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 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 Potawatomi are first mentioned in French records, which suggest that, in the early 17th century, they lived in what is now southwestern Michigan. During the Beaver Wars, they fled to the area around Green Bay to escape attacks by the Iroquois and 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 British and the Americans.

At the time of the War of 1812, a band of Potawatomi were present near Fort Dearborn, in the current location of Chicago. 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, Indiana.

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


French Period (1615–1763)

The French 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 Detroit area of Michigan, leaving the large communities in Wisconsin.

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 (1783), 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: Milwaukee or Wisconsin area, Detroit 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 (Siginaak: "Le Tourneau" or "Blackbird")

Chicago Potawatomi

Des Plaines and Fox River Potawatomi

  • Blackbird
  • Waubansee (He Causes Paleness))
  • Waweachsetohalong with La Gesse, Gomo or Masemo (Resting Fish)

Illinois River Potawatomi

  • Mucktypoke (Makdébki: "Black Partridge")
  • Senachewine (d. 1831) (Petacho or Swift Water) was the brother of Gomo who was chief among the Lake Peoria Potawatomi
  • Shabbona (1775–unk) (Burly Shoulders)

Kankakee River (Iroquois and Yellow Rivers) Potawatomi

St. Joseph and Elkhart Potawatomi

Tippecanoe and Wabash River Potawatomi

Fort Wayne Potawatomi

  • Metea (1760?–1827) (Sulker)
  • 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 Nebraska and then the Indiana Potawatomi to Kansas. 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:


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
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 annexed 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 Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, 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 Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Kansas and in southern Ontario. 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, Waukegan, Muskegon, Oconomowoc and Skokie.

See also


External links

Search another word or see gnewon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature