Conquering the Trail of Hope

Fishtown’s Peter Prusinowski walked from Penn Treaty Park to Bartles­ville, Ok­lahoma to com­mem­or­ate the trail the Lenni Lenape In­di­ans took.

Fishtown res­id­ent Peter Prusinowski shows off the ori­gin­al pair of shoes that he wore on his Trail of Hope walk across the coun­try at the Penn Treaty Mu­seum on Wed­nes­day, Aug 17. Prusinowski re­cenlty com­pleted a walk that traced the Lenape In­di­an mi­gra­tion from the Delaware Val­ley to Bartles­ville, Ok­lahoma.

His name is Peter Prusinowski.

But, you can call him “Ohelemux­wet.”

At least, that’s the name he’s been giv­en by the Delaware In­di­ans of Ok­lahoma after he re­cently com­pleted a 2,000 mile, four-and-a-half-month jour­ney, from Fishtown to Bartles­ville, Okla.

It means — what else? — “One who walks a long way.”

Prusinowski’s jour­ney began on March 23 and it was a dif­fi­cult, long-dis­tance trudge through thun­der­storms, 116-de­gree heat and even a snow storm.

“Some­times, the tem­per­at­ure was over 116 de­grees and that was in the shade,” the Fishtown-based pho­to­graph­er said dur­ing an in­ter­view on Aug. 17, just his second day back in Philly after his trip.

For more than a dec­ade, Prusinowski has stud­ied the cul­ture of Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans and, with the walk­ing trip he called the “Trail of Hope,” Prusinowski fol­lowed the mi­gra­tion of the Lenni Lenape In­di­ans from Penn Treaty Park where they made peace with Wil­li­am Penn to their cur­rent tri­bal grounds in Ok­lahoma.

He said he was ex­cited to pho­to­graph the coun­try as he walked, and he even planned to video­tape his en­tire trip, but soon after he began, the weight of all the equip­ment bogged him down and, he saw little of in­terest to pho­to­graph.

“Pho­to­graphy-wise, it’s really bor­ing,” he said.

Walk­ing about 25 miles each day along loc­al roads, Prusinowski car­ried a 30-pound back­pack — of which, about 60 per­cent of the weight was wa­ter he needed be­cause of the re­lent­less heat.

Dur­ing the trip, he shipped his cam­cord­er and a tri­pod back home in or­der to cut down on some of the weight.

“I just kept the ba­sics. I had no room for a tent,” he said. “It was so hot out there, you don’t just sweat. You go swim­ming. It was like people were dump­ing wa­ter all over you.”

To get through the scorch­ing heat he en­countered in areas of Mis­souri and Kan­sas, Prusinowski would walk at night and sleep in the day, try­ing to find what shade he could, some­times rent­ing a cheap hotel room to catch up on rest.

“I stayed in some places where a lot of people would have said ‘I’m not stay­ing here,’” he said with a laugh, talk­ing about the dirty and cheap mo­tels he found.

In May, after a dev­ast­at­ing tor­nado hit Joplin, Miss., Prusinowski walked to the town — three days out of his way — to vo­lun­teer with the cleanup ef­fort. He stayed for eight days and met many res­id­ents who had lost everything in the nat­ur­al dis­aster.

“Of all the houses that were dam­aged, none could be saved,” he said. “It was ex­tremely hard to talk to some of them. Say­ing you were sorry, what does that mean? It means noth­ing. They were so hurt. But, there were so many vo­lun­teers and they were grate­ful for that.” 

Along the way, Prusinowski said, he ex­pec­ted to run in­to his­tor­ic mark­ers or me­mori­al sites where the Lenni Lenape had stayed dur­ing the 180 years the tribe moved across the coun­try.

“But, I found noth­ing,” he said, not­ing that he had stud­ied where the tribe had traveled, but, when he got there, he found noth­ing mark­ing the sites to re­call the his­tory.

“I would stop and ask people what they knew about the In­di­ans in these towns but, there was noth­ing,” he said. “If I said something about Wil­li­am Penn, they would know, but just very little.”

It was a sur­prise he said, that the loc­als seemed to know so little about the past of the area, but what sur­prised him more was the ab­ject poverty he found in towns that had once had thriv­ing Main Streets and busi­ness cor­ridors.

Prusinowski said that, by walk­ing loc­al roads, he found towns that people miss when they drive on in­ter­state high­ways.

These small places, he said, seemed to have little more than corn fields and ruined, va­cant build­ings.

“I came across at least ten small towns that I couldn’t ima­gine that people lived there,” he said. “It was kind of a scary thing to see these towns that prospered at one point that were now dis­ap­pear­ing. Along the way, I don’t think I saw five towns that you would call towns with stores and homes … People just don’t know about this coun­try. We say we are so great in the United States, but at these towns, I didn’t see any of that … That’s what we don’t hear about on TV news.”

Even with the dif­fi­culties of the trip, Prusinowski said it was an in­cred­ible ex­per­i­ence and much of the hard­ship, he felt, was washed away when he was wel­comed by tri­bal lead­ers in Ok­lahoma.

Dur­ing the last day of his trip, Prusinowski presen­ted the tribe with an Elm sap­ling de­rived from the his­tor­ic “Treaty Tree” that once stood at Penn Treaty Park and, for his friend John Con­nors, who runs the Penn Treaty Mu­seum, Prusinowski car­ried a small piece of the park’s fam­ous tree along on his en­tire trip.

He’s plan­ning to donate that piece of bark, and the shoes he wore dur­ing his walk, to the Penn Treaty Mu­seum.

“It was a good ex­per­i­ence,” he said. “It’s hard to say right now, my mind keeps go­ing back to those memor­ies. This wasn’t a two-week va­ca­tion where you go and come back right away … My mind is still not clear on a few things. I’m still kind of in shock.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 


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