Chief Waubonsie of the Pottowatomie Tribe came into prominence in our area of Illinois during the early 1800's. His name means "early dawn" or "break of day". Waubonsie was a large, proud man and his height (believed to be 6'4") is mentioned in most recollections of the Indian. There are numerous variations in the spelling of his name: Waubonsie, Waubonsee, Waubonsi, Wauponsee.
The center of Waubonsie's village, called Waubon, is believed to have been about where North Gate Shopping Center in Aurora is located today. The Indians hunted and fished in the areas known as Fox Valley Villages, which were a series of swamps, pools, and streams before the land was shaped for drainage. The braves hunted deer, quail, wild ducks, geese and many smaller birds. They also ate many kinds of fish from the Fox River.
Chief Waubonsie was well-known for his peaceful ways and for helping the settlers. The descendants of the early residents of Naperville owe the Chief a special thanks. Chief Waubonsie detained the blood-thirsty Sauk and Fox tribes at his camp while his braves ran to the settlement in Naperville to warn them of danger. By the time the tribes rode into Naperville, the settlers had packed and were well on their way to the safety of Fort Dearborn, located in what is now Chicago.
Waubonsie was one of the chiefs who negotiated the Treaty of the Wabash in 1826. In the wild celebration that followed, Waubonsie was accidentally stabbed by a warrior. The warrior fled in fright. But after the wound healed, Waubonsie reportedly invited the warrior to return, saying, "A man who will run off like a dog with his tail down, for fear of death is not worth killing." *(All of the above is excerpted from an article by Judy Buchenot in The Naperville Sun, Friday November 22, 1985.)
Waubonsie also was a signer to several other treaties, including the Treaty of Chicago in 1832. This was a result of the bloody Black Hawk wars, in which the Pottawatomie did not participate. The treaty called for the removal of all Indians to the Iowa and Kansas areas.
In 1835, Waubonsie, then more than 70 years old, traveled to Washington, D. C. to meet with delegations from other tribes. Waubonsie had an audience with President Andrew Jackson and addressed him as "Brother-Brave." Nothing of any great importance was accomplished with this visit.
In 1837 all Indians were rounded up and sent to Chicago. There, they met other bands of Pottawatomie from Michigan and Indiana, and began a harrowing walk to Missouri and Kansas that later became known as the "Trail of Death." Dozens died on the trip and those who were too sick to walk were abandoned along the trail.
Waubonsie and his people went to Tama, Iowa. One old account tells of spending more than two months on the 700-mile journey.
In June, 1843, Waubonsie was present at a great assemblage of tribes in the Indian territory. The Reverend William H. Goode recorded his impressions: "Wau-bon-sa, a Pottowatamie Chief, said to be eighty-seven years of age, treated with great respect by those of his tribe present; complete Indian costume, with the skin of a cow split in the middle, through which his head was thrust, covering his shoulders and back."
Waubonsie made a final trip to Washington in November 1845. This laid the groundwork for the treaty of 1846. On the return trip, the stagecoach overturned near Cincinnati. The old man by then was suffering grievously and fatally from the pains of old wounds and old age. **(The second part was excerpted from an article by Jim Dowd in Wild West Magazine, Oct, 1992.)