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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains Potentially Affiliated with the Potawatomi in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Northeast
Associated Cultures: Potawatomi

The remains of one individual are present in the NMNH collections and museum records identify them as having been sent to the donor from Logansport, Indiana.  The remains were then sent to the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum by Jacob Shotwell in 1892 and subsequently transferred to the Army Medical Museum in January of 1893.  The remains were later transferred back to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in 1898.

At the time Mr. Shotwell sent the remains to the Smithsonian, he noted that the remains of the individual belonged to “Obenabbe a Potawatomi chief who lived and died near Logansport, Indiana.”  The name Obenabbe and a number of variations of it appear in several early historical accounts and on treaties between the U.S Government and the Potawatomi.  Other variations of the spelling include “Aubenaube” and “Aubbeenaubbee.”  Aubbeenaubbee was a famous chief of the Potawatomi who lived at the end of the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century.  He was involved in the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and was a major figure in the treaty negotiations prior to the removal of the Potawatomi from Indiana.  He was immortalized in local stories about his death, which apparently occurred at the hands of a close relative, possibly a son. 

According to historical records, Aubbeenaubbee was killed in the summer of 1833 and several accounts report him being buried in Fulton County, Indiana.  Only one story, published in 1897, included a claim by the author that Aubbeenaubbee’s grave was disturbed and his skull was removed.  That account implied the skull was still in possession of the author in 1897, after the remains in question here were sent to the Smithsonian in 1892.  Therefore, the remains in the NMNH could not have been those described in the account.  The donor who sent these remains to the Smithsonian claimed he received the remains from a business partner who sent them from Logansport, Indiana, at an unknown date.  The donor’s transmittal letter is the only evidence pointing to an identity as Aubbeenaubbee or Potowatomi. 
Although the donor’s transfer letter identifies the remains as Aubbeenaubbee, the physical remains of the individual in the museum exhibit a number of characteristics that contradict the historical accounts of Aubbeenaubbee’s life, his death and his burial treatment.  In particular, the historic accounts say that Aubbeenaubbee’s body was placed above ground against a tree and enclosed by a fence where it decomposed for at least several months.  The condition of the remains in the NMNH indicates the remains had not had time to decompose before they were collected and cleaned.  The evidence indicates the remains were collected and cleaned very soon after death.
Because of these discrepancies there is not a preponderance of the evidence in support of the interpretation that this individual is Aubbeenaubbee.  The identity of the remains as Potawatomi is dependent on the identification of the remains as “Obenobbe.”  As is the interpretation that the remains are of an individual “who lived and died near Logansport, Ind.” is dependent upon the identification of the remains as belonging to the chief.  Because there is insufficient evidence to establish that the individual is Aubbeenaubbee, there is no evidence that the remains are those of a Potawatomi, a chief, or an individual who lived and died near Logansport, Indiana.  Remains were often sent to the museum from locations far from where they were originally exhumed so the fact that they were sent from Logansport is not evidence that the remains are of someone who lived or died in the area.  The Repatriation Office cannot determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, where the remains were originally from, when they were obtained or who they are related to.  Therefore, the cultural affiliation of this individual is unknown and the Repatriation Office recommends that the remains of this individual be retained by the museum until evidence is found that establishes cultural affiliation to a tribe by a preponderance of evidence.

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