In past blog posts, we have examined the Treaty of 1840, which called for Myaamiaki to be removed west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ We have discussed the background for the Miami National Council agreeing to Removal and the reasons they agreed that some families would be exempted from Removal. The treaty provided for Removal within five years. In this post, we will look at the years between the signing of the treaty and the beginning of Removal, and we will focus on how we somewhat successfully delayed the Removal date.
On December 2, 1840, the Logansport Herald reported:
"We are informed, that the Miamies have submitted proposals for the cession of all their remaining lands in Indiana…. Their propositions have been given in the form of a treaty…. 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."
This newspaper article expressed seemingly great anticipation that Myaamiaki would soon be removed, leaving no more Indians in Indiana. The readers of this newspaper might have been disappointed that five years later, Myaamiaki remained in Indiana. After the ratification of the Treaty of 1840, we might expect to see Myaamiaki making plans to go west. In fact, however, for most Myaamiaki, it seems life went on as usual.
The frequent correspondence between Edward A. Godfroy and Allen Hamilton, the Miami Indian Agent and executor of the Godfroy estate, gives us a view of how normal Myaamia life continued during this period. Edward, a French relative of Palaanswa ‘Francois/Francis Godfroy,’ who lived with the Godfroy family and married Palaanswa’s daughter Aahsansamhkwa ‘Sally,’ was a trusted confidant and intimately familiar with the family’s affairs. From his letters, we learned that in late February 1841, Palaanswa’s widow Seekaahkweeta and her whole family moved to a sugar camp to collect maple sugar and that most of them came down with the measles while at the camp. He discussed hiring help for Seekaahkweeta to harvest the corn, preferably “a French man as she is more accustom to there [sic] ways” and purchasing food supplies. As the Godfroys were exempted from removal, we might expect them to continue life as usual, but there are indications that this was the norm for Myaamia people, such as Seekaahkweeta’s family, many of whom were not exempted. Letters and documents refer to concerns among Myaamia people about the education of their sons, marital problems, and other family matters.
The September 1841 annuities included funds for a blacksmith, a miller, paid laborers, and education; and money to buy tobacco, iron, steel, 160 bushels of salt, and agricultural implements. Allen Hamilton noted that these supplies “do them much good” and that there was much anxiety about getting farming utensils. Although some of these items such as tobacco and salt would have been needed wherever they were, the need for iron, steel and agricultural implements indicated plans to stay in their homes for some period of time.
We see considerable activity regarding the buying and leasing of land and making improvements, such as clearing timber, building cabins, and adding new fences. In the summer of 1842, a Myaamia delegation was sent to Washington, D.C. to obtain the patents, proof of land ownership, from the 1834 and 1838 treaties. In some cases, the treaties granted a few Myaamiaki vaguely defined individual reserves, and by 1842 some of those Myaamiaki were still selecting their reserve land and requesting the patent for it. The numerous requests for land patents and deeds likely indicated either a desire for more secure property rights or plans to sell the land, perhaps in expectation of the approaching Removal. Allen Hamilton supported the settlement of land claims for the benefit of the United States, saying, “When the time comes to emigrate we had better have as few obstacles on the way as possible.”
By November 1845, the five-year period for Removal was coming to an end. Some Myaamiaki may have become anxious about having to leave unsold land behind. Principal Chief Toohpia ‘Francis LaFontaine’ wrote to Indian Agent Joseph Sinclair, asking him, “will you request of our Great Father to authorize you, to purchase on the part of the Government the reserves belonging to Individuals of our Tribe if they wish to dispose of them.” If we couldn’t get our lands sold to American citizens, we hoped that selling to the U.S. government was an alternative to losing our property.
The most documented activity of the National Council during this period related to debt. As seen in Nathaniel West’s review in 1838, Myaamiaki were deeply in debt. Although arrangements had been made to pay those debts, Myaamiaki continued to buy on credit and acquire additional debts. In late 1841, a group of traders formed an organization for the purpose of pressing their claims against the Miami Tribe. They saw that those increasing debts “must result most injurious to those who have already advanced large [amounts] to the Indians as well to defeat all hopes of the removal of the Indians from our state for many years.” Although the traders’ opinions about our Removal varied from time to time, at this time, this group of traders supported Removal and were concerned that we would use our debts to delay or even avoid Removal. They asked Principal Chief Toohpia and the Miami National Council “to prevent the creating of new debts under any circumstances whatever.”
The National Council recognized the importance of paying the Nation’s debts. On October 24, 1842, the National Council agreed that they should pay the debts accrued between November 6, 1838 (the date the Miami National Council signed the Treaty of 1838) and February 25, 1841 (the date the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of 1840), saying,
“We the Chiefs and Head men of the Miami Tribe of Indians for and on behalf of the tribe do hereby set a part Twelve Thousand and Five hundred Dollars now and deposit the same in the Branch of the State Bank at Fort Wayne and in addition thereto do hereby agree to set apart a like sum at cash [from the] annual payment of our annuities for the space of Twelve years for the payment of the debts.”
More than two years later, the matter of the debt was not yet settled, as it required the U.S. government’s approval. In February 1845, Allen Hamilton wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Crawford asking the government to “sanction the contract entered into between the Miami and their creditors for [the] balance due by the Indians on claims.” In October of that year, the National Council wrote again, asking, “We earnestly request our Great Father the President of the United States to approve this agreement and to cause the said sum of twelve thousand five hundred dollars to be … paid out to our creditors….” Finally, the U.S. Senate passed a Resolution on February 24, 1846, authorizing President James K. Polk to apply some of the Miami annuities to the payment of their debts. Little more than a week later, President Polk approved “the amount of said indebtedness and the manner and condition of its payment,” but he required that “the first payment on said Debts to be made when the said Tribe shall have removed to the country set apart for them west of the Mississippi River.” By tying the payment of Miami debts to our Removal, President Polk clearly hoped to increase the pressure on us to remove soon, especially since the designated five years to remove had passed by that time.
In the meantime, the National Council had written to President Polk in a December 1845 letter about paying off debts acquired since February 25, 1841. Since they apparently received no answer from the President, they followed up again in May 1846, saying that “indebted Indians, as well as their said creditors, are alike anxious to ascertain the exact amount of the debts or balance due to each of the said creditors before the said tribe shall emigrate to their new homes west of the Mississippi [emphasis added].” They asked the President to approve their agreement to pay off their debts accrued since February 25, 1841. Perhaps agreeing to pay Myaamia debts before Removal was a counter to President Polk’s unwillingness to begin paying the debts until after removal. This letter was followed in June 1846 by a flurry of letters about the payment of debts. Clearly, settling their debts before Removal was of significant concern to the National Council. They had seen their debts lead to land loss in recent treaties. Perhaps they were concerned that if the debts were not paid before Removal, they might have to sell the Kansas reservation land to pay those debts and end up with no land at all. Pressing for the payment of their debts may also have been considered a tool for continuing to delay Removal.
Finally, on June 29, 1846, the National Council wrote a long letter to President Polk, primarily addressing the matter of debt payment and emphasizing that they themselves had made plans to pay their expenses out of their annuities, saying, “We are Red men, but we are not children.” In this statement, the National Council was exerting Myaamia national sovereignty, saying that we were not dependent on the United States to do everything for us. We had agency.
While the Miami National Council was focused on debt repayment, the United States was more concerned about finalizing plans for our Removal. We have seen that plans for Removal of the Miami Nation began nearly 15 years prior to the Removal Treaty, but after the treaty, the plans picked up steam.
As early as June 1842, Thomas H. Blake, Commissioner of the General Land Office, wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Crawford asking when the Miami Tribe was going to be removed and what steps had been taken to do it. The following month, Allen Hamilton wrote that the “Miami Chiefs now here have been talking freely about the tribes early removal to the country assigned them West,” and yet in October, he wrote that the subject of removal had not been brought up to Myaamiaki since the 1840 Treaty. He said he hoped it would happen soon. The reasons for Hamilton’s apparent contradictions about Removal discussions are unclear. Perhaps he was distinguishing between ongoing conversations among Myaamia leaders and a lack of formal meetings he had had with the National Council on the matter of Removal.
In August 1842, Samuel Milroy had written to Hamilton asking him to use his influence with the Miami Tribe to help remove them within the agreed period of time. In April 1843, Hamilton wrote to Commissioner Crawford that he thought it would be a good idea to discuss with the Myaamiaki the idea of an early removal, but he wanted Crawford’s permission because of the “delicacy” of the subject. Despite the U.S. government’s eagerness for Myaamia Removal to occur early, Hamilton seemed to delay acting on it. Perhaps he was waiting for the right time to raise the matter with the National Council.
The next month, Hamilton wrote to Crawford again, saying that he had met with the Miami Nation on May 19, and they wanted to know if the Government would pay for a Myaamia delegation to view the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ Hamilton hoped that if the delegation liked the land, the tribe might remove sooner. To this letter, Crawford replied, “In relation to the removal of the Miamies, you will do well to seek every occasion to impress upon them the importance of making early arrangements to emigrate.” Still, in December, Hamilton wrote to Crawford saying that Principal Chief Toohpia had written asking Hamilton to convey “their desire that the expenses of an exploring party of Miamis may be bore by the United States as promised them in the Treaty of 1838.” The reasons for delayed action on the part of the U.S. government are still unclear, especially considering their eagerness for our early Removal. The delegation was not sent to the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi until late July 1845. The delegation consisted of Teekwaakia ‘Jean Baptiste Brouilette,’ Pimweeyotamwa ‘Peter Pimyotamah,’ Šaapontohsia, Aahsansanka ‘George Hunt,’ and Waapeehsipana ‘Louis Lafontaine,’ along with Mr. Aveline, Mr. Miller, and Mr. Falk, three American traders. Once they arrived, a citizen of the Wea Tribe guided them around the area. On their return trip to Indiana, they met trader George Ewing in St. Louis and told him it was “a miserable despicable country.” Contrary to Hamilton’s hopes, the delegation’s disappointment with what they saw in the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi may have encouraged Myaamiaki to continue to delay Removal.
Removal was not just a matter between the Miami Nation and the U.S. government. It was an opportunity for a business venture for Americans who wanted to profit by obtaining the contract to oversee our Removal. In July 1843, John McKee wrote to Secretary of War James Porter asking for the contract to provide rations for Miami people who were going on removal. He said that if he could not get that contract, he would like to get the Removal contract, and if not that contract, he wanted something to do with Removal. His eagerness to remove Myaamiaki from Indiana is rather disconcerting, as we read today about how willing he was to profit from our pain.
In May 1844, the contract for the Removal of the Miami Nation went to Thomas Dowling. Within weeks, Dowling wrote to Hamilton informing him that he was the removal agent for the Miami tribe and would want to work with Hamilton on it. Dowling wrote to Crawford regarding a meeting with Hamilton in which he found Hamilton “altogether disposed to assist in the emigration, at the earliest day.”
In June, Hamilton met with the National Council to discuss Removal.
“The principal chief Lafontaine seemed favourably disposed towards that object, agreeing with me as to the necessity of an early emigration on account of the Indians themselves. The other chiefs with whom I conversed were not so favourable to an early time of departure. None seemed willing to commit themselves, desiring to consult the tribe.”
As eager as the U.S. was for Myaamia Removal, the Miami Nation was in no hurry to remove. We might question whether Toohpia was so “favourably disposed towards” Removal or just playing the diplomat. Perhaps he was agreeing that an early Removal might have benefits for those to be removed, even though he was not supportive of Removal itself. As a personal friend of Allen Hamilton, Toohpia may have expressed himself differently when speaking privately as a friend to Hamilton than when speaking as Principal Chief. In October, Dowling and Hamilton held a council with the Miami Nation, during which Hamilton spoke about promoting an early removal and introduced Dowling and his role in Removal. The National Council responded,
“My Father: Most of us listened to your advice since you have been our Agent. We know your friendship, and believe what you say. Some of us don’t listen right to your words. We have, however, decided on going west. We want you to take us, as Agent. If you don’t go with us, we can find the way ourselves. We also like the man who is to furnish us with conveyances and feed us. Several of us have property, we want to sell between now and next summer. If you have the power to let us stay four months, beyond next fall, we want to do so. If you have not that power please write to our Great Father our wishes. If he does not consent, we will go next year. As soon as you get an answer, send for us, and we will meet you at the Forks and we will do as our Great Father writes you.”
Although our leaders spoke words agreeing that they must go west, they still sought ways to delay the inevitable. Like paying off debts, selling property seemed to be a tool for remaining a while longer in our homes in what had become Indiana.
Dowling reported to Commissioner Crawford that he and Hamilton believed Removal would be accomplished the following May (1845). He was apparently overly optimistic. On November 28, 1844, Hamilton wrote to Crawford that Dowling was not working well with the Miami tribe. He said that Dowling tried to get the tribe to remove the next spring, but they said they would remove next fall. Hamilton believed that Dowling “placed too high an estimate on the influence he acquired during a short sojourn among them.” Just a month later, Indiana Representative C.B. Smith wrote to Secretary of War William Wilkins asking if Dowling should sell his contract back to his department and have them sell it to someone else. Clearly, Dowling was not the man for the job from the U.S. perspective. Around February 1846, Dowling sold the Removal contract to Robert Peebles, who, within months, resold it to William G. and George W. Ewing, Samuel Edsall, and Alexis Coquillard. Edsall was the brother-in-law of Removal Agent Joseph Sinclair. Coquillard was the “active partner” who was in actual control of the Removal and had previous experience facilitating the Potawatomi Trail of Death in 1838.
Clearly pressed by the impending deadline to remove, Principal Chief Toohpia wrote to new Indian Agent Joseph Sinclair in July 1845 outlining “some of the principal matters to be arranged with the Government before our people will remove to their new homes in the west.” The National Council seemed to do what they could to delay Removal and, at the same time, to prepare for the ultimately inevitable day. A year later on July 29, 1846, the National Council wrote an extensive letter to Commissioner Medill outlining their continuing concerns, including debts, additional exemptions, and proportional division of annuity moneys and goods between Myaamiaki who would soon be at the new reservation and those who would remain in Indiana. Significantly, it was National Council members who had been asking for patents for their land and who were petitioning Congress for exemptions from Removal for themselves and their families. They recognized that they could not stop Removal, that most Myaamiaki would have to go west. Yet, they had seen that some families had been exempted. If they could not protect everyone from Removal, they were willing to use their power as leaders to attempt to protect their own families. If their bid for exemption was successful, they wanted to be sure they would not lose their personal land holdings and that they would get their share of the annuities in Indiana.
On February 19, 1846, Joseph Sinclair was appointed as the Superintendent of the Emigration of the Miamis. In June, he wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Medill that he had held a council with the Miami Nation at the Forks of the Wabash where he and Alexis Coquillard explained how Removal would occur. The National Council stated that while they were willing to go by August 1, they needed more time to sell their cattle, houses, and property. Sinclair told them that they would not receive annuities until they arrived in the land west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi.
By June, the U.S. began to do more than talk and encourage us to go. The Removal contractor, presumably Coquillard, “engaged in notifying the Indians to collect at [a] camp but they uniformly say to him that their chief told them to do nothing toward their emigration until they should hear from him, that they are ready to commence whenever the Chief says he is ready.” Still, in July, Sinclair wrote to Commissioner Medill that he had met with Principal Chief Toohpia and told him that there would be no more extensions and that if Myaamiaki refused to remove, the Government would force them to go. Toohpia agreed that they would go, but he was waiting to hear from Dr. Graham Fitch, the Tribe’s lobbyist in Washington, about their request for additional exemptions.
The promised August 1st date to remove having passed, Sinclair met in council with the Miami Tribe and explained “their obligation to remove and the requirements of the Department in that respect and called upon them to decide now whether they would submit to the Treaty of 1840 and quietly remove without any further delay or not, that it was no longer a question of time, they must now either commence the emigration in good faith, or refuse to keep their faith with the government, and subject themselves to the risk of being removed by force—as I believed would be the case in the event of their refusal.” Sticking to his previous response, Toohpia replied that they were “unwilling to do anything about their Removal until they heard more from Washington, received arrangements for their debt payments, and obtained permission for some more of the tribe to remain in this country. He said he knew that the decision I read to them had been made, but that Col. Medill had treated them badly, that they were not babies, and would not submit to it, but were looking for better treatment from another quarter.” Once again, the National Council emphasized that they were a sovereign government and expected to be treated as such. Sinclair’s letter was verified by Christmas Dagenet [Dagenette], a Wea man whom Sinclair had hired as “Interpreter for the emigration,” evidently not trusting the National Council’s interpreter George Hunt.
The matter of Removal seemed to be at a deadlock. The U.S. government had been pressing for an early Removal as soon as 1842, and the Miami National Council made every effort to delay leaving their homes. By August 1846, the five-year deadline set in the Treaty of 1840 had passed, and the tension was rising. The U.S. was unwilling to wait any longer, while the National Council still sought answers to their concerns about debts and additional exemptions before asking Myaamiaki to go.
In the next article, to be posted on September 3, we will see how the United States breaks that deadlock.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at email@example.com.