Author: R. David Edmunds

ISBN 978-0-8061-2069-0

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Click Here To Purchase The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire (Civilization of the American Indian Series)

The story of the Midwest Potawatomis -- a people who hosted intertribal councils (they kept the “councils of fire”) and were known for their role as peacemakers -- is the story of a people who, like all Native Americans, were diminished and ultimately betrayed by Europeans and Americans.

David Edmunds’ book presents a detailed history of the Potawatomi, focusing on the groups found in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan and later, Illinois. Edmunds begins his narrative with the chapter “Forging the French Alliance,” which relates the Potawatomi’s first encounter with white men – French traders – and also describes the early and idyllic Potawatomi lifestyle as observed and described by these traders. The Potawatomis forged strong economic and personal bonds with the French, yet these friendly ties began to diminish the Potawatomi way of life as they began to over-trap – and engage in additional skirmishes with neighboring tribes -- in order to support their growing dependence on European goods.

Edmunds relates that when the French were overwhelmed by the British in the New World, the Potawatomis tried to unite with other Native Americans and turned to the British for goods and friendship. But the British only used them to fight the encroaching Americans, who, when they became the last white men standing, proved to be the final demise of a people who had completely lost their way of life and economic independence.

By no means did the Potawatomi give up without a fight. Although Edmund’s narrative repeatedly shows that the Potawatomi were generally inclined to find a way to peace, when the blatant lies involved in the American treaties became overwhelmingly apparent, the Potawatomis fought for their land. In order to control the “unruly” natives in the Chicago area more efficiently, the Americans built Ft. Dearborn. It didn’t work and the frightened whites, promised safe passage out of the fort by the Potawatomis, were instead slaughtered by them in the famed Ft. Dearborn Massacre. But even during this violent encounter, the Potawatomis revealed their generous natures as several rescued whites from the massacre.

Ultimately it became obvious that the fight against the settlers was in vain and the Potawatomis sold more and more of their land in order to survive. The Potawatomi sided with the Americans during the Black Hawk War, providing scouts and warriors. Yet this loyalty was completely forgotten in the push to rid the Midwest of any and all Native Americans and the Potawatomi were forced to move west.

Edmunds’ meticulously researched book contains a myriad of details regarding every alliance of the Potawatomi (white and native), every treaty, and every battle in which they took part during their known history from the 17th century through the 19th. As someone who resides in the same Chicago suburb which once housed a Potawatomi village and eager for information on the area’s first locals, I often wished that Edmunds had included more history on the Chicago-area Potawatomi. The reason for this omission may be that the Chicago Potawatomi were generally peaceable and their history – except for the Ft. Dearborn Massacre – somewhat uneventful. But I was surprised that the book didn’t even mention the final ritual dance performed through the streets of downtown Chicago by representatives of all the Midwest Potawatomis after they’d signed the treaty that forced them to move west, the dance that terrified white Chicagoans who completely misunderstood its purpose and meaning.

Still, Edmunds doesn’t seem to miss much else and his book, which the University of Oklahoma Press claims to be “the first scholarly history of the Potawatomis,” is an enlightening and engaging read.


Click Here To Purchase The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire (Civilization of the American Indian Series)