Trail of Death Ramble

Sometimes you stumble across the coolest places when you’re rambling … I’ve been seeing signs marking the “Trail of Death”, but I didn’t know what it was all about. Then, on a ride, I came across the St. Philippine Duchesne Shrine in Linn County, Kansas, memorializing the Catholic Mission that was built to serve the Potawattomie Indians who’d been evicted from their homelands in Indiana and forced to march to Kansas on what became known as the “Potawatomi Trail of Death” because so many died along the way.

The shrine and park is a very interesting place, but totally unexpected; I had no idea it existed. But I’m glad to have found it!

Learn more about the St. Philippine Duchesne Shrine and the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

I stumbled onto this sign in rural Linn County, Kansas and it brought me up short. I’m pretty familiar with all of the state parks and historic sites in the area, but I’d never heard of this one. Oh well, let’s check it out!

This is the entrance to the St. Philippine Duchesne Shrine, designed to look like a frontier fort.

This entrance sign explains that this site was once home to the St. Mary’s Mission (Sugar Creek Mission) from 1839 to 1849, and was at the end of the Potawatomie Trail of Death.

These signs explain the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the first week, starting at Plymouth, Indiana.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the second week, to the Illinois state line.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the third and fourth weeks, through Springfield, Illinois.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the fifth and sixth weeks, across the Mississippi River and into Missouri.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the seventh and eighth weeks, through Lexington, Missouri.

This sign tells the story behind the Potawatomie Trail of Death, the ninth and tenth weeks, into Kansas and to their journey’s end.

This is a rough map of the Potawatomie Trail of Death, from Indiana to Kansas, September 14, 1838 to November 5, 1938, a total of 618 miles over 61 days.

This is a depiction of Rose Philippine Duchesne, a Catholic nun who ministered to the Potawatomi Indians at the Sugar Creek Mission. She was canonized as a saint in 1988, the only one connected to Kansas!

There’s a great nature trail at the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park, winding through some huge rocks.

Here’s me in front of one of the large rock formations – love this pic!

This sign marks the Fort Scott and California Road, used by settlers going to Fort Scott, Kansas, where groups headed to California and New Mexico were escorted by the U.S. Calvary. This is the only section of the road to still exist.

You can learn more about the Trail of Death from the Fulton County Historical Society (Indiana) and

DirtBum Written by:

I enjoy riding bicycles all over -- city streets, suburbia, rural roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, rail-trails, and singletrack. I love exploring the countryside and finding the interesting and historical treasures hidden in plain sight. You can follow my rides on Strava.


  1. j
    November 29, 2010

    Hey…. I am researching this Saint and you have some great information here. I did not find this info anywhere else. Thank you for posting this. It is a nice memorial to the Native Americans and St. Rose. I still cannot find why she was made a Saint? Usually, these people are picked because they are associated with a miracle. But, I guess in this case her holiness was enough? Once again, thank you.

  2. JT
    December 5, 2010

    Thanks for this and your interesting post.
    So much of history gets lost this posting
    will help keep a story alive.
    I looked at a map and about this trail, I guess
    I crossed it driving through Kansas one time?
    Someday, if I ever make it to that part of the
    country, I will check it out.
    On that road trip I went to Mankato to go see
    Recconcilation Park. It is related to the very sad
    History of Native Americans. (I did not bike it.)
    Have a nice day.

  3. March 5, 2011

    The signs you saw were erected by our Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn. and friends. We have connected with all 26 counties on the Trail of Death from north central Indiana to eastern Kansas. The Trail of Death was the forced removal of the Mission Band of Potawatomi from Twin Lakes south of Plymouth IN to Osawatomie, KS. in 1838.See our website for 1838 diary, history, pictures of all 78 historical markers, GPS of each marker, etc.
    Shirley Willard, Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn., 37 E 375 N, Rochester IN 46975 Ph 574-223-2352

  4. March 5, 2011

    I have done a lot of research on St. Rose Philippine Duchesne too. She was canonized in 1988 because of several miracles curing people. The Jesuit Archives of St. Louis has the records. So does the Catholic Church at St. Charles, MO where she lived after working with the Potawatomi at the end of the Trail of Death. She was called She Who Prays Always by the Potawatomi because she prayed all night. They put little pebbles on her long robe and the next morning she was still praying. See “Potawatomi Trail of Death – 1838 Indiana to Kansas” by Shirley Willard and Susan Campbell, 2003, published by Fulton County Hist. Soc., Rochester IN.

  5. March 5, 2011

    Thanks, Shirley!

    Another great resource is Walking the Trail of Death, a book by Keith Drury, who retraced the entire route in 2006, by foot. It’s very interesting to read a modern man’s insight into what these people went through. I also appreciated his commentary on the pedestrian-friendliness (or lack thereof) of today’s roadways and communities.

  6. JT
    May 13, 2011

    A dumb question….?

    Are there many Potawatomi left?
    I live on the east coast and so I feel disconnected from the mid east and west. I love the history of it all. When I did travel west, I visited a few reservations to learn more.
    Thanks for the additional information and links.

  7. May 13, 2011

    I want to inivte you to the Trail of Courage Living History Festival held the 3rd weekend of Sept. at Rochester Indiana since 1976. Each year we honor a different Potawatomi famliy that had ancestors on the Trail of Death or signed treaties in Indiana. In 2011 it will be descendants of Doga and Chief Nas-wau-gay, who are mentioned in the George Winter book. He was an artist who came to Indiana in the 1830s and sketched the Potawatomi and Miami Indians and then made oil paintings. Because of his art, the 1838 diary of the Trail of Death, the John Tipton letters and Father Benjamin Petit letters, all published by Indiana Hist. Soc., the Trail of Death is the best documented removal of all. And because of the many historical markers and historic highway signs, it is probably the best marked of all the historic trails. The Trail of Courage will be Sept. 17-18, 2011. Since 1988 we have traveled as a Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan every 5 years from Indiana to Kansas. We will go again in 2013. Contact me at 574-223-2352 or Shirley Willard, Rochester IN

  8. JT
    June 14, 2011

    I am not sure if that invite was for me? I will be there in spirit for sure. Maybe if I hit the lottery things will change but I usually work 7 days a week. Time off is rare and the money to go somewhere is even more rare. All the best to you.

  9. June 21, 2011

    My invitation is for everyone to attend the Trail of Courage Living History Festival at Rochester,Indiana. Since 1976 the Fulton County Historical Society has been preserving history with the festival and honoring the American Indians and other groups that lived in frontier Indiana. It is a big festival that attracts 12,000 to 18,000 people. Everything there is historic to the pre-1840 period. The foods are cooked over wood fires. There are 2 stages with period music and dance all day. This year we will have a memorial service Sat afternoon by the Great Peace Tree for Chief White Eagle who planted the tree in 1988. He died at age 93 in Jan. 2011 and wanted his ashes scattered at the Great Peace Tree. He had been a movie actor and gave programs all over the US and Canada and was very popular and loved, having participated in the Trail of Courage since 1985. We miss him!

  10. JT
    December 17, 2011

    Thanks for the information Shirley. I have not been checking this email, sorry for the late reply. Unfortunately, that time in September would be tough to make it to this festival from the east coast. Maybe this will change in life, like they always seem to do and I will make it someday?
    All the best to everyone here on this blog. Happy holidays and may the New Year bring peace and happiness to all.

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