Chief Simon Kahquados: Potawatomi Leader in Changing Times

Ninety years ago Potawatomi Elder Kakanissiga died about 70 miles northwest of Marinette, Wisconsin. He was a timber cruiser by trade who dedicated his life to bettering the conditions of his people. If you’ve cruised into north entrance of Peninsula State Park, you’ve driven by his gravesite. Many remember him as Chief Simon Onanguisse Kahquados.
Kahquados passed away Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1930. He was born in southern Kewaunee County. His mother’s name seems unknown but his father was Nen Gah Sum, “Shimmering Light”. When Kakanissiga was five years old, his father died at Whitefish Bay. Grandfather Keetos, “Day Walking”, raised him. Kahquados lived to be age seventy-nine. His last wish was to be buried near his great-grandfather Onangisse. Onanguisse reportedly was buried near Ephraim, somewhere in today’s Peninsula State Park.
Simon Kahquados claimed to be a descendant of another Onanguissee, a name that means “The Shimmering Light of the Sun.” This earlier Onanguissee was the chief who, in 1679, saved French explorer Robert Sieur LaSalle near Rock Island. Kahquados got his wish and was laid to rest in Peninsula State Park in 1931.
Kahquados served as Potawatomi chief and spokesperson, making countless trips to Washington, DC, seeking justice. He gave speeches at county fairs and events sponsored by philanthropic groups like the Ephraim Men’s Club. Often, groups donated clothing and funds to the Forest County Potawatomi. During decades of hardship and incremental legislative victories, a strong sense of self and culture surely sustained him. As Paulo Freire wrote in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), “Without a sense of identity there can be no real struggle.” Kahquados’ determination is apparent in oral interviews and letters exchanged with archaeologist Charles E. Brown (1872-1946).
Perhaps because of the way media described Simon Kahquados’ public talks during his lifetime, there’s an inclination to visualize the man as a kind of “Indian” caricature. The truth is so much more interesting! Ephraimites have always strived to appreciate aspects of land and people, including complexities shaped by historic context. What, then, does Kakanissiga’s life story teach us about our community? What does it reveal about ourselves, as individuals? There’s no time like the present to find out.

2 thoughts on “Chief Simon Kahquados: Potawatomi Leader in Changing Times”

  1. Thank you for the refresher; it causes me to recall the story my Mother told (Mildred Ipsen/Evanson) of being at the grave site the day Chief Simon was laid to rest, wrapped in a simple red and black blanket. I do not recall a day of golf that I did not stop at the grave for a moment of prayer for a fine leader of a fine people, much misunderstood and seldom appreciated. Paul Jones

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