The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center provides resources to keep the Tribe’s history safe and accessible for generations to come. One key way the Nation does this is through the CHC’s archives and video interviews. To highlight some of the archive’s holdings, the Hownikan is featuring photographs and family history of every founding Citizen Potawatomi family. If interested in assisting preservation efforts by providing copies of Citizen Potawatomi family photographs, documents and more, and to schedule family interviews, please contact the CHC at 405-878-5830.

Family beginnings

The roots of the Lewis family are intertwined with the Bergeron family. Both families would later play a crucial role in the development of what would become Pottawatomie County in Oklahoma.

Wesley Lewis was born April 22, 1838, near Asthabula, Ohio, to Sylvester and Anna (Smith) Lewis. As an adult, he traveled with his older brother to Lawrence, Kansas, and later to the Henry Ward Beecher colony in Waubanse County, Kansas.

Wesley married Louise Bourassa in 1859. She was the daughter of Jude Bourassa and Mary Catherine Charet. Together, Wesley and Louise had a daughter named Laura. Sadly, Louise died about a year later. Laura would later marry Frank Gilbert and have three children: Will, LeRoy and Nell Gilbert.

Enduring tumultuous times

Like many Potawatomi families, the Lewis family endured the turmoil of removal.
Under the Treaty of 1837, the Potawatomi in Indiana gave up their lands in exchange for a reservation in Kansas. From 1837 to the early 1840s, they gradually moved to the Osage River or “Mission Band” Reserve. The Treaty of 1847 then forced the Potawatomi to move from the Osage River Reserve to a new location north and east of the Kansas River.

On Jan. 21, 1866, Wesley married Matilda Bergeron, who was of Potawatomi and French heritage, in Louisville, Kansas. Matilda Bergeron Lewis was the daughter of Francis X. Bergeron and Watch-e-kee Zozetta (Josetta) Bergeron. She was born on Sept. 26, 1846, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The couple were parents to Francis Lester, Ivy Bell, Josephine, Charles Wesley, Omer Dee, Flora May and Edward James. Sadly, three of their children died in infancy: Sylvester, Albert and Annie. The family lived on a 170-acre farm near Louisville, Kentucky. Matilda died in childbirth on March 7, 1886, leaving Wesley to raise their surviving children. Matilda was buried with her unnamed infant in her arms.

After Kansas became a state, settlers and railroad companies clamored for Potawatomi land in Kansas. The Treaty of 1867 certified the purchase of allotments and surplus lands in exchange for approximately $150,000. The Potawatomi used the funds to acquire a reservation in Indian Territory, and the government sold the Kansas allotments to the railroad.

The Lewis family accepted allotments and moved to Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma Territory. There, they established another farm near present-day Wanette and Wesley lived there for the rest of his life.

Life in Oklahoma Territory

In 1891, Wesley and his neighbors raised money to build the first schoolhouse, a 16-by-16 structure. The area’s first post office was located in the corner of the Lewis living room until a permanent one was established. He was also instrumental in establishing the community’s first cemetery by organizing with his neighbors to collect funds for the project.

Francis Lester Lewis married Letitia Hartman on Feb. 13, 1889 at Westmoreland, Kansas. Their children were Clifford Edward, Arthur Kirkwood, Clara Belle, Charles Lester, James Wesley, Flora Esther, Omer Hartman, Jesse David, Francis Lee, Josephine and Alfred LeRoy.

Ivy married Anthony Gilbert after her father, Wesley, died. Ivy had helped her father raise her brothers and sisters.

Flora married Martin Archiquette and they had two children, Floyd and Vera.

Edward married Dovie and they had Chauncey Edward and Omer.

Omer married Pauline and they were the parents of Cecil, Glenn, Omer, Pauline, Mary and Oma. Omer served as vice-chairman of the Citizen Band Potawatomi in the mid-1930s.

Francis married Rosella and their children were Clifford, Kirk, Clara, Charley, James, Flora, Omer, Jesse, Lee, Josephine and Alfred.

Rosella and Lester Lewis

The contributions Lewis family members made to what would become southern Pottawatomie County helped bring additional infrastructure to the area. In 1903, the Santa Fe Railroad was built through the county and the citizens of Wanette voted to move the town one mile north to its present-day location in order to have access to the railroad, a 1995 Shawnee News-Star article said.

Wesley Lewis died on April 21, 1910. However, the contributions of his descendants continue today. Robert (Bob) Lewis served as a councilman from 1981 to 1983. Bob’s brother, Jerry W. Lewis, was a tribal historian in the 1970s. It was Jerry who made the connection between artist George Winter’s images and Potawatomi ancestors. Jerry and Bob made many trips together researching art and history on behalf of the Nation. Both were described as strong advocates for their Potawatomi people and for Native people everywhere. Jerry Lewis walked on in 2015. Bob Lewis walked on in 2021.

The Lewis family were among the Potawatomi who endured the dangerous journey from Kansas to Indian Territory in the late 1800s. Those who safely arrived worked hard to make a life for themselves, clearing large acreages by hand and building farms where there had been empty prairies. The contributions of the Lewis family helped develop large portions of southern Pottawatomie County and established communities that are thriving still today.

If interested in assisting preservation efforts by providing copies of Citizen Potawatomi family photographs, documents and more, and to schedule family interviews, please contact the CHC at 405-878-5830. Schedule interviews online at Learn more about the Family Reunion Festival at, and find research resources online at