top of page
  • Sue Devick

A Late Thank You Note to Potawatomi Chief Shabbona

Updated: Apr 21

Among the heroic individuals in Chicago's historical past is a Potawatomi chief named Shabbona ("built like a bear") who in 1832 saved numerous white settlers from angry Sauk chief Black Hawk, who attempted to reclaim Sauk land that had been acquired by the government through a highly questionable treaty as well as to unite several indigenous tribes in an attempt to forcefully push out the white settlers. Black Hawk pressured Shabbona to join his movement at a meeting at Paw Paw Grove near Indian Creek, arriving on his favorite white pony and accompanied by fellow Sauk chiefs Neapope and Pashepaho. An entire band of Sauk warriors accompanied them, beating tom-toms and chanting their war songs. In his book Village on the County Line, historian Hugh Dugan describes the scene as Shabbona faced down Black Hawk:

On the other side of the council circle, the chief of the Pottawattamie sat with

his lieutenants Wauponsee, Shemenon, Shaata, and Meaumese. Shabbona

flatly told Black Hawk that his people would not join in the fight against the

whites, 'because the palefaces will raise an army whose numbers are like the

leaves on the trees' against which the Indians no longer could contend. And

this was the decision, not of a pacifist, but of a shrewd and calculating warrior;

the one who had taken over command at the Battle of the Thames, after Tecumseh

had fallen. Shabbona could not speak for the Fox or the Winnebago, but the

Pottawatomie, the Ottawa,and the Chippewa would not join in the uprising. And

needless to relate, from that time on, Shabbona and Black Hawk were implacable


Shabbona, his son, nephew, and other allies then raced through the countryside to warn the white settlers about the threat posed by Black Hawk. As Dugan states, "Up the ravines, across the prairie, and to the cabins fringing the woods and along the streams rode these Mid-Western Paul Reveres." Historian Luther Hatch writes in The Indian Chief Shabbona, "Shabbona was in his saddle 48 hours. He rode his pony to death, took off the saddle, borrowed another pony of a settler and went on his mission. In his broken English he told the settlers to go. In some cases he rode back to warn them a second time and even begged them to make haste to leave."

On their way to Fort Dearborn, the pioneers of the Naper settlement passed safely through present day Fullersburg, formerly known as Sauganakka, the largest Potawatomi village in DuPage County. Shabbona assisted the U.S. in defeating Black Hawk in the short-lived Black Hawk War. Shabbona had sent his people eastward to Indiana to escape Black Hawk's reach, and they subsequently returned to familiar lands in DeKalb County. The treaty stipulated that the Potawatomi (as well as other tribes) had to relocate to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The U.S. granted Shabbona land rights in DeKalb County, but then sold his land when Shabbona was visiting relatives at the reservation. In the fall of 1837, Sauk chief Neapope exacted Sauk revenge on Shabbona by killing his nephew and son in an ambush of their hunting party, and he was not able to return to his property in DeKalb, as it had been unfairly sold for "unpaid taxes." Shabbona passed away in 1859 at the age of 84.

Hatch writes that in 1903, a huge boulder with the inscription "Shabbona, 1775-1859" was dedicated in a ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery in Morris, Il. Dugan notes the tribute to Shabbona given by Gurdon Hubbard, who stated that from the first time he met the future chief in 1818 to his death, he "'was impressed with the nobleness of his character. He was ever a friend to the white settlers, and should held by them and their descendants in grateful remembrance.'"

Sue Devick, M.A.

153 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Native American Eclipse Traditions

Solar and lunar eclipses have been recognized by hundreds of Native American tribes, and the various traditions that have arisen from these astronomical events are extremely diverse. While we do not h

The Deeply Human Side of Loie Fuller (1862-1928)

Loie Fuller's rise to stardom as the most famous dancer in the world took a sharp upward turn in 1892 in Paris, a center for artists and intellectuals at the time. Loie, born in the Illinois frontier


bottom of page