Twightwee in Historical Sources

Many readers have probably heard that Miamis were sometimes called “Twightwees.” This appears to be a term applied to Myaamiaki by Indigenous people to the East. One of the explanations comes from a historic battle between the Cherokees and the Miamis, as recorded by C. C. Trowbridge in the 1820s:

The original name of the tribes was Twaatwāā sometimes pronounced Twau twāū. The origin of this name is thus accounted for. In an early period of their existence they discovered the Cherokees, and were in the habit of making war upon them. They had attacked them three different times, when the Cherokees resolved to retaliate. They came to a large river where they discovered upon the bank a single track. They crossed and upon the opposite shore they saw other tracks. Continuing the march they found at a distance other tracks, and so on at intervals, until at length they saw, blazed upon the side of a tree, the head and neck of a Crane. They came to a prairie where they saw two of these animals and driving them before the party they crossed. The Miamies were ambuscaded on the opposite side and when the Cherokees approached the Cranes began to make a noise, crying out as they do when frightened. At length the Miamies rushed upon the Cherokees and the Cranes being in the middle became much terrified and increasing their noise cried out more rapidly Twau Twaū, Twaū, Twāū and flew off. Every Cherokee but one was killed and when he escaped to his village he told his friends that they need not wonder at their frequent defeats, for they were conquered, not by men, but by the Twau twau’s who could fly off at will.[1]

Linguists call this onomatopoeia–Cherokees heard sandhill cranes making that sound. Indeed, Miamis knew that Cherokees called them “Twau twaus,” or crane people. Below, I’ve collected a few early written sources that record the Twightwee (or variations) name for Miamis. There are dozens that I’ve come across, but this is a sample from the earliest period.

A map showing "The Miamis or Twightwis."
Zoom of Cadwallader Colden’s A Map of the Country of the Five Nations, belonging to the Province of New York, 1747. Original is viewable at the John Carter Brown Library’s digitized map database.

Related: Read Lacrosse in Historical Sources

The following is an interesting snippet from a translated examination of a Mohawk. “Sinnakers” is Senecas. The interpreter, named Jacques ‘Akus’ Cornelius van Slyck, appears to be of Dutch or Mohawk origin and the main translator specializing in Mohawk at Schenectady, New York.

Examination of Kakariall, an Indian Prisoner

The second day four Sinnakers appeared, and called to the French asking, what they did there, the Govr answered, I make a Fort and am come to warr against you, The Sinnekes replyed, you cannot come soe farr as to our Castle, being asked why is itt soe farr, they answered noe, butt wee will bee att the Army before it comes there; upon that they went their way. The next day being the third day after the landing, the Army marched towards the Sinnakes Castles in small Journeys, the following morning they marched very early and saw some Sinnekes upon which the Twightwighs and other Indians would fire, butt the Govr would not suffer itt.[2]

Months later, English officials continued investigating potential violence and trade between Haudenosaunee communities and Algonquians to the West. (Related: read The Peace of Montreal, 1701.) Akus Cornelius is still the interpreter.

“The news from the Sinnekaes country is that two Onnondagoes are come from Cannada to Onnondagoes, and doe tell that there is a Capt. and two Indians of Onnondagoe killed by ye Twicktwigs or Ottawawooes. The said Indians brings five Belts of Wampum, two being for the Captaines with a roole of tobacco to smoake when they sitt in Councill, and desired they might not be much discomforted for ye loss of their people; and two more [Belts] were given to ye freinds of them that were killed, to condole their death. And the Governor of Cannada letts them know that hee takes itt very ill that the Twicktwigs should kill them.”[3]

Iroquoia wasn’t the only place where Native Americans called Miamis “Twightwees.” This 1699 Virginia source explains a talk between various local nations and Virginia’s colonial government in Jamestown. (The capital was about to move to nearby Williamsburg.) The possible interpreters are either Robert Peasley, who specialized in Virginia Algonquian, and/or Thomas Blount, a Cherokee interpreter.

Whereas in Obedience to an Order of ye second of November last, the Great men of ye Nottoway Meheren, Nansemund, Pamunkey, Chickahomini, Rappahanock, and Nantiatico Indians appears before His Excellency and the Councill and being examined concerning a Peace they intended to make with some foreign Indians without ye knowledge or consent of His Majtys Government of this Dominion they Confessed that they had Designed a Treaty of Peace with ye Tawittawayes and other foreign Indians and according every respective nation of them had prepared a Peake belt (being the token that usually passes between them when they desire a treaty of Peace) and put them into ye hands of ye Nantiaticoes to be sent to ye said foreign Indians but since his Excellency and ye Councill were not pleased to allow of such a Treaty they would not proceed any further therein and also they promised that ye Peake belts should be brought to James City and delivered to his Excellency which being accordingly done and this day laid before ye Councill it is thought necessary that they be restored to ye several Nations to whom they belong respectively.” [4]

Also in the Chesapeake (this from what is now Charles County, Maryland) were the Piscataways. This interview with the Piscataway “Emperor” blames violence on visiting Myaamia. This source notes that the Piscataway leader “speaks in English as well as in the Indian tongue.”

Nanjemy. [modern Charles County, Maryland]

Report of an Interview with the Emperor of the Piscataways, in which his replies to certain proposals are given, looking to a peaceable settlement of affairs. He speaks in English as well as in the Indian tongue, and exhibited considerable dignity and intelligence; Insists his people did not commit the late murder and depredations, but suspects the Towittowees; Consents to remove his family and property from his ‘fort’ down to Maryland, opposite lower Stafford County, as earnest of his good intentions. This report is made by

            Phill. Haskins and

            Wm Dent, who had been sent to negotiate with the Emperor.[5]

Put together, we see East coast communities naming the Myaamia as Twightwees, plus the Haudenosaunee, as well as the Cherokees to the South. Perhaps the clearest example in the record is a statement given to the legislature of New York in 1723. It is not recorded who exactly is the “Indian interpreter.”

In July, the Twightwies arrived here, and brought an Indian interpreter with them, who told that they were called by the French, Miamies, and that they live upon the branches of the Mississippi.[6]

And so, lots of groups have historically referenced the sandhill crane as a name for Myaamia. For their part, Miamis also used onomatopoeia, calling a band of the nation cecaahkwa.

[1] C.C. Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, ed. By Vernon Kinietz (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938).

[2] New York Colonial Documents, volume 3:431.

[3] Schennectida, a towne 20 miles beyond Albany, The 29th of September 1688. NYCD 3:565

[4] February 22, 1699, Executive Journals of Virginia, volume 2:41

[5] July 3, 1700. Calendar of Virginia State papers, 1:70.

[6] NYCD 3: 431 n. 3

One Comment Add yours

  1. Peepinšihšia (Nate Poyfair) says:

    I love these stories!

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