Trail of Courage: Living History Festival

Frontier Indiana comes alive with foods cooked over wood fires, period music and dance, traditional crafts, historic camps and trading, canoe rides on the river, and much more. It is produced by the Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, Indiana. This event combines genealogy of the Potawatomi Indians and the settlers who lived in Fulton County and northern Indiana in the early 1800’s with the rendezvous events and stage programs and the historic canoe landing and fur trade skit on the Tippecanoe River.

The Trail of Courage will be held at the FCHS grounds four miles north of Rochester on US 31. Admission is $6 for adults, $2 for children (age 6-11), and free for ages five and under. Hours are Saturday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

This year will honor the Potawatomi family of Chief Nas-waw-kee and Doga, who were at the 1837 treaty council at Lake Kew-waw-nay (now Lake Bruce).

The public is invited to join in the Indian dances from 2-3 p.m., which are held in an arena encircled by teepees. The drum will be Winter Hawk Drum led by Fred Flury, Walkerton. Head dancers will be Jefferson and Elizabeth Ballew, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. George Godfrey, Athens, Illinois, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, will act as emcee. He has been dancing at the Trail of Courage since 1988. Godfrey will help with the dedication at the new historical marker for Chief Nas-waw-kee at Lake Maxinkuckee, Culver, on Friday, September 16 at 5 p.m. The public is invited to this dedication.

The Trail of Courage includes historic encampments representing the French and Indian War, Voyageurs, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Western Fur trade, Plains Indians teepees, and Woodland Indian wigwam village. A special re-creation of a Miami Village includes wigwams and lifeways demonstrations, such as making cattail mats.

Another re-creation is of Chippewa Village, the first trading post, post office and village in Fulton County in 1832. Food purveyors and traditional craftsmen set up in wooden booths. Craftsmen also sell pre-1840 trade goods from blankets and in historic merchant tents, offering a variety of items from clothing and jewelry to knives and candles, everything needed to live in frontier days. Canoe rides, muzzle loading shooting and tomahawk throwing contests, and a Mountain Man Tug of War add to the frontier activities.

Two stages with frontier music and dance present programs from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday. Since the early 1980s FCHS has received grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts to help pay for musicians and dancers: 42nd Royal Highlanders, River Valley Colonials Fife & Drum Corp, Aztec dancers, Shakin’ Hammers String Band, Mark and Liza Woolever, Steve McPhail – Johnny Appleseed, Chuck Molenda – Ben Franklin, Indian dancers and drum. This year the grant was for $1607 which is less than a third of the $7,340 cost of the performers. Donations to match the grant are required by the Indiana Arts Commission and can be mailed to FCHS, 37 E. 375 N., Rochester, IN 46975.

Many volunteers provide programs such as Frontier Frolic dance called by Shirley Willard, 78 Frazier Pipe & Drum Corps, Nan Edwards & Margo Moore’s dogs pulling travois, Marsha Gassburn – Indian storytelling, Shirley Needham – Red-tailed and Red- Shoulder hawks; Frontier Fashion Show, and riddle School dancers, Mike Gropp – bagpipes. Both Catholic and Protestant worship services are held at 9 a.m. Sunday. Father Denny Kinderman, Chicago, has been coming to do Mass for over 10 years.

Pioneer foods are cooked over wood fires. Visitors can feast on buffalo burgers, apple dumplings, chicken and noodles, barbecue, ham and beans, vegetable stew, chips cooked in big iron kettles, turkey legs. Indian tacos and frybread, corn on the cob, apple sausage, and more, including ice cream, one of George Washington’s favorite treats. Local clubs cook and serve these historic foods to fund their projects: Rotary, Kappa Delta Phi, American Cherokee Confederacy, Knights of Columbus, and Fulton County Historical Society. Beverly Jackson and family, Rochester, do the barbecue and sweet potato pie, and also exhibit a frontier African-American house. Mark Gropp family brings homemade fudge. Many people come to the festival just for the delicious food.

The grounds are handicapped accessible. Free tram rides are available to bring people from the museum and Living History Village at the north end of the grounds. The museum and village are open with hosts and free admission. Restoration work will be going on with the Round Barn Museum and William Polke House so they will be closed to public tours until work is finished.

Volunteers can earn free admission to the Trail of Courage by working half a day. To volunteer or for more information, call the museum at 574-223-4436. Free parking is provided on FCHS grounds. Plenty of free benches are available to sit and rest. For further details go to and also the Trail of Death website at

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