How the Indian Removal Act Affected the Potawatomi and the Miami
The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28, 1830 under, then President, Andrew Jackson's administration. This act was designed to remove Native American Indians from lands east of the Mississippi River to re-establish them on reservations in the untamed, wild lands west of the Mississippi. These lands were mainly located in modern-day Oklahoma and Kansas. The notion of Indian removal was ,by then, decades old and there had been many violent conflicts between Indians and White Settlers leading up to the decision for removal. There are conflicting views about the motives for such action, however, most historians agree that the act was a cruel, malicious scheme to rid the Indians of their lands in order to sale the same lands to white settlers for large profits. Some felt that Indian removal was the only and last resolution in order to preserve the Native American culture, citing that the Indians would surely become extinct if something was not done to protect them. To this day, the truth lies somewhere within the perspective of each American soul. Andrew Jackson had for many years prior to the Indian Removal Act profited from Indian lands, however, as a President, he had an obligation to protect all citizens white or red from ultimate destruction.
The Potawatomi had ceded land to the general government some years prior to the Indian Removal Act. The Potawatomi were always a peaceful and compliant people who had a reputation for their friendliness so long as they were not drunk on the liquor they often traded furs for. They lived primarily in the Great Lakes region which included Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Their land was valuable for its abundance of fish and wildlife and the quality of furs that attracted many frontiersmen who would trade with them and return to the New England States to acquire great profits for their wares. These frontiersmen, men like Pierre Navarre and Alexis Coquillard, became wealthy when they set up trading posts along the St. Joseph River. The Potawatomi so integrated with the new Americans that many fur traders had married the daughters of the chiefs. Later, after most of the Potawatomi land had been ceded to the government, on April 19,1830 the first recorded purchases of land by John Johnston and Samuel Bell was made. White settlement rapidly followed and within a year most of the most valuable land in the South Bend area was taken up. White settlement had finally reached the shores of Lake Michigan.
Treaties for land with both the Potawatomi and the Miami began in the late 1820's when the government created reservations. For the Potawatomi, removal under the Treaty of Chicago of 1821 began with the Illinois bands who were sent to Nebraska and the Indiana bands to Kansas. The Treaty of Chicago allowed the U.S.Government to contract work to local men who would perform the duties alongside militia men to gather and transport the Indians to their new destinations. The Ewing family was selected to do the government's work. They hired Alexis Coquillard of South Bend as their agent and it is he who performed the actual capture and transport of families to camps prior to removal .
In the counties south of South Bend, between 1834-1837, Abel C. Pepper a Government Indian Agent had secured cessions of Potawatomi lands via the Whiskey Treaties ( whiskey was used to lure the Indians into signing the treaties) and this resulted in the voluntary emigration of some Potawatomi bands to Kansas in 1837. There was resistance by Chief Menominee who refused to sign the treaties. He gathered followers and his villiage grew from 4 wigwams to 100 wigwams and cabins by 1838.
In the summer of 1838, out of fear of an uprising, General John Tipton was appointed by the then Governor David Wallace to round up the Potawatomi by force in that area. Tipton and an armed militia of men met with Menominee and his people under false pretenses and captured them by force, tied them, and placed the three resistant Chiefs into a horse-drawn jail wagon then collected the rest of the group and transported them west.
It is documented by Benjamin Petit, a Catholic Priest who accompanied the Potawatomi on their Trail of Tears that here, many of the Potawatomi were malnourished and poorly clothed and that the trip later was beset with alcohol abuse, cholera, and confusion.
Not all of the Potawatomi were removed. Many found ways to remain. The Pokagon Band (Michigan Band) whose chief, Leopold Pokagon had tirelessly negotiated with the state authorities to avoid removal stating that his people had peacefully complied with all laws and had converted into Christians as required. The Pokagon band is one of the few Potawatomi bands that still remain in the Great Lakes area today. Others had joined their Odawa brothers or had fled to Canada.
Just south of the Potawatomi lands were the lands and villages of the Miami tribes. They were settled for the most part along the Wabash River. The Potawatomi and the Miami had for centuries traded amongst each other and had freely navigated both the land and waterways of Indiana to make their trades. The Miami, however, were of a different mindset when it came to befriending the European immigrants. They often rebelled the onslaught of white settlers and fought in coalition with other tribes to fend off such invasion of their land. They were flighty about their alliances with British Military groups as well as the French and sided with both at one time or another but usually always sided against the new American Government who wanted to take their lands. It was a British victory in the French and Indian War that led to the increase in British presence within the Miami lands. This shifted the Miami alliance to Britain which, in turn, led to the gradual encroachment of the European-American settlement in the area.
Some Miami bands merged under Chief Little Turtle in order to strengthen their resistance to settlement and, by the end of the 18th century, only three Miami bands remained: the Miami, the Piankeshaw, and the Wea. The latter two aligned themselves with the Illini tribes and later, during removal, the government included them with the Illini for administration purposes. One band, the Eel River band maintained a separate status and that proved beneficial to them during the removal years.
The Miami were divided when it came to alliances with the British and the Americans. The Miami band of Kekionga remained allied with the British while the Piankeshaw openly supported the American Rebel Colonists. Many battles ensued until the Northwest Indian War ended with the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville. When the Treaty of Mississinwas was signed in 1826, the Miami were forced to cede most of their lands to the U.S.Government. This treaty allowed individuals to hold private lands whereas prior to the treaty, all Miami lands were held collectively by the tribe. Later, during the Miami removal in 1846, those individuals who held private holdings were allowed to stay as Indiana citizens and those who remained affiliated with the tribe were removed first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma. The divide in the Miami tribe exists to this day. Our Federal Government recognizes the western Miami Tribe of Oklahoma but the Eastern Miami (the Indiana Miami), though they have their own tribal government, lacks Federal recognition.
The South Bend Area Potawatomi removal began on September 4th, 1838. Alexis Coquillard and the new U.S. Military escorted them. A few days later Benjamin Petit received permission by the Catholic bishop to catch up to accompany them to their destination as long as he would return promptly after the trip concluded. Petit caught up to the Potawatomi in Danville, Illinois. Petit describes in his journal the march of the Potawatomi on the Trail of Tears. His descriptions include many, many deaths, many sicknesses including his own multiple fevers, and the destitute condition of the minds and souls of those in the march. He explains that the trip took exactly two months to complete- Sept. 4, 1838 to Nov. 4, 1838 and had covered 660 miles from central Indiana through Illinois and Missouri to eastern Kansas.
More than forty Indians had died on the march and Petit himself was so stricken with fever that his return to Indiana became impossible. On his return trip, Petit made it to the mission in St. Louis, Missouri where he was taken in by his brethren and soon died on February 10, 1839. Petit's body was returned to Indiana and remains buried alongside two other Priests in a reconstructed Log Chapel on the Notre Dame campus.
For the Miami, treaties began as early as 1817. a large reservation was created within Indiana after the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary's where several of the families were granted land for personal use. In 1834, part of the reservation was sold to European settlers and frontiersmen. the remainder of the Big Reservation was sold in 1840 in exchange for lands in Kansas, however, some families maintained exemption from removal as stated in an earlier 1838 treaty.
Removal was to start on October 1, 1846 but it actually started on October 6th by canal boat. By ship, the Miami traveled to Kansas Landing, Kansas City and then trekked 50 miles by land to the reservation. The Miami who survived the trip arrived on November 9, 1846. In Indiana, the Miami families who held lands after removal had sold most of their lands to non-Indians by 1872. Then by 1922, all Miami family reserves had been sold to settle debt or to pay taxes.
Though the Potawatomi and the Miami for the most part are gone from the State of Indiana ( named so for Indian presence), it is evident that their mark was forever left in the State as one only need count the number of towns, cities, streets, roads, schools, buildings, etc that bear their name.