History marker pays tribute to Chief Shabbona

SHABBONA – Joyce Guerrero was impressed.

"It's heartwarming to see the respectful way the land has been kept up," she said, adding that she will tell everyone she meets.

Guerrero, Tribal Council Vice President of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, was one of the main speakers at the Chief Shabbona Historical Sign dedication Saturday at the Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve south of Shabbona.

Other members of the tribal council who flew out from their reservation near Topeka, Kansas, to be part of the dedication were Thomas M. Wabnum and Billy Matchie, who officially blessed the site. The Prairie Band are the direct descendants of the Potawatomi Indians who lived in northern Illinois for hundreds of years until they were relocated by the U.S. government. Many in the Prairie Band are descendants of Chief Shabbona or his wife, Pokanoka.

More than 100 people attended the hour-long ceremony, which was held under a cluster of oak and black cherry trees in the turnaround on the far side of the forest preserve.

According to Terry Hannan, superintendent of the DeKalb County Forest Preserve, the Chief Shabbona Preserve, purchased in 1940, is one of the oldest of the county's 17 forest preserves. He said the new sign, which was constructed by local woodworker Daniel Josh, replaces one that has been in the park for years but had to be taken down because it had gotten dilapidated.

The sign gives a brief history of Chief Shabbona, a Native American of the Ottawa tribe who married into the Potawatomi tribe in southern DeKalb County in the early 19th century. Shabbona was a peacemaker who settled tribal squabbles among the Three Fires Nation of Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa and who worked for peaceful relationships between American Indians and white settlers.

Hannan said the county was simply going to replace the sign, but Denny Sands, former owner of Lakeside Bait & Tackle and Pokanoka's Cafe at Shabbona Lake State Park and a past member of the DeKalb County board, suggested they hold a formal ceremony instead.

"It was going to be 10 or 12 people over coffee," Hannan said.

The new sign features Shabbona's story on vinyl attached to aluminum and covered by Plexiglas in a wooden frame. It is about halfway down Park Road, a half-mile from the forest preserve's shelter area.

Like Guerrero, other members of the Prairie Band tribal council remarked they were happy to see the land well cared for. Though the tribe hasn't lived in DeKalb County since the mid-1800s, they said they still have a "spiritual connection" to their ancestors' land.

Ron Klein, vice president of the DeKalb County Historical and Genealogical Society, read an excerpt from the 1915 book "The Indian Chief Shabbona" by Luther A. Hatch, which said Chief Shabbona was "built like a bear, but gentle as a woman." The 5-foot-9-inch, 200-pound chief was a friend to all, riding hours to warn settlers of planned Indian attacks to prevent bloodshed on both sides. He died and was buried in Morris in 1859, at the age of 84.

"He might have been a great man of the world if he had had the educational opportunity," Klein said.

Sands said there was a wonderful turnout by both members of the tribal council and the local community for the sign dedication. The ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on June 23, but had to be rescheduled after one of the main speakers, Tribal Council Secretary Jim Potter, was killed when his motorcycle collided with a deer on June 11.

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