Father Benjamin Marie Petit, a missionary to the Potawatomi in northern Indiana, accompanied them on the forced removal in 1838. He ministered to their needs, both spiritual and physical. He baptized the dying children, "whose first step was from the land of exile to the bliss of heaven." Petit's letters to Bishop Brute of Vincennes were published by the Indiana Historical Society in 1941. His letters vividly describe the hardships of the trek as they "marched in line and surrounded by soldiers, who hurried them along under a burning midday sun and amid clouds of dust" and the heartbreak of the Indians as they buried their loved ones and marched on. Across the great prairies of Illinois they marched, crossed the Mississippi River at Quincy, and then crossed Missouri to enter Kansas south of Independence, Mo. About 40 Indians died, and Father Petit blessed each grave, at times himself sick with fever.
After turning the Potawatomi over to Father Christian Hoecken at the Sugar Creek Mission in Kansas on Nov. 4, Father Petit again fell sick with fever. On Jan. 2 he started for Vincennes, accompanied by Abram Burnett, a full-blooded Potawatomi friend, but again was taken ill on the way.
With three open sores draining his strength, he rode in an open wagon, the roads rough and rain frequent, from Jefferson City. He reached the Jesuit Seminary, St. Louis University, Jan. 15. The Fathers gave him all the medical attention and care they could, but he grew weaker and died Feb. 10, 1839, a martyr to duty.
Father Elet, president of St. Louis University, wrote that he placed the crucifix to Father Petit's lips and twice he kissed it tenderly. He suffered in agony and then expired 20 minutes before midnight, having lived 27 years and 10 months.
Father Petit died in the Jesuit Seminary building at 9th and Washington Streets. His grave was in the old cemetery which was located at 7th Street and St. Charles Ave. and was moved in 1856 to make way for downtown St. Louis.
In 1856 Father Edward Sorin, founder of Notre Dame University, came and took Father Petit's body back to Indiana. Today Father Petit's remains lie under the log chapel at the University of Notre Dame.
Plaques placed by Indian Awareness Center of the Fulton County Historical Society, Rochester, In. and in memory of Adam Black Fox, his Potawatomi grandfather, by Howard Kline, Florissant, Mo.; and by descendant of Abram Burnett, Tom Hamilton, Leesburg, In.
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. If it should please God to send me death, I accept it in all love and submission to His amiable providence and I hope that His mercy will have pity on me at the last moment. I commend myself to Mary now and at the hour of my death." Father Petit's will, written Aug. 17, 1838, at Vincennes, Indiana.