The Bourbonnais Cabin is a culturally significant home located on Tribal land near the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center. The Nation usually allows tours and welcomes visitors inside during the Family Reunion Festival each summer, but this year it is closed.
Given the cabin’s cultural significance, Tribal staff are reviewing repair suggestions and maintenance options. The Nation obtained an assessment from Anishinabe Design, an architectural firm specializing in historic buildings. Many CPN members consider the cabin’s preservation important, and CHC Curator Blake Norton understands why.
“It’s a physical connection to the past. It is not just looking at pictures. In essence, it is an artifact that you can work within in a three-dimensional space,” he said. “It is more than holding something. You are actually in it. You are in a space that ancestors were in. You can walk in their shoes; experience it.”
The Bourbonnais are an Honored Family at this year’s Festival. They were one of the first families that moved from Kansas to Indian Territory, establishing Citizen Potawatomi in present-day Oklahoma. Antoine and Mary Anderson Bourbonnais purchased the cabin in 1882 from Louis Tyner, a businessman who built it as a trading post in present-day Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Different owners relocated the cabin throughout the area three times. It has survived two restorations and a destructive tornado in 1905. The Bourbonnais Cabin is two stories, includes six rooms and a kitchen. At one point, two chimneys that are now gone warmed the house.
“It is also a sign of their success both in Kansas and here,” said CHC Director Kelli Mosteller. “Not everybody lived in a two-story cabin like this.”
People weave stories of Mary and Antoine Bourbonnais allowing outlaws Frank and Jesse James to use the building’s crawl space as a hiding place. No evidence of the fugitive tales exists, however.
“When Antoine passed away (in 1891) and Mary passed away (in 1922), it went into the hands of their daughter, and she’d lease the cabin out. There are other Potawatomi families that remember living in this home,” Norton said. “They consider it to be their home, too.”
The Pottawatomie County Historical Society acquired and restored the structure in 1970 before the Tribe hired Trillium Dell Timberworks for a second restoration in 2006. The Illinois wood company refurbished the cabin and reassembled it where it sits now — under a large tree with a bed frame and a couple of chairs inside as decoration. Visitors can view it from the CHC’s northeast corner.
“The cabin is a great piece of our history, and it is a wonderful thing for people to be able to go and experience,” Mosteller said. Find more information about the Bourbonnais Cabin at cpn.news/cabin, and follow the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center on Facebook @CPNCulturalHeritage.