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The Potawatomi (also spelled Pottawatomie and Pottawatomi, among many variations) are a Native American people of the upper Mississippi River region. They traditionally speak the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquian family. In the Potawatomi language, they generally call themselves Bodéwadmi, a name that means "keepers of the fire" and that was applied to them by their Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) cousins. They originally called themselves Neshnabé, a cognate of the word Anishinaabe.The Potawatomi were part of a long term alliance with the Ojibwe and Ottawa, called the Council of Three Fires. In the Council of Three Fires, Potawatomi were considered the "youngest brother."


The English "Potawatomi" is derived from the Ojibwe Boodawaadamii(g) (syncoped in the Ottawa as Boodwadmii(g)), but the Potawatomi's name for themselves is Bodéwadmi (without syncope: Bodéwademi; plural: Bodéwadmik), a cognate of Ojibwe form. Their name means “those who keep/tend the hearth-fire,” which refers to the hearth of the Council of Three Fires. The word itself comes from “to keep/tend the hearth-fire,” which is bodewadm (without syncope: bodewadem) in the Potawatomi language; the Ojibwe and Ottawa forms are boodawaadam and boodwaadam, respectively.

Alternatively, the Potawatomi call themselves Neshnabé (without syncope: Eneshenabé; plural: Neshnabék), a cognate of Ojibwe Anishinaabe(g), meaning “Original People.”


The Potawatomi are first mentioned in French records, which suggest that, in the early 17th century, they lived in what is now southwestern Michiganmarker. During the Beaver Wars, they fled to the area around Green Baymarker to escape attacks by both the Iroquois and the Neutral Nation.

Potawatomi warriors were an important part of Tecumseh's Confederacy and took part in Tecumseh's War, the War of 1812 and the Peoria War, although their allegiance switched repeatedly between the Britishmarker and the Americans.

At the time of the War of 1812, a band of Potawatomi were present near Fort Dearbornmarker, in the current location of Chicagomarker. This tribe was agitated by chiefs Blackbird and Nuscotomeg (Mad Sturgeon), and a force of about 500 attacked the evacuation column leaving Fort Dearborn; a majority of the civilians and 54 of Captain Nathan Heald's force were killed, along with many wounded. This attack is referred to as the Fort Dearborn massacre. A Potawatomi chief named Mucktypoke (Makdébki, Black Partridge), counseled against the attack and later saved some of the civilians that were being ransomed by the Potawatomi. There was also Potawatomi land in Crown Point, Indianamarker.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Indians purchased of land near Shabbona, Illinoismarker, in rural DeKalb Countymarker.


French Period (1615–1763)

The Frenchmarker period of contact began with early explorers who reached the Potawatomi in western Michigan and then found the tribe located along the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. By the end of the French period, the Potawatomi had begun a move to the Detroitmarker area of Michigan, leaving the large communities in Wisconsin.
  • Madouche during the Fox Wars
  • Millouisillyny
  • Onanghisse (Wnaneg-gizs "Shimmering Light") at Green Bay
  • Otchik at Detroitmarker

English Period (1763–1783)

The British period of contact began with the French removal at the end of the French and Indian War and was punctuated by Pontiac’s Rebellion and the capture of every British frontier garrison but one, at Detroit. The Potawatomi nation continued to grow and expanded westward from Detroit, most notably in the development of the St. Joseph villages adjacent to the Miami in southwestern Michigan. The Wisconsin communities continued and moved south along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

American Treaty Period (1783–1830)

The American Treaty period of Potawatomi history began with the Treaty of Paris , which ended the American Revolutionary War and established the United States' interest in the lower Great Lakes. It lasted until the treaties for removal were signed. The Potawatomi were recognized as a single tribe and there were often a few tribal leaders that all villages accepted. Still, the Potawatomi had a dispersed organization and belonged to several main divisions based on where they were located: Milwaukeemarker or Wisconsinmarker area, Detroitmarker or Huron River, the St. Joseph River, the Kankakee River, Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, the Illinois River and Lake Peoria, and the Des Plaines and Fox Rivers. The Chiefs listed below are grouped by their geographic area.

Milwaukee Potawatomi

  • Manamol
  • Siggenauk (Siginak: "Le Tourneau" or "Blackbird")

Chicago Potawatomi

  • Burnett (1790?–1871) or Abraham Burnett
  • Billy Caldwell, also known as Sauganash (Zhaaganaash: "Englishman") (1780–1841)

Des Plaines and Fox River Potawatomi

  • Mukatapenaise (Mkedébnés "Blackbird")
  • Waubansee (He Causes Paleness))
  • Waweachsetoh along with La Gesse, Gomo or Masemo (Resting Fish)

Illinois River Potawatomi

  • Mucktypoke (Makdébki: "Black Partridge")
  • Senachewine (d. 1831) (Petacho or Znajjewan "Difficult Current") was the brother of Gomo who was chief among the Lake Peoria Potawatomi
  • Shabbona (1775–unk) (Zhabné "Hardy")

Kankakee River (Iroquois and Yellow Rivers) Potawatomi

  • Main Poc , also known as Webebeset ("Crafty One")
  • Micsawbee 1800s
  • Notawkah (Rattlesnake) on the Yellow Rivermarker
  • Nuscotomeg (Neshkademég, "Mad Sturgeon") on the Iroquois and Kankakee Rivers
  • Mesasa (Mezsézed, "Turkey Foot")

St. Joseph and Elkhart Potawatomi

Tippecanoe and Wabash River Potawatomi

  • Aubenaubee (1761–1837/8) on the Tippecanoe River
  • Askum (More and More) on the Eel River
  • George Cicott (1800?–1833)
  • Keesass on the Wabash River
  • Kewanna (1790?–1840s?) (Prairie Chicken) Eel River
  • Kinkash (see Askum)
  • Magaago
  • Monoquet (1790s–1830s) on the Tippecanoe River
  • Tiosa on the Tippecanoe River
  • Winamac (Winmég, "Catfish")—allied with the British during the War of 1812
  • Winamac (Winmég, "Catfish")—allied with the Americans during the War of 1812

Fort Wayne Potawatomi

  • Metea (1760?–1827) (Mdewé "Sulks")
  • Wabnaneme on the Pigeon River

American Removal Period (1830–1840)

The Removal period of Potawatomi history began with the treaties of the late 1820s when reservations were created, then continually reduced in size. The final step was the removal of the Illinois Potawatomi to Nebraskamarker and then the Indiana Potawatomi to Kansasmarker. The removal of the Indiana Potawatomi was documented by a Catholic priest, Benjamin Petit who accompanied the Indians on the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Petit died while returning to Indiana. His diary was published by the Indiana Historical Society in 1941. Many Potawatomi found ways to remain, primarily those in Michigan, and others fled to their Odawa neighbors or Canada to avoid removal.


There are several active bands of Potawatomi:

Potawatomi bands in the United States— Bands with significant Potawatomi population in Canada—


Year Total United
1667 4,000
1765 1,500
1766 1,750
1778 2,250
1783 2,000
1795 1,200
1812 2,500
1820 3,400
1843 1,800
1854 4,440 4,040 400
1889 1,582 1,416 166
1908 2,742 2,522 220
1910 2,620 2,440 180
1990 23,000 17,000 4,000
1997 25,000
1998 28,000


Chauvignerie (1736) and Morgan (1877) mentions among the Potawatomi doodems (clans) being:

  • Bené (Turkey)
  • Gagagshi (Crow)
  • Gnew (Golden Eagle)
  • Jejakwé (Thunderer, i.e. Crane)
  • Mag (Loon)
  • Mekchi (Frog)
  • Mek (Beaver)
  • Mewi'a (Wolf)
  • Mgezewa (Bald Eagle)
  • Mkedésh-gékékwa (Black Hawk)
  • Mko (Bear)
  • Mshéwé (Elk)
  • Mshike (Turtle)
  • Nmé (Sturgeon)
  • Nmébena (Carp)
  • Shagéshi (Crab)
  • Wabozo (Rabbit)
  • Wakeshi (Fox)


The Potawatomi first lived in lower Michigan, then moved to northern Wisconsin and eventually settled into northern Indiana and central Illinois. In the early 19th century, major portions of Potawatomi lands were seized by the U.S. government. Following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, most of the Potawatomi people were forcibly removed from the tribe's lands. Many perished en route to new lands in the west through Iowamarker, Kansasmarker and Oklahomamarker, following what became known as the "Trail of Death".

Year or Century Location
1615 East of Michilimackinac, MI
Islands of Door Peninsula, WI (1st Fr)
1640 (until) with Hochunk (Winnebago) west of Green Bay, WI
1641 Sault Ste. Marie, MI
1670 Mouth of Green Bay, WI/MI
17th C Milwaukee River, WI
1780s on St. Joseph River, MI/IN


Potawatomi (also spelled Pottawatomie; in Potawatomi Bodéwadmimwen or Bodéwadmi Zheshmowen or Neshnabémwen) is a Central Algonquian language and is spoken around the Great Lakesmarker in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Kansasmarker and in southern Ontariomarker. There are fewer than 50 people who speak Potawatomi as a first language, most of them elderly. There is currently an effort underway to revitalize the language.

Potawatomi language is the most similar to the Odawa language; however, it also has borrowed a considerable amount of vocabulary from Sauk. Like the Odawa language, or the Ottawa dialect of the Anishinaabe language, the Potawatomi language exhibits great amount of vowel syncope.

Many places in the Midwest have names derived from the Potawatomi language, including Allegan, Waukeganmarker, Muskegonmarker, Oconomowocmarker and Skokiemarker.

See also


  1. Edmunds, R. David (1988). The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press (Civilization of the American Indian Series). ISBN 0-8061-2069-X.
  2. McPherson, Alan (1993). Indian Names in Indiana.
  3. "Squinter" is a type of polarized snow goggles that is completely darkened, with one very narrow horizontal "squinter" slit in each lens area, allowing the wearer to clearly see without the glare from a reflection off snow, ice and water. Usually, these sunglasses were associated with the Inuit.
  4. Google archives of Sultzman, Lee. (December 18, 1998). "Potawatomi History" at
  5. Hodges, Frederick Webb (1908). "Potawatomi" in Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico
  6. "Linguistic Families of America" in Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1885-1886, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1891
  7. "Potawatomi" at
  8. Ethnologue: Potawatomi
  9. Kubiak, William J. (1970). Great Lakes Indians: A Pictorial Guide. Baker Book House Company.
  10. Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages, p. 74. Routledge. ISBN 070071197X.
  11. Hinton, Leanne and Hale, Kenneth (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice, p. 342. Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 0123493536.

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