Continuing Pressure to Remove West
In the previous post, we saw that the United States government started planning our Removal from Indiana even before the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. In the 1832 negotiations, the U.S. Commissioners pressured the Miami National Council to agree that we would go west of the Mississippi River, but our leaders were firm in their resolve that we would not go. In this post, we will see that the same discussions continued to repeat over and over.
Undeterred, the U.S. Commissioners continued their insistence on our Removal as early as the following year, and they were making detailed plans that would change very little over the next several years.
In a July 11, 1833 letter, Commissioner J.F. Schermerhorn outlined those details in a letter to Lewis Cass, who by this time was U.S. Secretary of War. During this period, the Office of Indian Affairs was an agency within the War Department. Schermerhorn suggested making a treaty with the Miami Tribe with these provisions:
- “giving them about 1,000,000 acres west of the Mississippi”
- “removing them, and supporting them one year after their removal, at the expense of the United States”
- “allowing them about $400,000 or fifty cents per acre, for their lands; a very considerable portion of this to be expended west in improvements, agricultural implements, and domestic animals, and the balance in limited annuity of 20 years.”
In exchange, they would expect us “to give immediate possession of all the lands, for ten miles on each side of the Wabash immediately, and to remove as soon as possible, say not to exceed five years.” Schermerhorn acknowledged that the government would probably also have to
- “grant about 40 sections of land to chiefs and principal and influential Indians”
- “confirm Richard Ville’s (principal chiefs) grants by the nation to him at the forks of the Wabash”
- “give the chiefs, as personal annuities, in addition to their distributive share of the annuities of the nation, about $1,000”
- “to remove the agency to the forks of the Wabash, which is the most convenient and central point for the Indians and agent to do the business of the nation.”
Only days later, on July 15, 1833, President Andrew Jackson appointed George Porter, Territorial Governor of Michigan, to negotiate a treaty with the Miami Nation and get us to sell our reservation of about 800,000 acres for a reservation of the same size west of the Mississippi. Porter was assigned to set our Removal date within three years, which could be extended to five if we insisted. Porter was given permission, if necessary, to grant reserves to “chiefs and leading men” but not more than forty. He might provide an annuity to the chiefs but not exceeding $1000. Principal Chief J.B. Richardville had “requested that his claim to lands, granted to him many years since, by the tribe, and since confirmed by them, may be sanctioned by the United States.” Porter was authorized to insert a clause in the treaty, confirming this grant on the part of the U.S. Government.
Porter’s August 1833 council with Myaamiaki leaders at the Forks of the Wabash failed, as Richardville put off the negotiations, saying that they would not be able to make a decision without the young Myaamia men present. In Porter’s report to Secretary of War Cass, he commented that the Miami Reservation had really good land, and they should try to make us cede it.
To that end, the Jackson Administration continued their efforts to gain our land and convened another council on October 22 that year. In his lengthy opening statement, Commissioner Schermerhorn began by saying, “The great Spirit who of one blood, has made all the nations of the earth, has brought us together in council this morning…and therefore we ought to act as if in the presence of the great Spirit.” This statement does not seem to be an invocation asking for God’s presence among them, but a threat to Myaamia leaders that God wanted them to make this treaty.
As Schermerhorn continued, he said that the President “thinks it best for the Miamies to remove west from among their white brethren and there live with their red brethren who have gone over the Mississippi.” He also noted that “it is the settled policy of the country, as determined by the Congress of the United States, that it is best for the white men to live by themselves and for the red men to live by themselves.” They believed that it would be better for Americans and Indians to live separately. Of course, they expected Myaamiaki to move west of the Mississippi rather than remove the Americans from our land. In noting “the settled policy of the country,” Schermerhorn ignored that we Myaamiaki are a sovereign nation and were not subject to the “settled policy” of the United States Congress.
Schermerhorn’s pressure on us to remove turned threatening when he reminded us of the Cherokees who had refused to remove. “And what has been the consequence? – They have brought trouble and distress on themselves, as all Indians will do, who neglect the counsels of their Great Father.” Turning from the stick to the carrot, from threat to enticement, Schermerhorn extensively described how wonderful the land west of the Mississippi River was and how comfortable and happy the tribes who had removed there were.
Schermerhorn finally having concluded, Chappene, speaker for the Myaamia, responded by saying:
"Our Father, Listen to us your children, - we have little to say. Perhaps you want a short speech, so we will be very short. You have mentioned a great many different tribes who have gone west. What you have said is very true. But your red children here, the Miamies have no idea to follow their example. What is the reason when you talk to us, you always talk about going over the Mississippi. We were not raised there. It would be very hard for us to leave the bodies of our friends who are buried here."
Chappene addressed a theme that would be repeated many times over the following years. It is clear that the graves of our ancestors, our families and our friends are of primary importance to us as Myaamiaki, and we would not willingly leave them. Chappene continued,
"We have no intention to go there. This place where we are is a fat country. So we don't like to leave it. It is true you offer us money but of what use will that be to us. There is not one willing to leave. Don't expect we shall vary from this. We are of this opinion, and always shall be."
Once again, as in the previous year’s negotiations, we emphasized the value of the land to us. This council was following the same pattern as the previous years’ councils. They told us they wanted us to go. They tried to entice us. We were not interested in going. We would not remove.
Seeing that the Miami National Council was still resistant, Commissioner Porter responded by saying, “This is not the right kind of weather for councilling [sic]. – We have no clear sky – no bright sun.” Then, having started the council by saying that they wanted a treaty with us “for the purchase of your lands,” and after Schermerhorn’s sales pitch for the land west of the Mississippi, Porter lied, saying, “We do not come here to persuade you to sell your land.” He continued, “You are wise and know best what to do. – But we have come to communicate the wishes of your Great Father, and to hear what you have to say. – Your Great Father is interested for your good and will never advise you in any way to your injury.” The Americans still did not comprehend the Myaamia understanding of “father” as one who gives good gifts to his children. They thought we saw the President, our “Great Father,” as a patriarch who must be obeyed. Porter concluded with another lengthy speech.
When the council reconvened two days later on October 24, Porter, admitting that he had nothing new to say, again gave a very long speech. When he finally concluded, Chappene spoke,
"Listen to your children. Your children have listened to you. Your red children have nothing at present to say…You cannot expect an answer so soon. - We will take time, and when we have made up our minds, we will give you an answer. - We do not like it when you point across the river. - It is not pleasant to us. - But still we must consider what you have said, and if we make up our minds to that course, we will let you know."
Porter again lied, saying that he was not telling us we must go west of the Mississippi but that he only wanted to give us the chance to sell our land and remove. He agreed to meet again when we were ready.
When the council reconvened the following day, Chappene again spoke for the Myaamiaki:
"Father, listen to your children. We have considered what you said to us yesterday. Your red children understood you. They have made up their minds, and will now tell you what they are. You said yesterday you were waiting for an answer. We have thought over what you have said, and we have not changed from what we replied to you at first. We do not intend to change. - We listened to you yesterday with patience. But the opinions of your red children, the Miamies, are not altered. We have heard your speech, but are not inclined to give up our country, and have determined not to do so. - It is of no use to go over this again. You have asked us to give you a decisive answer. - We give you one. - All your children here, the Miamies, are of one mind. - You offer us a handsome sum of money, but compared with our country, it is of no more value to us than one pin. - This is all we have to say."
Once again determined not to take no for an answer, Porter tries to turn up the heat by saying,
"Listen to me…Yesterday when we began to talk about making a treaty, the Great Spirit seemed to be pleased, and the sun shone propitiously upon us. But to day [sic], though the sun had been shining very bright, and the sky was clear when you came to say what you have said, the Great Spirit was not so well pleased, and it became dark and rained…we are afraid you have not had time to think sufficiently on that subject."
The council ended with the Commissioners not satisfied with our refusal to go west. The following year, President Jackson sent Indian Agent Gen. William Marshall as Commissioner to negotiate a treaty. Marshall offered us $.50 per acre, considerably less than the $2.00 per acre the Jackson Administration had offered us the year before. Probably wearily, Richardville countered with a compromise price of $1.25 per acre. Ultimately, they agreed on a compromise price of $.96 per acre, less than we wanted but more than President Jackson had authorized Marshall to pay.
Just as these repetitive negotiations tire the reader of this blog post, the actual repetitive negotiations must have tired our Myaamia leaders. No matter how many times we said we would not sell our lands and remove west, the Jackson Administration kept demanding that we do so, while at the same time saying that they were not trying to make us do so. Ultimately, we agreed to sell the land to please the United States, but we did not agree to remove west.
Finally, on October 23, 1834, the Miami National Council signed the Treaty of 1834. We ceded lands reserved to us in earlier treaties, lands where our homes were located: at Flat Belly’s village, at Raccoon’s village, at the northern portion of the 10-mile Reserve near the Aboite Creek, and a portion of the Great Miami Reserve, which was by that time our largest communal landholding. Due to our negotiators’ skill, we received in exchange not only financial payment but a large number of reserves for individual chiefs so that they could take care of Myaamiaki in our traditional way. Our leaders are servant leaders who serve and care for their people.
President Jackson had been insistent that individual reserves not be included in the 1834 Treaty, but the American negotiators saw that we would not sign a treaty without them. Because the treaty included individual reserves, Jackson refused to sign and ratify it. Yet, the Jackson Administration continued the pressure for us to sell our lands and remove west. In March 1835, just a few months after we signed the treaty, Senator John Tipton, former Miami Indian Agent, wrote that President Jackson would “authorize negotiation” with Myaamiaki, “when they signify a willingness to sell their land and remove west of the Mississippi.” Jackson wanted a treaty with us, but only on his own terms.
We continued to resist removal. In January 1836, Indian Agent Gen. William Marshall wrote that in an interview with Principal Chief Richardville, he found Richardville “determined on not selling any more of their lands at this time.” In terms of the Treaty of 1834, however, Marshall reported that we were determined to maintain the reserves in the treaty because it “was made in good faith to individual Indians.”
In April of that year, the Jackson Administration appointed Henry Ellsworth to negotiate changes to the 1834 Treaty. After he met Principal Chief Richardville in Fort Wayne, Richardville wrote to Francois Godfroy,
“Mr. Ellsworth will be at the Forks of the Wabash on Wednesday morning to alter the Miami Treaty. I wish you come up and be there on that day say at 12 or 1 oclock if possible as he will not stay long - bring up with you Osan dear Wapapashiway, Pewapeah, Squirell as it is only to try and alter the present treaty and not to make a nother.”
At the April 29, 1836 meeting at the Forks of the Wabash, Mr. Ellsworth outlined the President’s objections to the treaty. The biggest issue was the reservations and the owner’s ability to sell the reservation to anyone. The President wanted a monopoly on buying reserve lands. But mostly, he wanted no more reservations to be made. National Council member Majenica responded,
“My father you recollect we have made a treaty. We liked it at the time and we don’t want to deviate from it. You hold the paper that was made at that time - we hope it may not be torn or altered. My Father at the time we made that treaty, it was with difficulty for us to sell you the land, and if you do not like it, we wish you to return it to us. My father--since you are not satisfied with the treaty made and concluded by us we should be pleased to have it returned. It would gratify us - as it appears you do not care much about our land. That is all my Father that I have to tell you. I speak for the whole.”
The Miami National Council showed that we never wanted the treaty. If the government no longer wanted the treaty, we would have been happy to have our land back.
In response to Majenica’s words, Ellsworth told us,
“Your Great Father…regards you as his children - He loves you as his children and has given you advice…What more can I do? I have only to return and tell your Great Father that you have rejected his advice. The talk is written down. I shall return and tell him what has been said by me to you and by you to me. I have only to say that I am not angry with you but sorry - This is all I have to say.”
Ellsworth was not only calling us the President’s children; he was treating us like children. In today’s language, we can almost imagine Ellsworth saying, “Do you want me to tell your Father on you?”
Richardville took a higher road in his reply:
“My Father--I have heard your words and so have my young men and women. I told you at Fort Wayne that probably nothing could be done. I came here to please you. The treaty made with us with Gen. Marshall we thought to be good, but since that it appears that there is a great deal of shifting...We have not sent to the Government to ask them to buy our lands. We did not want them to buy. We sold to please them at a fair price. The Great Spirit has placed us here. It is our land. We can do with it as we please.”
Richardville emphasized that we did not ask for a treaty to sell our lands; it was the U.S. government’s initiative.
Ellsworth finally asked if there was anything else to be done, and Richardville said, “There is nothing more.” We had had enough of these negotiations.
On the same day that Richardville and Ellsworth met in Fort Wayne, the Indiana State Government added to the pressure for our Removal by petitioning the Federal Government to remove us from Indiana. Even after our refusal to change the treaty and Indiana’s insistence on our Removal, Jackson still would not sign the 1834 treaty, and the pressure continued.
In July 1836, the U.S. Senate passed a Resolution requesting the President to authorize the Indian Agent in Indiana to negotiate treaties with the Tribes for a cession of all their lands in the State. Under this resolution, the President could send back the 1834 treaty for renegotiation, but Indian Agent Abel Pepper recognized that without some indication from Richardville that we wished to discuss the treaty further, “it will be useless to trouble either him or the President by any further negotiation on the subject.”
In November 1836, Martin Van Buren was elected President, and he took office in March 1837, and the negotiations on the Treaty of 1834 took a different turn.
Jonathan Keller, an early settler of Huntington County, Indiana, who worked for the Miami Nation as a miller, was appointed by President Van Buren as Commissioner to finalize the 1834 Treaty. Van Buren’s appointment of a man familiar to us was in itself a turn from Jackson’s practices. Keller wrote that in May 1837, he talked to “the principal chiefs” and told them that the Treaty of 1834 would not be ratified without modification. Our National Council asked for time to consult Myaamia people. On July 31, 1837, Chief Richardville, Francois Godfroy, and Majenica signed an agreement with Keller for the United States at the Forks of the Wabash to modify the Treaty of 1834. Showing the legitimacy of their signatures, Senator John Tipton and Representative James Rariden wrote that “we know Richardville and Godfroy to be the legitimate Chiefs whose authority is universally acknowledged by the miamies, met chench qua [probably Majenica] is a man of much influence and it is our opinion that any contract or agreement entered into by the above named chiefs will be implicitly conformed to by all the miamies.”
Finally, on October 12, 1837, the U.S. Senate passed a revised version of the Treaty of 1834, which was almost identical, with only minor changes, to the original treaty that Myaamia leaders signed in 1834. The Senate’s version did not affect the individual reserves in any way. On November 10, 1837, the Miami Nation met in council with Indian Agent Abel Pepper at the Forks of the Wabash to ratify the Treaty. One of our Myaamia leaders stated, “My Father: We are glad the Treaty we made with our Father the President is ratified… Father, You have told us you have power over the white men: we hope you have, and that you will extend your arm and remove some bad white men who have settled on our Reserves.” The Treaty was finally signed but not in time to prevent squatters from coming onto our reserves.
The Treaty of 1834 was not the only topic of discussion with Agent Pepper, who wrote that he met with the Miami Nation on November 10th “in General Council” about
“their disposition to make a further cession of land to the United States. They replied that they were willing to sell more land, but that they had been called together to receive their annuity in the midst of their hunt, to which they wished to return, that they would think of my proposition and give me an answer at the payment of the first installment due under the treaty the ratification of which they had just assented to.”
In other words, as soon as we signed the final version of the 1834 Treaty, the U.S. government asked us to negotiate the sale of more land. Responding that we wanted to get back to hunting, we were asking for a break between treaties.
The ratification of the 1834 Treaty was a significant victory for us. We had overcome the will of Andrew Jackson, the architect of the Indian Removal Act. Yet, although we delayed negotiating another treaty, we recognized that the pressure to cede our land and remove West would not cease.
In this blog post, we have seen that after years of refusing to sell additional land, exhausted Myaamia leaders agreed to sign the Treaty of 1834, but not without incorporating our demands, which included individual reserves and no provision for our removal west of the Mississippi. Although Jackson refused to sign the Treaty of 1834, which did not meet all his demands, we defeated him at his own game when the treaty was finally ratified under President Van Buren. And yet, the federal government kept coming back to us with pressure to sell more land and remove west. Our leaders continued to refuse. In next month’s blog post on April 2, we will see the impact of U.S. pressure to sign the next treaty.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.