fox_stomp 2018 full motion2018 Winter Gathering. Photo by Jonathan Fox.

Soon, Myaamiaki ‘Miami people’ and their friends will gather again for the Miami Nation Winter Gathering. A particular highlight is the large (and annually growing) stomp dance on Saturday night.

Although historically Myaamia people did not regard the stomp dance as sacred or original with them, it certainly has a long history in the community. Miamis learned the leading dance from the Shawnees in the distant past and among other names, call it Šaawanokaanki “the Shawnee Dance.”[1] Some forms have changed—for example, the sources tell us that Myaamia men once used water drums in leading dances, whereas in the current Myaamia context, those dances typically called “stomp” do not feature these portable instruments. And today there are even more diverse tribes nearby—Creeks, Cherokees, and Yuchis intermingle with the old kin communities of Ottawas, Shawnees, Delawares, Potawatomis, and Wyandots. But several historical observations also indicate the long-standing tradition of Myaamia people coming together at night, with friends and family, to circle the fire in the Shawnee Dance.

In 1796, a group of travelers heard a dance beginning near midnight on Bois Blanc Island downstream from Detroit and paddled across the river to witness it. The Irish writer probably describes a mixture of Shawnees, Wyandots, Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Miamis on the island.

The men assembled from different parts of the island, to the number of fifty or sixty, to amuse themselves in their turn. They first walked round the fire in a large circle, closely, one after another, marking time with short steps to the music; the best dancer was put at their head, and gave the step; he was also the principal singer in the circle. After having made one round, the step was altered to a wider one, and they began to stamp with great vehemence upon the ground; and every third or fourth round, making little leaps off the ground with both feet, they turned their faces to the fire and bowed their heads, at the same time going on sideways. At last, having made a dozen or two rounds, towards the end of which each one of them had begun to stamp on the ground with inconceivable fury, but more particularly the principal dancer, they all gave a loud shout at once, and the dance ended.

In another two or three minutes another dance was begun, which ended as soon, and nearly in the same way as the other. There was but little difference in the figures of any of them, and the only material difference in the songs was, that in some of them the dancers, instead of singing the whole of the air, came in simply with responses to the airs sung by the old men. They beckoned to us to join them in their dance, which we immediately did, as it was likely to please them, and we remained on the island with them till two or three o’clock in the morning. There is something inconceivably terrible in the sight of a number of Indians dancing thus round a fire in the depths of thick woods, and the loud shrieks at the end of every dance adds greatly to the horror which their first appearance inspires.

Scarcely a night passed over but what there were dances, similar to those I have described, on the island.[2]

By the 1820s, most Miami adults preferred the Shawnee Dance—what we frequently call stomp dance today—as their favored social soiree.[3] When Miamis and Potawatomis came together with American traders and U.S. treaty commissioners in 1826, they spent their evenings socializing and, of course, dancing. This gathering resulted in treaties between the Miami Nation and United States (and a parallel treaty between the Potawatomis and United States), usually called the Treaty of the Mississinewa. Many years later, one of the secretaries of the U.S. treaty commissioners recalled that time, near what became the town of Peru, Indiana:

We were treated to several native dances, one being on a park carefully cleared east of the Wabash, around which a circular path for dancing was prepared with soft leaves for the moccasins. It being night, the limbs of the trees around were well lighted with candles furnished by our commissioners. In a leading dance a prominent brave brightly painted (as most of the dancers were) whirled into the path, keeping with the music with a rough drum, beating time as he passed around the circle, instantly followed singly behind him by the bright girls, making him thus their favorite. And soon after, as other braves joined the dance, space was left for their sweethearts that chose them as partners to follow them in the dance.[4]

The treaties in the early nineteenth century resulted from, and in turn created, a tumultuous period in Myaamia history. Much like their stomp dancing in the wake of American conquest, it appears that despite the gravity of their daytime negotiations, Myaamia people spent their evenings stomping. In this letter from 1832, held at the Forks of the Wabash council house near Huntington, Indiana, an observer described what he saw:

I have witnessed several of their dances, but can give but a faint description on paper of an exercise which is rendered interesting alone by the peculiar appearance of those who compose the group. One or more fires are kindled at night, and the Indians, dressed in the most gaudy manner, with neatly worked leggings and moccasins, red and blue coats, blankets and fringed hunting shirts, with heavy appendages of bells and silver ornaments, commence a march or dance around the fires, and although the train may be quite small at first they gradually fall in, and from one to two hundred are frequently engaged in one circle. The [women] and men join promiscuously in the dance, and appear to enjoy it with as much zest as do our white gentlefolks at their assembly balls and cotillion parties. Their music consists of a drum composed of a common keg with a skin streached [sic] over one end, and a regular beat is kept up by some of the elder Indians. In addition thereto many of the Indians are constantly engaged in the repetition of a dull monotonous tune or sound, which is occasionally enlivened by a general shout or whoop. They appear to have a strong predeliction [sic] for fine dress and fine horses, and some of them are perfectly loaded with heavy feathers or plumes and silver ornaments. The females have a peculiarly modest appearance, and are dressed in fine scarlet and silks, with many very ingenious and beautiful specimens of ornamental needle work and beads.[5]

Clearly, Myaamia families have long enjoyed evening leading dances with their neighbors, and the tradition continues in this year’s winter gathering in Miami, Oklahoma.

stomp post map.jpg

[1] Charles C. Trowbridge and W. Vernon Kinietz, Meearmeear Traditions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938), 59.

[2] Isaac Weld, Travels Through the States of North America and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada 3rd edition (London: 1800) vol. 2: 290-92.

[3] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 59.

[4] James M. Ray, in Indianapolis News, June 7, 1878.

[5] A.F. Morrison, in Indiana Democrat, Indianapolis, September 29, 1832. These negotiations did not result in a signed treaty that year, but foreshadowed the Forks of the Wabash Treaty of 1834.

This will be the second article in the genealogy section of our community blog. The purpose of writing these articles is to educate and inform the Myaamia community about the important  people and families that make up our past. As Myaamia people, we usually connect ourselves to one or more of our ancestors to define our family. But oftentimes we know very little about the other families and the other leaders that made up our community throughout history. In writing these blog posts we hope to not only inform about our past leaders, but also stimulate interest in learning more about different Myaamia people or families.

Akima Neewilenkwanka was born around 1800 as part of Waapeehsipana’s (White Raccoon’s) band. In 1826, ten sections of land were set aside for Waapeehsipana’s village along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi (the Aboite River) near Columbia City. Most likely it was in that village along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi that Neewilenkwanka grew up.

Neewilenkwanka grew up in time when our land base was still relatively intact and Myaamia language and culture was seen all across Indiana. Growing up, he would have participated in all the activities of the young boys in a traditional Myaamia village. He would have played games that helped prepare boys for a life as hunters. One particular game that was played with bow and arrow consisted of someone throwing a ball, which was formed out of twisted bark, into the air and the shooter would try to hit the ball with an arrow while it was in the air.

As a young boy, he would have been expected to go into the woods for a period of fasting and prayer in order to find his path in life. Charles Trowbridge, an ethnographer who worked with our community in the 1820s, says that children are “taught to fast for a whole winter, nay, oftentimes six months. He rises very early in the morning, blacks himself and goes out to hunt or to play, without eating. At first he fasts until noon, and at length until night.”[1] He would have blackened his entire  face with charcoal and waited for a dream to come to him which would guide him to decide his path in life. This would have been something that he would reflect on throughout his life.

This would have occurred during a turbulent time for Myaamia communities while the War of 1812 was beginning. Myaamia people were put in a difficult position during this period. Our leaders who lived through the Mihši-maalhsa Wars (Northwestern Indian Wars) were unwilling to join Tecumseh against the United States, while at the same time the United States grouped all tribes together as enemies of the state. This led to invasions of Myaamionki (place of the Miami) by American forces throughout the area, which caused many Myaamia people to flee southward towards the villages on Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi (the Mississinewa River). It’s possible that his family were part of these refugee groups. Regardless, this kind of warfare would have had an intense impact on him and how he acted as an akima.

As a young adult, Neewilenkwanka became an akima of his own village and in the treaties of 1834 and 1838 he received two reserves along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi, across the river from Waapeehsipana’s village between Wiipicahkionki (Huntington) and Kiihkayonki (Fort Wayne). Not surprisingly, the bands living in that area were often referred to as Neekawikamiaki (the Aboite River People). In 1830 & 1831 he represented 20 Myaamia people, who were most likely the inhabitants of his village, for an annuity collection.Bigleg

These are approximations of where Waapeehsipana and Neewilenkwanka’s Reserves were located based on maps from the 19th century. Other reservees on this map include Francis and Louis Lafontaine, Seek, and Louison Godfroy. 

One of the more infamous stories about Neewilenkwanka involved one of the first trials of a Myaamia person in the American legal system. In 1830, Neewilenkwanka was arrested for the murder of a Myaamia woman from his village. According to the newspaper reports at the time, the woman had stolen from him and fled to Fort Wayne where Bigleg had killed her. In a letter from trader William Ewing to John Tipton, the Myaamia woman also had African ancestry and Neewilenkwanka claimed her as his slave. However, we don’t know how much of that was his own thoughts or if the claims that she was his slave was influenced by American thoughts on race at the time. He was convicted by a jury in Fort Wayne and was sentenced to death by hanging. Supposedly, Bigleg didn’t know what a hanging was and after being shown a dog Bigleg decided that he’d rather be shot. Luckily, thanks to his interpreters, Pinšiwa (John B. Richardville) and Soowilencihsia (John B. Bourie), he was pardoned by the governor of Indiana.

While in Indiana he married a myaamiihkwia named Kiišikohkwa (Nancy), who was the granddaughter of Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle) and the sister of Kiilhsoohkwa (Margaret Revarre). And he had at least five children: Awansaapia (John B. Bigleg), Awanohkamihkwa (Susan Bigleg Benjamin Medicine), Lenipinšihkwa (Sally Bigleg Wea Shapp), Ciinkweensa, and Margaret. However, at this point it is unclear if all these children were with Kiišikohkwa or with another woman as multiple marriages were very common in this time period. 

In 1846, Bigleg and his family were part of the group that experienced our forced removal from our homelands in Indiana to a new reservation in Waapankiaakamionki (Eastern Kansas) on canal boats.

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“List of Miamies Emigrating from Peru, IN” written by Joseph Sinclair in Evansville, Indiana  on the Steamboat Colorado (Oct 14, 1846)

It was during this time that Bigleg became an indispensable leader for our community. Because of Akima Toopia’s (Francis Lafontaine) sudden death a few months after removal, a man named Oonseentia was elected as akima. However, he appeared to have died in 1848, only two years later. It is at this point that Neewilenkwanka was elected akima in a community that was still struggling to recover from removal.

Much of the information about the first few years in Kansas have been lost, but one story that has survived comes to us from a Myaamia man name Šowapinamwa (Oliver Farrand) in a letter to his cousin, William Wells Wolcott. In this letter he says that he received his Myaamia name from Neewilenkwanka in Kansas in exchange for a bottle of whiskey. While Oliver says in the letter that he wasn’t sure if it counted, he continued to use that as his Myaamia name throughout his life.

While we can now look back upon this story as humorous, it also reveals some of our darker history. During this time alcoholism and violence caused by alcohol was rampant throughout our community. And while we were faced with these hardships, we also strived together as a community to move forward and build ourselves up.

This is exemplified by Bigleg in the same period when he led the Tribal negations with the Federal Government in 1853 along with a  council made up of Mahkateeciinkwia (Little Doctor), Lenipinšia (Jack Hackley), Soowilencihsia (John B. Bourie), and Awansaapia (John B. Bigleg). Also present were several individual Myaamia people from Indiana who wished to discuss annuity payments in Indiana. This led to the treaty that agreed to the allotment of our Kansas reservation with 200 acres being given to each individual, and the excess land to be sold off to the white squatters. While he died in 1858, he was still given an allotment posthumously in 1859 that was inherited by his wife and his son, Awansaapia. 

Awansaapia served as akima from 1862 until his death in 1867 in Iihkipihsinonki (Peru, Indiana) while on his way to Meetaathsoopionki (Washington D.C.), and was buried in the Godfroy Cemetery outside of Peru on the Godfroy Reserve. In 1873, Neewilenkwanka’s wife, Nancy, and his daughter, Susan, elected to maintain their tribal citizenship and removed to Noošonke Siipiionki (Indian Territory), where Susan was allotted on the shared Miami & Peoria Reservation.

Akima Neewilenkwanka helped lead our community through one of the darkest periods in our history and it was though his leadership, and others like him, that we remain today a strong and sovereign nation.

Our hope is that these articles begin to encourage community participation and interest in their family and genealogy. If you have any ideas or suggestions for the subject of the next article, please email me at jbickers@miamination.com. Neewe.

[1] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 56.

Over time, Myaamia people have lived in a wide variety dwelling types. The traditional home of the Myaamia is called wiikiaami (click to hear pronuncation).  A wiikiaami is a domed structure that could be covered in cattail reed mats or bark depending on the season. Often these were also lined with bulrush mats, which were decorated. The layers of mats created an insulated space, which kept these dwellings warm and dry. Wiikiaami is often called a wigwam in English. Today, wiikiaami is a word that Myaamia people can use for any house or dwelling.

kiikapwa wiikiaami

This Kickapoo wiikiaami is like those still built by Myaamia people. The image shows the layers of cattail mats used to keep homes warm and dry.

wiikiaami 2011

This wiikiaami was built by Myaamia people as a part of the Eewansaapita youth program in 2011. The cattail mats were provided by Dani Tippman. The group did not have enough to cover the roof, so a canvas tarp was used instead.

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A Story of a Chicago Fort

In September of 2012, I was approached by the organizers of the Algonquian Conference to participate in a discussion on differing perspectives of the Battle of Fort Dearborn, which took place in the first year of the War of 1812.[1]  Oddly, as I began to think about that event from over 200 years ago, my thoughts turned to the more recent past.  In August of 2006, I experienced a strange moment while standing with my nephew Jarrid near the site where Fort Dearborn once stood, on the sidewalk at the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  Embedded in the sidewalk at that corner are a series of brass strips embossed with the words “SITE OF FORT DEARBORN.”  What happened to us while standing next to those strips of brass was seemingly inconsequential, and yet the memory of that one weird moment continues to bubble up to front of my mind from time to time.

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Strip of brass in Chicago sidewalk laying out the position of Fort Dearborn. Neewe to Karen Baldwin for all of the excellent pictures of the bridge and its associated sculptures and text.

Jarrid and his sister Jessie were in Chicago to help Tamise, my wife, and I move back to the city from Oxford, Ohio.  After the hard day of carrying boxes up three flights of narrow Chicago apartment stairs, I took him out for a trip around downtown.  Jarrid descends from Eepiihkaanita, a man also known by the name William Wells.  Eepiihkaanita died during the battle that followed the evacuation of Fort Dearborn on August 15, 1812.[2]  Because his ancestor died in course of events tied to that place we made it a priority to intentionally go there.  It is of course a dramatically changed landscape, the direction and shape of the river have both been altered and all that remains of the fort are the brass strips embedded into concrete skin of the city like a well worn metallic dotted line.  A significant part of the ground where the 1812 fort once sat was lost to erosion and city planning. Today, the scene is commanded by the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which runs across the Šikaakwa Siipiiwi (the Chicago River).[3]  The pillars of this bridge “attempt” to tell the story of the city of Chicago and include at least one scene dedicated to the Battle of Fort Dearborn in which Eepiihkaanita gave his life.  The “attempt” at telling the story of Chicago starts with explorers and priests and progresses to settlers, defenders, and rebuilders.  Along the way it references “savage” Indians as the backdrop to a story focused on the “progress of civilization.”

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Was “Aquenackwe” Little Turtle’s Father?

Was “Aquenackwe” Little Turtle’s father?  Probably not.  Like many Myaamia (Miami) children, I grew up with stories of family genealogy.  One common story that I heard was that my family descended from Little Turtle’s sister, Tahkamwa (Maria Louisa Richardville).  In family genealogies, Little Turtle and Tahkamwa’s father was always listed as “Aquenackwe” or “Aquenackqua” sometimes with the English “The Turtle.”  Later in life, as I began learn to speak our heritage language and started to investigate historical documents for myself, I learned how much confusion there was around this name and how small mistakes, made by amateur American historians, spread this confusion far and wide.

The confusion began in the late 1800s, as early midwestern historians misread an already poorly recorded version of the name Mihšihkinaahkwa.  Through a series of errors in hearing and writing, this common Myaamia name was replaced by “Aquenackwe” in the historical record.  This elder Mihšihkinaahkwa was born sometime in the early 1700s and died sometime in the mid to late 1700s.  The younger Mihšihkinaahkwa, who would become famous as the Myaamia war leader called “Little Turtle,” was born around 1750 and died in 1812.  These two men may have been father and son, but there is substantial doubt around that point as well.  The story of how the name of the elder Mihšihkinaahkwa became confused as “Aquenackwe” is an interesting one that shines a light on the difficulties that historians have had understanding Myaamia names and kinship.

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