Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Biography of Potawatomi Chief Senachwine (Difficult Current). 1744-1831

In April 1812, Chief Senachwine and other Potawatomi chieftains met with Governor Ninian Edwards at Cahokia to discuss relations between the Potawatomi and the United States. Although opposed to offensive war, Senachwine sided with Black Partridge during the Peoria War and commanded a sizable force during the conflict. Senachwine later accompanied the Potawatomi peace delegation, who were escorted by Colonel George Davenport to sign the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis.

Around 1814, a mysterious Baptist preacher and missionary known by Wigby lived in his village. Wigby was allowed to baptize him and later converted Senachwine to Christianity. However, despite Wigby's attempts to dissuade him, Senachwine refused to give up polygamy and retained his several wives. After Wigby's death, he was buried on a high bluff overlooking Senachwine's village.

Senachwine succeeded his brother Gomo as head chieftain of the Illinois River band and was a signatory of several treaties between the Potawatomi and the United States during the 1810s and 1820s. He and Black Partridge would remain the leading chieftains of the Potawatomi for over a decade before their positions of authority and influence were assumed by Shabbona. A year before his death, Senachwine believed that the Potawatomi nation, and eventually all Indians, would eventually become extinct. His son, Kaltoo (or Young Senachwine), succeeded him as chieftain after his death in the summer of 1831.
Monument to Potawatomi Chief Senachwine near Putnam (an unincorporated village) in Putnam County, Illinois.
He was buried on a high bluff overlooking the village, like the missionary Wigby years before, and a wooden monument was placed on his grave. A black flag was also flown from a high pole next to the monument and could be seen from the gravesite for several years afterward. Two years later, his band was removed to the Indian Territory and eventually settled in western Kansas.
In the summer of 1835, twenty-three Potawatomi warriors traveled over 500 miles to visit the gravesite of Senachwine. Their faces blackened, and their heads wrapped in blankets, they performed a ritual invoking the Great Spirit to protect the gravesite and remains of the chieftain. According to a local resident observing the ceremony, the warriors spent several hours knelt around the gravesite as "their wails and lamentations were heard far away." The following morning they performed the "dance of the dead," which continued for several days before departing.

A short time after, Senachwine's grave was robbed of its valuables, including his tomahawk, rifle, several medals, and other personal effects. The chieftain's bones had also been scattered around the site. Members of his band returned to the site to rebury his remains and again placed a wooden monument over his grave. James R. Taliaferro, who had been present at the reburial, later built a cabin near the gravesite and claimed that "Indians from the west at different times made a pilgrimage to the grave."
Gary Wiskigeamatyuk (from left), his son Senachwine, his wife Rosewita, and daughter Kayla visit Chief Senachwine's grave overlooking Senachwine Valley near Putnam. Wiskigeamatyuk is the fifth great-grandson of the legendary Potawatomi chief.
The Sons of the American Revolution chapter in Peoria, Illinois, placed a bronze memorial plaque engraved with his speech to Black Hawk pleading for peace before the Black Hawk War at the supposed burial spot of Senachwine north of present-day Putnam County, Illinois, on June 13, 1937. During the ceremony, an address was given by author P.G. Rennick. Five tribal members of the Potawatomi from Kansas were also in attendance during the ceremony.
Senachwine Indian Mounds. Burial stone monument circled in yellow.
The Putnam village is located west of Senachwine Lake along Route 29, north of Henry, Illinois. The village of some 100 people was originally called Senachwine.
Putnam is the only village in Putnam County on the west side of the Illinois River.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. So sad what has happened, or I should say what we have done to the tribal community

  2. Another great article. I'm always amazed at how little Illinois history I actually know.

  3. Do not go into the timber out there you are walking on six civilizations worth of graves.


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