Billy Caldwell was an enigma. Born 1780 to a Mohawk mother and Irish Captain father in the British army, Caldwell negotiated treaties in the 1830's that launched the birth of Chicago, but at what cost?
The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (PBPN) in Mayetta, Kansas and LegacyFILM in Chicago partnered together to bring the Billy Caldwell Story to life. After Caldwell died in 1841 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the tribe left Iowa for Indian Country. Today, Indian Country is now Kansas and the tribe lives on a federally-recognized sovereign nation 18 miles north of Topeka, Kansas.
In partnership with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, the goal of the film was to create a truthful, honest, raw and beautiful documentary that explored the leadership decision made 200 years ago and examines the contemporary narrative of Native Americans today. This story comes to life through personal interviews with Native American tribal elders, historical experts, government officials and tribal family members. We filmed on location in Mayetta, Kansas at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. Billy Caldwell’s leadership in 1829 continues to impact and shape today’s Potawatomi tribe.
Two films, a short (15 minute) and a feature (75-minute) explore the Billy Caldwell story from President Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act to the present-day Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. The documentary films weaves the 1829 Prairie du Chien Treaty and the signing of the Indian Removal Act together with Caldwell's journey and diaspora expulsion from the Chicago area to the west. They share the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation tribal leaders' thoughts on land, Caldwell‘s decision and the preservation of culture, tradition and language.
Two hundred years after treaties were signed, the film explores the historical decision that resulted in the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation leaving the Great Lakes area and living today in Mayetta, Kansas. The viewer will answer their own questions on the merits of the historical decision to sign the treaties.
The Billy Caldwell movie is a series of interviews with Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Tribal Council members, Chairman Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick, Member Ronald “Tony” Wahweotten, Jr., Treasurer Wade Pahmahmie, Member Raphael Wahwassuck and Michelle Simon, Assistant General Manager. We interviewed Tribal Elders, business leaders, language experts, archeologists and historical experts. We interviewed Dennis Downes, Great Lakes Trail Tree Society. The interviews captured voices speaking about tradition, culture, language, indigenous food, life on a reservation, thoughts about the 1829, 1833, 1846, 1861 treaties, government attempts at termination, thoughts on blood quantum, challenges today and hopes for future generations tomorrow.
First-time filmmakers Michelle Simon, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation member and Susan Kelsey formed a partnership and then a friendship in creating the The Negotiator: Billy Caldwell movie. Michelle, with her Potawatomi heritage and Susan with her Irish heritage joined forces to share the Billy Caldwell story. Several meetings were held in Mayetta, Kansas and filming was conducted in Chicago, Iowa and Kansas.
Director Susan L. Kelsey lived in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood. In 1993, she was walking near the north branch of the Chicago River and saw a plaque on the ground indicating the site of the edge of Fort Dearborn and the signing of the treaty with Billy Caldwell (also known as Chief Sauganash). From that moment, Kelsey was intrigued with Billy Caldwell’s connection with Chicago and her Irish heritage. Who was the man and what was his legacy? For the next 30 years, Kelsey traveled and researched Billy Caldwell in two countries, 13 states, numerous meetings with historians, tribal members, archeologists, government officials and family members. The Book, Billy Caldwell (1780-1841) Chicago and the Great Lakes Trail and now the film, “Negotiator: Billy Caldwell”, were produced as a result of those adventures.
The films will be shown across the Great Lakes and country in 2023.
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation tribal member and artist, Alberto Tinajero. Influenced by his culture and heritage, Alberto designed the movie poster and included the Great Lakes, eagles, traditional long houses and a PBPN historic image.
Artists Dennis Downes and Aimee Rusch created one of the movie posters reflecting the two worlds of Billy Caldwell.
Painting courtesy of Artist Hal Sherman family. Hal's interpretation of what Billy Caldwell might have looked like. (Pictured left to right, General Sir Issac Brock, British soldier, Tecumseh, Billy Caldwell and father William Caldwell.