Chief Chebaas

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Chief Chebaas

Zh shibes (Little Duck)


Respected Chief and Warrior of the Potawatomis


Above: Pipe and pipe stem of Potawatomi Chief Chebaas, brother of Chief Topinabee and grandfather of Chief Abram Burnett.

Chief Chebaas, biological son to Chief Nanaquiba, chief of the St. Joseph Potawatomis of the Great Lakes region. Chebaas had many brothers and a sister named Kaukema (Cakimi), who would marry a known trader named William Burnett or Waub-Zee to the Indians meaning "White Swan". Chief Chebaas was the biological brother to Chief Topinabee, who was a noted friend to the Americans. But opposite his brother, Chief Chebaas, a great warrior and a principal chief of the Potawatomis, would be known as an extremely hostile Potawatomi Indian of the St. Joseph.


In the summer of July, 1814, the St. Joseph Potawatomi had gathered and attended an American conference that would be held at Greene Ville. Chief Topinabee, Five Medals, and Metea, had attended, but most of the Potawatomis had refused to participate. During that summer, Main Poc had established a temporary camp on Yellow River in north-central Indiana and his warriors had raided near Fort Harrison. Main Poc had spent the summer conferring with Chief Chebaas, Mad Sturgeon, and Moran, all pro-British chiefs that had visited Mackinac. Chief Chebaas would then lead a party of warriors to help the British repulse Major George Croghan's ill-fated attack on the island. Angered by Chief Chebaas and his Potawatomi warriors that were part of the continued violation of the truce, the government decided to move against Chebaas and his Potawatomi hostiles.

In August 1814, secretary of war, John Armstrong, ordered McArthur to raise one thousand mounted volunteers to march through northern Indiana destroying the Potawatomi villages along the St. Joseph and Kankakee. McArthur was also instructed to erect an American post at the mouth of the St. Joseph to prevent the British from shipping arms and ammunition to the Potawatomis. Learning of the proposed expedition, Potawatomis near Fort Wayne warned their people on the St. Joseph where the news was viewed with alarm. A tribal council would take place in NDo Waw Goyuk, Topinabee's village, from which Chief Topinabee himself was excluded for his friendliness towards the Americans. His brother, Chief Chebaas, along with other hostile chiefs would send messages to the villages in northern Illinois asking for assistance. Chief Chebaas would dispatch runners to call upon the Ottawas along the Grand River urging them to journey to the St. Joseph to meet against McArthur's expedition. British troops had pledged supplies of powder to the Indians and by late September 1814 more than 800 warriors had assembled along the lower St. Joseph River.  But an attack from McArthur never came as the American expedition formed too slowly and McArthur could raise no more than 600 men. McArthur, fearing that his command would be overwhelmed and destroyed by the Potawatomis and Ottawas, would then change his plans. In October 1814, McArthur and his command would march north towards Detroit destroying the lodges of several friendly Potawatomis on the Huron River and would then cross into Canada where he had raided British food depots along the Thames and the Grand River. When McArthur's expedition failed to appear and battle the 800 Potawatomis and Ottawas waiting along the lower St. Joseph, many of the warriors would disperse going back to their villages.

Throughout the winter of 1814 to 1815, Potawatomis from the St. Joseph and the Kankakee would visit Mackinac to get food, supplies and blankets from the British to whom they were so very loyal. But they would receive few presents as by the year 1815 the British could hardly supply their own troops as they would have few provisions available for the Potawatomis. But the hardcore hostile British chiefs such as Chebaas, Main Poc, Moran, and Mad Sturgeon would maintain their ties to the crown. Most of the other Potawatomis would then realize that the war was lost as they were anxious to make peace with the Americans. By mid-winter, many Potawatomi villages would suffer from chronic food shortages. Aware of the potawatomi shortage of food, the American government officials would use food and other provisions as a weapon in their struggle to gain control over the Potawatomi tribe. Agents were then ordered to offer supplies to all Potawatomi chiefs who would bring their people over to the Americans. Many chiefs would then establish friendly relations towards the Americans as they would fight no more against the Long Knives, stating the war was over. American messengers were then sent out to spread the word that a peace was made between the Potawatomis and Americans. As the rumor would reach white settlements in Illinois and Indiana, hostile chiefs would refuse to accept the messages. Chief Chebaas had seized one American messenger and held him prisoner while threatening the life of two others if they dared to spread such rumors in his village.

An assembly of chiefs and warriors were formed for council as the British informed Main Poc and Blackbird that they must all lay down their tomahawks and accept the Americans as friends. They would all refuse and join with Chief Chebaas and Moran upon the St. Joseph in an attempt to raise enough warriors to attack the settlements near Vincennes, but they were unsuccessful. The Potawatomis along the St. Joseph were then anxious for a peace and no longer wished to fight the United States. During the summer of 1815, Stickney sent several invitations to the Potawatomis along the St. Joseph and Tippicanoe to Meet with treaty commissioners in August of 1815. Main Poc and Moran would turn away the offer, but Chief Chebaas finally convinced that peace was inevitable, accepted the proposal as he would visit Stickney at Ft. Wayne. The once hostile Chebaas, assurred both Stickney and Major John Whistler, the commanding officer At Ft. Wayne, that he would no longer oppose the Americans and that he would use his influence To bring the other St. Joseph Potawatomis to the treaty. Whistler then provided Chief Chebaas with supplies to take back to his village and the chief then returned to his people.

Chief Chebaas kept his promise and in August of 1815 he had joined with his brother, Chief Topinabee, to lead a large delagation of St. Joseph Potawatomis to Spring Wells. The treaty proceedings began on August 22, 1815 to secure peace with the tribes of the Potawatomis, Ottawas, Ojibwes, the Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Miamis, and the Senecas. After two weeks of formal meetings, the tribes agreed to resume relations with the United States under the same conditions that had prevailed before the war and were forced to accept all land cessions negotiated by the U.S. government between 1795 and 1811. Among the Potawatomis signing the document were Topinabee, Chebaas, Five Medals, Metea, and Mad Sturgeon.

Chief Chebaas, one of the hereditary principal chiefs of the Potawatomis would die in 1827 in the home of his niece, Nancy Davis Burnett. Chebaas, noted as a hostile and enemy to the United States, would like so many other strong chiefs continue to fight the Long Knives for many years before he would give in to the signing of treaties. He fought to conserve the ways of his people and would always be remembered as a true warrior and true Potawatomi chief.

Chief Chebaas was the biological grandfather to Chief Abram B. Burnett (Nan-Wesh-Mah), chief of the Potawatomis.