TRAIL OF COURAGE LIVING HISTORY FESTIVAL
Sept. 16-17, 2017 Since 1976 this is the 42nd annual TRAIL OF COURAGE LIVING HISTORY FESTIVAL, Rochester, Ind., on Fulton County Historical Society grounds on north side of Tippecanoe River 4 miles north of Rochester on U.S. 31. Fulton County Museum, Round Barn Museum and Living History Village called Loyal, Indiana, at north end of grounds. This living history festival is held at south end of grounds on riverbank and in woods. Historic encampments include French & Indian War, Voyageurs, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Western Fur Trade, Plains Indian tepees, Woodland Indian wigwams. Contests include muzzle loading shooting and tomahawk and throwing contests Mountain Man Tug of War. Canoe rides are offered on the Tippecanoe River, each ride about 15 minutes. Chippeway Village is a re-creation of Fulton County’s first village in the woods at the south end: over 30 wooden booths, log cabin trading post, 1832 replica post office, storytellers, food booths, traditional crafts. Foods cooked over wood fires include buffalo burgers, chicken & noodles, stew in big kettles, ham & beans, barbeque, also apple dumplings, ice cream, fudge and cookies, and more. Traditional crafts: basketry, weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, beadwork, rope making, candle dipping, etc. Programs on two stages, Chippeway Village & Hillside Amphitheater, are funded in part by Indiana Arts Commission: period music and dance, historic skits, Indian lore. Indian dances 2 to 3 p.m. in Indian dance arena. During opening ceremony on the Chippeway Village stage each year a different Potawatomi family is honored with a Key to the City or a Key to the County. The honored Potawatomi family had ancestors on the 1838 Trail of Death or signed treaties in Indiana. Friday is School Tour Day, not open to general public. School buses bring students and vans bring home-schooled students. Free tram rides from museums and free parking lot to festival. Handicapped facilities. No motorized vehicles allowed in festival area. Open Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission charged, free for age 5 and under. Contact Fulton County Historical Society, 37 E 375 N, Rochester, IN 46975, phone 574-223-4436, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.fultoncountyhistory.org. Museum is open year around Mon.- Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The biggest and oldest festival in Fulton County is the Trail of Courage Living History Festival.
History: It began as a Bicentennial event in 1976, our nation’s 200th anniversary. It was called the Trail of Death Rendezvous that first year and was held on State Road 25 five miles south of Rochester on Clyde and Opal Neff’s farm. This was on the route taken by the Potawatomi on the Trail of Death after they passed through Rochester, marched at gunpoint Sept. 5, 1838, down Rochester’s Main Street. Gov. Otis Bowen came to dedicate two historical markers: William Polke house north of Rochester and the first death at Mud Creek. Polke’s house is the oldest house in Fulton County, erected by Polke, surveyor of the Michigan Road, and was a stagecoach inn. The marker at Mud Creek was erected by Boy Scout troop 285 as the Eagle Award project for Allen Willard. Gov. Bowen in his dedication speech called it a Trail of Courage so the festival was renamed, the idea being that it portrayed the time period when northern Indiana was still Potawatomi Territory, before the terrible forced removal known as the Trail of Death. In 1977 the festival was moved to Bob Kern’s pine woods on the Tippecanoe River and New US 31. It was held there for nine years, and Kern did not charge rent. This enabled Fulton County Historical Society to save money enough to buy 35 acres for $30,000 in 1985 from DeKalb Seed. This is the current site of the Trail of Courage and the Fulton County Museum and its round barn and other buildings. Every weekend of the summer of 1985 volunteers worked to trim the wooded area at the south end and get it ready for the festival. They found a natural circle of trees and made it into the arena at the Trail of Courage. They found a tall straight tree that was a natural flag pole. They moved their old wooden booths from Kern’s woods and rebuilt them, creating a re-creation of Chippeway, Indiana, Fulton County’s first post office in 1832; Polke was the first post master in Fulton County. Later a stage was added in the woods, and food vendors and crafts people were encouraged to build their own booths from old barn boards. About 35 booths were built and rented to crafters and food vendors. The Trail of Courage grew in size and authenticity. A Hillside Amphitheatres stage was added, built by Roy Swartz and others. The Indian dances were moved to the open area with their own arena and a set of bleachers, donated by the 4-H fair. A log cabin was built on the west side by Frank Loudermilk and the Elk Dog Clan. After Frank died and the group disbanded, the cabin has been operated by the Metocinyah Long Rifles, who continue today. Everything at the Trail of Courage was built by volunteers for the love of history. The audience is usually 14,000 or more, the biggest being in 1996 with 18,000 in attendance. Always held the third weekend of September, Trail of Courage brings re-enactors and Native American Indians wearing historic outfits and regalia. (Don’t call it costumes because they are insulted by the reference to Halloween. And don’t call the women squaws – another insult. But it is ok to call them Indians. They called themselves Indians. They disagree on whether redskin is an insult or not, but the four colors on the Medicine Wheel are black, red, yellow and white, which are the four races of mankind.) During Trail of Courage weekend, the local restaurants are filled with people wearing historic clothing and the Rochester stores see an increase in customers buying such things as traps, knives, axes, and of course, food and gear for camping. Friday is School Day at the Trail of Courage, with dozens of buses bringing over a thousand students. The re-enactors give tours, talks and contests such as the Mountain Man Tug of War. Local participation has grown. When the first rendezvous was held in 1976, people worried that few would want to sew and make their own clothes. But people did. And if they don’t have a historic outfit, they can rent one from the museum, including shirts and skirts, aprons, hats and bonnets and mob caps, etc. Each year the festival honors a different Potawatomi family that had ancestors on the Trail of Death or signed treaties in Indiana. Genealogy research includes the Treaty Book (Charles Kappler, Indian Treaties 1778-1883). Their family story is published in the Rochester Sentinel and as a commemorative postal folder at the replica Chippeway Village post office. See www.potawatomi-tda.org for the list of honored families, 1838 diary, photos and locations of the 80 historical markers, history of Father Petit who accompanied the Potawatomi on the Trail of Death in 1838 and St. Philippine Duchesne who served as a missionary to them at Sugar Creek, Kansas, in 1841, and more. Every 5 years since 1988 the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, a branch of FCHS, organizes a commemorative caravan to travel the 660 mile Trail of Death route from Indiana to Kansas. This starts on Monday morning, the day after the Trail of Courage. The next caravan will be 2018.