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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 3.09.49 PM.png

“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.

by John Bickers and George Ironstrack

This post is the first in a new series of articles touching on Myaamia kinship and genealogy. It is the hope of the authors that Myaamia community members will be interested to learn more about how our Myaamia families are interrelated. Additionally, we hope that community members will request future posts covering the genealogy of different branches of our big Myaamia family.

In the winter of 1790-91, a British man by the name of Henry Hay came to stay at Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne). He spent the winter visiting with British and French traders and with nearly all the key Myaamia leaders of the era: Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle), Le Gris, Moohswa, Pinšiwa (J.B. Richardville), and Tahkamwa (Marie Louisa Richardville). Hay kept a very detailed journal, and this record provides rare tidbits of information about Tahkamwa, a very influential akimaahkwia (female civil chief).[1]

In their writings, Euro-American men rarely focused their attention on Myaamia women. Every village had female civil leaders, female war leaders, and women’s councils, but they rarely interacted with Euro-American men, except for those who married into the community. In Myaamia villages, face-to-face diplomacy was the responsibility of male leaders. However, Tahkamwa provides us with a rare example of an akimaahkwia who actively participated in her village’s public council sessions and who interacted with Euro-American men in a political environment. Her unique role was partly a result of her personal stature, knowledge, experience, and influence within her community. Her role was also partly the result of the absence of her brother Pakaana, the acknowledged akima (male civil leader) of Kiihkayonki. At the time of Hay’s visit, Pakaana was in the south on the Mihšisiipi (Mississippi River) negotiating with the Iihpaawala (Spanish) and hunting.[2]

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

1_Fort Dearborn  168

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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

A Mended Picture

The Richardville Valley Sample Room circa 1898

The Richardville Valley Sample Room circa 1898

On the first page of this year’s lunar calendar (link here), you may have noticed the picture titled “aancihtoonki kiihkihsenki” (pictured above).  In the lower right corner is the original version of this photo showing numerous serious cracks and other damage.  The larger photo is the result of the hard work of Elizabeth Brice, the Head of Special Collections and Archives at Miami University and John Millard, Head of the Center for Digital Scholarship also at Miami University.  We greatly appreciate Elizabeth and John’s help.

The photo is of the Strack family, Richardville and Godfroy descendants, in front of their family saloon, which opened around 1880 on family reserve lands south of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Initially it appears that the saloon was called the Blufton Road Tavern as well as Strack and McClaren’s Saloon, but in 1894 the establishment redecorated and reopened under the name The Richardville Valley Sample Room.  There are many entertaining news stories about the tavern in the Fort Wayne newspapers and perhaps we can share a more substantial post about this in the future.

Until recently, the original photo was in the possession of Lew Fox.  Mr. Fox is the grandson of Lila McClaren, who is the little girl forth from the left in the white dress.  Lila and her brother, Charles McClaren, the little boy sitting on the step second from the right, were the children of Elizabeth Strack McClaren and Jesse McClaren.  Elizabeth has not been positively identified in this photo, but she may be the woman seated third from the left.  Jesse has also not been positively identified, but he may be the man wearing a hat standing fifth from the left.  We still have a lot to learn about this photo and we look forward to talking more with our families about this period of Myaamia history.  Neewe to Mr. Fox for sharing these photos.  Now that they are scanned, the entire collection can be shared among his entire extended family and digital copies can be archived within the Myaamia Heritage Museum and Archive for all Myaamia people to enjoy and learn from.  If you’d like to learn more about how to help preserve, scan, and share your family’s heirloom photos, please call or email Meghan Dorey at MDorey@miamination.com or (918) 542-1445.