Chief Simon Onanguisse Kahquados was the last hereditary descendant in a long line of Potawatomi chiefs, his family being one of the oldest known Potawatomi inhabitants of Wisconsin. Chief Onanguisse, one of Kahquados’s ancestors, was said to have saved explorer Robert LaSalle’s life when he found him starving in the forests of the Upper Great Lakes in the 17th century.
An engaging speaker, Kahquados often served as an interpreter and provided a wealth of information to the Wisconsin Historical Society regarding traditional Potawatomi culture and history. Having taught himself to write English, he frequently sent letters from his home in Blackwell, Wisconsin to the Society’s Museum Director Charles E. Brown requesting information about land rights of the Potawatomi and humbly requesting other assistance for his people.
In 1927, a totem pole honoring the Potawatomi as the early inhabitants of Door County was dedicated in Peninsula State Park. Chief Kahquados presided over the two-day long event which included ceremonial singing, dancing, a bonfire, and athletic events.
After an extended illness, Chief Kahquados passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 1930 at the home of William Towa, near Wabeno, Wisconsin. Sadly, while he counted many influential people among his friends and acquaintances, in his last days Chief Kahquados lived in poverty, subsisting on a mere $10 per month government allowance.
Prior to his death, Kahquados requested to be buried near his ancestors in Door County. The Wisconsin Conservation Commission granted special permission for his request and, through coordination with the Door County Historical Society, Kahquados was interred near the totem pole in Peninsula State Park that he had helped erect a few years earlier.
An estimated 15,000 people attended the burial of Chief Kahquados, which was held on Memorial Day in 1931. The burial had been delayed allowing time for the planning of the elaborate funeral, as well as due to weather concerns. A boulder stands as his grave-marker with the following inscription: “This Stone Marks the grave of Simon Onanguisse Kahquados Head Chief of the Potawatomi Indians. He was the last descendant of a line of Chiefs who ruled over the Door County Peninsula for many centuries he was born May 18, 1851 and died Nov. 27, 1930. A true and worthy Indian.”
This story was edited and adapted from Diana Zlatanovski’s original Curators’ Favorites article.
Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles, Wisconsin Historical Society.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.