In the previous entry, we saw that in the Treaty of 1838, Myaamia leaders agreed for the first time to consider a future Removal west. As we look at the Treaty of 1840, we will see how that agreement to consider became an agreement to remove.
For more than a decade, the United States government pressured the Miami National Council to agree that Myaamaki ‘Miami people’ would remove west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ By the end of the 1830s, that pressure had increased as white neighbors encroached onto Myaamia lands. Myaamia leaders resisted until 1840, but in this post, we will see that the Trail of Death of our Potawatomi neighbors, our growing debts, and the deaths of significant leaders broke this resistance and led the remaining National Council members to agree to Removal.
After the removal of the Potawatomi in 1838, known as the Trail of Death, we were the only tribe remaining in Indiana. We were surrounded by white Americans, and they were encroaching on our lands. On May 25, 1839, Indian Sub-Agent Samuel Milroy wrote to Majenica, Palaanswa, and Oonseentia, informing them that he had been appointed the Miami sub-agent and responding to a letter they had sent “to my predecessor Col Pepper, complaining of trespasses having been committed by the whites on your houses and fields in violation of treaty stipulations, her [sic] this moment been laid before me, and in answer have to inform you that measures will immediately be resorted to, to suppress the further repetition of similar grievances.”
It was no longer just the U.S. government that wanted our land; now our white neighbors were encroaching on our very houses and fields. Even before the 1838 Treaty, the government and traders had sought to purchase individual Myaamia reserves, possibly indicating that they expected or at least wanted Myaamiaki to leave.
Probably influenced by these and other pressures, the Miami National Council slowly began to change their views on considering Removal west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ On July 23, 1839, Indian Sub-Agent Milroy wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Crawford that when he had met with the Miami Nation in council, and they had told him,
“Father, when you spoke to us, requesting some of our young men to go and see the country set apart for us by our Great Father, you pointed to the setting sun and requested us to turn our faces towards it. Father we know we must go to that Country, our chiefs had told us so, but we do not wish to go at this time, our beds here are yet good and pleasant, and we wish to lie on them a while longer.”
National Council members seemed to be starting to see that though Removal was an unpleasant prospect, it might be inevitable. Still, they wanted to delay it as long as possible, and they decided against sending a delegation to Kansas at that time. Still, in September that year, Milroy sent a report saying that the National Council would be willing to send a party to explore the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ He suggested to the Office of Indian Affairs, however, that we go the following spring because “that season is greatly the most favorable time to see a prairie country, as in the fall these are burnt over, and present a most dreary aspect.” Of course, he wanted us to see the land at its best.
Milroy followed up on the matter in his letter to Principal Chief Pinšiwa (J.B. Richardville) on December 26 of that year, saying,
“It is the wish of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, that a party of your People would visit the country set apart for the Miamies west of the Mississippi early in next season, for which I am authorized to make arrangements. Will you have the goodness to let me know your wishes on this subject and if any will go, tell me how to proceed to organize the Party, the country is the property of the Miami nation, and it is the wish of their great Father that they should go and see it and let him know how they like it.”
As noted in the previous blog post, the land was already designated “the property of the Miami nation.” We had no say in where we would go when we were removed, in part because tribes that had been removed earlier occupied most of the other land. The government was probably convinced that if we liked the land set aside for us, we would be more willing to remove sooner. If we didn’t like it, they would still pressure or, as it came to be, force us to go there.
Again we see that on March 30, 1840, Sub-agent John Douglass wrote to William Crawford, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, that he was “requested by one of the Miami Chiefs that if I will go with them that a delegation of six will go in may [sic] to see and receive that portion of country that is designed for them by your Dept…” Despite all the discussions and planning, a Myaamia delegation did not go west until five years later.
Settling our debts with traders had been a significant concern throughout the decade, and by 1838 our accumulated debts were substantial enough to include in the treaty. As required by Article V of the Treaty of 1838:
“The said Miami tribe of Indians being anxious to pay all their just debts, 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….”
Nathaniel West was appointed as the commissioner to investigate financial claims against our Tribe. In his December 10, 1839 report to Commissioner Crawford, West included “a letter, signed by all the chiefs of the Miamies, presented to me in full council of the nation, and expressing their approbation of my proceedings.” His report then described his investigation:
“...every Miami debtor, whether male or female, if on the ground, has been brought before me and interrogated; and nearly the whole tribe were present, with the exception of the Me-shin-ga-missi (Mihšiinkweemiša) band, who, however, trade almost exclusively with one individual… And here I cannot refrain from bearing witness to the general honesty of intention of this people; indeed, I hardly met with an instance of gross and barefaced denial of a debt, unless the Indian knew he was right; then he was firm and decided, and unwavering in his replies…At my particular request, the principal chiefs were always present during the investigation, and I was always careful to give them the opportunity of making any remarks or objections which they at the time might think judicious; their whole conduct has been respectful and proper, and my intercourse has given me a high opinion of the intelligence of many of them.”
Defying popular stereotypes about Native peoples, West pointed out that we were honest, straight-dealing, and not trying to hide our debts. One might attribute that to a naïve understanding of financial matters, except that, as West noted, we were adamant about not being charged for items we had not purchased. We were honest in our dealings, even among those of us who did not have a good understanding of the market economy, and West recognized that we were intelligent people.
Still, our debts were quite extensive. West reported a total of $142,439.25 in debt claims against us, $94,010.40 of which were paid. That is the equivalent today of $4,899,854.70 and $3,233,921.13, respectively, an amazing amount of debt for less than 1000 people. More needs to be learned about these debts and how prices charged Myaamiaki compared with the prices our white neighbors paid for the same goods.
The deaths of significant leaders in the spring of 1840 must have also created pressure for Removal. In the previous decade, most of the experienced elder members of the Miami National Council passed away. By 1840, few elder leaders were still living. On March 25, 1840, the Indiana Democrat, an Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper, reported with elaborate stereotypical language, on the death of Majenica:
“Died lately, near the Forks of the Wabash, Mah-gin-e-kah (Majenica), sometimes called the Big Miami, a celebrated chief of the Miami nation. Mah-gin-e-kah was an Indian of rare and extraordinary endowment, one of the few remaining who were of pure Miami blood, and was a noble specimen of those men, who, within the last thirty years have exercised a controlling influence over the North Western tribes…when speaking in council, [he was] always commanding attention; for what he said was always found, judicious, and to the purpose. ‘The white people,’ he said, ‘when they speak against the Miamis, first hold up their hands; and you call upon the great spirit to punish them if they do not speak the truth; but (placing his hand upon his bosom) the Miami, when he speaks, does not call upon the great spirit--a Miami chief never lies.’”
In an apparent attempt to praise the deceased Majenica, the newspaper engaged in stereotypes and exaggerated truths. They are extolling his virtues at the expense of the rest of us, by comparison. According to this obituary, Majenica, unlike most Myaamiaki, was “a noble specimen.” For example, Majenica was by no means “one of the few remaining who were of pure Miami blood,” but this phrase taps into the stereotype of the vanishing Indian. Majenica is only considered great by white Americans because most Myaamiaki are considered not to be noble.
Majenica’s death was followed in less than two months by the death of Second Principal Chief Palaanswa (Francois/Francis Godfroy) on May 1. Samuel Milroy wrote to Commissioner Crawford,
“Francis Godfroy, principle [sic] War chief of the Miamies, died a few days since. The death of this chief will be a sivere [sic] loss to the tribe. Brave, liberal, and humane, he was a Father to his people, his place cannot be supplied from the Tribe, by an individual in any respect his equal. Had he lived it was his intention to have gone with the proposed exploring party to their country west of the Mississippi this season.”
James Rariden, a close friend who helped educate Palaanswa’s son Alaamhkikamwa (James Rariden Godfroy), called “Chief Richardville the soul of the nation now, Godfroy is no more…”
These two deaths, along with those of Little Duck and Mahkateemaankwa ‘Black Loon’, left Pinšiwa (Richardville) at age 79, the oldest living Myaamia leader, decades older than the remaining members of the National Council, who were quite young and inexperienced.
Less than three weeks after Palaanswa was buried, Pinšiwa went to Indian Sub-Agent Samuel Milroy and asked to negotiate a Removal Treaty. On May 25, 1840, Milroy, at Richardville’s request, wrote to Commissioner Crawford that the Miamies want to sell their land and remove west. He wants to know if he can negotiate a treaty with them at their next annuity payment. He “would now be much pleased to be enabled to inform chief Richardville of the intentions of the department in relation to purchase. I have, in general terms, assured them that the government was at all times willing to make the purchase so soon as they were disposed to sell. The chief, however, wishes a more definite reply.”
After more than a decade of pressuring the Miami Nation to remove west, one might expect the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to quickly take advantage of the opportunity to gain agreement from the National Council. On July 2, 1840, however, Commissioner Crawford replied to Milroy,
“I am not able to advise you definitely. It is a rule of the department, to open no negotiations for the purchase of Indian lands, without authority first obtained from Congress, by an appropriation to defray the expense, or otherwise...for the purchase of the lands in Indiana, still owned by these Indians; and your suggestions, as to the best method of accomplishing the object, shall receive attentive consideration.”
A month later, in an August 11 letter to Oliver H. Smith, at the time a Senator from Indiana, Allen Hamilton noted his and Richardville’s support for the making of a treaty, writing,
“During the winter, I addressed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, urging that power would be given to make a treaty with the Miami Indians, for the purchase of their remaining lands in Indiana; assuring him that they must treat…The old chief assures me, and authorizes me to say to you, that a treaty can be made at the time of the payment, without any additional expense to the government, for a cession of their remaining land, by giving them a few years to emigrate west-say three to five years…The Commissioner of Indian Affairs says to the Indian agent, the Senators will not go for a treaty, unless an appropriation is made by Congress to authorize the holding of one. I presume this is meant to cover expenses. I cannot see any good reason why any expense is necessary, beyond the three or four days’ provisions, always furnished at the payment.”
On August 20, Samuel Milroy again wrote to Commissioner Crawford to encourage the making of a treaty, saying that “authority to make this purchase [of Miami land] seems necessary to satisfy the Indians Chief Richardville asks why it is that a number of treaties which he refers to has been made without the sanctions of a previous appropriation.”
The following month on September 18, Commissioner Crawford wrote unofficially to Allen Hamilton regarding how to negotiate the treaty, without looking like that is what they are doing:
“You are aware that the Department of Indian Affairs…cannot negotiate and conclude a treaty with an Indian tribe, without a previous law authorizing and sanctioning the same. In the case of the Miamies there is no such authority or sanction. But it has been repeatedly represented to the Department that the Indians were now disposed to treat for a cession of their remaining lands, on just and equitable terms. It is exceedingly important to the State of Indiana that the Indian title should be extinguished, and it is possible that the inclination of the Miamies in regard of a sale may change. Although not authorized to hold a treaty, it is thought, by the Secretary of War as well as myself, that it would be in perfect consistence with the policy of the Department…to ascertain informally what the Miamies would be willing to take for their lands, when they would be willing to emigrate. Perhaps it might not be judicious to reduce any agreement about it to writing however informally…. A report from you, however, will answer all my purposes, as my object is to be able to say to each branch of Congress, upon what terms the Miami lands can be had by the United States: so that if the terms are approved the necessary law may be passed. I have written to Genl. Milroy that you will be requested to join him in this informal movement. It is presumed all that it would be practicable or proper to do, can be effected at the annuity payment without one dollar of expense. In truth there is no money applicable to such a purpose nor, if there was, would it be proper to expend it, or any part of it, in the way proposed.”
Despite Commissioner Crawford’s directive for a subtle, unofficial discussion and not a treaty negotiation, on November 19, Samuel Milroy wrote to Commissioner Crawford from the Forks of the Wabash, which had in recent years become the place for treaty negotiations:
“Not doubting from present appearances but that the Miami Chiefs will submit to Mr. A. Hamilton and myself a proposition as the basis of a treaty for the extinguishment of their title to their remaining lands in Indiana. And that in case of such proposition being agreed on by them. I am informed by their Chief (Pinšiwa) that I will be requested to visit Washington City.”
Only nine days later, the Miami National Council all signed what Milroy and Hamilton called “a proposition of the Miamies, to cede their remaining lands in Indiana in the form of a treaty,” agreeing to exchange the Great Miami Reserve for the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River’ and to remove within five years.
This proposition “in the form of a treaty” included additional exemptions from Removal, similar to the provision for Pinšiwa and his family in the 1838 Treaty. The treaty called for payment “to the family of said deceased chief [Francis Godfroy] their just proportion of the annuities of said tribe, at Fort Wayne, from and after the time the tribe shall emigrate to the country assigned to them west of the Mississippi.” The Treaty also stipulated that “the same provision made in favour of John B. Richardville and family” in the Treaty of 1838 be made to Mihšiinkweemiša and his brothers.
The sentiment of our Indiana neighbors toward this treaty was reflected right away on December 2 in the Logansport Herald newspaper, which reported:
“We are informed, that the Miamies have submitted proposals for the cession of all their remaining lands in Indiana, on terms more favorable to the government than any one acquainted with the value of these lands, believed could ever have been obtained. Their propositions have been given in the form of a treaty, as we are advised, from good authority, and so shaped as to need only the acceptance of the Department at Washington, and ratification by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. What the particular provisions of this informal treaty are, (as we may call it) we cannot say--but if such as we expect, there is no doubt of its ratification in a very short time, and the Removal from the State, of the only Indians now remaining, an event which will be gratifying to every Indianaian--on more than one account.”
It seems that at least the newspaper reporter could barely contain his glee over our impending departure. One might assume that at least some of our neighbors felt the same way.
Despite all Commissioner Crawford’s concerns about the formalities of the treaty negotiation, the United States Senate ratified the Treaty of 1840 with some amendments on February 25, 1841.
Some traders’ displeasure with the treaty led Samuel Milroy to be eager for the Miami National Council to ratify the amendments “with as little delay as possible to obtain such consent, as traders and other interested are engaged in encouraging discontent among the Indians in relation to the treaty.” Apparently, Pinšiwa had similar concerns. Allen Hamilton reported that Pinšiwa “expresses entire satisfaction—says there will be no difficulty in the procuring the assent of the tribe. He however wishes the Indians consultation before any improper influence can be used with them.”
On May 10, Allen Hamilton wrote to Commissioner Crawford that he had received the Treaty of 1840 with the proposed amendments and would present it to the Miami Nation. “I anticipate no difficulty in getting the tribe to consent to the amendments the Indians move so slow we may be detained a few days.” However, according to the May 22 Fort Wayne Sentinel, “the Miami Indians met at the Forks of the Wabash on the 12th [of the current month] for the purpose of deciding whether they would approve of the amendments made by the United States Senate to their late treaty or not…they have their consent to them.”
Likely exhausted by the stress of recent events, Pinšiwa died on August 13, 1841 at his house along the St. Mary’s River. His obituary appeared in newspapers throughout the United States. The local Fort Wayne Sentinel printed this obituary.
“Died - On the 13th [of the current month], at his residence on the St. Mary’s, four and a half miles southwest of this city, John B. Richardville, principal chief of the Miami nation of Indians, aged about 80 years. Chief Richardville, or “Piskewah,” (which is his Indian name, meaning in English “wild-cat,”) was born on the point across the Maumee river, opposite this city…and at a very early age, by succession, became the Chief of the tribe, his mother being Chieftainess at the time of his birth…. He spoke good French and English, as well as his native tongue, and for many years his house, which is pleasantly situated on the banks of the St. Mary’s, and which was always open for the reception of friends - was a place of resort for parties of pleasure, who always partook of the hospitality of his house…. He had always expressed a great anxiety to live, but when he became conscious that the time of his departure was near at hand, he resigned himself with perfect composure, saying that it was ordered that all must die, and he was then ready and willing to answer the call of the ‘Great Spirit.’ His remains were deposited in the Catholic burying ground with religious ceremonies.”
Like the obituary for Majenica, attempting to praise Richardville, the newspaper engaged in stereotypes and exaggerated truths. Although some statements in Richardville’s obituary are not completely accurate, it reflects how white Americans perceived him at the time.
As noted previously, the remaining National Council members were all very young and inexperienced. Because of Palaanswa’s death, Pinšiwa’s successor was unclear. In an August 16 letter to Allen Hamilton, trader George Ewing expressed his opinion about the potential next chief, naturally focusing on who would be best regarding the traders’ interests, likely based on gossip. He wrote that he was “truly sorry to hear of the death of Chief Richardville… I hope a good successor may be appointed to their late principal Chief. Who that should be is not for me to say, you will best know. I am told Ozandeah [Oonseentia] is the proper successor if so he will be a good man, for he is decidedly in favor of paying all the just debts & of removing west at once. Next to him I would suppose Lafontaine would be a safe man, yet he will not consent to move west I presume. Me-shin-go-me-she [Mihšiinkweemiša] I am fearful would not be a safe man, as I am told he is not in favor of paying debts & as all know he is opposed to going west. Poqua Godfroy is a rash man & is very unpopular among the Indians. I do not think he would answer or that he would be the choice of the Indians. Blk Raccoon is a sober man, would be their first choice. I have no doubt he may be ok any rate.”
Allen Hamilton wrote to Commissioner Crawford on September 5 from the Forks of the Wabash that the Miami National Council had selected a new Principal Chief. “To-pe-ah [Toohpia] or Lafontaine is the person selected by them as the head Chief of the Tribe. The Indians seemed unanimous in their selection. Their choice is a good one as Topeah is a very honest sober and somewhat intelligent man.”
In this article, we have seen the events leading up to the Miami National Council changing their minds and agreeing to sign the Removal Treaty of 1840. Shortly after the ratification of the treaty, our first principal chief of more than 30 years, Pinšiwa, died, and Toohpia was elected principal chief in his place. In the June 4 blog post, we will examine the circumstances behind the change in the National Council’s view of Removal and what their reasons for agreeing to Removal might have been. This article and the previous article noted some of the exemptions from Removal that were granted to specific families. We will examine this matter in the July 2 blog post.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.