II. Shabenay:


By birthright Shabenay was, according to Dowd, not of the Pottawatomie tribe. According to published secondary accounts[1] Shabenay was an Ottawa Indian who lived amongst the Potawatomi. He was, purportedly, the son of an Ottawa Indian who had fled to the Kankakee River region from Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Ottawa’s historic homeland, in the aftermath of Pontiac’s war (1764). According to Matson, Shabenay (“Shau-be-na”) was born at a village along the Kankakee River circa 1775 in present day Will County, Indiana.  Shabenay married into a Potawatomi band lineage via a union with a daughter of a Potawatomi band okama (chief or head man) who had a village near the mouth of the Fox River. Several years later, following the band okama’s death, Shabenay became the band’s okama.


     Shaw bee nay” or “Shobonier”?


Within a tribal segmented political structure such as that of the Potawatomi into the nineteenth century, an okama was not a chief as the term is commonly understood. Band or village leadership among the Potawatomi lacked a coercive element that is implied by the common understanding of the term chief. An okama, as a village or band leader lacked the power to command; his powers rested entirely upon his ability to listen, suggest, compromise, or as Clifton[2] notes “point out possible directions or solutions.” Within this context, two years after his assumption as village okama, Shabenay convinced the band to move up into DeKalb County and settle in the vicinity of what became known as Shabbona’s Grove. A most important point of this mode of band leadership was the simple fact, that if an okama failed to maintain political support or consensus amongst the band members, he was no longer its leader. The band controlled the okama, the okama did not control the band. If a band’s members moved away without bringing their current okama, he simply ceased being one. If the band rejected his leadership or counsel, he no longer had any political standing or influence within the tribe. If a band held hunting or settlement rights to a certain area that were respected by other such bands, the band did so as a corporate political entity. An okama held no special ownership rights other than that of an individual member of the corporate group. Thus within the context of tribal treaty-making, a treaty was the product of the consensus of gathered okamas, representing the various clans, bands and villages of the tribe. If an okama went against the will or the consensus of his corporate group during the proceedings, he would more than likely find himself out of a job. As we shall see, that is exactly what happened to Shabenay.


As a prologue to the investigations of the lands at Shabbona, there is one vexing problem that has plagued prior research into one particular okama, i.e. Shabenay; and his and his band’s relationship with the Shabbona lands must be addressed. It is critical to our understanding of the issues that we affirm what particular historical individual we are addressing. There appear to have been two individuals within the historic Michigan, Indiana and Illinois region who had similar sounding names, both were village okamas or leaders, and both were involved with a particular treaty, that is the October 20, 1832 Tippecanoe River Potawatomi Treaty. One okama was the usufructory recipient of reserved lands. The other, was a signatory to the treaty. Within this treaty a village okama named  Sho-bon-ier, or Chevalier” had two sections of his existing village reserved to his use within the land area ceded by the Potawatomi in this treaty. The other, “Shabeneai” was a signatory to that treaty. Many believe the two were one and the same person. The historical evidence argues otherwise.


  It is within a June 17, 1853 letter from Jno H. Kinzie to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs[3] that the historical confusion between Shabenay and Sho-bon-ier is depicted.



  At then urgent request of Shaw bee nay, an old Potawatomie Chief, I write to obtain some information in relation to the present situation of a certain reserve made to him under the Treaty concluded at Priairie du Chien, 29th July 1829, embracing 2 sections of land near Paw-paw Grove in this State. He has been west for some years, and has just returned to his old home, with his family. He informs me that the white folks there claim the land and he wishes his Great Father in Washington would let him know how that can be-whether he has any right to it or not, and whether he cannot enter upon and claim possession &c. provided he has not disposed of any portion of the land legally. His family are now with him, and he says he is unhappy, being thus deprived as it were of his land. I think I saw in the genl. Apptn. Bill last session an appn of 1600$ to be paid him for some land, whether for this or other land I do not recollect. The land is now very valuable, and he wishes advise upon the subject…(emphasis added)



Kinzie was confusing two different individuals who, phonetically speaking, had similar sounding names. Kinzie believed that the monies he referenced were those referring to Shabenay. In his June 25 response to the Kinzie letter, Chas E. Mix, the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs also fell into the same predicament. He assumed that “Shaw bee nay” and “Shobonier” was one and the same person. In his reply he noted,


 The records of this office, however, show that the act of Congress of the 21st of July 1852, for the appropriation $1600 for the purchase of two sections of land reserved to Shobonier by the Pottawatamie Treaty of the 20th of October, 1832; and D.D. Mitchell Esq. late superintendent of Indian Affairs was informed…



Mix went on to say that the monies “would be paid to Shobonier, if living, or, if dead, to his heir or heirs.”[4] Thus “Sho-bon-ier, or Chevalier” and “Shabeneai”(Shabenay) became confused.  Interestingly, in the aftermath of this Kinzie-Mix exchange it appears that Shabenay tried to take advantage of the situation.


   As early as 1825 we find “Chaboner, x or Chambley” as one of the Ottawa tribal leaders acknowledging the August 19, 1825 tribal boundary Treaty held at Prairie du Chiens[5]. Both their names appeared on the October 20, 1832 Tippecanoe River Potawatomi Treaty[6]. A“Sho-bon-ier” was the recipient of two sections of his village in Indiana. This “Sho-bon-ier, or Chevalier” along with a “Francis Shobonnier” were also listed in this treaty as recipients of payments for damages.  At the same time a “Shabeneai” was one of the chief/headmen signatories to the treaty. Their names were spelled differently by the same scribe recording the treaty. Who were “Shobonier” (Chevalier) and “Francis Shobonnier”? Clifton[7] also mentions a a “Jean Chandonnai” a “metis” who was part of and exploratory team sent to locate potential settlement lands west of the Mississippi. Was one of these individuals the “Shabeneai” who was the “Okama”, figuratively, a chief or head man who was one of the treaty signatories?


  Sho-bon-ier, or Chevalier” had a village circa 1832 in the Indiana-Illinois border region “at a place called Crown Point[8] for which two sections were reserved for him at his existing village in the October 20 1832 Camp Tippecanoe treaty. Shabenay on the other hand had two sections of land reserved for the use of him and his band residing “near the Paw-paw Grove” in DeKalb County Illinois via the July 29, 1829 Treaty at Prairie du Chien.


   Yet in 1838, a “Sho-bon-ier” petitioned the President in which he described himself as “a Pottawatamie Indian.[9] In it he claimed that by virtue of the 1832 Tippecanoe Treaty he was entitled to “two sections of land at his village” east of the state line in Indiana which he “gave up and transferred all his interest in the land ceded in the Treaty for and in consideration of the land so reserved…” as specified in the said Treaty of October the 20th. Sho-bon-ier then goes to ask for a patent to the two sections of land as described in the petition.


   The preceding year on the “4th day of November A.D. 1837” in a hearing before Justice of the Peace Milo Robenson, of Lake County Indiana[10] he heard arguments that “no enclosures no cabins or wigwams, no graves nor anything else to indicate that “an Indian village had ever been thereon” despite the claim made by “old Sho-bon-ier”. The deponent, Solon Robinson, testified


That he is well acquainted with an Indian known by the name of Sho-bon-ier, to whom two sections of land were reserved in the Treaty of Tippecanoe…lying and being within the State of Illinois, more than seven miles from said sections 8 and 17 and that he had settled upon this land and made valuable improvements thereon he was threatened by one Butler.. And this deponent further saith that he sufficiently understands the Indian language to converse with the said Sho-bon-ier, that he has often been to his house & conversed upon the subject of his reservation, and that he never pretended that either of the aforesaid sections were his reservation, or that his said “village was on them, but always on the contrary, that it was at some other place near the Illinois line, known in the Indian language as “Mus-qua-ochbis (Red Cedar Lake)”…And further that the said Indian is old and infirm and apparently short-lived and has emigrated to the west of the Mississippi river…


    In a March 21, 1838 response to Sho-bin-ier’s petition[11] to the President, the Indian Affairs Commissioner concluded, “...that Sho-bon-ier, has only a temporary use and enjoyment of the land which he claims, that a patent ought not to be issued to him.” The Commissioner’s conclusion is important to note. Sho-bin-ier’s situation in relation to his village and lands was, as we shall see below, the same as Shabenay’s.  The Indian Commissioners through time, held similar conclusions for both, the land occupation was considered temporary and the manner of holding was merely usufructory. Sho-bon-ier’s matter became moot when on April 15, 1838, the Indian Office Superintendent at Logansport, A.C. Pepper reported, “The reserve has removed west of the Mississippi as well as most of the French and half breeds who live in this neighborhood….” [12]


  Six years prior to Sho-bin-er’s petition to the President, [13] in a documentary presentation to President Jackson at Washington on July 30, 1831 a “principle Chief of the Ottoway tribe under the signature of “Shaboni Or Chamblie Chief” delivered a speech for the President. In it he expressed that “the Treaty of 1829 held at Prairie du Chien is very repugnant to our feelings” If Shabenay was the speaker, why would he be making such a statement, especially due to the fact that he and his band had land reserved to their use at Shabbona Grove as a result of this “1829” treaty, of which he was a signatory? Additionally why would he be referring to himself as  Shaboni Or Chamblie”, principle chief of the Ottawa tribe, a tribe that apparently he had never had any social or political ties with? He was after all, despite his possibly having a genealogical relationship with the Ottawa, a Potawatomi chief or okama. It appears that we are talking of two different individuals.


   We know that up until 1837 Shabenay was residing at Shabbona’s Grove that in 1838 he was at Council Bluff Missouri and that he could not have been residing on an improved reserve near the Indiana state line during this time. We also know that he was conversant in English and did not require the use of an interpreter. Additionally, Shabenay returned to Shabbona with his family in 1838 and periodically resided in the area until 1849.[14] Shabenay and Sho-bin-ier, could not have been one and the same person.  


   Up until 1841, Shabenay never acknowledged or claimed a village in the Indiana-Illinois borderline region. Shabenay, apparently sought to take advantage of the situation and become the claimant to the $1,600.00[15] actually due to Sho-bin-ier or his heirs.  He did so in 1841 when he was residing at Council Bluffs, Missouri,


 Upon an examination of this case, it is found that on 8th November 1841, “Sha-eh-nay” then at Council Bluffs, made application for the appropriation by Congress, of $1600 as compensation to him for the two sections of land referred to, but no subsequent action thereon is shown to have been had.


In a sworn statement before a Chicago Notary Public, dated July 3, 1855, Shabenay publicly swore that he was Shobonierchief of the tribe of Ottahwa Indians.”[16] In a letter from his legal counsel (R.K. Swift) dated June 13, 1859 to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Shabenay is referred to as “Shab-eh-nay, an Indian Chief of the Ottawa and Pottowotime Tribes of Indians…” [17]


   Finally, according to a July 29th 1851 letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs “Shaboni Or Chamblie” was now deceased,[18] who, incidentally, had died four years previous to the July 3, 1855 “Shobonier” statement given above. Shabenay died eight years later on July 10, 1859[19] (Matson 1876:421)



    There is no historical evidence to back Shabenay’s claim to being “Shobonier” the Ottawa village head man. Prior to1841 Shabenay never made such a claim nor did he exhibit any knowledge of having any lands or a village in Indiana/Illinois border region. He was not the individual whom Solon Robinson, testified about in 1837 nor was he the person who received two sections of land at his village near the Indiana/Illinois border in the October 20, 1832 Tippecanoe River Potawatomi Treaty.


  It is agreed that Shabenay was one of the chief or head man Potawatomi signatories to the 1832 Tippecanoe treaty. He did so as an okama of a Potawatomi band located at Shabbona’s Grove, DeKalb County, Illinois. We shall later see how his relationship with the band was severed and his status as their okama ceased























[1]EXH. 4. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:15, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington, Matson, N.,

    1876, Sketch of Shau-be-na, A Pottowatamie Chief:415, Report and Collections of the State Historical

    Society of Wisconsin Volume VII:415-421, E. B. Bolens, Madison, Walters, Alta P., 1924,

    Shabonee,:388, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. XVII, No. 3:381-397, Illinois State

    Historical Society, Springfield.

[2] EXH. 5.Clifton, James, A., 1998 ed., The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian   

    Culture, 1665-1965 :59, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.

[3] EXH.6.  Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:152, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington

[4] EXH.7.Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:153, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington

[5] EXH.1. Kappler, Charles J., 1904, Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties, Volume II, Treaties:250,

     Washington, Government Printing Office.

[6] EXH8.Kappler, Charles J., 1904, Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties, Volume II, Treaties:353, 

     Washington, Government Printing Office.

[7] EXH. 9. Clifton, James, A., 1998 ed., The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian     

    Culture,  1665-1965 :255, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.

[8] EXH. 10.Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:130-131, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington

[9] EXH. 11 Dowd 1979:118-119

[10] EXH. 12.Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:116, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington

[11] EXH. 13 Dowd,1979:120

[12] EXH. 14. Dowd, 1979:121

[13] EXH. 15. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Washington, M234, Roll 642:2.6-2.7.


[14] EXH. 16.Matson, N., 1876, Sketch of Shau-be-na, A Pottowatamie Chief:421, Report and Collections of

    the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Volume VII:415-421, E. B. Bolens, Madison,

[15] EXH. 17. Letter, Orlando Brown Esq., Commissioner of Indian Affairs to J. Butterfield, Commissioner,

    General Land Office. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:151, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.

[16] EXH. 18. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:155, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield Washington

[17] EXH. 19. Dowd, 1979:160

[18] EXH. 10. Dowd, 1979:130

[19] EXH. 20. Matson, N., 1876, Sketch of Shau-be-na, A Pottowatamie Chief:415, Report and Collections of

     the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Volume VII:415-421