For helping former slaves settle in Kansas, Nicodemus honors Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation

Local News

NICODEMUS (KSNT) – There is a lot of hidden history around Kansas. In fact, a local tribe once helped a small town of former slaves settle into their new environment. Teaching them how to live and eat in a land that was foreign to them.

Nicodemus is a small town in Kansas northwest of Hays. It’s got a lot of history. It’s the oldest black settlement still around today after being established in 1877.

Like many new starts, it was hard for the former slaves from Kentucky to get used to the new environment.

“That first couple of years, our ancestors really struggled to make it through the winters,” Robert Alexander said with the Nicodemus Historical Society. “The Native Americans came along and helped.”

Those Native Americans were actually from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. The nation was also struggling around 1877, as it had to leave their reservation to find food and resources for a tough winter ahead. The Prairie Band Potawatomi traveled all around Kansas and even got close to the Colorado border. Then the nations’ scouts came across Nicodemus.

“They came up, looked at their situation, looked at what they had,” Joseph Rupnick said, the chairperson for the nation. “And come to realize, they had nothing. They had no food, they had no way to make fire. They didn’t have any shelter. They were pretty much on their own.”

Members of the nation went back and reported they had to help these new settlers. So the nation did everything they could to help.

“By handing off game and showing them different techniques of how to live in this part of the country,” Alexander said.

On Saturday, the nation was in attendance for this year’s Nicodemus Homecoming Celebration, a partnership and recognition that’s been in the works for some years.

“Part of the history, all communities struggle at some point or another” Rupnick said. “And it just takes somebody or a group to kind of help them out and lift them up.”

The Nicodemus Historical Society recognized the nation for its role in helping Nicodemus get off the ground. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation did what they did in those early days providing the town with buffalo meat for a barbecue.

“All communities, regardless of race or color, had to come together and act as one to be able to prosper and survive,” Rupnick said.

“We are just one big community,” Alexander said. “Nicodemus might be small, but we’re a big community.”

Governor Laura Kelly was also at this year’s homecoming parade, and the event had a vaccination clinic available to anyone who wanted to get the COVID-19 shot.

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