Peter Bourbonnais was an entrepreneur. He owned a saw mill, trading post and toll bridge that crossed a creek along the Oregon Trail in north-central Kansas. That same creek still runs today between the towns of St. Mary’s and Rossville in Shawnee County, Kan., and was named in honor of the nineteenth century Potawatomi ancestor. However, a spelling mistake resulted in one of the ‘n’s being left off in the spelling of Bourbonnais, a mistake that was left unaddressed for decades.
In 2012, the Kansas Department of Transportation tore the old bridge down over Bourbonnais Creek along with the original signs with the name’s misspelling. When KDOT put the new bridge up, the old signs never went back up, leading Kansas-area CPN members to push for a new set of signs with the spelling corrected. At the request of his constituents, CPN Legislator Jon Boursaw began exploring how to address the misspelling.
“At the request of Mary Peddicord-Pricket (Bourbonnais), I decided to look into getting the creek’s name corrected and have signs put back up,” explained Boursaw. “A year had gone by, and I had no idea that it would be such a long process to get the (new) signs up. But I believe it has paid off.”
Boursaw started by looking into the process of renaming the creek with the correct spelling of Bourbonnais. He started by contacting the Kansas Department of Transportation, whoreplied saying that given the bridge’s length, it did not fit the criteria requiring a sign be put up.
Likely due to his decades of bureaucratic navigation as a career Air Force officer, Boursaw examined the possibility of requesting the bridge be dedicated as a memorial bridge. However, the Topeka-native discovered that in order to do this, he would have to get a bill passed at the Kansas State Government-level and then pay for the signs to be put up.
“From there, I emailed KDOT that we didn’t want the bridge to be a memorial bridge, we wanted it to be dedicated as a historical site,” said Boursaw.
KDOT accepted this request, though again an issue arose.
Boursaw continued, “I got an email back from them accepting our request but saying that they wouldn’t be able to change the bridge’s name unless we got the name of the creek changed by the U.S. Board on Geographical Names.”
Undaunted, Boursaw submitted this next request with the U.S. Board of Geographical Names. Six months passed before the CPN legislator finally received a reply this summer.
Boursaw received notifications from both the U.S. Board on Geographical Names and KDOT. His requests would be presented to him in a sign unveiling for his efforts to get the corrected spelling changed and the signs put up.
That ceremony finally took place on Oct. 9, 2014 at the CPN Community Center in Rossville, Kan. The sign unveiling was the first of only two this year for the Kansas Department of Transportation. Along with delegates from KDOT and the U.S. Board of Geographical Names, Boursaw was joined by CPN members like Jim Coder of Topeka.
Coder, the great-great-great-grandson of Peter Bourbonnais, has done extensive research on his ancestor and is one of the main sources of history on the man whose last name is finally spelled correctly on the bridge signs. The Bourbonnais-family member gave a brief presentation of his research following the signs’ official unveiling before Boursaw spoke on his yearlong effort.
“We are pleased with the cooperation of KDOT with their effort to get this request done,” explained Boursaw. “We also appreciate the original request from the Bourbonnais family that set this whole thing in motion. For the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, this continues the recognition that our ancestors once lived here in the area,” concluded Boursaw.