Treaty of 1838

This audio file is a reading of the post that follows.

In the previous post, we saw that after years of refusing to sell additional land, exhausted Myaamia leaders agreed to sign the Treaty of 1834. As soon as we ratified the 1834 Treaty in 1837, the federal government came back to us with pressure to sell more land and remove west.

After the November 10, 1837 ratification of the Treaty of 1834, our Miami National Council continued to refuse to agree that we should be removed west of the Mihsi-siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ Our relatives, the Waayaahtanwa ‘Wea,’ the Peeyankihšia ‘Piankeshaw,’ the Peewaalia ‘Peoria,’ and the Kaahkaahkia ‘Kaskaskia,’ were already on reservations west of the Mihsi-siipiiwi in present-day Kansas. The United States government proceeded under the assumption that they would also remove us, following the plans they had been making for many years. It seems the assumption extended beyond the U.S. government, as seen in this December 1, 1837 report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Congress. The report noted that Anthony Davis, sub-agent of the Osage River Agency in present-day Kansas, had said that a Mr. McCoy reported that the Myaamiaki are “expected to soon locate in this country [now Kansas]”. 

Anticipation of our agreement to sell more land and remove continued to grow. On August 26, 1838, Superintendent of the Emigration of Indians Abel C. Pepper wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Carey Harris that he had had a “visit to the principal Chief of the Miamies, and am happy to inform you that there is every reason to hope that arrangements with them will be effected satisfactory to all concerned.” Treaty negotiations had begun once again, less than a year after we ratified the 1834 Treaty, and on September 26, Pepper wrote to Harris,

"I have this moment returned from the Miami payment ground. They have agreed to sell about one hundred and seventy thousand acres of land upon the terms which I think will be entirely satisfactory to the government. It is possible their minds may undergo some change before they assemble again, but I hope not."

Our leaders agreed to sell more land, but they knew what it was worth and were not about to be cheated out of it. On October 6, 1838, Nathaniel West of Indianapolis wrote to Commissioner Harris, discussing the looming treaty and said that due to the “particular selfish wishes of the old Chief Richardville has induced new views and I am now inclined to the opinion that only for 1/4 or 1/3 of their lands will be sold to the United States and at a high price.” And on November 1, 1838, the Logansport Telegraph reported,

"At the time we left the Treaty Ground, at the Forks of the Wabash, (last Tuesday evening)… From what we could understand before we left the payment ground, the Indians wished to make a treaty, but wished to make it to suit, particularly, themselves; that is, all the principal men in the nation wanted certain portions of the best land reserved for their own particular benefit. Upon these conditions, we hardly think a treaty will be made."

The Americans saw Pinšiwa ‘J.B. Richardville’ and the other National Council members as selfish and seeking their own benefit. Not understanding Myaamia chiefs’ role to provide for their people, they did not understand that our chiefs were wisely getting the best deal possible for all Myaamiaki ‘Miami people.’

The treaty that we signed on November 6, 1838 differed from past treaties in several ways. We will examine the differences found in this treaty and the significance of those differences.

Most similar to previous treaties was our agreement to sell and cede more land. In this treaty, we agreed that “The Miami tribe of Indians hereby cede to the United States all that tract of and lying south of the Wabash river” within certain bounds and additional land reserved to us from the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary’s. In exchange, the U.S. agreed “to pay the Miami tribe of Indians, three hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars….” 

After the signing, Abel Pepper sent Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Crawford the Treaty of 1838 from the Forks of the Wabash and explained it from his perspective.

"[The] tract acquired by the present cession embrace by far the most fertile, valuable and eligible lands belonging to the tribe...The value of their lands has of late become immensely enhanced through the system of internal improvements entered unto by Indians."

Internal improvements included homes, mills, fences, farms, horses, cows, etc. Pepper continued:

"The Wabash and Erie canal now completed for near a hundred miles, runs immediately along the whole boundary line on the south of the tract included in the cession...The Chiefs of the tribe were well aware of the enhancement in value which these important thoroughfares gave their lands. Their intercourse with their white neighbours north of the Wabash and their knowledge of the high rates at which lands in their immediate vicinity of an inferior quality to their own had been bought and sold, rendered it impossible to treat with them upon the same terms and with equal facility, as on former occasions."

In other words, Pepper believed that in past treaties, the U.S. was able to get a good deal because we had been less knowledgeable about the going rates for land in the area. Perhaps even more importantly, in the past we did not know about all the U.S. government’s plans for the use of the land. In negotiating this treaty, perhaps to a greater extent than with past treaties, we knew the value of our land and were only willing to sell it for what it was worth on the market. We negotiated for a fair payment and were less easy for the government to cheat.

We know the land had value to our ancestors that far exceeded its monetary worth. From earlier treaty negotiations, we heard Myaamia leaders describe the importance to us of the land of our ancestors. But it is somewhat surprising that at least some of those who negotiated to take that land from us also understood its importance to us. Pepper recognized our ties to the land, saying in his report,

"Again, the tract ceded is endeared to the tribe by many associations, and they parted with it slowly and with regret. Upon it are their principal villages fields and the ancient burying ground of their race. Its cession wholly excluded them from the Wabash river and leaves a section of but about miles of the Mississinewa accessible by them; a stream which has been their favorite resort for more than half a century, upon which are their oldest villages and upon those banks was enacted a portion of the bloody scenes of the last war..."

He knew the land was of great value to us, and yet he asked us to give it up. We did not want to part with these precious lands, and yet we did. Why? 

One clue to understanding this decision can be seen in the treaty itself. Article V states,

"The said Miami tribe of Indians being anxious to pay all their just debts [italics added], at their request it is stipulated, that immediately after the ratification of this treaty, the United States shall appoint a commissioner of commissioners, who shall be authorized to investigate all claims against said tribe which have accrued since the 23d day of October 1834…."

Myaamiaki had a practice of buying on credit with the understanding that the tribe would pay off the debts at the next annuity payment. Often the traders encourage Myaamiaki to incur debt by offering us credit to buy items when we did not have enough cash. Unfortunately, some individuals seem to have taken advantage or more likely, did not yet understand the market economy, which was still relatively new to most of us. Traders knew the Tribe would repay them for those debts, and the Tribe’s debts became very large. The only property we owned that could be used to pay off our debts was our precious land. This is exactly what the United States had planned from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Henry Harrison as early as February 27, 1803, saying,

“we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good & influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop th[em off] by a cession of lands. at our trading houses too we mean to sell so low as merely to repay us cost and charges so as neither to lessen or enlarge our capital. this is what private traders cannot do for they must gain; they will consequently retire from the competition, & we shall thus get clear of this pest [emphasis added] without giving offence or umbrage to the Indians.”

After this treaty, the only communal land left to the Miami Tribe was most of the Great Miami Reserve, about 500,000 acres in the middle of north-central Indiana.

Royce Map of Indiana showing Great Miami Reserve
This Royce map of Indiana shows the various land cession of the Miami Tribe and other tribes. We Myaamiaki were the last tribe to leave Indiana, and the Great Miami Reserve (outlined in black on the map) was our last remaining communal land after the 1838 Treaty.

After the three-year-long struggle with President Andrew Jackson over individual reserves set out in the 1834 Treaty, it is surprising to learn that fifty sections of land from the cessions in the 1838 Treaty were granted to individual Myaamiaki. Those individual reserves were essential to us, both as providing land to individuals and also for holding on to parcels of the land being ceded. As Pepper noted in his report, the land we ceded was along the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi ‘Wabash River’ and Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi ‘Mississinewa River,’ where our villages and homes were located. The individual reserves enabled us to keep some of our homes and villages within the ceded land. With this treaty, the individual reserves held additional importance to us, but why did Abel Pepper agree to the individual reserves on behalf of the U.S.? He explained in his report,

"I was anxious to prevent the insertion of the article providing for the patenting by government of individual reservations, while knowing the objection raised by the last treaty with this tribe, on that account. In fact, my opposition to this provision and the determination with which the Chiefs cling to it, has been the principal cause of the prolongation of the time occupied in consummating the treaty."

The previously quoted Logansport Telegraph article reflected the tenacity with which the Miami National Council held on to our individual reserves in saying that “all the principal men in the nation wanted certain portions of the best land reserved for their own particular benefit.” But the newspaper article did not reflect that the best land contained our very homes.

Pepper’s report continued:

"To have insisted upon a modification which would obviate the objections of government, would have proved fatal to further negotiations. If I were allowed to express an opinion on the practice which has obtained of patenting numerous reservations to individuals of Indian descent, I should say, that adopting the results of that practice in this Country as a guide, where it has largely prevailed, the system is liable to fewer objections than as generally represented. Taking it for granted that the paramount object of government in extinguishing the Indian title is the subjugation of the country from wildness to the pursuits of agriculture…the reservations being generally select tracts of lands, are usually sold by the grantee before the ratification of the treaty under which they are granted, and occupied before the country around them is brought into market…I will remark that but few, if any of the reservations made under of the treaty of 1834, remain unsold…."

Pepper’s observation proved to be true for this treaty, as many of the 1838 individual reserves had been sold by 1840. Pepper goes on to say:

"All the reservees are Chiefs or headmen of the tribe, whose co-operation was essential to forming a treaty. They were made with the general consent of the Indians not so much matters of favor as in requested for services rendered the tribe in the public relation the reservees occupy to them. Custom makes it necessary that these Chiefs and headmen should maintain an open hand to the poor and destitute of their people, that they should feed and cloathe [sic] them and extend to them the comforts of their Wigwams whenever an appeal is made to their benevolence. In selling their lands they look for reservations to be accorded them in recompense for these acts of charity and public service."

Although the Logansport Telegraph, and likely most of the Americans living in the area, did not understand that our leaders were fighting to keep our homes and to be able to take care of Myaamiaki, Pepper understood a bit more of our traditional ways and the role of our leaders in caring for us.

Far more startling than the ceding of our most valuable land was Article X of the 1838 treaty. For the first time in any treaty, we allowed the U.S. government to guarantee us land west of the Mihsi-siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River,’ and we agreed to consider Removal west. The treaty states,

"The United States stipulate to possess, the Miami tribe of Indians of, and guarranty to them forever, a country west of the Mississippi river, to remove to and settle on, when the said tribe may be disposed to emigrate from their present country [emphasis added], and that guarranty is hereby pledged: And the said country shall be sufficient in extent, and suited to their wants and condition and be in a region contiguous to that in the occupation of the tribes which emigrated from the States of Ohio and Indiana. And when the said tribe shall have emigrated, the United States shall protect the said tribe and the people thereof, in their rights and possessions, against the injuries, encroachments and oppressions of any person or persons, tribe or tribes whatsoever."

With this article of the treaty, we consented to the potential application of the 1830 Indian Removal Act to Myaamiaki. Myaamia leaders did not agree that Myaamiaki would remove west, but they did agree to consider it. Pepper commented favorably on this item in the treaty as he continued his report to Commissioner Crawford,

"I am happy to say that their disposition appears favorable to a removal. You will discover that the anxiety manifested as to the situation and extent of the Country west to be assigned them and the provisions made for their protection there, point strongly to a contemplated removal."

We also agreed to send a delegation to look at the land that would be reserved there for us. Article XI of the treaty contained this provision:

"It is further stipulated, that the United States will defray the expenses of a deputation of six chiefs or headmen, to explore the country to be assigned to said tribe, west of the Mississippi river. Said deputation to be selected by said tribe in general council."

The delegation did not go to see the land west of the Mihsi-siipiiwi until 1845, as reported on July 19, 1845, in the Logansport Telegraph:

"A small number--four or five--of the principal men of the Miami tribe of Indians passed through this place, on yesterday, on their way west, for the purposes of selecting a suitable country for their future homes, west of the Mississippi."

Of course, we were not able to select suitable land. The United States had already selected and plotted the land for us.

Given that our leaders had been so firm against removing west, it is shocking to see that they allowed this treaty to include a guarantee of land to which we might remove, that they agreed that they might “be disposed to emigrate from their present country.” Granted, they did not agree to be removed, but for the first time, they are considering the thought of Removal. What changed? Why did they change their minds? 

The simple but incomplete answer is that after so many years of pressure to remove, our leaders recognized that the United States would never stop their insistence and that our Removal was ultimately inevitable. Perhaps our leaders understood that Abel Pepper was right when he wrote in his report, “Their present situation confined within narrow limits, surrounded on every side with a white population present the alternative of speedy extinction or removal.” 

Our leaders may also have been influenced by observing the beginning of the Potawatomi Trail of Death only two months earlier, in September 1838. The Trail of Death specifically impacted the Wahoonaha ‘Potawatomi’ who lived in northern Indiana and whose villages neighbored some Myaamia villages. Myaamiaki likely saw the armed militia removing their Wahoonaha neighbors at gunpoint and burning their villages. Intended or not, the Trail of Death was a warning to Myaamiaki that what happened to the Wahoonaha could, and likely would, happen to us. The Miami National Council had to be aware of the frightening event that had occurred within the lands we shared with the Wahoonaha. It must have influenced their decision to consider Removal and avoid such a horrendous occurrence among our people.

Were members of the Miami National Council also aware that Abel Pepper, who was negotiating the 1838 Treaty, had also concluded the Potawatomi’s treaty for Removal? Did they know that Wahoonaha Chief Menominee wrote to Pepper:

"The President does not know the truth. He, like me, has been imposed upon. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and the graves of my tribe, and my children, who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog."

If they knew how Pepper had treated Chief Menominee, they may well have had concerns about how Pepper would treat them if they objected. They might also have worried that, as with the Potawatomi, the United States might also enforce Removal on us using a treaty signed by Myaamiaki who did not represent us.

Perhaps the most disturbing of all the provisions of the 1838 Treaty was Article XIV:

"And whereas John B. Richardville, the principal chief of said tribe, is very old and infirm, and not well able to endure the fatigue of a long journey, it is agreed that the United States will pay to him and his family the proportion of the annuity of said tribe which their number shall indicate to be due to them, at Fort Wayne whenever the said tribe shall emigrate to the country to be assigned them west, as a future residence."

Asking for this treaty provision allowing Pinšiwa ‘Richardville’ to be exempted from Removal makes it clear that he probably saw Removal as inevitable or at least extremely likely. It is also clear that he did not want to go and saw himself as not likely to survive the journey. Yet, he was willing to consider an agreement for the Removal of all other Myaamiaki. How could he do that? Is it possible that, as Nathaniel West had written the month before, he was indulging his own “particular selfish wishes”? Does that fit with all we’ve seen of him during the previous treaty negotiations? Or were there more profound reasons for his considering the Removal of Myaamiaki while seeking his own exemption from it? We will seek answers to these questions in future blog posts.

This blog entry has examined the provisions of the Miami Treaty of 1838, looking at the cession of the precious lands along the Waapaahšiiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River), the agreement to consider Removal, and the exemption of Pinšiwa ‘Chief Richardville’ from Removal. In the next blog post on May 7, we will see how the provisions of the 1838 Treaty culminated in the Removal Treaty of 1840.

Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at

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