Four Versions of a Little Turtle Speech at Greenville, 1795

Four Versions of a Little Turtle Speech at Greenville, 1795

*and a conversation about them

The following four primary sources all reveal aspects of a critical message delivered by the Myaamia leader Mihšihkinaahkwa ‘Little Turtle’ during the summer of 1795 at negotiations in Greenville in the Ohio territory. For the context, see our previous two blog posts about the Treaty of Greenville (Part One and Part Two). In March 2021, some staff at the Myaamia Center got together virtually for a brown bag chat about these sources, resulting in a wide-ranging conversation reproduced below. 

The four sources are introduced here in no particular order, including their citation and a short explanation. The first three are extracted from longer, eyewitness reports of the 1795 negotiations, each detailing many more days of speeches and events. The last is a modern re-translation of Little Turtle’s speech by the Miami speaker Gabriel Godfroy with interlinear translations by David Costa. All transcriptions are reproduced verbatim [sic].

Following the sources is a lightly edited transcription of the brown bag conversation itself, which delved into the value of translations, the contexts of the speech, and historical concepts of boundaries and territorial dominion so critical to Miami and U.S. history. Join the conversation below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Mihšihkinaahkwa’s “boundaries of the Miami Nation” mapped.

The Four Sources

1. “Diary of surgeon John F. Carmichael, June-Dec. 1795.” HM 827. The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

This version of the negotiations is my transcription of a manuscript that I saw at the Huntington Library in California some years ago. It was written by a medical surgeon present with the American army in Greenville. 

In council

Tarhee, or Crane, a Wyandot Chf was preparing to speak, but was interrupted by


Little turtle a Miami

Elder Brother-

I thought yesterday there was a mistake, in the interpretation, or in the Chief who spoke—for we ware surprised at his words;–You shall now hear what I have to say on that subject-

I have already told you, that neither I nor any of the Chiefs of my nation nation ware at Muskingum—and we known nothing of the transfer of the lands—

I do not understand our Elder Brothers the three fires—when they say the country is theirs—Open your ears and hear and I will tell, you whare you live, and, your boundries—

The Maumee Villiges, and the River is mine—the marks of my fore father’s houses, are yet plain to be seen—The Pattawatomies live on the St. Joseph, and on the Wabash—with the other Wabash indians tribes—The Tau-was live —

The Chip-pa-was-live on

Listen and I will tell you who has the right of soil—

The Great Spirit first settled my forefathers, at Detroit—and gave them all this country and told them never to part with there land,–And their boundary was, From thence to the head branches of the Sciota along the Sciota to the mouth from thence along the Ohio, to the mouth of the Wabash—and from thence up the Wabash to its source—from thence along a branch of    to     the southwest corner of lake       where we first saw our brothers the Shau-wa-noes these are our bounderies, and this is our land,–My fore fathers told me, not to sel our land, and we have never sold, it—

The Great Spirit, has not taken care of our elder brothers—for they have always sold their land to any white man who wore a hat—

In this image from John Carmichael’s journal, he sketches a figure representing the Myaamia leader named Soldier.

2. American State Papers, Indian Affairs, vol. 1: 570-571.

This official report is the only source used in the secondary literature. It is the most complete and accessible of the sources. Interested readers can find it here, on page 570.

I wish to inform you where your younger brothers, the Miamies, live, and, also, the Pattawatamies of St. Joseph’s, together with the Wabash Indians. You have pointed out to us the boundary line between the Indians and the united States, but I now take the liberty to inform you, that that line cuts off from the Indians a large portion of country, which has been enjoyed by my forefathers since time immemorial, without molestation or dispute. The print of my ancestors’ houses are every where to be seen in this portion. I was a little astonished at hearing you, and my brothers who are now present, telling each other what business you had transacted together heretofore at Muskingum, concerning this country. It is well known by all my brothers present, that my forefather kindled the first fire at Detroit; from thence, he extended his lines to the head waters of Scioto; from thence, to its mouth; form thence, down the Ohio, to the mouth of the Wabash, and from thence to Chicago, on lake Michigan; at this place I first saw my elder brothers, the Shawanese. I have now informed you of the boundaries of the Miami nation, where the Great Spirit placed my forefather a long time ago, and charged him not to sell or part with his lands, but to preserve them for his posterity. This charge has been handed down to me. I was much surprised to find that my other brothers differed so much form me on this subject: for their conduct would lead one to suppose, that the Great Spirit, and their forefathers, had not given them the same charge that was give to me, but, on the contrary, had directed them to sell their lands to any white man who wore a hat, as soon as he should ask it of them. Now, elder brother, your younger brothers, the Miamies, have pointed out to you their country, and also to our brothers present. When I hear your remarks and proposals on this subject, I will be ready to give you an answer; I came with an expectation of hearing you say good things, but I have not yet heard what I have expected.

3. “Report to Colonel England on Mission to Greenville,” Burton Historical Records, John Askin Papers (1928) 1: 564.

This version, the briefest, comes from the British subject (born to an Ottawa mother) John Askin, Junior, in his intelligence reporting to Col. England. Askin, like many, was deeply interested in the negotiations because his trading prospects hinged on access to Indigenous markets and producers in the region.

The Miamis spoke and said their Grand Father had given them these Lands and they were told not to sell them nor give them away and of Course the Tribes who had given them at Muskingum had no right to them, and several other words to the same purpose.

4. Little Turtle’s Speech, trans. by Gabriel Godfroy and David Costa. Jacob Piatt Dunn Collection, L047, Manuscripts Division, Indiana State Library.

Mihšihkinaahkwa Kiiloohkweeta

The English line (3) is taken verbatim from the published American State Papers official record of the speech. The Miami translation line (1) is from a retranslation from English back into Miami by Gabriel Godfroy, elicited by Jacob Dunn. The Miami has been fit to modern orthography by David Costa. The interlinear translation line (2) is provided by David Costa.

Iihseensa oolawi pisentawilo noonki iilwiaani.

older brother (voc.) | ‘I desire (pray)’ | listen to me | now | I say 

I hope you will pay attention to what I now say to you.

Kiwiintamoole kati ahšiimaki Myaamiaki eehi wiiyaahkiwaaci,

I tell you | will | younger siblings | Miamis | where | they stay

I wish to inform you where your younger brothers, the Miamis live,

aapooši Wahoonaahaki (of the St. Joseph’s), aapooši Waapaahšikenki mihtohseeniaki.

also | Potawatomis | also | Wabash (loc.) | Indians 

and also the Potawatomis of St. Joseph’s, together with the Wabash Indians.

Kiila šaaya meehci peemaahkonamani mihtohseeniaki meetaathsoopia. 

you | already | you draw it as a boundary | Indians | government

You have pointed out to us the boundary line between the Indians and the United States,

Kiwiintamoole kati peemaahkonamani ašiihkiwi wiihsa mihtohseeniaki keehkaawaaci,

I tell you | will | you draw it as a boundary | land | many | Indians | it cuts them off (?)

but now I take the liberty to inform you that that line cuts off from the Indians a large portion of country

noohsinaanaki eehi-pimiseniowaaci eehkwi ceeki aweeya kihkeelintamaani 

our fathers | where | they live | while | everybody | he knows it

which has been enjoyed by my forefathers, time immemorial, 

moohci ansihke aweeyaki nimiikaalikona nintepeelintantekohsiiwa*.

not | never | someone (pl.) | he fights us (?) | he does not make claims against me (?)

without molestation or dispute.

Miisaahaki eehkwa peemhkawaaciki neeminki awiikawaanki oowaaha ašiihkiwi

everywhere | still | traces | it is seen | their houses (loc.) | here | land

The print of my ancestor’s houses are everywhere to be seen in this portion. 

Niila kikawe waaciinkwiiteehiaani eehpiši kiila weechsaamakiki oowaaha weeyaahkiciki noontamaani,

I | ‘somewhat’ | I worry | ‘when’ | you | my brothers (1 > 33) | here | they dwell | I hear it

I was a little astonished at hearing you, and my brothers who are now present,

aatotankwaatiiciki iišišiniyani milohta mihtami Muskingum ooniini ašiihkiwi aatotameekwi.

they talk about it to each other | what you do | before | first | Muskingum | this | land | you (pl.) talk about it

telling each other what business you had transacted together heretofore at Muskingum concerning this country.

Ceeki kiihkeelintaminki weechsaamakiki weeyaahkiiciki kiintoohki pootaweeta noohsa Ee(h)kakamionki,

all | it is known | my brothers (1 > 33) | they stay | ‘first’ | he builds a fire | my father | Detroit (loc.)

It is well known by all my brothers present, that my forefather kindled the first fire at Detroit,

niiyaanci kiikaapiikahank Scioto eehonci maaciihtanki,

from there | he draws a line on it | Scioto | from where | it flows out

from thence he extended his lines to the headwaters of Scioto from thence to its mouth

niiyaanci eehi saakiiweeki Kaanseeseepiiwi niiyaanci Waapaahšiiki eehi saakiiweeki Kaanseeseepionki

from there | where | it joins, confluence | Ohio river | from there | Wabash river | where | it joins, confluence | Ohio river (loc.)

from thence, down the Ohio, to the mouth of the Wabash;

niiyaanci šikaakonki kihcikamionki.

from there | Chicago (loc.) | sea (loc.)

from thence to Chicago, on lake Michigan.

Niiyaaha kiintoohki nihseensaki šaawanooki neewakiki.

there | first | my older brothers | Shawnees | I see them 

at this place, I first saw my elder brothers the Shawnees. 

Noonki šaaye meehci weentamoolaani eehi Myaamiaki teepeelintankiki eehi noohsina pooniaminci miišimaaha

now | already | after | I tell you | where | Miamis | they own it | where | our (excl.) father | he has us (excl.) | long ago 

I have now informed you of the boundaries of the Miami nation, where the Great Spirit placed my forefather a long time ago,

“Wiihkata ansihke ataaweehsoolo ooniini kitašiihkiomi”, iišita noohsina, “kiniicaanhsawa kati eelooweelintankiki”.

don’t | never | do not sell it | this | your land | he says to me | our (excl.) father | your (pl.) children | will | ‘they have the benefit of it’

and charged him not to sell or part with his lands, but to preserve them for his posterity.

Niila ooniini poonamawinki

I | this | (it) is handed to me

This charge has been handed down to me.

Taaniši toki iišiteehiaani moohci nimaamaanteešiteehiminaan ooniini iilaatotaminki

how | I wonder | I think | not | we (excl.) think alike | this | it is spoken of thus

I was much surprised to find that my other brothers differed so much from me on this subject:

Malami iišileniwaata aalaamhtoonci kati noohsina noohsinaanaki moohci naahpi wiintamawaaciki iišimenki.

too | they do so | he is believed | will | our (excl.) father | our (excl.) fathers | not | also | they tell him | I am said 

so to 

for their conduct would lead one to suppose, that the Great Spirit, and their forefathers, had not given them the same charge that was given to me, 

Kwitakinkiši iišileniciki ataaweeko atašiihkiomawe mihtami Mihšimaalhsa kwicimolekoci

otherwise | he does thus | sell (imp.) | their land | first | white person | he (obv.) asks him

but on the contrary, had directed them to sell their lands to any white man who wore a hat, as soon as he should ask it of them

Iihseensa noonki wiintamoohkiki teepeelintamoowa* ahšiimaki Myaamiaki 

elder brother | now | they tell you | they govern it (?) | younger siblings | Miamis

Now, elder brothers, your younger brothers, the Miamis, have pointed out to you their country, 

aapooši ceeki weechsaamankwiki oowaaha weeyaahkiciki

also | all | our brothers (12 > 33) | here | they stay

and also to our brothers present. 

Meehci kati noontoolaani kiwiintamoole

after | fut. | I hear you | I tell you 

When I hear your remarks and proposals on this subject, I will be ready to give you an answer.

Oowaaha pyaayaani peehki ninoontawaa kati iileelimelaani moohci naahpa kinoontoohsoole.

here | I come | good | I hear him | will | I think of you thus | not | but | I do not hear you

I came with an expectation of hearing you say good things, but I have not yet heard what I expected.

A Conversation

Brown bag conversation, March 4, 2021.

George Ironstrack: Gabriel Godfroy’s version strikes me as a straight up translation from the English he was provided. We know there is a major language shift between Little Turtle’s time (ca. 1795) and Gabriel Godfroy (ca. 1890). Not that Godfroy wouldn’t have understood Little Turtle’s speech, but I don’t think it tells us a lot about the actual words Mihšihkinaahkwa spoke on that day or the oratorical style he might have used for that circumstance. For the American State Papers version, we know that William Wells was the interpreter and so I tend to trust the interpretation at a pretty high degree on account of his level of fluency and relationship with Little Turtle, and we also see them working hand in glove politically, which helps me to trust the initial translation, at least. I’m struck, when I go back and read it, by Little Turtle’s definition of space, because nobody else from the tribes at that treaty attempts to define their space at all, much less defined it in a way that puts a roadblock in Anthony Wayne’s plan for what’s going to happen at the negotiation, and I don’t think we have a lot of good examples from that period of Indigenous descriptions of homelands. He’s very much just describing it by outside borders, which strikes me as very culturally important in that moment, if you’re trying to defend your territory by defining it. It’s not very culturally resonant in the way territory… we can see in old [documents], the territory was defined by central cities, not by peripheries. I’d be curious if folks have read others, especially in the language or in heavy [Algonquian] language context with good translations, where tribal leaders in the Great Lakes are defining the boundaries of their territories?

Hunter Lockwood: On the question of “are translators trustworthy?” Sometimes absolutely, but sometimes never. And then this piece [Little Turtle’s speech], one of the things I noticed about that boundary definition is that it’s basically all using the rivers and watersheds. So one of the things I’ve been thinking about also is:  what sorts of things are hard to translate, and what sorts of things are relatively easier to translate in general? In Algonquian languages, defining rivers and boundaries is not the most unnatural thing in the world and I could imagine reasons including contentious discussions over space in this shared territory [in the Great Lakes]. But when you get a really specific delineation of space according to colonial units, that’s when things get murky. So, some of the later treaties have “such and such many miles” and “such and such many subdivisions,” and even today, with modern speakers of Ojibwe, for instance, speakers will not always talk about those things the same way.

David Costa: One thing Rich Rhodes talked about long ago, when I was a grad student, he said that one of the big salient differences between how territory was conceived of back then versus how white people conceived of it is white people came with a conception that rivers were boundaries. Whereas in North America, at least in the Great Lakes and Midwest, rivers were, that was the heart of territory, so conceiving of those as boundaries as Europeans were wont to do was a drastic change. Because, as you know, that was how people got around. People would take huge detours to get from A to B by following rivers when, if you look at it, as the crow flies a direct line will be much shorter but also next to impossible to do.

Daryl Baldwin: Right, and I think that’s a good point because, when we look at Little Turtle’s words, we have to understand the context in which he’s speaking and he’s trying to speak in another language. I’m saying that conceptually. He’s speaking to someone who is trying to take his land, so you’re right, I think that the notion of homeland is “where I live,” and that’s probably the way it was thought of in the context of the language. We use ‘Myaamionki’ all the time, it’s ‘where the Miamis are at.’ The boundaries are probably heavily influenced because treaty negotiations are not about tribal epistemologies, but about American ideas of land ownership and boundaries. Little Turtle and the other leaders are having to figure out how to talk in those terms, and this might have been a good example of an early attempt for Little Turtle to speak in those terms.

David Costa: Yeah, even though I think he did not speak English, it is actually an interesting big adaptation to European ways of thinking. It’s already evident.

Cameron Shriver: In the John Carmichael version, I’m struck by how similar it is to the American State Papers version. They almost fully agree, but there are some interesting details in the Carmichael version. “Open your ears and I will tell you where they live,” he says. “The marks of my forefather’s houses are yet plain to be seen. … The Potawatomis live on the St. Joseph and the Wabash, the Ottawas live at ‘blank,’ the Ojibwes live on ‘blank,’ and there are other place names that Carmichael apparently could not write down. Little Turtle is saying explicitly where the Ottawas and Ojibwes and Potawatomis live, and Carmichael just doesn’t know what those words mean or Wells is not translating them from the Miami names. So he’s kind of mixing a centered version–maybe they live on this river or that river–and then switching to describe the boundaries of the Miami Nation. That’s interesting.

George Ironstrack: And the historical context here: there are three fraudulent treaties [Fort Harmar, Fort McIntosh, Fort Stanwix] that Little Turtle is essentially trying to knock out from underneath this negotiation. At those treaties [Wyandot leader Tarhe] is one of the people and some Ojibwe or other people who ceded our lands although we didn’t attend those treaties, because we didn’t see them as legitimate. So, when you enter that part of the negotiations, that context is really important.

Cameron Shriver: Yeah, there’s a real tension because Mihšihkinaahkwa is kind of on an island in this treaty council, and increasingly so, as the only one who is willing to challenge Anthony Wayne. He is clearly trying to refute and say that those earlier treaties with the Ottawas and Ojibwes were void because key groups, Miamis and Shawnees, weren’t there. Groups from Michigan are selling Southern Ohio and he’s like “nope, you live there, we live here” and “I’m surprised you would sell that land to any white man who wears a hat,” a phrase that appears in both versions. There must be something there. 

Hunter Lockwood: Certain modern varieties connect that [hats] to Frenchmen. The hat is a trade good brought in for trade; that’s how I learned it anyway. That’s actually white people in general, “one who wears a hat” in some versions of Miami-Illinois.

George Ironstrack: Yeah, the wearing of hats shows up all the way through the early nineteenth century, like the [Shawnee] Prophet talks about the wearing of hats is like a sign of white people but also selling out, and there’s a hat in his vision and there’s all these references to hats that go back in time. But it’s really interesting, and again, to me it is a huge violation of treaty protocol, [Little Turtle] is essentially name calling, is what’s going on there. It just shows the tension; imagine the backroom tension. It very much feels like Andrew Cayton writes, that this is political theater. Imagine being there on the day as well as the following night when people around the campfire are talking about this after the fact, and planning what they’re going to say the next day.

Cameron Shriver: There’s another context here, to what Wayne is saying. Wayne is arguing, “hey you Miamis, you sold your land to the French, the British conquered the French, and we conquered it from the British, and therefore we get that land fair and square.” Wayne’s saying “you have already sold your land, get off your high horse Little Turtle and admit that you are already colonized,” and so I wonder if Turtle is using that “white man who wears a hat” to mean all settlers or colonists, French, British and Americans, versus the clear distinction between an American and a British and a French person.

David Costa: I just looked into my etymological dictionary under ‘hat’ and Gatschet learned “eetehtolenia” as ‘someone who wears a hat.’ Sarah Wadsworth evidently told Gatschet, “this was the first name given by Wea Indians to the white people.” It’s pretty impressive that Wadsworth was born in the 1850s would remember that. 

Cameron Shriver: Godfroy does not use a hat term, it looks like he just says “mihsi-maalhsa.” (Long Knife). But he was reading the American State Papers version, or Dunn was reading it to him for translation.

Daryl Baldwin: This was stated earlier in our conversation, but I just want to reiterate that Godfroy’s translation of the treaty speech is nothing more than his language interpretation, and so I’ve never attempted to look at that as a representation, especially for cultural concepts that Little Turtle might have been trying to express.

David Costa: Yeah, I agree. Though I do wonder whether Godfroy put something into his translation that’s not immediately evident, that might not have been characteristic of his normal speech. You know, there was an oratorical style. There might have been some subtle things about how Godfroy translated this that might have been harking back to “well I kind of remember when I was a kid when people would make speeches.” Maybe he tried to throw in a few old-fashioned turns of phrase into it, like [Thomas Wildcat] Alford did when he translated the Shawnee Bible.

Hunter Lockwood: I think that’s true to a large extent. It’s a linguistic exercise, but I think there’s a value to it in that there is a broader perspective also. When we’re looking at these old interpretations, which parts are really tricky to translate and which parts aren’t? The strawman argument, maybe, says that this stuff is impossible to translate into languages that are so hopelessly different that there is no way to communicate between them. And so it’s useful to say no, these are things that are translatable; that if Miami speakers speak English, they could say: “here’s how you would configure these descriptions of space.” And also, “there are the concepts that are tricky.” I think that is useful. Godfroy showed years later that these boundaries were relatively straightforward to translate.

George Ironstrack: And there are little things in there that, if we didn’t know from outside sources, would help us like kinship terminology. Brother is actually ‘elder brother,’ and you know younger brother is actually ‘younger siblings.’ It opens up a little bit of a cultural door, so it’s not useless in terms of understanding the speech in that way, but it gives us more questions to ask about the intercultural communication that was occurring at Greenville in 1795.

David Costa: In the version I [translated] I had to give both [the American State Papers] version and another translated version of what Godfroy is actually saying, because there are some places where [Godfroy’s Miami] really departs from the English. There’s actually a bad match between Dunn’s translation and the Myaamia language itself, so Godfroy is applying some of his own intuitions to this. Whether or not there is some echo of the oratorical style that he might remember is tougher to say. It’s definitely not just a slavish [word for word] translation.

Cameron Shriver: I think we all know that you can translate any idea across languages, but there’s an outdated idea in the literature that Native people don’t know what a boundary is or don’t understand or have a notion of land ownership, and so there are a few ways that Godfroy relatively easily translates what could be an abstract idea, but it’s not problematic for him. Like for boundary, he says, ‘draw a line’ and that’s a boundary. OK, that’s no problem. But then, when he describes the “boundaries of the Miami nation, where the Great Spirit placed my forefather a long time ago,”–he just says ‘Myaamiaki,’ by the way, not ‘Miami nation,’ there’s no “nation” term–but rather he translates: “I tell you where the Miamis, they own it, where our (exclusive) father, he has us (exclusive) long ago.” So, those exclusive ideas are, well, that’s kind of what property is, that is what dominion is, it’s something exclusive not inclusive. So the words he chooses to use for boundaries of the Miami nation are interesting to me as well.

George Ironstrack: Who was it, was it Bundy that answered the question: how do you say nation? He just said “ceeki” [‘all/everything.’]

Daryl Baldwin: I’ve also long wondered about people, about where they’re from as in their village, and that the extent of their domain largely hinged on how friendly they were. If they were friendly, they could get close, and if they weren’t friendly you stayed farther away from them. I always felt like that ability to interact hinged on one’s perception of another. Different tribes would have different degrees of association with different groups, so there was this middle gray space between villages that was constantly in ebb and flow and maybe even seasonally as summer villages broke into winter camps and so on and so forth. And then you work in the whole notion of travel and my guess is that on a portage, people could get through fine, but you didn’t venture off that portage into certain areas. I think it was a very complex social landscape that would have been guided by a lot of different human forces that didn’t have clear distinct boundaries, and just like it is hard to describe what animate or inanimate [nouns] means, it’s pretty hard to describe who belongs to a bounded geography.

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