Potawatomi Chief. 1812-1870
Burnett's Mound is a prominent bluff top on the south edge of Topeka that is a local landmark and reference point. It is a natural formation, but legend says that it is the burial mound of a native Indian chief, Abram B. Burnett. Burnett was an Indian chief, but he was not born in Kansas, nor was he buried on this bluff. His remains are in a graveyard south and west of the large bluff.
Chief Burnett's Potawatomi name was Nan-Wesh-Mah. He was born Novmeber 1812 on the north side of the Tippecanoe River near Muncie, Indiana, the son of Potawatomi Chief Shau-Uque-Be and Cone-Zo-Quah, the daughter of Chief Chebaas, who was the brother of Chief Topinabee. At the time, the Potawatomi were a powerful tribe, numbering perhaps 10,000. He was educated at a Baptist missionary school for Indian children in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That school was under the direction of the Reverend Isaac McCoy, a famous missionary who was involved in the establishment of Indian reservations in Kansas for eastern tribes, including the Potawatomi. Nan-Wesh-Mah served as one of McCoy's principal interpreters during the 1820's. He was an important mediator for the Potawatomi tribe. After his father died when he was young, he was adopted by his mother's cousin, Abraham Burnett, and took his name, but came to be known as Abram B. Burnett.
In 1838, Burnett and his Potawatomi bride, Dah-Moosh-Ke-Keaw, were removed with other Mission Band Potawatomis to a reservation in southeast Kansas. His first wife died in 1842 and in 1843, he remarried to a German Catholic immigrant, Marie Kofflock. In 1848 Chief Burnett moved to the area that was later to become Topeka. In Topeka he farmed a large plot of land near Burnett's mound along Shunganunga Creek and traded horses. Chief Burnett was an impressive figure. He was a physically large and powerful man, reportedly weighing more than 450 pounds in his later years. He dressed in a coat and trousers and wore a tie when occasions demanded. He often wore a hat and carried an elaborate cane with a handle of rose quartz with a silver collar and an ebonised hardwood shaft. It is the one shown in this photograph. The ebony cane is in the possession of the Burnett family descendants. Chief Burnett died June 14, 1870 on his farm near Topeka and his wife and children moved to the Potawatomi reservation in Oklahoma.
Entry: Burnett, Abram
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: April 2010
Date Modified: December 2012
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