October 8, 1846 Canal Boats
Content Warning: This post discusses conditions on the canal boats during Removal.
The Miami Tribe was not the only tribe to be removed by waterway, but an overland removal was more common. The canal to Cincinnati had just been completed the previous year, and the decision to remove us by canal was made, seemingly in the last few weeks, by the Removal contractors. They were probably not considering whether the canal would be easier for us, but they may have thought it would be easier for them to ride on a boat than to ride on horseback alongside more than 300 people on foot. They probably also thought it would be easier to keep us all together on boats. On foot, some might have walked away from the group and escaped. For these and perhaps other reasons, they chose the canal.
Removal agent Joseph Sinclair was likely not on any of these canal boats when they left Peru. On October 7, he wrote, “I shall start tomorrow in the Packet and shall soon overtake the emigrating party…it has been out of my power to return home until now, and I have but a few hours to remain here.” Given that Sinclair wrote about his plans to “start” on a packet, also known as a canal boat, on October 8, it appears that he had not been on the canal boats from Peru to his home in Fort Wayne. The canal boat would have traveled about three miles per hour, and Sinclair could have traveled the distance considerably faster riding his horse, giving him more time at home. The man in charge of our Removal was absent from the canal boats that he put us on.
While Sinclair was at home with his family, Myaamiaki were getting their first experience of being on a canal boat, and we had no idea of what to expect. By the end of the journey, we will see what Myaamiaki thought about travel by waterways.
Based on photos and descriptions of canal boats and diaries of the experiences of people who chose to travel by canal boat, we have some idea of what Myaamiaki experienced on the canals.
Canal boats, also known as packet boats, on the Wabash & Erie and the Miami & Erie canals would have been about 60-80 feet long and 14 feet wide and pulled by a horse or mule. Englishman Richard Beste wrote a journal of the canal boat trip he and his family took from Terre Haute, Indiana to Toledo, Ohio in 1851. He described the canal boat in his journal.
“There was no hold or under-deck; but, on the deck at the stern, were raised the kitchen, steward's room and offices; in the center of the boat, was the large saloon [salon] - the sitting room of all passengers by day, the sleeping room of male passengers by night; adjoining it was the ladies' saloon... A flat roof spread over the whole of the saloons; and on it was piled the luggage; and here passengers walked up and down or sat to enjoy the view. The view, however, as yet ‘was nought’: the banks were low; and thick woods, in which were only partial clearings, shut us in on both sides."
Given that Myaamiaki had lived in forested areas since time immemorial, rather than feeling “shut in,” they likely worried that they might never see the beauty and shelter of such woods again.
These canal boats generally carried up to 60 passengers, but sometimes as many as 100. Reports of the exact number of Myaamiaki on Removal varied, but even adding in the Removal agents and soldiers who were on the boats with us, there were probably about 350 on the five boats. We would have been a bit crowded with approximately 70 people per boat.
In the heat of the summer, people on canal boats suffered from the heat, mosquitos, and thirst. Since we delayed Removal past the proposed August 1 departure, we likely avoided experiencing the worst of the summer heat on the boats. Early October in northern Indiana is commonly the time for the first frost, which ends mosquito season. If we had had the first frost by October 6, we might have avoided swarms of mosquitoes. If not, we can be sure, Myaamiaki regretted not having access to the plant and animal products typically used to protect from insects and treat their bites.
As noted in the October 6 blog post, many Myaamiaki were sick on the canal boats. Not willing to take any responsibility for their illness, Sinclair wrote on October 10, “ …there are several of the Indians sick, they were so when we started.” He hedges, not making it clear if they were sick from before they got on the boats or they began to be sick while being held on the boats for at least a day before the journey began, or they began to be sick as soon as the boats started moving. Waakaahkonanka, an unexempted member of Mihšiinkweemiša’s band, later testified that because he was sick, Coquillard did not force him to go on Removal. Sinclair did not care whether they were sick or not. He made them go on the boats.
Several factors on the journey might have caused sickness, including unfamiliar food and motion sickness.
Canal boats were equipped with kitchens from which they provided meals for passengers. The cooks, however, most assuredly did not prepare traditional Myaamia meals. A sudden and extreme change of diet may have contributed to the sickness of Myaamiaki on the boats.
Beste described the experience of going through the many canal locks in this way.
“…it was not agreeable to feel the boat strike suddenly against the wall or the flood-gates with force enough to throw down those who were not on their guard. Then the violent rush of the waters from above, while the boat was rising with them….”
The experience of being on a canal boat going through the locks might certainly have caused feelings of sickness among Myaamiaki, who were unused to water travel.
At night, berths for paying passengers were hooked up to the wall, and mattresses and sheets were placed on them. We must doubt that they provided mattresses for Myaamiaki. The berths were stacked three high, so that the most able would have to climb to the top berths. These shelves were short, shorter than most adults, making sleeping uncomfortable. Considering that many Myaamiaki were sick on this journey, they may not have been able to climb to the second, let alone the third, level of berths. If there were presumably no more than 20 berths at the lowest level, many Myaamiaki who could not climb higher would have had to sleep very close to others who were also sick on the floor or on the top of the boats with the baggage.
Just prior to Removal, Sinclair had met with Myaamiaki to explain how Removal would happen. Did he tell them that they would be first on canal boats, then on a steamboat? Or did they imagine they would be traveling on canals all the way to west of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River?’
In the next installment, to be posted on October 9, we will continue to follow this story of the Myaamia Forced Removal and see them pass by another familiar place.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.