Pre-European Contact Colonial Period Removals Kansas Reservation Indian Territory 20th Century
The scattered Potawatomi settlements were consolidated onto one reservation in northeast Kansas as a result of an 1846 treaty. A few years later, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act organized the central plains into two territories and effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The act admitted Nebraska as a free territory and Kansas as a territory that would or would not allow slavery, depending upon their Constitution at the time of their admission as a state.
Applying popular sovereignty to the question of slavery made the new Kansas Territory the battleground for violent confrontations between anti-slavery free-staters and pro-slavery settlers. The series of skirmishes that occurred between supporters of each cause over the next five years were so violent the conflicts became known as Bleeding Kansas. There were several instances of fighting in eastern Kansas, especially in the east central region of the territory where the Potawatomi resided until 1846.
From 1847 to 1861 the Potawatomi in Kansas managed to survive as a people, but they did not thrive. Tribal members largely adapted to a sedentary lifestyle, but they did not assimilate to the degree desired by the federal government. Most Potawatomi were resigned to their fate of living on a government-assigned reservation for the rest of their lives and simply wanted to be left in peace and in one place, without threat of further removal.
On Nov. 15, 1861, eight designated “chiefs” and more than 70 other members of the Potawatomi Nation met with federal agents to sign a treaty that would forever alter their community’s relationship with other Potawatomi and the U.S. government. The 1861 treaty initiated the process for acquiring fee-simple land allotments and U.S. citizenship for almost two-thirds of its members. This group, which became known as the Citizen Potawatomi, was among the first tribes to enter into a treaty agreement that included both conditions. The decade that followed brought both successes and great challenges as the Citizen Potawatomi struggled to navigate their evolving status as Native Americans, U.S. citizens, land owners and dispossessed people.
In 1861, 2,170 Potawatomi lived on the 576,000 acre reservation in Kansas, most having endured two or more removals in the previous 30 years. Of these, 1,400 ultimately chose to take land allotments and the rest chose to continue holding their land communally on a reservation reduced to 11 square miles.
Some Potawatomi welcomed the notion of private land ownership, and the legal restrictions titles placed on emigrants and squatters who encroached on their property. A handful of tribal members ran successful businesses and carried out significant improvements to their homes and fields in their 15 years on the reservation. Others on the reservation did not want to further engage in negotiations with the U.S. government. They wanted to be left alone, and see the federal government honor previous agreements.