On November 4, 1846, the first grouping of Myaamia people arrived on their new reservation in the Unorganized Indian Territory. They were unloaded at Kanza landing, in what is today Kansas City, Missouri, and then traveled the final 50-60 miles south via horse and wagon. By November 5, after nearly a month of travel, the remainder of the removed Myaamiaki reached the new village site along Little Sugar Creek in what is today eastern Kansas.
In a short letter written after arrival in the west, Toohpia ‘Francis Lafontaine,’ the elected leader of the nation, reported that two-thirds of his people had been sick on the journey and that “there has been six deaths amongst my people, all children” except for one adult. In addition, two babies were born during the removal. Toohpia added that he was not pleased by what he saw of their new “country” and that in his opinion “it would have been much better if my people had moved by land” as “moving by water does not suit the habits of my people.” The next day, another child died, bringing the total loss of life during the journey to seven.
The mood among Myaamia people was unsurprisingly grim. One fur trader reported that after arrival at Sugar Creek, many Myaamia men “burst into tears and begged like children to be taken back to their old home.” The fur trader accompanied the removal in order to collect on debts he believed the tribe owed him. Despite his financial motivations for making the journey, the emotion exhibited by the Myaamia men forced the fur trader to admit that “I could not help crying also.”
As November drew to a close, the leaders of the Miami Nation gathered together in council to write a letter to President James K. Polk. In the opening of the letter they began in a heartbreaking fashion with an apology for resisting removal and causing the president to “send troops to force us to compliance.” They closed the opening stanzas by suggesting that Polk would understand why they resisted removal if he only took a moment to consider his feelings for the land of his birth.
The leaders went on to argue that they were told by “corrupt and designing white men” that the U.S. government would “consent, without the shadow of difficulty to our remaining in our dear native land.” They were led to believe that the entire population of the nation would be allowed to disperse across the individual and family reserve lands that were created through decades of treaty negotiations. The headmen of the nation explained that “as soon as we were convinced we had been shamefully deceived, and that the government expected from us the fulfillment of the treaty, to the letter, then we resolved at once to repair to our new home quietly and peaceably.”
Following their apology and explanation of why they resisted removal, the council’s epistle turned to one of the top priorities of the nation as it reconstituted itself on its new reservation: neepaantiinki ‘education.’
The headmen of the nation explained that they recognized that the “change of country” required a “change of our habits.” From their perspective, the key to making these changes was “by a prompt and well conducted education of youth.”
European-style schooling was not new to Myaamia families. In fact, a few of the younger generation of Myaamia previously attended the Choctaw Academy boarding school in Kentucky. The cost of this education was paid for by funds created through numerous treaties. However, these leaders recognized that “in every instance our young men came back from that institution much worse.” In addition they noted, “another motive, that prevented us from sending our children to Kentucky was that eight of them could only enjoy the privilege whilst everyone might have received the benefit of education, out of the same resources.”
Thus, rather than funding tuition for distant boarding schools, the Myaamia authors concluded by requesting that President Polk approve the creation of educational opportunities near the Miami Reservation and “under our eyes.” Specifically, they requested “that the one thousand dollars reserved for school purposes in one of the treaties concluded between the United States and our tribe will henceforth, be spent in our midst and for the welfare not of few but all of the children of our nation.” At the time, they felt that the best local option was a Catholic school run in conjunction with the Potawatomi living nearby on Sugar Creek.
The first winter at Sugar Creek was a struggle for Myaamia people. At the time of their arrival they had no permanent structures and were completely reliant on U.S. Government assistance in order to feed and clothe themselves. The poor sanitation in the village combined with the ongoing illnesses incurred during the removal led to as many as 150 deaths between 1846 and 1848. Throughout this period, Myaamiaki must have been expending considerable energy simply working to survive. It is telling that given the constraints of their life or death situation, they took the time to focus their minds and their hearts on the education of the next generation.
As we reflect on our ancestors’ journey during the 1846 removal, we should remember that their strength sustained us through that difficult time. Removal resulted in the relocation of the tribal nation to the national reservation land in what became Kansas and it fragmented the nation’s population as around 150 Myaamiaki remained behind on family and individual reserves in Indiana. Despite the separation of nearly 580 miles, Myaamia people traveled regularly between Kansas and Indiana and maintained their kinship connections. We stand here today as Myaamia people because of their efforts to sustain our sense of who we are as a nation. The U.S. government strengthened the boarding school education system in the latter half of the 1800s, but our tribal leaders actively sought to create a system that was local and allowed the greatest number of Myaamia youth to receive education “under our eyes.”
As we continue to build a new educational system to further our language and cultural revitalization work, it is good to remember that in the aftermath of one of the most tragic moments in our history, Myaamia leaders wanted to create the broadest possible learning opportunities that we as a community could directly oversee.
Neewe ‘Thank you’ to Diane Hunter for alerting us to a transcription error in the Strack publication. That document has the arrival dates as November 3 and 4. George Strack, et al., myaamiaki aancihsaaciki: A Cultural Exploration of the Myaamia Removal Route (Miami, OK: Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, 2011), 7, 24-25. You can find a link to this document below in note #6.
Francis Lafontaine to Unknown [likely Allen Hamilton], Nov. 1, 1846, Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society online collection http://mdon.library.ipfw.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/cc_acfwhs/id/874/rec/7, accessed Nov. 4 2019.
Kate A. Berry and Melissa A. Rinehart, “A Legacy of Forced Migration: the Removal of the Miami Tribe in 1846,” International Journal of Population Geography, vol. 9 (2003), 106.
Office of Indian Affairs, Letters Received, Roll 416, 277.
OIA Roll 416, 280. To read a transcript of the entire letter please download the PDF of myaamiaki aancihsaaciki: A Cultural Exploration of the Myaamia Removal Route (2011). The November letter can be found on pp. 29-31 (see link below in #6).
A printed transcript of the letter “The warriors and headmen of the Tribe of Miami Indians to His excellency James K. Polk President of the United States” can be found in Strack, et al., myaamiaki aancihsaaciki, 29-31. Follow this link to download a PDF of this booklet.
Updated: November 3, 2020