October 20, 1846 Bloody Island
Content Warning: This post discusses the death of a child and an adult.
Two days after the death of the infant from Waawiyaasita’s band, a Myaamia elder, a man named Ottawa, also died.
Later that same day, the steamboat Colorado arrived outside of St. Louis. Myaamiaki deboarded at a place called Bloody Island, a sandbar on the Illinois side of the Mihsi-Siipiiwi ‘Mississippi River.’ It was so named because, being located in the Mississippi River and legally not considered part of either Illinois or Missouri, it was a common place to hold duels, which were otherwise illegal.
Bloody Island is an apt name for the place where they buried Ottawa and the Waawiyaasita piloohsa, “performing their peculiar funeral ceremony.” This quote from Removal Agent Joseph Sinclair most certainly refers to burial rites that included the peekomaata, words said to aid the deceased in entering the afterlife. Today Bloody Island is part of the Mississippi riverbank on the Illinois side. It is directly across the river from the St. Louis Arch, the Gateway to the West.
Toohpia ‘Francis LaFontaine,’ his wife, and his children were exempted from Removal; however, as Principal Chief, he accompanied his people on this Removal journey and brought his family with him. In an October 21 letter, he wrote, “Little Joseph my son has been sick but is getting Better.” We can imagine the concern of these parents carrying for their sick four-year-old child, while witnessing the burial of another child who perhaps died of the same sickness. We must wonder if he regretted bringing his young children.
In the next installment, to be posted on October 21, we find that Myaamiaki are still on Bloody Island.
Post written by Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Diane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Comments Add yours
aya Steve, I would add to George’s excellent comments that the Removal contract had called for us to be removed overland. The contractors decided shortly before our Removal to take us by canal instead. For the reasons George gave, the Wabash River was not an option.
I am loving these postings, thank you. Obviously the whole removal act is disgusting but I wonder why they did not journey down the Wabash versus going northeast and then down the Miami River to the Ohio River. Was it because of the Indiana frontiersmen?
aya Steve, neewe for your question. I’ll put in a quick reply and let Diane add more depth when she can. The canals were built to provide regular and consistent water-born travel near rivers that had seasonal variations in water level that made the passage of even moderately sized craft difficult. The Wabash was notoriously rocky during low seasons and at certain points in the river even small flat boats would hit bottom. So my quick answer is that from the U.S. government’s point of view, the Wabash didn’t provide a practical means of moving 300+ people.