Cave of Candles
A Cave of Candles / by Dorothy V. Corson

Chapter 21

Verifying the Indian Legend

In the meantime, I began in earnest to see what I could find buried away in the University Archives that might identify the Indian chief in the story and verify the happening that produced the legend.

This required a thorough study of the Indians in the area at the time of Fathers Badin, DeSeille and Petit, before and about the time of the arrival of Father Sorin in 1842. It is said that Petit was revered by the Indians because he had a mother-like spirit and that is why the Indians claimed him as their own and why he could do so much with them. Their frankness and simplicity delighted his heart. I began by reading Father Petit's, Trail Of Death, and other sources which supplied much of the information I was seeking.

In about the year 1685, according to correspondence of the early French Jesuit missionaries, one of the first missions in the northern Indiana was founded for the neighboring Potawatomi and Miami Indians on the St. Joseph River at a point south of the present city of Niles, Michigan. A few years later, Father Claude Allouez, S.J., "the so-called Francis Xavier of the American Indians," according to authentic tradition, came to permanently establish this mission post, known as the St. Joseph Mission. It was abandoned in 1759 after the British defeated the French.

Fr. Thomas T. McAvoy, C.S.C. has written, "A tradition handed down to the Fathers of Holy Cross says that there were bands of Indians living on the shores of the present lakes of Notre Dame before Rev. Theodore Badin, first priest ordained in the United States, came to live there." It was also long known to be a meeting place for explorers, traveling missionaries and early white settlers. For this reason, many believe -- although it has not yet been proven by written record -- that Father Claude Allouez would have visited the encampments of Indians at St. Mary's Lake during his travels throughout the St. Joseph Valley.

It was Father Badin who moved the St. Joseph Mission near Niles, which he was sent to reorganize in 1830, to the new mission center of Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan, when he purchased the land at St. Mary's Lake -- the site of the present University of Notre Dame -- which he named Ste. Marie des Lacs. When Sorin arrived he renamed the site Notre Dame du Lac. Thus we find in this mission center's three periods of history, three names, St. Joseph Mission, St. Mary's of the Lakes and Notre Dame du Lac.

The first church not only at Notre Dame but in Northwest Indiana was a log chapel erected by Badin as early as 1832. Father Badin's chapel fell into disuse in 1848. It was destroyed by fire in 1856. It was known as the 'Indian Chapel.' Father Allouez, died April 27, 1689. His body, it is believed, is buried on the banks of the St. Joseph River, near the old Fort St. Joseph Mission, just south of the present city of Niles, Michigan.

Author, Agnes Repplier, speaks of Pere Allouez's "gift of eloquence" The Indians "were so interested in his instruction that they would not let him go to bed at night, but sat in solemn circles waiting to hear more and the sleepy priest could not, in conscience resist gratifying their thirst for enlightenment." Father McAvoy describes the lives of these dedicated black robe missionaries far from their homeland in France. How they spent their energy in all kinds of weather. "They lived in the huts of the natives and shared their primitive food, enduring their savage humors and trying to impose upon their primitive knowledge the saving message of the Gospel. When one died or was killed another came to take his place."(222)

Indian paths never crossed over a hill were it possible to go around, it crept over hollows, avoiding swamps where moccasins might get wet; it clung to the shadows of the big timber belts. It was a warm and sheltered path in the winter, a cool and fragrant one in summer. Indian trails were used by the white people a long time before roads were thought of. These paths became our first roads, our fixed and permanent highways.

The Indians were led to believe that a white man's road through their country would be a great benefit, but it let in a flood of immigration which swallowed up their whole country. The Potawatomis had sold the last of their heritage before the road was half completed.

In a book of "Extracts," kept by Brother Aidan, further confirmation that Badin's original orphanage was primarily for the Indians is noted:

Brother Aidan also records a later orphanage which was destroyed by fire in 1849:

In 1876, the Scholastic also describes the area before Badin's time:

Yet another Scholastic reports:

Badin's impression of the site of Notre Dame is described in Sorin's Chronicles:

Over one hundred and fifty years later a modern day Notre Dame may be equally grateful. Detailed information follows about the negotiations by the government for the Indian's land during that period.

Thomas T. McAvoy, former Archivist of the University of Notre Dame, in his book The Catholic Church in Indiana, 1789 - 1834, speaks of those changing times and takes note of the generosity of the Indians.(229)

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the government to move Indians beyond the Mississippi River to make room for the settlers who were streaming westward:

The Potawatomi were the last tribe to enter and to leave the Indiana area. By 1836, many Indian tribes had sold their land to the government. The rest were driven out by military force in 1838. Only a few Indians remained after that. Exceptions were made for Frances Slocum, the Miami white woman and her family and for Chief Pokagon. His band of Potawatomis, because of their Christian conversion, were allowed to stay in the region. In the Treaty of Chicago they gave up their land in the local area in exchange for land at Harbor Springs, Michigan. However, they settled instead, in Dowagiac, Michigan.

This information established the fact that even though most of the Indians in the area were sent to Kansas, even after 1838, there were still Potawatomi Indians in the area. Sorin's Chronicles reveal:

A few left Kansas and returned to be cared for by the university as one item, mentioned earlier, an 1859 guide to the area reveals:

I wondered if the age of the gatekeeper Indian would tie in with the legend. Would they be present in the same time frame? I had already learned more about the "gate house," as the cottage was called, in the earlier mentioned Erma Helmen Post's writings about Clay Township residents. In it, she profiles the background of Professor Damis Paul and his wife who were French Canadians. He came with his family from Canada to New York and then to Notre Dame to be the Professor of Music at the University.

She speaks of the small house they moved into. It measured 13 X 23 feet:

One day while randomly going through files in an accessible file cabinet in the Archives, I stumbled upon this additional reference to what I believe may have been the "Gate House" Indian. It gives a glimpse of the times and the plight of the displaced Indians:

Could this be the Indian gatekeeper mentioned earlier in connection with St. Mary's? And could he also be the Indian chief in the legend? It sounded very likely, if I could prove his age and the time he was on campus matched the eventual age of the tree. The fact that he was a chief, an old man in 1859 and fought in the Tippecanoe Battle in 1812, would definitely put him in the right time frame.

More pieces of the puzzle of this unknown Indian chief began to fall into place. In article 9 of the Treaty With The Potawatomi, 1826 is a list of Indian chiefs who signed the Treaty at the Wabash on October 16, 1826. Included in the list is "Saukena, his x mark"(235)

Later still, I found what appeared to be the same name again, spelled slightly differently. In the pages of an 1829 Account Journal kept by Lathrop Taylor, a local South Bend merchant, was an entry with the name "Sauginna."(236) On the next reel of microfilm I found another, spelled "Saugina" on the 1832 Hanna & Taylor list of unpaid Indian debts taken by traders to the Treaty grounds.

Cedar Grove Cemetery

Shortly afterward, I found references to two other Indian burials at Notre Dame besides the aforementioned Indian gatekeeper at St. Mary's. One named Alexis was buried in 1896. No birth date or age was noted. However, in Irving McKee's Trail of Death is this entry at Menomomee's Village on the Yellow River:

The second Indian mentioned was also a likely candidate for the legend. In a book of minutes kept by the Brothers of their activities on campus, was this notation about the second one which was picked up and reprinted in the Scholastic in 1891:

Later, I found additional evidence on, Chippa, which revealed that he was also a chief. In Harrison: Messages And Letters, "Chepe or (?) his X mark" appears on a list of Indian chiefs who signed the Armistice With Indians at Detroit on October 14, 1813.(239) The question mark undoubtedly refers to the unsureness of the spelling of the name, Chepe. As evidenced earlier, it was not uncommon for Indian names to be misspelled or altered slightly. Because they were spelled the way they sounded, they were apt to be different according to who was recording them.

Although all three Indians were reported to be buried on campus, I could find index cards in the burial records only on Chippa and Alexis who died in the 1890s. I could find nothing at St. Mary's or Notre Dame on the burial, of the Indian gatekeeper at St Mary's mentioned earlier. However, I had already learned some of the early burial records at Cedar Grove Cemetery were destroyed in a fire, which would explain their absence. If the story is true, then either of these three Indian Chiefs could have been the chief mentioned in the legend.

There was an French and Indian cemetery in the area before Cedar Grove was established, west of U.S. 31, on the south side of Angela Boulevard, southwest of the St. Joseph High School:

Angelique Liquette's mother was a Potawatomi. Because she knew the language she was a great help to Father Badin in establishing his mission.

The Scholastic mentions this cemetery in 1876:

In the Diocese of Fort Wayne these cemeteries are described in detail:

In 1910 another Indian burial ground was discovered on land along the river on the Northeast side of the Angela Bridge while excavating Navarre Place.(243) Then again, in 1926, more burials were found during another excavation which would have been in the vicinity of the Little Badin Cemetery:

In 1932, the South Bend Tribune describes the reinternment of the remains in Cedar Grove Cemetery under the heading: "Mystery Cloaks Indian Burial Grounds." Beside pictures of the marker placed over the graves at Cedar Grove is this explanation:

In the spring of 1990, Miami and Potawatomi medicine men presided over a big ceremony at Cedar Grove Cemetery (said to be 150 people), with drums etc., when they buried two skeletons of their ancestors rescued from the museum of the Western Michigan College. The sexton, Tim Mosier, who was there, said their visit was very quietly accomplished to avoid any publicity and was over before anyone else knew about it.

It is also possible that those Indian chiefs not recorded in the Cedar Grove Cemetery records could have been buried in the nearby Little Badin Cemetery and that might account for the lack of information about them.

Yet a fourth burial of an Indian Chief turned up later, one who might have been an even better candidate for the legend. On February 6, 1875, the Scholastic reported: "Mr. John Piashway, a one time Chief of the Miamis was buried here last Wednesday.(246) Piashway lived in the area where Peashway street is now, directly across from the present golf course at Notre Dame. He was the son of Chief Richardville, also Chief of the Miamis, and married the daughter of another chief, Chief Steven Benneck who died in 1853 at 75 years of age. His wife's father lived with them on the land across from Notre Dame. Since both lived in close proximity to the campus, either one could have been the Indian Chief who visited it often enough to have relayed the legend. The tale was beginning to sound more and more plausible.

Interesting Descriptions of Early Notre Dame in Indian Times

Further evidence of Indians being associated with Notre Dame at the time Sorin founded it, in 1842, surfaced in a book called Circular Letters of Very Rev. Edward Sorin. It verified below and in another letter that, indeed, Sorin thought St. Mary's was one lake: "I would tell them of our beautiful lake, the delightful banks of our neighboring river, etc." It also contained letters written by Sorin to Father Moreau shortly after his arrival at Notre Dame in which he mentions the Indians . . . :

In another letter from the same book written about the same time (1842) to a Father Chappe, he speaks again of the Indians at the time of his arrival:

Br. Aidan's "Extracts" quotes Father Sorin:

An 1899 Chicago Tribune article also describes those earlier times under the heading: "Institution Started in a Wilderness, Where Indians Were the Founders Only Neighbors, Never Received a Dollar of Endowment, but thrived and attained Large Proportion -- College is a Municipality in Itself:"

A Scholastic reports: "On July 4, 1848 at commencement exercises, a premium was awarded Thomas La Fontaine, Indian son of the Chief of the Miamis."(250)

In later years Sorin in his Chronicles paints a charming picture of the campus in 1860:

In creating yet another picture of what the Notre Dame campus was like when Indians were still apart of it, I have excerpted the following interesting early descriptions from Howard's History Of St. Joseph County Indiana:(252)

In 1845:

In 1876 Howard recalls those earlier times:

On one of these occasions it is related:

I had my evidence, Indians were very much in evidence on the Notre Dame campus from Badin's time until the Indian removal, and even afterward.


Howard's history details those early Indian days in a tearful account of the Indian removal on September 4, 1838, at Menominee village at Twin lakes, five miles southwest of Plymouth. One of the "rendezvous for these foundlings of the forests." He quotes from the reports of General John Tipton who was appointed to command this removal. The Indian Chapel erected by Rev. Stephen Badin, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States, was used as General Tipton's headquarters. Father Benjamin Petit, also resided there until the quarrel between the Indians and the whites when he left Twin Lakes and retired to South Bend (Notre Dame).

Timothy Howard quotes from a poignant address of Representative Daniel McDonald of Plymouth, Indiana delivered in the house of representatives, Indianapolis, Friday, February 3, 1905 on the bill to erect a monument to the memory of the Potawatomi Indians at Twin Lakes, Marshall county:

An excerpt from an account of the removal of the Indians underscores the above assertion:

Whither they went and how they fared,
Nobody knew and nobody cared.

Daniel McDonald concluded his stirring 1905 address with these words:

All these names will perpetuate for all time to come the memory of the Potawatomi Indians, the first owners and inhabitants of all the beautiful country north of the Wabash river and south of the great lakes.

'The Indians all have passed away,
That noble race and brave,
Their light canoes have vanished
From off the crested wave.
Amid the forest where they roamed
There rings no hunter's shout --
But their name is on your waters --
You can not wash it out.'

-- Lydia H. Sigourney

Further confirmation of the presence of a few Indians at Notre Dame even after the removal is evident in the following words spoken by Father Sorin at a time when he was considering the question as to when the new Sacred Heart Church should be dedicated:

An old ledger containing early obituary records on the college recorded this death notice, entered on the 28th of March, 1847 for William Richardville (1846-1847). This additional information was also included:

Further on in the same ledger was another Indian death, John LaFountaine, this one accidental:

All of the above gives credence to the presence of more than one Indian chief who might have been associated with the campus, before and after Sorin's arrival, in 1842. And any of the aforementioned Indian chiefs might have been in the vicinity and could have told the story, which became the legend.

My own feeling is that the Indian gatekeeper, who was also in the Tippecanoe Battle, if he was Chief Sagganee, is more likely to be the chief in the legend. Mainly, because he was elderly in 1859, and could have been there during the time the legendary sycamore tree might have taken root. He would also have been on campus over a period of years, long enough for the legend to have been passed on to the Brothers, who passed it on to one another. Chief John Peashway and his father-in-law, who was also a chief, since they lived on the land across from the future golf course, might also have been frequent visitors on the grounds.

Aging the legendary sycamore now became of prime importance and sharing the legend had to be just around the corner. It was time to move on . . . .

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