Simon Pokagon Biography

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(Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

Article abstract: Simon Pokagon was widely regarded as the best-educated Indian of his generation; his writings on Indian culture were published in many magazines.

Simon Pokagon was a son of Leopold Pokagon, who had sold the site of Chicago to whites in 1832. His father died when Simon was ten years old; Leopold was succeeded in the chieftainship of his band by his son Paul, who died; another son, Francis, then became chief, until his death. The younger brother, Simon, then inherited the office of chief.

Pokagon, who was born in St. Joseph Valley, Michigan, spoke only Potawatomi until age fourteen but later studied English at Notre Dame University and Latin and Greek at Oberlin College. Pokagon mastered five languages and became an accomplished writer and organist. He was sometimes called the best-educated American Indian of his time.

Pokagon also used his education to advantage when meeting with presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant on behalf of the Potawatomis. He spoke at the Chicago World Exposition (1893) and composed poetry and several articles on Native American customs and beliefs. He also wrote an autobiographical romance in the Potawatomi language and later translated it into English: O-Gi-Maw-Kwe Mit-I-Gwa-Ki (Queen of the Woods). The book was published in 1899, the year Pokagon died near Hartford, Michigan. A monument to Simon Pokagon and his father, Leopold, was erected in Chicago's Jackson Park.