Friday, 7 September 2012

Chief White Eagle Memorial Dedication

By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

A black iron teepee and a black metal plaque with lettering cut by laser form an unusual memorial in front of the Fulton County Museum, Rochester. The Chief White Eagle memorial will be dedicated Sept. 15, Saturday night of Trail of Courage at 6:30 p.m. The 42nd Royal Highlanders will play in memory of Tom Griffin, who is also memorialized. The families of William Wamego and Tom Hamilton, members of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Oklahoma, will attend.

Chief White Eagle, aka Basil Heath, 1917-2011, was beloved by many who attended the Trail of Courage from 1985 to 2009. A former movie actor and TV personality, he was the most famous person to participate in the Trail of Courage. He was in “Northwest Passage,” “Red River,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and other films. He traveled all over the U.S. giving programs on American Indians. He played the part of Grandpa in “The Best Man in Grass Creek” in 1996. He was declared a Living Legend of Fulton County in 2005. Born on the Iroquois Reservation in Canada in 1917, he served in World War II for both England and the United States. He and wife Bobbie Bear moved to Fulton County in 1987. He did a dedication ceremony for the new Trail of Courage site in 1985. He planted the Great Peace Tree in 1988. He continued to give speeches about Indian lore at the Trail of Courage, at the museum, and for Boy Scouts and other groups in Indiana and neighboring states.

Tom Griffin, 1928-1993, Lafayette, founded the 42nd Royal Highlanders Band of Pipes, Fifes and Drums in 1975. They have provided music at the Trail of Courage since 1983. Griffin attended grade school in Kewanna and he is buried there beside his parents. The band continues to perform at many historic festivals in the Midwest.
William “Bill” Wamego, 1919-1993, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was descended from Chief Wamego who was on the Potawatomi Trail of Death from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. He helped with the Trail of Courage 1982-1993. He traveled on the Trail of Death commemorative caravans 1988 and 1993.

Tom Hamilton, 1929-2010, Checotah, Oklahoma, was descended from Abram Burnett, a young Potawatomi man who went west on the Trail of Death in 1838. Burnett traveled with Father Petit to St. Louis, sometimes holding the sick priest on his horse, where Petit died in 1839. Burnett later became a chief in Kansas and was the biggest strongest man in Kansas, weighing over 400 pounds. Hamilton began attending the Trail of Courage in 1982. He helped organize the Trail of Death caravans 1988-2008. He designed the Trail of Death map used on 12 historical markers and the Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn. website He and his family sponsored five Trail of Death historical markers. He made adoption papers on his computer and had the other Potawatomi on the 2003 caravan sign it to adopt Shirley and Bill Willard as honorary Potawatomi. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Indiana in 1978 to work as vice president of advertising at Chore Time Brock, Milford. After retirement he and wife Pat spent winters in Oklahoma and summers in Warsaw, Indiana. He searched for many years to find the birthplace of Abram Burnett and finally found it to be on Ernie Hiatt’s farm north of the Tippecanoe River and west of Rochester.

Leon Stewart, 1925-2010, Rochester, was a volunteer at FCHS, and was named RSVP Volunteer of the Year in 1995. He donated thousands of hours, working as a carpenter for FCHS, Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits. He helped remodel and repair several buildings at FCHS, including the Polke house. Leon’s son Kevin Stewart did the landscaping for the memorial.

Craig Welding of Mentone donated the metal plaque with the names and dates.

Rochester - 37th Trail of Courage will be Sept. 15-16, 2012

The 37th annual Trail of Courage Living History Festival will be held Sept. 15-16 at Fulton County Historical Society grounds four miles north of Rochester on US 31 and Tippecanoe River. Hours are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday. Frontier Indiana comes alive with music and dance on two stages, Indian dances, pre-1840 crafts and trading, foods cooked over wood fires, contests, muzzleloader shoots, cannon demo, fur trade skit, and canoe rides on Tippecanoe River. Admission $6 adults, $2 children 6 to 11, free for children age 5 and under. Contact Fulton County Museum at 574-223-4436 or


The grounds are handicapped accessible. Trams pulled by tractors offer free rides from the museum and parking field to the admissions booth. There are many benches to sit on, with seating capacity at each stage and the Indian dance arena of about 200 each place.

New this year: dedication of iron teepee memorial for Chief White Eagle and four other men on Sat. evening, Huck and Biscuit the burro.

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