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KANNEKUK OR KEEANAKUK.
The Kickapoo Prophet.
By Milo Custer.
According to a Kickapoo tradition, Kannekuk or Keean-
nakuk, the Kickapoo "Prophet" was born at a place in Illi-
nois called the "Salt Lands."* I have no doubt but that the
old salt spring in Vermilion County,! near Danville, was the
locality to which this tradition refers. No date of course,
was assigned to his birth, but in view of the fact that ac-
cording to John Masquequa, the Prophet was about twenty-
five years old when he began to preach, which was about
1822, and that he was evidently a man in the prime of life
when Catlin painted his portrait in 1831, it is probable that
he was born about the year 1797. Of his parents and early
life, as in the case of Masheena, we know nothing. He ap-
pears to have been a prominent man among the Vermilion
River Kickapoos from an early date, his signature being at-
tached to the treaty of cession made by the Vermilion Band
at Vincennes, August 30, 1819. His name appears therein
as "Kanekaka, or the Drunkards Son." From this circum-
stance we might infer that the Prophet's, father was known
among his people as "The Drunkard."
The Vermilion Band of Kickapoos had moved to so ae
point near the south end of Lake Michigan some time pr .or
to the year 1831, where they were living when Catlin ds-
ited them, and the Prophet was among them. He had al-
ready been "converted," had organized his "church,' of
whom part of the membership were Kickapoos and part
were Pottowatomies, and had a considerable following. Just
when his "conversion" took place we do not know, but from
the dim light thrown upon the matter by the fact that he is
said to hav.e preached for about thirty years, and tht meager
* Weshkupakhakun Ashkeekee, in Kickapoo.
t This was near the site of the Kickapoo village at the forks of the Ver-
milion River four miles west of Danville, Illinois.
information furnished by the few writers who have chanced
to record a few facts concerning his life, we might guess that
it took place at or near Danville, HI., about 1822, and that it
was due partly to the efforts of pioneer Methodist mission-
aries. Kickapoo tradition says that after his conversion, he
was very active in striving to prevent intemperance among
his tribe; that he would frequently take a few of his faith-
ful followers and meet Indians who might be returning
from a drunken debauch at Danville, search their effects and
taking from them any whiskey he might find, would pour it
out on the ground.
It is likely that the story Catlin recites concerning the
origin of the Prophet's " Church,' ' which, as he states, was
"told him by traders in the tribe," etc., is true. We can
admit that the Prophet may have been inspired by some
motives of self-interest in founding his "Church," yet the
fact remains, as has been frequently stated by various writers
who lived and wrote in his time, that Kannekuk exerted a
wonderful influence for betterment over his followers.
When we consider the fact that he could neither read,
write nor speak English, his life and work appear all the
The doctrines of his "Church" were no doubt founded
on some of the cardinal principles of the Old Testament,
though there appears to be very little of anything in them
that approaches very near to Christianity. Its chief prin-
ciples were given to me in a simple statement contained in a
letter from John Mas-que-qua, who was pastor of Kannekuk 's
Church, on the Kickapoo Eeservation in Brown County,
Kansas, at the time the letter was written, July 20, 1906. In
this letter Mas-que-qua says in part: "He (i. e., the Prophet)
told his people that our Great Father worked six days and
created everything; then on the seventh day He rested and
prayed that everything be good," etc. Mas-que-qua also in-
formed me verbally, on the occasion of my first visit to the
Kickapoos in October, 1906, that Kannekuk had made certain
prophecies, some of which were as follows:. "He (the
Prophet) told his people that the time would come when their
church would be much reduced in numbers ; also that the time
would come when they would all go back to Illinois, where
they were born; that the time would come when he (the
Prophet) would be known all over the world. He also told his
people that he had left a written history of himself in Illinois
and that it would some day be discovered." The first of these
prophecies has been literally fulfilled.
The invention of the prayer-sticks and the symbolic char-
acters carved upon them was, it appears to me, an original
work of Kannekuk, notwithstanding the statement of some
other writer to the contrary. Of the meaning of these char-
acters and the form of service invented by the Prophet, per-
haps the best description we have is that by Eev. Isaac
McCoy, a Baptist missionary, who labored among the Kicka-
poos shortly after their removal to Kansas in 1832. His
account is substantially as follows: "Kalukuk (Kannekuk),
or the Kickapoo Prophet, one of the Kickapoo chiefs, is a
professed preacher of an order which he himself originated
some years ago. * * * He teaches abstinence from the use
of ardent spirits, and some other good morals. He appears
to have little knowledge of the doctrines of Christianity only
as his dogmas happen to agree with them. Congregational
worship is performed daily and lasts from one to three hours.
It consists of a kind of prayer, expressed in broken sentences,
often repeated in a monotonous sing-song tone, equalling
about two measures of a common psalm tune. All in unison
engage in this; and in order to preserve harmony in words
each holds in his or her hand a small board, about an inch
and a half broad and eight or ten inches long, upon which is
engraved arbitrary characters, which they follow up with the
finger until the prayer is completed. * * * Whipping with a
rod is one article of their creed, and is submitted to as an
atonement for sin."* This account was written January 1,
The characters on Kannekuk 's prayer-sticks were five
in number. The first represents the heart; the second the
heart and flesh; the third, life; the fourth, their names; the
fifth, kindred — i. e., their relations. McCoy says: "Putting
the finger to the lowest character, they say: *0 our Father,
make our heart like Thy heart, as good as Thy heart, as
strong as Thy heart,' " etc. The words accompanying the
other characters are very similar, f
* I was shown one of these rods by John Masquequa. He explained to me
that it was no longer used, but was only kept in their church as a relic.
1 1 have a pen drawing of these characters. M. C.
McCoy makes a further statement that polygamy was
allowed and that the Prophet had three or four wives. This
statement is amply refuted, however, from information sup-
plied me by Old Jesse (Mahkuk) and John Mas-que-qua,
through which it appears that Kannekuk did not have " three
or four wives" at one time, but that he had four different
wives at as many different periods in his life, three of whom
died consecutively, and the other of whom survived him.
The services of Kannekuk 's Church have been much
abbreviated since his time. The prayer-sticks are no longer
used by the remnants of his followers, and " whipping with
a rod" is no longer submitted to. Services are now held
only on Sundays and the sermon that is preached — or, rather,
recited — as well as the few songs and the prayers that are
used, are those composed by the Prophet himself and written
by Wansuck, his immediate successor as pastor of his
As to the personal appearance of Kannekuk, we are told
by John T. Irving, Jr., in his "Indian Sketches" (page 81),
that "the Prophet was a tall, bony Indian, with keen black
eye, and face beaming with intelligence." * * * Irving says
further of him: "There is an energy of character about him
which gives much weight to his words and has created for
him an influence greater than that of any (other) Indian in
the town," etc.
Kannekuk left Illinois in May, 1833. The balance of his
life was spent on the Kickapoo reservation near Fort Leaven-
worth, where he died of the smallpox in 1852. He was buried
near Kickapoo, a village on the Missouri Eiver, in the north
part of what is now Leavenworth County, Kansas.
His signature as "Ka-ana-kuk," etc., appears on the
treaty of St. Louis, October 24, 1832. In the notebook of
General William Clark, preserved in the library of the
Kansas Historical Society, the following entry appears
under date of September 30, 1833, viz: "Wm. Christy. For
amt. p'd. for 2 horses for the Kickapoo Prophet; $120."
These two horses were probably the "mare and colt" referred
to in General Clark's letter of January 16, 1833. This letter,
together with an earlier one, dated August 31, 1832, also
written by General Clark, and a hunting permit, dated July
5, 1832, signed by William Marshall, Indian Agent, are now
in possession of Optukkee (Commodore Catt.), Kannekuk's
grandson, on the Kickapoo reservation, in Brown County,
Kannekuk's descendants living on the Kickapoo reserva-
tion in Kansas in 1906 numbered ten persons. These, to-
gether with the wives of the married men, made a total of
thirteen. All of his descendants are also descendants of
Masheena, by reason of the latter *s daughter, Ahsahmeeno
Tenwawkwa, having been the Prophet's second wife. Kanne-
kuk was married four times, according to the account given
me by Old Jesse (Mahkuk), the oldest Kickapoo man living
on the Kansas reservation in 1906. According to this account,
the Prophet's first wife was Sawkeetokwa, by whom he had
one son, the chief John Kennekuk (Pahkahkah), who died
about 1868, leaving no descendants. Sawkeetokwa died in
Illinois, probably about 1830. Shortly after removing to
Kansas, Kannekuk married Masheena 's daughter, by whom
he had three children — Kachassa, Netinahpee and Kwah-
theet. Kachassa lived to maturity and became the wife of
Katnahmee, by whom she had six children, three sons of
whom lived to maturity. The two youngest children of the
Prophet died in childhood.
The Prophet also survived Masheena 's daughter, and
after her death he married Ahkwona, a Pottawatomie
woman, whom he also survived. After her death he married
Wahmeetukoosh, who survived him. No children were born
of either of his last two marriages.
The children of Kachassa and Katnahmee who lived to
maturity were Wahwahsuk, Wahpoahtek (John Winsee)
and Optukkee (Commodore Catt.) The first named is now
dead, leaving two children, viz: Eobert Wahwahsuk and
Minnie Wahwahsuk. The son, Robert Wahwahsuk, is married
and has two children. The daughter, Minnie Wahwahsuk,
was employed as assistant matron of the Government School
on the Kickapoo reservation in Brown County, Kansas, 1909.
It is said she was the first Kickapoo woman to hold a Govern-
The two brothers of Wahwahsuk are both married and
have families. (For the names of their children and wives
see the account of Masheena.) *
• In publication No. 16, 1911, Illinois State Historical Society.
The Prophet's successors as pastors of his "Church"
were as follows : Wansuk, a Pottawatomie, who reduced the
Prophet's doctrines to writing at the latter 's direction, in
1851. Some years afterward he gave place to Mas-que-qua,
Sr. (father of John Mas-que-qua), who died in 1877, and was
succeeded by Nahkukkum, who died in 1886 (?) after which
the office was again taken by Wansuk, who died April 18, 1900,
aged 85 years. The place was then taken by John Mas-que-
qua, who died May 7, 1907. I can not now recall the name of
The remnant of the Prophet's Church members at the
present time probably do not number over thirty persons. His
two grandsons are adherents of the ancient "dance religion"
of the Kickapoos, and have no faith in the "divine inspira-
tion" of their noted ancestor. One of them, John Winsee, has
the prayer-stick which it is said the Prophet made for his own
personal use, also the letters written to Kannekuk by General
Clark, and the hunting permit given him by the agent, Wil-
liam Marshall. These are carefully preserved as family
The Prophet's doctrines, as written by Wansuk, con-
sisted of several small volumes of the Kickapoo dialect in
English script. I was permitted to see one of these and was
also allowed to copy a part of it by John Mas-que-qua, in
1906. For the curiosity of the reader, I will give the text of
what I have of this, which is as follows :
"Apa Nekanaetak otasa Kapiyatonuk.
Kapyawitmonuk Kenan Shota Gik
Gamagsieko Nesoyak Azchenmeshkigo.
Apa otamacha Kashawapzet.
Akewshatot otta Ka Negom.
Achayaeko Mena Akewshanuk.
Wekape Wapsenna Kosnan Ota.
Appewamsha Shota Tekoyko.
Wekuppi Sheya Choma.
Wekapi Sheya Apcha.
Onapwakawin Wekappi Sheya.
Wekappi Sheya Shotasa Goyattak.
Waenejansetman Ashattaat Emacha.
Apkanak Ewota Sheatot Emacha.
Maktawanuk Otakoswa Nejansittak.
Matmashchak Atuk Ewota.
Kupkannak Ema Awapkenongot.
Ewta Kachnaw Pisha Ewota.
John Mas-que-qua's translation of the foregoing is sub-
stantially as follows: "Now, then, my brethren, this is that
which created us explained to us who are here in this world.
We are poor; three-colored. (?) Now, then, this is how it
was. Our Father, when he worked and made this world
where we are now, afterwards made us. After a while our
Father began to have compassion for us.(?) (Before that)
there was nobody right here where we now live. After a
while we began to wander (away from the Father?) 'If I
can not have them to be my children/ he thought (then
what shall I do?) His heart was filled with good knowledge.
After a while 'I will bring it down' (to men?) he thought.
'It will stay with them and I will have them to be my chil-
dren, 9 he thought. He gave a part of His heart and put it
here, and then He took off His coat. It was a black one.
'This is from your Father, my children; worship Me.' He
said to His heart (and to His coat) which He took off. It
was His heart, a part of His own self, which He talked to. "
The meaning of the foregoing seems to me to be rather
obscure. It may be that it was tinctured considerably with
the ancient folk-lore, or it may be that it was dictated when
the Prophet's mind was weak from sickness and his ideas
were not clear. Again, it may be that Mas-que-qua's lack of
a better knowledge of English grammar prevented his mak-
The original of the above is written in a beautiful hand, and is perfectly
legible.— M. C.
ing a clearer translation. The words in brackets, also the
question marks, were supplied by me.
It was my privilege to attend a service of his " Church"
on the Kickapoo reservation, Brown County, Kansas, on
Sunday, October 7, 1906, and I recall two lines of one of the
hymns sung at that service. These were :
"Mahnahkuk Inguk Nosendeh,
Mahnahkuk Inguk Nosaw."
George Mas-que-qua, the preacher's son, afterwards told
me the English meaning of this was, "Give us strength now!
Give us strength, Father!"
An English translation of one of Kannekuk's sermons,
preached near Danville, Illinois, July 17, 1831, has been
preserved and is now in print. The translation was made by
Gurdon S. Hubbard, the first publication was in Judge James
Hall's magazine at Vandalia, Illinois, in October, 1831, and
a reprint appeared in Hamilton's "Life of Hubbard," pub-
lished in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888. I have a copy of this
sermon, taken from the last mentioned work, together with a
retranslation into Kickapoo made by Arthur Whitewater,
a young Kickapoo of Brown County, Kansas. A part of the
sermon is as follows :
"My friends, where are your thoughts today? Where
were they yesterday? Were they fixed upon doing good?
Or were you drunk and tattling, or did anger rest in your
hearts? If you have done any of these things your Great
Father in Heaven knows it. His eye is upon you. He always
sees you and will always see you. He knows all your deeds.
He has knowledge of the smallest transactions of your lives."
* * * Whitewater's retranslation of the foregoing is as
"Neekahnehteekeh tahnahka ehtahshetehehye que eno-
kee? Wehnahnehkakee? Ehwehmehnwahye que kehteh-
shetchehbwa, kehmehnokwabwa nkehtahshemwabwa awe-
yeah yokeh? Kehtah queetehehbwa? Eneesheweye quell
nehkotwehyahweko. Sehnahnah, ahbehmehkee, ehwetah,
kehkehnehtahmwa kehneh okowawa, ahbehnehchu. Ahbehneh-
chu kehneh okawawa, kehkehnehmeh kowaewa kahmekehtheye
1 have seen somewhere a copy of a translation of a speech
made by Kannekuk to General Clark at St. Louis, about 1852,
in which he made a strong plea that the Kickapoos be per-
mitted to remain in Illinois. His words, "My father, take
not our lands!" were many times repeated in this speech.
His grandson, Optukkee, has a letter written to Kan-
nekuk, under date of August 31, 1832, by General Clark,
wherein the latter advised the Prophet and his band in strong
terms to leave this State at once.
The original portrait of Kannekuk, painted by Catlin, is
now in the National Museum at Washington, D. C. A full
size copy of it in oil, by Miss Florence Harris, is in the court
house at Bloomington, Illinois, and a half-tone engraving
from the original was published in the Bureau of Ethnology
^Bulletin, entitled "Hand-Book of Indians North of Mexico."