OBJECT HISTORY: Potawatomi Beaded ‘Soldier Coat’

An elder spokesman for the Potawatomi Indians, Chief Simon Onanguisse Kahquados made a number of trips to Washington, D.C. in the early twentieth century in an effort to regain land that his people had lost through treaties with the United States government in the 1800s. Kahquados wore this coat on his last trip to Washington and also wore it on other important occasions, such as trips to the state capital in Madison where he often spent time researching and presenting information about his ancestry.

It is not known how Kahquados originally acquired this coat or specifically who created the beadwork that was added to it. The 1902 model general officer’s jacket, however, does yield its original owner’s name. Sewn into the inside pocket of the coat is a tag reading “Gen. G.L. Gillespie USA June 1903.” George Lewis Gillespie fought in the Civil War where he earned a Congressional Medal of Honor. Later Gillespie rose through the ranks of the Army, temporarily served as Acting Secretary of War in 1901, and eventually reached the rank of major general in 1904. It is possible that Gillespie personally presented the jacket to Kahquados during one of his Washington visits.

After his death, this “soldier coat” as well as other articles belonging to Chief Kahquados were purchased from the executor of his will by one of the Chief’s many friends, Charles E. Broughton. The coat was valued at $100 in 1930, a rather substantial amount of money at that time. Recognizing the Chief’s significance to Wisconsin, Broughton purchased the items with his own funds and donated them to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Portrait of Chief Simon Onanguisse Kahquados
Chief Simon Onanguisse Kahquados wearing his beaded coat, and other regalia at an unknown event in the 1920s. Source: WHI 24374.

This story was edited and adapted from Diana Zlatanovski’s original Curators’ Favorites article (November 2006). 


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This object is part of the Curators’ Favorites Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore the whole collection here!


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