When Citizen Potawatomi Nation District 4 Legislator Jon Boursaw
receives a request to share Potawatomi history with others, he rises
to the occasion. The Kansas Historical Societys Director of
Museum and Education Division, Mary Madden, recently reached out
to Boursaw for consultation and to discuss updating the museum and
nearby Baptist Mission. He agreed to help educate others on Citizen
Potawatomi Nations history tied to the building and surrounding
area in a new video exhibit.
I take pride in letting people know that we were and are
here, Boursaw said. Were part of history.
The Baptist Mission remains
as a physical connection to the Potawatomi peoples past.
(Photo provided by the Kansas Historical Society)
Pottawatomie Baptist Manual Labor Training School
Built in the mid-1800s and established through the Treaty of 1846,
the Pottawatomie Baptist Manual Labor Training School known
today as the Baptist Mission was a boarding school for Potawatomi,
Chippewa and Ottawa children for 13 years. Baptist missionary Isaac
McCoys niece Elizabeth served as the schools main instructor.
Many Tribal members studied under Isaac in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and
at the Carey Mission near Niles, Michigan, before being forcibly
removed to Kansas. He became one of the first to suggest emigrating
Americans west of the Mississippi and spent time lobbying for a
I believe some missionaries that came here that were followers
of Isaac McCoy felt that the only way to save the Potawatomi were
to isolate them, Madden explained.
According to the Kansas Historical Societys Kansapedia,
A childs early days at the mission was traumatic. Native
dress was taken away and replaced with white clothing,
and Potawatomi names were replaced with Christian ones. Family visits
were discouraged because they exposed children to the very way of
life the missions were trying to eliminate.
Pupils learned reading, writing, arithmetic, religious curriculum,
animal husbandry, blacksmithing, cooking, sewing and more, but a
cholera outbreak and interruptions in funding caused the mission
to pause operations multiple times.
It was a very disruptive education, Madden said. The
limited records available do not include the childrens perspectives,
which can overlook the true hardships they faced.
The Civil War, non-payments from the Baptist church and the Treaty
of 1861 caused the schools eventual closure, according to
the Kansas Historical Quarterly. The building became a barn
for horses and other livestock for more than a century. The Kansas
Historical Society acquired the land and the mission in the 1970s
and began initial excavation and restoration efforts.
About half of (the building) was taken down, the stones numbered,
and put back up. It was restored as it looked originally,
Unfortunately, the Kansas Historical Society found very few artifacts
during its excavation efforts, but the graffiti uncovered along
several interior walls helps visitors connect with the structures
On the second floor in what was the boys classroom,
you have a red ochre cross you have the ABCs written on the
plaster and some poetry, which the public can still view today,
Education through cooperation
Boursaw has served as the Kansas Historical Foundations treasurer
for the past three years, as the foundation raised $7 million toward
modernizing the Kansas Museum of History. These funds will help
update the main museum and establish an interim exhibit area within
the Baptist Mission, including a historical video presentation introduced
by Boursaw that details the Potawatomi forced removal on the Trail
of Death, ties to the Baptist Mission and northeast Kansas, and
The reopening is another great opportunity to tell our story
as part of Shawnee County and Kansas history, Boursaw wrote
in a January 2021 Hownikan column.
While the buildings renovations provide multi-use space for
community events and more, maintaining a connection to the Baptist
Missions origins remains important.
Its an ugly piece of American history and I think
the only way were going to get better is if we learn,
The Kansas Historical Society plans to unveil the video in the
fall of 2021. Find information, including
hours of operations, admission and more, at cpn.news/kshs.