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Bishop Brute and the Potawatomi

The history of the Catholic Church in Indiana includes far more than the Catholics who came and settled in the State. It also includes those who were already here. This site has included many posts and articles about Fr. Benjamin Petit, the heroic French priest who accompanied the Potawatomi on the infamous Trail of Death. Also, the saintly Louis DeSeille who ministered to the Potawatomi and others in northern Indiana.

On August 16, 1838, less than a month before the forced march began, Bishop Brute visited the Potawatomi and Fr. Petit. George Winter, known for his sketches of Native Americans was there. This gives one a sense of what it may have been like ministering to people on the frontier. We are unable to produce this picture due to publishing rights, however, you can view it here. The sketch is somewhat faded, but you can see, in the center, Bishop Brute, Father Petit and others on a covered stand. The others were presumably translators.

Bishop Brute was very adamant in his support for the rights of the Potawatomi and all other Native Americans in Indiana. As I mentioned above, He visited with them (and Fr. Petit) on several occasions. The most dramatic came later on September 9, 1838. Bishop Brute was in nearby Logansport Indiana dedicating a new church. The Potawatomi had already begun the “Trail of Death”. George Winter wrote:

“It was in the month of [September] 1838, and on a sabbath day, that the Pottawattamie emigration column rested within the shadow of a large grove, near a clear stream of water, in close vicinity of the Eel River. This was a halt after the second day’s march to their far off destination, West of the Mississippi.
It was here that the Rt. Rev. Brute, Bishop of Vincennes, preached to the converted Pottawattamies …
Independent of the moral aspect of this group, it was one of beautiful picturesque effect. The singularly draped red people, in bright and startling combinations of color, blending in harmony with the forest rees, tinged with the influences of the decaying year, created a deep impression upon the beholder. …
I sketched this imposing and interesting scene, which embraces perhaps nearly 1000 Indians. I have a Cartoon of this subject – and it has always been a subject near my heart.”

Father Petit, in his journal, wrote:

Sunday, September 9, Monseigneur [Brute] consecrated the Logansport church. I officiated at the camp. In the afternoon Monseigneur came there and confirmed about twenty of my good savages. 30 That day was a wonderful triumph for the
Catholic Faith — the whole town was in camp, astonished at the Indians and edified by their piety. The American newspapers
mentioned it, and everywhere people read with emotion of the wonderful sight of this congregation assembled on mats before
an improvised altar under a great tree.


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