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Full text of "Kannekuk or Keeanakuk: The Kickapoo Prophet"

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48 



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. 



49 

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 
more remarkable. 

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 



50 

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, 
1835. 

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. 



51 

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 
"Church." 

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 



52 

in possession of Optukkee (Commodore Catt.), Kannekuk's 
grandson, on the Kickapoo reservation, in Brown County, 
Kansas. 

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- 
ment position. 

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. 



53 

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 
his successor. 

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 
heirlooms only. 

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. 
Kosnan Akemekchawit. 
Akewshatot otta Ka Negom. 
Achayaeko Mena Akewshanuk. 
Wekape Wapsenna Kosnan Ota. 
Appewamsha Shota Tekoyko. 
Nawyukwanwinpinma Shota. 
Achayiko. 

Wekuppi Sheya Choma. 
Netukkesh Kittozen. 
Wanejansetmen Ashataat. 



54 



Wekapi Sheya Apcha. 
Amosh Kenashkagot. 
Onapwakawin Wekappi Sheya. 
Appeyaneswatot Omekchawewin. 
Wekappi Sheya Shotasa Goyattak. 
Waenejansetman Ashattaat Emacha. 
Apkanak Ewota Sheatot Emacha. 
Akesguk Opeskamwakin. 
Maktawanuk Otakoswa Nejansittak. 
Matmashchak Atuk Ewota. 
Kupkannak Ema Awapkenongot. 
Ewta Kachnaw Pisha Ewota. 
Akanongot. 



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. 



55 

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 
follows : 

"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 
que kehkehnehtamwa." 



56 

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."