In the previous blog post, we examined the efforts of the Miami National Council to delay Removal of Myaamiaki to west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ We also saw that the United States government and the Removal contractors were increasingly frustrated with the delays and were anxious to complete the Removal. We seemed to be at an impasse.
Frustrated by our persistent delays, by June 1846, Removal agents began to talk of using “force” to remove us. On June 29, Principal Chief Toohpia ‘Francis Lafontaine,’ Pinšiwa ‘Wildcat,’ Misihkwa, Pimweeyotamwa ‘Peter Pimyotamah,’ and Waapeehsipana wrote to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Medill about “settling all their national business,” prior to Removal. They outlined 16 points of concern, the eleventh being, “Will our great father direct or permit the use of force in the removal of any of our people?” Clearly, they had heard that the United States was considering the use of force for our Removal, and their question demonstrates that they were concerned about the presence of a military force.
On August 18, Removal agent Joseph Sinclair met with the Miami National Council and emphasized the threat of force as explicitly as possible, that
“their obligation to remove and the requirements of the Department [of War] 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. [emphasis added]”
It is significant, especially at this time, that the Office of Indian Affairs was within the U.S. Department of War. The U.S. government clearly saw us as an enemy to be defeated. Sinclair noted that he believed that force would need to be used in the event of the Miami National Council’s refusal. The following day, Toohpia replied for the National Council, still exercising their sovereignty by saying that
“they were unwilling to do anything about their removal until they heard more from Washington that they expected to get their debts arranged; and permission for some more of the tribe to remain in this country.”
Sinclair seemed to prefer that Myaamiaki just allow themselves to be removed quietly and without further delay. Still, in his frustration, he saw force as possibly the only way to get the job done soon.
Toohpia seemed not to be affected by the threat and continued to push for delay. In fact, Huntington, Indiana resident Elias Murray reported being present at this council meeting and noted, “The Indians did not say that they would ever remove.”
Sinclair also shared his frustration in a letter to Commissioner Medill,
“The only way to treat this matter as it appears to me is to either remove the Miamies by force, and at once, or to starve them out [emphasis added]. As the contractors are fully prepared for the emigration and have been at a very great expence [sic] in obtaining the contract and the necessary outfit, it would injure them very much if the starving out policy should be adopted. There is plenty of time yet to remove the Indians this season.”
Still, Sinclair was only interested in getting us removed. He did not care if we starved, only that starving us would negatively impact the Removal contractors, one of whom was his brother-in-law. Sinclair just wanted to get it done.
However, Dr. Graham Fitch, lobbyist for the Miami Nation, was concerned about the threat of force and was highly critical of the idea in a letter to Commissioner Medill, saying, “Why is it that they must be treated like dogs?”
Allen Hamilton, Toohpia’s friend who had by then had a long history of relationships with Myaamia leaders, and the Catholic priest Fr. Julien Benoit, who ministered to many Myaamiaki, also expressed concerns to Medill about the potential use of military force, writing that they looked upon the use of force “with disgust and contempt” and that “we cannot help deprecating the result of such an application.”
Dr. Fitch, Allen Hamilton, and Fr. Benoit recognized that however frustrating and challenging the process of getting Myaamiaki to remove was, the use of military force was not a moral choice. They could not stop the government’s actions, but they took a stand against the wrongful action of using force.
Ignoring such concerns and being more interested in doing whatever they had to do to accomplish the Removal of Myaamiaki, the government went forward with arrangements to use force. On September 11, Adjutant General Roger Jones wrote to Lieutenant Colonel John Erving about sending a “small military force” to Peru for the Removal of the Miami Tribe. He reported that Captain Jouett from Louisville had been sent to Fort Wayne. The next day, Medill wrote to Sinclair that “a Military force had been ordered by the President to aid if necessary in effecting the emigration of the Miamies.”
On September 22, Sinclair went to Toohpia’s home for a consultation and, in his own words, “succeeded in convincing him that his people would now be required to remove.” Toohpia told him that he would meet with the Miami National Council the following evening to explain the government’s position. We must wonder if Toohpia was truly convinced that Removal could no longer be delayed and what impact the threat of force had on his conviction.
Sinclair also reported from Fort Wayne, Indiana, that on the 22nd,
“Capt Jouett arrived here with his force about three oclock [sic] this afternoon and … after conversing with me on the subject of the emigration he immediately proceeded to Peru, where he will remain until the result of tomorrow & next days council is made known to him.”
Despite the pleas of Fitch, Hamilton, and Benoit, the troops arrived in Peru on September 26. Their presence likely encouraged Sinclair to increase the pressure on the National Council. At a meeting on September 26, he told them they must adhere to the treaty and remove.
On September 29, Sinclair again met with Myaamiaki at the Forks of the Wabash to explain how Removal would work. He reported to Medill that “there was not as general an attendance as we had expected,” but he explained it to those who were there. He wrote that Myaamiaki promised to remove “peacefully & quietly and that they would go by water. We arranged with them that they should immediately commence collecting at [Coquillard’s Removal camp in Peru, Indiana], which they are now doing and this day a full explanation will be made to the whole tribe of what was agreed upon at the council & of this situation … we have every reason to believe that the emigration will be speedily effected.” Even through his frustration, Sinclair was still optimistic about effecting the Removal quickly.
Although the troops may have influenced the Myaamia agreement to the arrangements, by October 1, no Myaamia family had yet arrived at the removal grounds in Peru. Sinclair reported that he had told Toohpia the night before that “unless a very considerable portion of the tribe should be on the ground prepared to emigrate…we should be compelled to bring them in by force [emphasis added].” Now the threat was not just the presence of soldiers but the physical use of force against Myaamia people.
Several white Americans reported seeing Myaamiaki fleeing as soon as they heard of the soldiers’ arrival.
Dr. A.H. Tyler of Columbia City saw “ten or twelve Indians whom he had frequently seen before at their wig wams in said county with their poneys traveling north, that he spoke to them in relation to going west, and they replied that they were on their way to Michigan, and did not intend to remove west…”
Mr. B.D. Miner saw “two Horse teams that came out to remove them, and that at that time most of said [Waawiyaasita] party with the Pigeon Family of the Turtle Town Party had fled and secreted themselves…”
George Helms said that “the [Waawiyaasita] party of Indians lived about 4 miles from Columbia [City]…and that they left him some of their goods at his house, with a request that he should take care of them while they were gone that they said they were going to Michigan–that this was about the time they were to have started west…and about the same time he was hunting in the woods and found secreted about 13 Indians of the Turtletown party…and that they told him they did not intend to go [west] and requested him not to tell any white man where they were.”
Despite all the efforts of the Miami National Council, the time for Removal had come. The military force was there to make sure they removed. As reported by Tyler, Miner, and Helms, only a few families who lived in more remote areas were able to flee the events that were about to occur. Many of these families belong to the band of Waawiyaasita, who had died in the 1830s, and to the band of his brother Peepakicia ‘Flat Belly.’ These two bands had had frequent and close relationships, including some intermarriage in their families, with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, who had not been removed from Michigan in the 1838 Potawatomi Trail of Death. Waawiyaasita and Peepakicia were alternately identified as Myaamia or Potawatomi. So it probably seemed natural for them to flee to their Pokagon friends and relatives. Although most members of these bands fled north, a few did not.
The others who fled in the face of a forced Removal were a small group from Turtletown. Most families at Turtletown did not flee, but as noted by Mr. Miner, the Pigeon family fled and hid. In the blog posts in the next months, we will learn more about the Pigeon family and members of Waawiyaasita’s and Peepakicia’s bands.
By the end of September, the “small military force” was present in Peru and ready to begin the forced Removal of Myaamiaki. As we have seen, their presence caused some Myaamiaki to flee, but others remained in their homes, perhaps in hope that they would not have to leave.
During October, we will have nearly daily blog posts following the places and events that occurred each day. On October 1, we will see the beginning of the Removal process, the Removal contractors, backed by the Army, forcing Myaamiaki from their homes. The October and November posts may be difficult for some readers because of their personal connection to the content. We will include a content warning for each of these posts.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.