Wausaneta – Kiwanis Park Fountain
Simeon H. West donated the bronze statue of Wausaneta, head chief of the Kickapoo Indians when they had a fort six miles northeast of LeRoy. The statue, 15 feet high and the cost was $1,200. It stands in Kiwanis Park with the face turned toward the fort and the chief’s burial site. It is said that Wausaneta was West’s spiritual guide.
The statue was unveiled on the site January 1, 1912 and West deicated it to the city on the condition it was protected from damage and was bronzed as often as needed. The statue is on a base with a water fountain on each side. Originally it had a globed light on each side. Wausaneta held a bent arrow in one hand. Over the years it has desappeared and been straigtened out. Is is now back in his hand and is bent.
At the unveiling, West, in his typical new-agey grandiosity, dedicated his statue “to the lovers of the beautiful in every country and in every clime until time shall be no more.”
Several days after the dedication, West said he conducted “a most impressive interview with 20 friends on the spirit side of life.” Joining the otherworldly confab, naturally, was Wausaneta. The old chief, West said, “was the most jubilant being I ever met … wild with delight at the way I had honored him and said his name had never been in print, but I had got it right.”
“Try to scatter rays of sunshine and happiness along your pathway wherever you may be.” – Simeon H. West. This is one of the three inscriptions written by West which are on the base of the statue.
The statue embodies LeRoy’s longtime ties to spiritualism, the belief that the dead have the means and inclination to communicate with the living.West claimed that on more than one occasion he communed with a deceased Kickapoo named Wausaneta, and he erected this statue as a tribute to the chief and his people.
Born in 1827 in Kentucky, the intelligent and ambitious (if somewhat eccentric) West came to McLean County in the early 1850s, eventually serving two terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. He embraced spiritualism in his early 60s, and like many fellow believers, faced occasional ridicule from the skeptical and scorn from the pious.
Though West believed in a supreme creator, he dismissed the Christian conception of God, and rejected as absurd belief in a biblical Jesus. Wealthy and well-traveled, he participated in seances all over the country, conversing with those “on the other side” by means of trance, clairvoyance, materialization and other “phases of mediumship.”
During these seances, in which the dead would speak through a paid medium, West communed with family members, former colleagues, Native Americans and even the famous, most notably Abraham Lincoln. His guide to the spirit world was said to be “Pansy,” an Athenian maiden born in 451 B.C.
In late November 1905, West oversaw the placement of a granite marker at this rich archaeological and historic site (now considered part of the Grand Village of the Kickapoo). In the midst of that day’s heavy snow and howling winds, West had an intense spiritualist encounter, later reporting that he had established a “rapport with the spirits of the people who lived there in the distant past.”
It was then that he supposedly learned from these spirits that a Kickapoo by the name of Wausaneta was “head chief” during the fort’s construction. In a later seance, West heard from Wausaneta himself, and was told that the chief had died at the age of 75 and was buried north of the historic marker.
The years have brought many speculations as to the symbolism in the statue’s facing the old fort. According to Marcus West, son of Simeon, the statue was accidentally faced toward the old fort and burial ground. The sculptor didn’t even know about Wausaneta. “He turned out a handsome Indian garbed in some of the accourterments of the Kickapoo,” said Marcus West in 1912.
Marcus’ words are not speculation. Although the story of West and Wausaneta is one of a kind, the statue itself is not. The sculpture and pedestal were cast from an existing mold at the J.L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, N.J. It appears that the origin of this statue dates to about 1860, when a woodcarver created a generic Native American chief for William Demuth, who sold cigar store Indians. In fact, the statue is listed as “No. 53 Indian Chief” in an 1872 Demuth catalog. A short time later, Mott purchased this design from Demuth.
Today, one can find “No. 53 Indian Chief” scattered across the nation and beyond, including Cincinnati, Ohio (where it’s named for Native American leader Tecumseh, a Shawnee); Calhoun, Ga. (this one carries the name Sequoyah, a famous Cherokee); Ishpeming, Mich. (“Old Ish,” an Ojibwe); Schenectady, N.Y. (a Mohawk called “Lawrence”); and even Cusco, Peru.