Much concern has been demonstrated by many different parties across the United States about the exploitation of the North American Native Indian, particularly over the past fifty years. The prime argument has questioned whether or not the American Native Indian is really being exploited or, more innocently, simply being honored for who they were and what they now mean to our contemporary culture(s). Many of the more larger markets who choose to use the North American Indian likeness as mascots for their points of reference have really come under fire; the Washington Redskins – a marquee professional football team established well over 80 years ago – have a massive fan base who adore their iconic depiction as well as their association with the Redskin logo, have been extremely pressured by the United States government to completely remove the Indian connotation from their teams ideology in its entirety. As of right now the Washington Redskin organization, along with great support from the National Football League, has been able to withstand the onslaught of negative attention and has kept its identity, at least for the time being.
While big money markets have the resources and political influence to circumvent the possible financial disasters that could befall an important organization like the Washington Redskins, smaller communities who have close ties and have chosen to identify themselves to the North American Indian image don’t. One small community who fits these description fully is that of Walworth, Wisconsin. Walworth is the home of Big Foot Union High School and their mascot is the endeared Chief Big Foot (Maunk-suck). For many years Big Foot Union High School has battled to keep their iconic namesake. Unlike certain big businesses who have a tremendous amount of their wealth and well-being wrapped up and fully dependent on their positive association with a particular Native American Indian likeness, Big Foot High School bears very little consequential monetary value to its connection with the famous chief’s name. This then begs to question why the people of Walworth – as well as associated surrounding towns – fight to keep their mascots name. Chief Big Foot is not only represented by the school, but also by many small businesses within the Walworth County region. Do these types of communities, specifically Walworth in this argument, have true emotions for this man and his tribe? Clearly, money is not a dominate factor here. To that end, one would have to believe that the fight to keep their identity connected to the Lake Geneva Potawatomi Indian Chief is much about demonstrating their pride in association to that precise man, as well as his people. If money and well-being are questionable influences, then simple affection must be; or is it even a simpler answer than either of those? The purpose of this paper is to reveal the type of man that Chief Big Foot (Maunk-suck) was through the examination of his Potawatomi tribe in the hopes to explain his influence within Walworth County.
In an effort to reach a logical conclusion to the above-mentioned proposition, both the Potawatomi Indian(s) and Chief Big Foot’s history will be experienced, paying close attention to the early 19th century. Potawatomi Chief Big Foot and his tribe lived through the tumultuous era of early Native American Indian assimilation (1790 CE – 1920 CE), the removal act (1830), the Black Hawk War (1832 CE), and, ultimately, their migration known as the “Trail of Tears (1830 CE – 1838 CE). The reader must understand that these were times of great change for the whole of Native America Indian nation and that strain, stress, and sickness weighed heavily on all Indians. To that end, any and all primary accounts regarding Chief Big Foot during these periods would no doubt be exposing him to a worst case scenario encounter, as I’m sure he and his people would not have been in the best of spirits. These genuine meetings would also necessarily reflect the kind of man Chief Big Foot was, particularly in a raw uncensored and unapologetic manner; his general character traits can be surmised from these difficult times, as a man’s character is never more tested then when he is suffering.
The basis for this specific historiography is unique, as it being used to reveal the strength of the Native American Indian during a time span that led to everlasting change. It is of extreme importance to this paper study and subsequent understanding of Chief Big Foot and his tribe, as this topic (i.e. the removal) overwhelmed the general landscape and living dynamics of all the Native American Tribes. More importantly, it happened during the same time frame as Chief Big Foot was at the height of his power, and at which some of the first-hand encounters with him were documented for the written record. It affords the reader the opportunity to lay away certain biases that may exist regarding Native Indian frailty prior to ingesting the subject matter. This was presented in the hopes that Chief Big Foot and his people may be viewed as a stronger, intelligent, and heartier people(s) than some others have previously suggested. This historiography also aims to suggest that Chief Big Foot’s actions are even more praise worthy, when you consider the forthcoming and all of the dire consequences he and his people confronted.
Most people within the contemporary era with a modicum of interest are led to believe that most Native Indians were both absolutely distressed and/or helpless concerning their definite removal from their associated tribal lands. Certainly, the historical primacy regarding this sequence of events cannot be questioned, as it changed the way Native American Indians would live their lives forever. Conversely, their resolve and character during this epic removal period has been debated and perpetuated abroad by historians, anthropologists, keen historical enthusiasts, and by the more casual and simple observers alike as either weak or of strong constitution – hence the avidly used term “Trail Of Tears” and all of its largely suggested accounts of horror. Through the brief examination of historian R. David Edmunds’ book The Potowatomis and anthropologist James A. Clifton’s The Prairie People, I hope to acquire a more accurate account of the Potowatomis’ general psychological profiles during their removal.
Anthropologist James A. Clifton’s written account of the Potowatomis explains in great detail (and unapologetically) that the Potawatomi Indians were not entirely the passive and meek individuals portrayed by many historians, particularly during this specific time period that demanded the Potowatomis to constantly relocate. Clifton explains that migration was essentially a natural aspect in the ways of Indian life, as he tells us, “In the first place, the experience of migration into new habitats was nothing new to these tribesman. From the year they first entered the historical scene, down to 1833, there was no time in which some portion of the tribe, large or small, was not on the move somewhere else. Indeed. For nearly two centuries migration had been a favored adaptive strategy, one used to cope with internal strains within the tribe as well as with external stresses” Furthermore, Clifton expands on this idea, as he states, “To a large degree the great dispersion of the parts of the tribe during the 1830s reflected these existing internal conflicts and divisions. And, once completed, the dispersion of the Potawatomi population into widely separated habitats reinforced the divisiveness that had preexisted the great migration. In this respect, the diaspora of the 1830s more resembled the kinds of adaptive migrations some Potawatomi group was always making after 1680. The dual processes of fission and dispersal once again relieved strains within the tribe.” Clifton finishes embellishes his argument with quantitative data, as he claims, “The facts of Potawatomi migrations after 1833, in broad outline, tell their own tale. Some twelve hundred Wisconsin and Michigan Potowatomis never left Upper Great Lakes habitat at all. They simply drifted northward away from the pressure of American settlement and held out until the pressure for removal diminished.”
James A. Clifton’s dialog is very well-crafted and does help the reader to understand why his view is plausible. Conversely, in its own manner, it does try to oversimplify the Potawatomi Indians’ traumatic experience with rationale that is, by-and-large, irrelevant to the situation. While certainly the Indians may have been very capable when it came to migrating from place to place, the scenarios which motivated these early forms of extirpation were, by their very nature, much different than being coerced from their lands in the early 19th century. A genuine/authentic account of Clifton’s analysis from a reputable Potawatomi Indian would have certainly cemented his belief(s).
In contrast to that of anthropologist James A. Clifton, historian Russell Edmunds tells the story of a lesser Potawatomi Indian, one that seemed unable to completely navigate the surrounding environment effectively, as well as one who was compliant and fainthearted. For example, Edmunds tells us, “Other Potowatomis, led by Quiquito (Moving Sun), a chief from the Kankakee River, fled into Indiana. Suffering from hunger, these Potowatomis sought refuge with William Marshal, the Indian agent from Logansport. In the previous summer Marshal had fed a large number of Indians during the Black Hawk War, and after Quiquito’s arrival at Logansport, the Indian agent again provided the tribesmen with rations of bread to sustain them through the winter.” In another case, Edmunds writes, “Pepper arrived in Logansport on April 11, 1833, and found a large number of Indians awaiting removal. Besides Quiquito’s band of 256 Prairie Potowatomis, many Wabash Potowatomis, Kickapoos, and Weas also had assembled. Since Pepper did not have sufficient funds to feed all the Indians, he ordered them back to their villages, but instructed them to reassemble during the first week in June, when the removal would start west.” In Russell Edmunds’ epilogue, he again discounts the capacities of the Potowatomis as he states, “Dissatisfied with Iowa or Kansas, several groups of Potowatomis straggled back across the Mississippi and wandered aimlessly through their old homelands. Although a few of the Indians reappeared in Michigan and Indiana, most returned to Wisconsin, where they sought assistance from the Winnebagos and Menominees. Whites in Wisconsin resented their return, and government agents complained that the Potowatomis were roving through the countryside, living off white gardens and killing white livestock.”
Russell David Edmunds’ writings suggest an Indian people who are timid, afraid, and completely oblivious as to how to sustain themselves in a natural environment, particularly when placed in a transitional setting. His perspective is largely unaccountable and subjective as there are no references or other factual details to back this sort of behavior. Unlike that of Clifton ─ who also chooses to view history with a subjective, yet culturally accurate eye ─ Edmunds doesn’t reveal a back history of the Potawatomi that would suggest they were inherently obedient or ignorant. For a culture whose strength was their capacity to outlive all of nature’s incredible devastating variables, Edmunds needs to develop a much stronger case, if he is to spread the bias of an inadaptable people.
In closing, Clifton offers a more factual/viable account of the Potowatomis psychological demeanor, as he imbues the nature of the happening with the Potowatomis natural given strengths as a culture. His depictions of the Potawatomi Indian and their counter-part tribesmen are that of great cunning, passion, strength, pride, and determination, especially to remain a part within their native landscapes. Clifton’s explanations also reveal that the predominate existing ideology surrounding these events is in fact questionable, particularly if viewed through a more accurate lens; a complete assessment that encompasses the entire historical background of the Potowatomis would be a logical beginning if only to understand the Native American Indians legacy, especially during their “Last Trek” and “The Trail of Tears”. To that end, through the use of psychohistory, Clifton’s perspectives are subjective, but merited, as they are based on how the Indians were forced from their inception to live from the land and were undoubtedly subjected to its harsh realities; Native Indians were masters of their surroundings because they had to be, if only to survive. It’s only logical then that they would be very adept at handling and meeting their needs, as necessity is the mother of invention.
Potawatomi’s Diverse Culture
The Potawatomi Indians descend from an extremely rich and diverse culture, as their genesis can be traced back to that of a vast collection of different tribes. Potawatomi, Chippewa, Ottawa, Sauk, Fox, and others were once considered to be one nation of people. They were also referred to as “People of the Place of Fire,” “Fire Nation,” and “Fire People.  Indeed, when more than two nations combine the outcome will generally be that of varied thought as well as expanded creativity. While it would be easy to simply dismiss this happening, it does reveal that the Native Indian culture is built from great depth and by default benefits from the wisdom obtained through these shared experiences. It also helps to shed light on Chief Big Foots larger background, allowing us to create an image of what this man’s character may be capable of being.
The origins of Chief Big Foot’s Potawatomi’s can be traced back to a group of Native Indians that originally migrated north and settled in and around Green Bay, Wisconsin. This tribe (or parts of it) eventually moved south, where Chief Big Foot and his specific Potawatomi Indian tribe would later call Lake Geneva their home, infusing the local region with their diverse culture. Turner tells us, “There were a number of villages surrounding Lake Geneva or Kishwaukeeto (Clearwater), as they called it, the principle one being at the head of the lake, where their Chief, Maunk-suck, or Big Foot, held his council and hoisted his banner on a tree, the stump of which is still pointed out.” Clearly, the Potawatomi found Lake Geneva to be a very attractive location to finally settle. The Potawatomi and their Chief demonstrated great environmental awareness, as the lake and its surroundings had immense natural resources. The successful movement/migration of the tribe from one local to the next affords historians the opportunity to view these specific tribes as a very flexible and adoptable people. It also indirectly reveals great leadership, which no doubt Chief Big Foot benefited from late in his life.
The Potawatomi Indians were a very capable group of people, as they navigated the land and water for all of their necessary survival resources, they were masters of their domain. Strong and Laufer explain, “They hunted deer in large groups, and black bear in the winter when they were in their caves. Beaver, otter, minks, and muskrat were trapped for both food and fur. Gill nets were used to catch fish in the warm months in both lakes and streams; in the winter time fish were speared through the ice, or were caught in seines.”  Much like their capacity to acknowledge a very robust environment, the Potawatomi demonstrate very good decision making. Again, these skill sets and thought processes reveal a very intelligent people, with a strong will to survive. The connections between migrating from one region to another successfully, and carving out a new life through the use of their exceptional skill sets practicing both critical and analytical thought must be made. The Potawatomi’s are clearly a well versed populace, who have very strong influential leaders such as Chief Big Foot.
Assembling Chief Big Foot’s History
The connection from the abovementioned history to that of debatable written records regarding the give and take of information between foreigners and Chief Big Foot is extremely limited as there are very little primary resources that associate Chief Big Foot and his tribe to the external world. One specific outsider/explorer who had an actual audience with this tribe and witnessed their extraordinary ways was Juliette A. Kinzie. She was a 19th century historian who kept written accounts of her early travels. In these writings she explains that her experience with the Potawatomi’s and Chief Big Foot was fascinating and that they were well received. Kinzie explains from her personal experience, “We paused long to admire, and then spurred on, skirting the head of the lake, and were soon ascending the broad platform, on which stood the village of Maunk-suck, or Big-Foot. The inhabitants, who had witnessed our approach from a distance, were all assembled in front of their wigwams to greet us, if friends – if otherwise, whatever the occasion should demand. Their salutation were not less cordial than we expected.” This is fascinating behavior from the Natives, to be sure. With the ongoing threat posed from the U.S. Government regarding their assimilation and removal to that of the white settlers encroaching upon their lands one would suspect a very hostile Chief and Potawatomi tribe. On the contrary, Kinzie experiences a very happy, confident group of people. This direct account of the Potawatomi and Chief Big Foot is extremely important, as it establishes them as a people of peace and integrity. It affords even the most novice of historians a specific opportunity to realize the gentle nature of Chief Big Foot.
In another one of Kenzie’s personal accounts regarding Chief Big Foot she reveals a very stoic and stern man and seems to be intimidated by his outer physical appearance, but counters with something interesting. Kenzie writes, “The chief was a large, raw-boned, ugly Indian, with a countenance bloated by intemperance, and with a sinister, unpleasant expression. He had a gay-colored handkerchief upon his head, and was otherwise attired in his best, in compliment to the strangers.” Clearly, during her first encounter with Chief Big Foot, Kinzie is a bit unsettled. While she is definitely overwhelmed by his physical features she is also reassured by his dress. It would be easy – yet inaccurate – to quickly dismiss Chief Big Foot as simply a pompous over-indulgent individual, but that would be overlooking what Kinzie actually experienced in her first meeting. In her written dialogue she clearly depicts Chief Big Foot as wanting to be presentable; to look at his best for his guests; this act gives the strangers a modicum of his respect through their basic acknowledgment, and, more importantly, reveals an inner-side to Chief Big Foot (i.e. an awareness and kindness) we would have never know without.
Further along in her writings, Kinzie acknowledges that Chief Big Foot displays the capacity to be rational, specifically towards the ongoing conflicts between the government and his people, as he is directly responsible for not endorsing war. Kinzie reveals, “It is this chief that Chambly, or as he is now called Shaw-bee-nay, Billy Caldwell and Robinson were dispatched, during the Winnebago War, in 1827, to use their earnest endeavors to prevent him and his band from joining the hostile Indians. With some difficulty they succeeded, and were thus the means, doubtless, of saving the lives of all the settlers who lived exposed upon the frontier.” Certainly, the above-mentioned material tells of a man who resists anger, and pursues peace in lieu of hostile activity. These are traits worthy of acknowledgement, as they are noble in their cause. Chief Big Foot’s leadership in this matter cannot be underestimated. His personal constitution helped to shape his tribes demeanor towards reinforcing a certain reconciliation with that of the government.
Back to the Future
Recognizing Chief Big Foot’s attributes from almost two centuries ago isn’t an easy task. Conversely, when we read certain documentation (or written dialogs) that pertain to his legacy it is clear that the historical mentions are there and for the most part accurate with each other. “No matter the name, Chief Big Foot loved and revered the Geneva Lake area. Legend has it, he received the name Big Foot from the huge snow shoe tracks he left in the snow while in pursuit of a deer. Chief Maunk-suck, or Chief Big Foot, is not found in many history books nor did he play a major role in American history. But, his legacy, demeanor, love for nature, character and integrity remain firmly imbedded in the mystique of the area. Although physically gone, the spirit of Chief Big Foot remains.” What’s more, a local diner has his namesake and history embedded into their menus, making him a part of their everyday business culture. They write glowingly and in honor of the long ago departed Chief, claiming he was a man who loved and cherished Lake Geneva, and the surrounding areas, as well. They also mention he was a man of fine disposition. Chief Big Foot’s legacy is clearly represented and on display throughout Walworth, particularly at certain businesses, and at the high school, as well. This gracious portrayal of a proud, yet friendly man, who deeply cared for this region and its beauty has great influential powers and acts as inspiration to the spirits of those people who read the passages. While all the contemporary accolades concerning Chief Big Foot seem to be parallel in nature, as well as generally sincere, the specific story regarding the advent of Chief Big Foot’s name is not. In fact, of the two stories told neither is even relatively the same. Waters tells us, “Legend has it, he received the name Big Foot from the huge snow shoe tracks he left in the snow while in pursuit of a deer.” While the historical dialog within the Big Foot Country Club’s web page tells us, “Legend has it that as a young brave, he danced wildly in the rain until his feet collected so much mud he could no longer move. It was that dance which earned him his life-long name which translated into Big Foot”. Clearly, each version represents a different story line. This type of discrepancy is unacceptable, particularly if all the sentiment pertaining to the chief is to be taken seriously. As mentioned earlier, currently many people are becoming increasingly agitated by the use of Native American Indians as simple forms of decoration, as it marginalizes their existence. To that end, any story depicting how Chief Big Foot earned his name should be legitimate, if only to express a believable sincerity.
After examining (albeit briefly) Chief Big Foot and his Potawatomi Indians history, the evidence shown here describes an influential man who was of sound nature, generally friendly, and also conscious enough to take time and consider those who surrounded him, especially those of strangers; most would have considered these outsiders to be their enemy, especially during that time span. This is a powerful confirmation of great character, specifically when the historical context of the era was very troublesome for the Chief and his people. While Chief Big Foot’s actual recorded history does lack a certain depth and clarity – attributes that would afford even the most amateur historian a more clear and concise opinion regarding the issue at hand – the aforementioned available information is proof enough that Chief Big Foot (and his tribe) are worthy of being honored, particularly by the local constituency in the Walworth, Wisconsin community. The only question remaining after this research – a question raised by the research itself – is whether or not the Walworth community is genuine about the message they are sending.
The use of a certain ethnicities likenesses is under serious consideration, many individuals and even governing bodies would prefer these practices to be considered illegal and eliminated in their entirety. If communities like those of Walworth, Wisconsin are to be considered even remotely sincere regarding their reflections and use of a certain ethnicities images, then every piece of historical evidence used to promote these ideas must be accurate or risk being seen as the mere propaganda and marketing device the skeptics claim they are to be. Stories relating to how Chief Maunk-suck obtained his actual iconic namesake of Big Foot must at the very least be revealed accurately, if only to protect their right to portray the legendary Chief Big Foot with true dignity.
Big Foot Country Club. “History.” Big Foot Country Club. Accessed September 26, 2014. http://www.bigfootcc.org/history.
Big Foot Inn. “About Our Community.” Big Foot Inn. Accessed September 26, 2014. http://www.planitnorthwest.com/shopping/pdfs/Big-Foot-menu.pdf.
Clifton, James A. The Prairie People. 2nd ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1977.
Edmunds, Russell David. The Potowatomis, Keepers of the Fire. 4th ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
Kinzie, John H. Wau-bun: the “early day” in the North-west. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://archive.org/details/waubunearlydayin00kinz.
Strong, William Duncan, and Berthold Laufer. The Indian Tribes of the Chicago Region, with Special Reference to the Illinois and the Potawatomi. 2nd ed. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1938. Accessed November 18, 2014.https://archive.org/stream /indiantribesofch24stro#page/16/mode/2up.
Turner, J.M., and Lura Turner. Handbook of Wisconsin, Its History and Geography. Burlington: Lura J. and J.M. Turner, 1898.
Waters, John V., and Mary Jane Waters. “Chief Big Foot: A Proud Heritage, Legacy, and Region.” Big Foot High School. Accessed September 26, 2014. http://www.bigfoot.k12.wi.us/bf50/Chief%20Big%20Foot.htm.
 James A. Clifton, The Prairie People, 2nd ed. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1977), 279.
 Ibid., 279
 Ibid., 280.
 Ibid., 280
 Russell David Edmunds, The Potowatomis, Keepers of the Fire, 4th ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 244
 Ibid., 244
 Ibid., 273
 William Duncan Strong and Berthold Laufer, The Indian Tribes of the Chicago Region, with Special Reference to the Illinois and the Potawatomi, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1938), 16, accessed November 18, 2014, https://archive.org/stream/indiantribesofch24stro#page/16/mode/2up.
 J.M. Turner and Lura Turner, Handbook of Wisconsin, Its History and Geography (Burlington: Lura J. and J.M. Turner, 1898), 129.
 Strong and Laufer, 23.
 John H. Kinzie, Wau-bun : the “early day” in the North-west (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856), 319, accessed November 18, 2014, http://archive.org/details/waubunearlydayin00kinz.
 Ibid., 319.
 Ibid., 319-320.
 John V. Waters and Mary Jane Waters, “Chief Big Foot: A Proud Heritage, Legacy, and Region,” Big Foot High School, accessed September 26, 2014, http://www.bigfoot.k12.wi.us/bf50/Chief%20Big%20Foot.htm.
 Big Foot Inn, “About Our Community,” Big Foot Inn, accessed September 26, 2014,http://www.planitnorthwest.com/shopping/pdfs/Big-Foot-menu.pdf.
 Waters and Waters, “Chief Big Foot.”
 Big Foot Country Club, “History,” Big Foot Country Club, accessed September 26, 2014,http://www.bigfootcc.org/history.