Why did the Miami National Council agree to Removal?

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

In previous blog posts, we have seen that the Miami National Council, led by Pinšiwa ‘J.B. Richardville,’ was adamantly opposed to Removal, even as they saw other tribes being forced west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ Their stance on the inevitability of Removal began to shift with the Treaty of 1838, and by 1840, they proposed and signed a Removal treaty. In this article, we will examine the circumstances that may have influenced this change of view.

The Last Tribe Left

During the decade preceding 1838, the environment in Indiana had changed considerably. Our relative tribes, including the last of our younger brothers, the Waayaahtanwa ‘Wea,’ were already living west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ Only the Wahoonaha ‘Potawatomi’ who lived just north of the Wabash River remained with us. After the 1838 Wahoonaha’s forced removal in their Trail of Death, we were the only tribe left in Indiana, and the U.S. government continued to pressure our National Council to agree to Removal. Not long afterward, Pinšiwa ‘Richardville’ began to see that the American government was not going to give up until we too were removed or had at least sold them all our land.

Painting of Pinšiwa 'J.B. Richardville'
By the time of the 1840 Treaty, Principal Chief Pinšiwa ‘J.B. Richardville,’ at age 79, was by far the oldest living member of the Miami National Council. He died in August 1841, only a few months after ratifying the Treaty of 1840. Image courtesy of the Fort Wayne History Center

At the same time, white Americans were surrounding us and were even encroaching on the land we still held. In an April 25, 1839 letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Crawford, Miami sub-agent Abel Pepper reported that the Miami National Council had expressed concern that White men were trespassing on our Reserve lands and property. Pepper suggested that we should be removed soon to avoid trouble. Following up on this matter a month later, new Miami sub-agent Samuel Milroy wrote to Majenica, Palaanswa, and Oonseentia confirming that he had just received our complaint about the trespassers and saying that he had to “inform you that measures will immediately be resorted to, to suppress the further repetition of similar grievances.” In a November 6, 1838 letter to Crawford, Pepper posed the frightening alternatives to conflicts with our white neighbors, commenting, “[The Miami’s] present situation confined within narrow limits, surrounded on every side with a white population present the alternative of speedy extinction or removal.” It seems that despite Milroy’s promise “to suppress the … grievances,” he could do nothing. The American solution was for us to be removed, not to remove or even stop the trespassers. Our neighbors were making life more and more difficult for us.

Death – National suicide propensity

Our isolation as the last tribe in Indiana and continued incursions by white Americans created an unhealthy atmosphere for Myaamiaki, especially for our men. Since our first land cession in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, the traditional roles of Myaamia men, hunting and going to war, had diminished. Although Myaamia men participated in the fur trade, they were only able to hunt in the Great Miami Reserve and in the river valleys of our individual reserves. Our access to hunting and fishing was considerably less than 50 years earlier. Prior to 1795, our men were raised to defend their communities militarily and always had opportunities to exercise their military prowess. For most of the young Myaamia men who fought at the Battle of the Mississinewa during the War of 1812, this was likely their first experience with a true Myaamia militia, and after the War ended, military resistance was no longer a viable option for us. Myaamia men could no longer experience the glory that their elders had earned by exploits in battle. To add insult to injury, the Americans expected Myaamia men to do farm work, which had been the role of Myaamia women since time immemorial. Myaamia men were not about to do women’s work, especially since white men were willing to be hired to farm for Myaamia families.

In these circumstances, Myaamia men felt demoralized because they had few traditional ways of providing for their families and protecting their communities. They were restricted from carrying out responsibilities that made a Myaamia man a man. Many had nothing to do with much of their time but had large amounts of annuity funds at their disposal. So, as has happened throughout history when men are not permitted to live as men, Myaamia men turned to alcohol and violence. Previous to this time, we drank alcohol for pleasure and enjoyment. In this stressful time, excessive alcohol consumption became a way of life for some, as they drank to escape the oppressive reality of their lives. Violence and war occur in all cultures, but the oppression and the influence of alcohol led many Myaamia men to turn violence inward against themselves and our community. This brutal episode in our history was unprecedented for us.

In his 1839 letter to Commissioner Crawford, Nathaniel West described the desperate measures Myaamiaki took in an attempt to survive their untenable situation:

“Respecting the present condition of the Miamies, I truly regret being obliged to say to you that they are fast sinking into those wretched habits originating from intoxication, and too great intercourse with the white people, as will, in a very few years, entirely destroy them, unless removed west of the Mississippi... I also regret to say that, with the exception of the Me-shin-ga-missi (Mihšiinkweemiša) band, who are well taken care of by an intelligent and prudent chief, the Miamies are fast diminishing in numbers. The chiefs inform me that, since I was with them in 1838, more than sixty have died, and a very large proportion by violence. Of this I have not a doubt; for, during my investigation, there were six cases of bloodshed, and one of which was instantly fatal; and this but a short distance only from my cabin. All the Miamies, both male and female, carry a knife; many use the Bowie knife, and, in addition, carry a loaded pistol in their hands….”

For many of us, the violence turned inward was fatal, as reported by Samuel Milroy, the Indian Sub-Agent, on September 19, 1839:

"…one of their principal chiefs communicated the fact to me through the interpreter, Capt. Andre, that in his knowledge, in eighteen years 450 men and 36 women had perished by the knife…this national suicidal propensity [emphasis added] is wholly occasioned by intemperance, as there is perhaps no instance of killing among them except when intoxicated."

The pressure of this time more significantly impacted Myaamia men than women. This violence was primarily among men, as can be seen in the vast difference in the numbers of men who are murdered compared to women. We can see the continuing result of internal violence as our population diminished from approximately 1000 Myaamiaki in 1830 to about 600 in 1846.

Allen Hamilton expressed his concern in an August 11, 1840 letter:

"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, and remove beyond the influence of those men around them, or a total extinction of the race would be the consequence of their remaining.”

Once again, Americans saw our problem as being too near to them, and yet they expected us, who had been here since time immemorial, to remove.

Deep in debt

Another pressing issue for the Miami Nation was our continually rising debts, as noted in the previous blog post. These debts were closely tied to payment for the lands we ceded at each treaty. With each land cession, we lost places to hunt, fish, gather plants for food and useful items, and farm. The treaty annuities were supposed to enable us to buy what we no longer could work for, due to land loss. Financially, these payments may have come close to making up the losses, but still, the price per acre that we received was often less than the going rate at which our white neighbors bought and sold land. Because of the vast acreage of land ceded, the total dollar amounts paid to the tribe with each treaty seem quite large. For example, Article II of the 1834 Treaty says,

“For and in consideration of the cession made in the first article of this treaty, the United States agree to pay the Miami tribe of Indians the sum of two hundred and eight thousand dollars; of this sum fifty-eight thousand dollars to be paid within six months from the ratification of this treaty, fifty thousand dollars to be applied to the payment of the debts of the tribe, and the remaining sum of one hundred thousand dollars in annual installments of ten thousand dollars per year.”

These are clearly large amounts of money, but let’s take a look at the value today. Here are the approximate 2021 equivalents of these dollar figures:1


1 Current equivalents of dollars in 1846 are not exact, and the purchasing power of an 1846 dollar would have differed from the face value. These “equivalents” are provided to give a sense of the approximate values of these payments in today’s terms.

Despite these very large payments, Nathaniel West’s investigation of our debts found that between the 1834 and 1838 treaties, we had accumulated $142,439.25 in debts claimed against us and $94,010.40 which West authorized as legitimate debt. The exact amount of our debt was disputed between the traders and the U.S. government, but even with reductions and considering inflated prices, that is a large debt for fewer than 1000 people to have accumulated through the purchase of material goods. Still, for some of us, there seemed to be no limit to what we could spend.

Our early dealings with French traders often involved a form of credit by which the exchange of goods was extended to match Myaamia hunting patterns. By the early 19th century, some Myaamia, such as Pinšiwa ‘J. B. Richardville’ and Palaanswa ‘Francois/Francis Godfroy,’ were traders who quickly adapted to the American market economy.

Starting with the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary’s, Myaamia began to receive those large annuity payments in exchange for the loss of subsistence that had come from ceded lands. As American traders came into the region in the late 1820s, we began to use those annuities to buy objects we needed and items we wanted, including things of beauty – fine fabrics, silk ribbons, gorgets, and other decorations. We valued looking good, especially at important events, such as treaty negotiations.  It was during the 1820s and 1830s that we saw the first peak of ribbonwork production. Women had bought silk ribbons as early as the mid-1700s, but during this period, they used the ribbons to create elaborate pieces with geometric, diamond-shaped designs that were not only for their own clothing but also for the men’s leggings and other garments. Examples of the fine clothing with ribbonwork and gorgets can be seen in James Otto Lewis’s paintings of Myaamia men in fine garb at the Treaty of 1826 negotiations.

Americans, however, often criticized us for our fine clothing. At those 1826 negotiations, Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass commented that he hardly recognized us wearing our hats and silverwork and without our “ragged blankets.” We liked to look good and could now afford to do so. Yet our American neighbors who saw themselves as better than Indians often could not afford good clothing and jewelry and saw in our attire a sign of undue arrogance based on their stereotypes of us as lazy and undeserving.

In a letter to Commissioner Crawford on December 10, 1839, Nathaniel West also criticized our pleasure in beautiful things and explained the Myaamia debt in this way:

“Their extravagance is unbounded, and I have no doubt that, since the treaty of November 1838, they have contracted debts for a large amount. They will wear none but the finest and most costly apparel, and look even with contempt upon cheap and low-priced articles of clothing, however useful it may be. I have sent you a small package, containing patterns of cloth generally worn by the Miamies, with the prices, that, by inspection, you may at once perceive how extravagant this people have been. In fact, my reports show large amounts of debts against individuals."

When dealing with the financial matters of our debt, West is clearly very careful to be accurate, but his bias against us comes through just as clearly in his personal opinions about our fashion sense.

By early in the 1830s, everyone knew that the traders would allow us to buy on credit and that the tribe or individual village leaders would pay for it with further land sales. And so, traders encouraged our excessive spending. Many of us had only learned to budget money in recent years. We neither saw a need to limit our spending nor foresaw the potential impact of excessive spending. We could easily get the best products with seemingly no repercussions and no direct cost to ourselves. From that perspective, we must have seen no reason not to have the best and the most beautiful. With the extreme increase in money and credit, it must have seemed to some of us that the funds were unlimited.  We have seen similar situations in modern times with those new to using credit cards.

Nathaniel West foresaw repercussions from our debts, as he continued in his letter to Crawford:

“But there are yet some few high-minded exceptions [to the excessive spending]…. These exceptions were but few, and will be less; for all of them are beginning to see that the profligate part are wasting away the common patrimony, and that prudence and economy meet with no reward.”

In a September 24, 1840 report, Samuel Milroy expressed concern that we had become lazy due to the availability of annuity money. Not understanding Myaamia gender roles, Milroy, like other white Americans, saw our men, in particular, as lazy because they did not do the same kinds of work that American men did. This lack of understanding, combined with the loss of opportunities for traditional Myaamia men’s work of hunting and going to war, led to an assumption that Myaamiaki were lazy. Milroy wrote:

"…the cause of their using no industry for their support, is, no doubt, the large amount of their annuities and other sums of money received for lands sold to the Government: trusting to these as the means of support, the habit has grown up, of depending on them for a sustenance. They purchase all their clothing, and nearly all their food, from the traders; depending on paying for them at the payment of annuity, or when additional lands are sold to the Government; purchasing their supplies on such credits, the cost is enhanced at least a hundred per cent.”

Milroy ignored or perhaps did not know that our traditional means of obtaining food and making clothing were no longer options for us without our extensive land base. The U.S. government’s provision of seemingly unlimited money to buy these products gave us no incentive to learn new ways of providing for ourselves. Pinšiwa ‘Richardville,’ however, was a businessman who could see the impact the excessive debt was causing. As reported by Allen Hamilton in his August 11, 1840 letter to Commissioner Crawford, he was quite concerned about the consequences of such debt on the Miami Nation. Hamilton wrote:

“The old chief…is the more desirous for a treaty now, inasmuch as the profligate part of the nation are running the tribe in debt; he fears it will take most of the remaining lands to pay the debts of the tribe.”

Here Hamilton expressed what appears to have been a significant concern for Pinšiwa, who seemed to believe that the excessive debts of the Miami Nation might lead to the demise of the Nation. Hamilton seemed to believe that the debts were high, at least in part due to excessively high prices. He said to Crawford:

“It does seem to me, if you were aware of the speculation practised on those confiding people now, your influence would be exerted to stop it. This will only be done when all their lands will be sold, and no hope of any more treaty provisions for the payment of their debts.”

Hamilton and Pinšiwa seemed to share a concern for the impact of our significant debts. They foresaw that to pay off those debts would take the sale of the rest of our lands, which by 1840 included only the 500,000 acre Great Miami Reserve and much smaller individual and village reserves. The implication was that if we did not remove west to the land promised to us, we would end up with increasingly higher debts, no income, and no land left to sell or even a place to live.

The American plan was working. As noted in the earlier blog post on the Treaty of 1838, the Americans encouraged us to go deep in debt as their strategy to force us to sell our lands. President Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter to Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison as early as February 27, 1803, discussing how to deal with Myaamiaki and other Native peoples in Indiana,

“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 at our trading houses too we mean to sell so low as merely to repay us cost and charges, 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. in this way our settlements will gradually circumbscribe [sic] & approach the Indians, & they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the US. or remove beyond the Missisipi [sic]. the former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves. but in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. as to their fear, we presume that our strength & their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, & that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only. should any tribe be fool-hardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe & driving them across the Missisipi [sic], as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.”

After only forty years, Jefferson’s plan had come to fruition. Myaamia people had become deeply indebted to traders, and the only way to get out of debt was to sell our land.

Deaths – Elder leaders

Painting of Palaanswa 'Francis Godfroy' by George Winter
As Second Chief, Palaanswa worked closely with Principal Chief Pinšiwa and may well have been the next Principal Chief, if not for his early death on May 1, 1840, at the age of 52. His death may have been the most significant factor in Pinšiwa’s request less than three weeks later for a Removal treaty. Painting by George Winter, Tippecanoe County Historical Association, L-21

Not only were average Myaamiaki dying, but our experienced leaders were dying too, some by violence, some by disease. At least ten senior National Council members had died between 1826 and 1835, and only four remained by 1840. Three of those four died during that year, including Majenica and Palaanswa, the two leaders upon whom Pinšiwa most relied, and Black Loon ‘Mahkateemaankwa,’ who at that time had served on the National Council longer than anyone other than Pinšiwa. Majenica died in March of 1840. (See the previous blog post for his obituary.) Palaanswa ‘Francois/Francis Godfroy’ had been ill since the beginning of the year, and his health continued to decline, as was noted in his correspondence with his personal confidante Allen Hamilton, who repeatedly expressed his concern for Palaanswa’s health. Then on May 1, 1840, Second Principal Chief Palaanswa died. At 52-years-old he was considerably younger than the elderly Pinšiwa, who was likely preparing him to be the next principal chief.

Samuel Milroy wrote on May 9 to Commissioner Crawford:

“Francis Godfroy, principle 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.”

Pinšiwa must have felt the same way about losing his closest advisor, friend, and likely presumed successor. On May 15, Palaanswa’s close friend and Indiana State Representative James Rariden wrote that “Chief Richardville the soul of the nation now, Godfroy, is no more…” That summer Black Loon ‘Mahkateemaankwa,’ who had been a senior leader since the 1820s, also died. After their deaths, Samuel Milroy wrote that the “only remaining chief of influence is John B. Richardville” because, as discussed in the previous blog post, the remaining leaders, who were young and inexperienced, would have relied on Pinšiwa’s leadership and counsel. As the last in a series of Myaamia leaders’ deaths, these were particularly devastating to the governing of the Miami Nation.

The Miami National Council now consisted of young, inexperienced leaders and 79-year-old Pinšiwa. It is no wonder that within three weeks after burying Palaanswa, Pinšiwa asked Milroy to negotiate a Removal Treaty. For the first time in his political career, the entire weight of the Nation was on his shoulders. No one was left with the knowledge and experience necessary to help him carry the burden. He must have realized that the fight against Removal was over. He must have felt immense pressure to get the matter of Removal settled before he himself died and left no one capable of leading the Nation in this most significant decision.

Last hope to remain a separate tribe

For some time, Pinšiwa had been considering that Removal might be necessary. As seen in previous blog posts, in anticipation of a potential Removal, Pinšiwa asked that the Treaty of 1838 include an exemption from any future Removal for himself and his family.

In a November 6, 1838 letter to Commissioner Crawford from the treaty grounds, Abel Pepper confirmed Pinšiwa’s sense of impending Removal, “Private conversation with him convince me of his profound sense of the necessity of his tribe removing soon.” Pepper, Samuel Milroy, and Allen Hamilton all anticipated the likelihood of the extinction of Myaamiaki if Removal did not occur.

In reporting on Pinšiwa’s request for a treaty in a May 25, 1840 letter to Commissioner Crawford, Milroy wrote,

“He is very desirous of making this treaty for his people, and seeing them settled in their new homes, in his lifetime [emphasis added]; knowing, as he does, that emigration or extinction as a tribe are the alternatives that await them.”

On September 24, Milroy claimed that “the chiefs, with the better informed of the tribe, are fully aware of their present unfortunate situation, and also duly appreciate the advantages that would result to them by removing west; and are therefore desirous of selling their remaining lands, with a view to removing.”

Milroy wrote most poignantly on August 20 that Pinšiwa “considers the sale of their lands, and removal to the west as the only means that will preserve them a separate tribe [emphasis added].”

The incessant pressure from the United States, the removal of our relative tribes, the encroaching neighbors, the debt, and the deaths all must have led Pinšiwa to believe that Removal west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River’ was the only way to save his people’s lives and to save the Nation itself.

Through all his concerns about the welfare of his people, Pinšiwa was clearly aware of his own advancing years. At 79, he was decades older than any living Myaamia leader, and his health may have been failing. Allen Hamilton noted to Palaanswa (December 5, 1838) that Pinšiwa had “been quite unwell since he left the [1838] treaty ground.” In any case, he must have known that he likely had at most only a few years left. American government officials frequently referred to him as “the old chief.” He had been Principal Chief for so long that he must have seen it as his duty to preserve the Miami Nation while he still had time. When he first resisted the Removal of Myaamiaki, he saw no reason for us to leave the home of our ancestors. Now, a decade later, the world around him and the lives of Myaamiaki had changed so much, he saw no possibility of us staying in our homelands and surviving.

The United States government and our American neighbors had put us in an untenable situation. They deliberately encouraged our debts to force us to sell our land to pay those debts. They took everything from our men that made them men, demoralizing them. They did everything they could to remove us from their sight. We did all we could to survive, and it led us to the brink of “national suicide.” Most Myaamiaki at this time were struggling to survive. Thriving was not an option, but Pinšiwa and some others came to believe that Removal west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River’ might give us a chance to thrive again.

In this article, we have seen the circumstances of pressure, removals, encroachment, debt, and deaths that led Pinšiwa and the Miami National Council to see Removal as the last chance for us to survive as the Miami Nation. Still, we have seen in previous blog posts that Pinšiwa built into the 1838 and 1840 treaties exemptions from Removal for his family and two other families. In the next entry, we will examine the reasons for these and additional exemptions that enabled a few families to remain in Indiana when the Tribe went west.

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

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