Surprise! General John Tipton Makes an Entrance.

While trying to read up on the Indian Removal Act in hopes of finding more information on our Missouri relatives and their supposed Native ancestry, I stumbled upon General John Tipton. This would be Grandpa Wayne’s 2nd cousin 4x removed, according to John was Indian agent to the Potawatomi tribe and in charge of moving the faction in Indiana to Kansas. This was an awkward realization considering my intentions for this research, but not surprising. John’s father was killed by Natives (which ones, I don’t know) and so was the father of his second wife. He probably wasn’t too fond of them, nor they he. He had another relative that was killed by Natives: “1781 on Beargrass Creek at the Falls of the Ohio by Natives.  At the time, he was serving as a Captain in the brigade of Colonel Joseph Crockett.”

This trip was documented by Catholic priest Benjamin Petit, and became known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.  It began after a treaty (one of many) that was supposedly containing forged signatures, and signatures of people not in a position of power, was made and the inhabitants of the reservation refused to move and chiefs wrote several petitions against it. Tipton was ordered to round up the militia and forcibly move the Natives out. During their journey they lost 42  of roughly 800 to dysentery, etc. and a few more than that to sickness (they left the sick). The priest died on his return journey due to fever.

The Potawatomi were largely devout Catholics and were very religious. They were able to hold out for additional funds for their land by being seen as fellow Christians of sorts. It’s unclear to me, since there were so many treaties involving them, which ones were made on this pretense. Still though, they were very sad at being forced out by the encroaching settlements and were told if they didn’t leave, their land would be stolen and that couldn’t be stopped.

I got the inspiration to read up on Tipton from The Trail of Tears by Gloria Jahoda 1975, which documents most of the removals of the era, but I have to give you guys some kind of link for information so I linked the Wikipedia articles above. Hopefully, they are accurate, you never know! If you want to read the book, do so with the knowledge that humans are all savages and we do terrible things to each other. You won’t be very happy when you read it.

The Tiptons had more noble accomplishments in general

In all, John’s life was very interesting and full of other, more noble accomplishments than moving people from one place to another on a death march of sorts. In general, the Tiptons were a huge part of the founding and running of the country during and after the Revolutionary War. His great-uncle, also John, was best remembered in the formation of Tennessee and opposed the additional state of Franklin (that would have been a combination of ceded lands from North Carolina and a bit of Tennessee. That John had quite the feud with John Sevier, appointed Governor of Franklin. He served on the legislature and among other appointments served as Justice of the Peace.

About the migrations in general

Treaties and Vengeance

Some tribes were able to peaceably move early and avoid trouble.  They enjoyed money, supplies, and safe passage at their own pace. Often though, many leaders would have to sign a treaty (not one or two leaders) for it to be legitimate in the nations’ eyes. Sometimes it was these early migrants’ individual leader(s) that signed for the entire nation, leaving thousands more without homes and the signers themselves living under constant threat of retaliation. Such was the case with the Creek. The first group was very anxious when the last group arrived and had requested the government’s protection, but seeing the second group arrive in handcuffs helped a little. The Cherokee actually stabbed one of their targets 25 times and bludgeoned another until his brains were spread out everywhere. Their failed target ended up being the Chief for the Confederate side when they split up (politically) during the Civil War.

How Other Tribes Faired (in general)

While the Potawatomi of John Tipton’s march numbered few (more came later) and had 42 deaths, there were other marches that faired far worse and with thousands more people. For nearly all tribes, most suffered terrible death tolls due to anything from cholera to starvation, and everything in-between. But winter travel still made the most sense: they needed to move after harvest so that they would have some food to take with them, and some seeds for planting when they arrived at their new land. The luckiest tribes were able to get funds from the sale of their old land, rations for the trip, wagons for their possessions and elderly, and tools for planting and harvesting. The unluckiest were shoved along with handcuffs and bayonets at their backs, and with only the clothing they wore. Everyone in-between had various complaints such as broken contracts, coercion, illegitimate treaties, people set to make up false charges in exchange for their possessions (Natives often had no legal standing in state courts to oppose this), hiked up tolls over bridges for each and every crosser, and spoiled or withheld rations that had been paid for already. When it came to crossing the Mississippi River, they were faced with abandoning their livestock and going across in the cholera-carrying steamers or trying to get around it some other way.


It should be noted that during the removals, many citizens of the 1800’s were also appalled and made frequent complaints on behalf of their friends and neighbors. In many cases, they even acquired new “relatives” with deeply tanned skin. On the other hand, states’ rights was a frequent citation by people eager to be rid of the people whose land they wanted. They sometimes took up residence in houses and pushed out the already occupying red people. The frontier was a different story altogether, and the government and militias frequently intervened on behalf of terrified settlers. To me so far, not much measures up to the Battle of Bad Axe: the events leading up to it or the event itself.

Overall, the situation was very complex and not one generalization of mine can possibly encompass all the wrongs done by Whites or Natives. That was back when we were ready to fight wars with each other and kill even our fellow white man over something you and I may find trivial, so I take it all with a grain a salt. People were very, very different then, and life was not quite as precious as we view it now.

Am I upset at finding out that Gen John Tipton was in charge of one such march? Yes, in hindsight that we are all blessed with now. As with most people of the day, John did what he thought he had to do for the greater good and had his reasons. I would say the Natives did as well. I don’t like one thing about it and wish it had never happened, but have to learn from it.

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