Pokagon, Simon, Queen of the Woods. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Hardscrabble Books, 1962. p. 20.

[viii] Ibid. p. 21.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Buechner, Cecilia Bain, The Pokagons: Indianapolis Indiana: Indiana Historical Soc. Pub., Vol. 10, No. 5, 1933.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Pokagon, Simon, The Future of the Red Man. Forum Magazine, Vol. 23, August, 1897.

[xiii] Chief Pokagons Feelings for Life Meaningful Today, The Herald-Press, St. Joseph, Michigan, October 1, 1974.

[xiv] Pokagon, Simon, The Red Mans Greeting. Buechner, Cecilia Bain, The Pokagons: Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Soc. Pub., Vol. 10, No. 5, 1933

[xv] Pokagon, Simon. The Future of the Red Man. Forum Magazine, Vol. 23, 1897.

[xvi] Pokagon, Simon. An Indian on the Problem of His Race. Review of Reviews, Vol. 12, December, 1895. pp. 694-695.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Buechner, Cecilia Bain, The Pokagons: Indianapolis, Indiana:  Indiana Historical Soc. Pub., Vol. 10, No. 5, 1933.

[xix] Pokagon, Simon, Queen of the Woods, Berrien Springs, Michigan: Hardscrabble Books, 1972.

Transcription Note
     This article was transcribed in its entirety as it appeared in The Herald-Palladium, December 31, 1977.  I take no claim for creation of the facts contained therein.  I do, however, appreciate the work Elizabeth M. Filstrup put into this article.  I found it very informative, inspiring, and commendable enough to share with our community and the world through this web site.   Since I am from Hartford, Michigan, this article gave me a renewed interest in my community and appreciation of the wisdom of Chief Simon Pokagon and the Potawatomi Tribe in our area.   Had all the past and present leaders of our great nation possessed the wisdom, vision, and courage of Chief Simon Pokagon, our history and future would have been profoundly shaped with worthy values for all mankind. 
     Additional historic information will be transcribed regarding Chief Leopold, Chief Simon Pokagon, and the Potawatomi tribe as it  becomes available.
     Thanks to Helen Lamb Weston for finding this article in her folder of "important things to keep" and sharing it with all of us.

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Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: May 27, 2015