October 6, 2021 is the 175th anniversary of the beginning of the Miami Forced Removal from Indiana in 1846, this blog will trace the series of events and decisions that led to our Removal and beyond. A new blog post on the first Friday of each month will take you from before the 1830 Indian Removal Act to the October 1846 Removal. During the dates corresponding to the time of the Removal itself, almost daily posts will be added on each date on which we know what was happening in October-November 1846.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Subsequent Pressure for Myaamia Removal
The 1830 Indian Removal Act is often seen as the starting point for the forced removals of tribes in the eastern parts of what is now the United States to west of the Mississippi River, but the Act had been in planning for years. Tribes had been pushed west since the arrival of the first Europeans on the east coast, and the pressure to remove became more and more intense throughout the 1820s.
This October 23, 1826 passage from a letter from Indian Agent John Tipton, Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass, and Indiana Governor John B. Ray to United States Secretary of War James Barbour illustrates that Americans were already trying to figure out how to get us out of Indiana:
“It was impossible to procure the assent of the Pattawatamies [Potawatomi] or Miamies to a removal west of the Mississippi. They are not yet prepared for this important change in their situation. Time, the destruction of the game, and the approximation of our settlements are necessary before this measure can be successfully proposed to them. It was urged as far as prudence permitted, and, in fact, until it became apparent that further persuasion would defeat every object we had in view. It was then important that the Indians should be separated into bands, by the intervention of our settlements. As long as they can roam unmolested through the country, we may in vain expect either to reclaim them from the savage life they lead, or to induce them to seek a residence where their habits and pursuits will be less injurious to us…But our principal difficulty has been with the Miamies. The country which they occupy is much more valuable than that occupied by the Pattawatamies. It is immediately upon the Wabash, and commands the great avenue of communication between the Ohio and the lakes.”
The U.S. Government’s strategy was to wait until they could remove our food source of fresh game and crowd us out by moving around and between us so that we would want to go west. They didn’t like the way we lived and hoped that living so close to Americans, we would either assimilate to their way of life or leave on our own. But the most critical issue to them was the land. They wanted our land and needed us to sell them the land and leave.
It is clear from this letter that the Americans were strategizing and unsuccessfully trying to persuade us to go. On February 15, 1830, James Noble sent a letter on behalf of Myaamia Principal Chief J.B. Richardville to the Secretary of War, saying that Chief Richardville opposed removal, making clear the Miami people did not want to be removed west.
All of this happens before the May 29, 1830 passage of the Indian Removal Act. Section 1 of this Act makes it lawful for the President of the United States to set aside land west of the Mississippi River “for such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there.” And Section 3 says, “it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them….” The Act does not require our removal west; it merely makes the exchange of our land for land west of the Mississippi River legal for the President to arrange.
The Indian Removal Act opened a path for further action by the U.S. government, including a July 9, 1832 Statute, “An Act to enable the President to extinguish Indian title with the state of Indiana, Illinois, and territory of Michigan:” “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United states of America, in Congress assembled, That the sum of twenty thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated for the purpose of holding Indian treaties, and of finally extinguishing Indian title, within the state of Indiana….”
Immediately following the passage of this law, the U.S. government began negotiations with the Miami National Council to pressure us to cede our land and go west of the Mississippi. These negotiations followed what became a familiar pattern:
You should go west.
We will not go.
Think about it. We need a definite answer.
We will not go.
Let’s talk about this again tomorrow….
On September 10, 1832, just two months after the passage of the “Act to enable the President to extinguish Indian title,” U.S. Commissioners came to our Council House at the Forks of the Wabash in present-day Huntington, Indiana to meet with our “principal chiefs and warriors.” In their opening statement, Jonathan Jennings, one of the Board of Commissioners, said, “My Children…You who have seen many snows and have once seen the country filled with game; you who were at the Treaty of Greenville will remember that your Great Father then took you strongly by the hand. Since that time, he has always loved you – He still loves you. Your Great Father sees his red children much imposed upon by some of his bad white children, and he is sorry for it. He sees too, that the game is gone from the lands they now live on.” His statements show that the plan laid out in the October 23, 1826 letter for “the destruction of the game” had been successful.
Jennings continued, encouraging the tribe to remove west of the Mississippi because of bad white men:
“Your Great Father has sent us to say to you that he has much land beyond the Mississippi where game is plenty and where the bad white man shall never go to disturb you. This land, your Great Father will keep for you as long as the sun shall shine or the rains fall; as long as the name of Miami shall exist…Your Great Father will give you more land over the Mississippi than you have here. He will also give you money. He will send you safe under the protection of some white friend to your new homes. He will feed you there until you get cornfields of your own; until your hunters lay up plenty of Buffalo, Deer and Beaver.”
The Miami National Council was not ready to answer this request and asked time to consult among themselves. Peepakicia (Flat Belly), described as “an aged chief,” replied, “Father, we have heard what you have said. We will go and consult among ourselves, and then we will answer you.”
J.B. Richardville pointed out that we had lives to live in the midst of these discussions:
“Father, we have listened to what you have said to us. - We did not come here prepared to give you an answer today. Your children are hungry; they will go home and eat, and when they have deliberated and consulted together, they will come back and meet you in this council-house. Then they will answer you. They all take you by the hand and part with you now in friendship - You have distinctly told us of the wishes of our Great father the President. When we meet you again we will be plain with you, and tell you what we are willing to do.” Richardville paused for “some minutes as if waiting for others to speak” and then said, “Father, we now part with you and go home. When I stay away long my wife scolds me.”
When the Miami leaders resumed the council with the U.S. Commissioners on September 24, 1832, “Chappene a chief arose” saying,
“Father, You who sit before me, You wish to hear your children. They are now ready to answer you. You have said a good deal to us - There is more meaning in it than we can understand. Do not understand us as consenting to your propositions because we have assembled here. - In speaking to your red children, you say that your Great Father loves them. His conduct contradicts this. He asks his red children to leave their homes and go into the dark west, and yet you say he loves them. Is this the love of our Great Father? Your children cannot agree to your request. We have no more to say to you now.”
Chappene showed that we were not taken in by Jennings’ flowery words professing President Andrew Jackson’s love for the Miami people. We knew that the government’s attempted action was not that of a loving Father. We saw through their lies, and we would not accept their proposal.
Commissioner Jennings ignored our unwillingness to go west and tried to add pressure by saying that they were disappointed. “From your answer we cannot tell what to say to your Great Father the President – Every thing is left in the dark…We must hear something more certain from you very soon, or we must close our councils and leave here.”
Richardville responded emphatically, “Father, we think our answer is good – you point to the west and ask us to go there – There I shall never go, nor will my people – They are all opposed to leaving here. They will not sell their lands. I speak not for myself, but for my people – We hope we have done our Great Father no harm in rejecting his offers, and we hope our Great Father will not be displeased with his red children for exercising their own judgment in their own affairs.” Richardville stresses our national sovereignty, which gives us the right to make our own decisions for our own people. It is due to our sovereignty, after all, that the U.S. government is in council with us.
Not taking no for an answer, Commissioner John Davis then said that President Jackson thinks he is doing a good thing for Miami people by sending us west. He hedges their proposal, saying that the President “does not expect the old men of your nation to leave their present homes and go to the west. – If the young men will sell, their Great Father will…send them there safe…If they will not sell all their lands, they will perhaps sell a part – We wish to know, and know distinctly what they will do.” Richardville emphasized our sovereignty, but Davis directly threatens that sovereignty by claiming that Miami people might have to follow U.S. laws, rather than Miami National Council decisions. “Unless they consent to sell the laws of the white man must be extended over them.”
Richardville did not accept Davis’s threat and said, “Father, I have told you I do not speak for myself but for my people – I am appointed to speak for them – What you hear from me is the voice of the Miamies. Father, a few minutes ago I told you that your red children would not go to the Mississippi country – They wish to stay on their ancient lands. You say your laws will be extended over them if they remain – This cannot be done – There is no power to do this – We are governed by our own laws and subject to none other – The Miamies will never consent to leave the homes of their fathers – I also as an individual will never consent to do so.”
Commissioner Jennings asked us to reconsider, but Richardville again repeated, “…we have given our answer – We have consulted together and some days ago determined to sell none of our lands – We have answered more than once that we will not sell, and still you ask us for land. We have no other answer but this to give – We will not leave our present homes – You tell us again that our Great Father loves us – His acts do not show it – If he loved them he would clothe and feed them. He would not send them into the western wilderness.”
Still not accepting our refusal, Commissioner Davis then said that he wondered if the tribe would sell part of their lands and send a party to look at the lands in the west. He offers a new proposal, saying, “If they should like it [the land west of the Mississippi], they and the rest of you that choose to go, may then remove there, if not, they can remain at the present homes.” Davis clearly does not intend to allow us to stay if we don’t like the lands to the west. It is clear that he would not keep that promise. He asked that we think about it and meet the next day to discuss the matter again.
At the next day’s meeting, Richardville told the Commissioners, “Father, we have nothing now to say – yesterday we said all we had to say,” but Davis repeated the offer and asked again for their answer.
Richardville, probably wearily, but seeing through their wiles, said, “Father, we have nothing more to say on the subject. You go about like the fox in the night time to gather information, to steal our opinions – We say what we have to say in council – Genl. Tipton who sits before me, knows that I listen not to the advice of others, that when I make up my mind I do not waver, I am firm. What I now say to you is my decision, and the decision of the Miami nation, not of others – We will sell you none of our lands.”
But Davis insistently asked again if we will sell part of our lands, and Richardville interrupted him, emphasizing the value of the land to us and our knowledge of the value of the land to them. In definite terms, he said, “Father, this is impossible – You see where the sun is – it is useless to put off the evil day till tomorrow – We can answer you now – We know the value of our soil as well as the white man can tell us – Here the Great Spirit has fixed our homes – Here are our cornfields and cabins – From this soil and these forests we derive our subsistence, and here we will live and die – I repeat, we will not sell an inch of our lands.”
Still persistent, Davis asked us to think about it again. Still firm, Richardville repeated, “Father, our answer is already given – expect no other – It is useless to talk on that subject further.”
Richardville spoke final words to Agent Marshall, “Father, you know what we have decided upon; your children want their annuities – They wish to go home and so do I – My wife wishes to see me.”
Marshall assented, and the council ended.
In this blog post, we have seen that after the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the U.S. government put pressure on the Miami National Council to agree that Myaamiaki would remove west of the Mississippi. Our leaders stood their ground. In next month’s blog post on March 5, we will see that the Miami National Council continues to resist Removal, in spite of unrelenting pressure from the U.S.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.