Miami Indians (Chippewa: Omaumeg, ‘people who live on the peninsula’). An Algonquian tribe, usually designated by early English writers as Twightwees (twanhtwanh, the cry of a crane. Hewitt), from their own name, the earliest recorded notice of which is from information furnished in 1658 by Gabriel Druillettes, who called them the Oumamik, then living 60 leagues froth St. Michel, the first village of the Pottawatomi mentioned by him; it, was therefore at or about the mouth of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Tailhan (Perrot, Mémoire) says that they withdrew into the Mississippi valley, 60 leagues from the bay, and were established there from 1657 to 1676, although Bacqueville de la Potherie asserts that, with the Mascoutens, the Kickapoo, and part of the Illinois, they came to settle at that place about 1667. The first time the French came into actual contact with the Miami was when Perrot visited them about 1668. His second visit was in 1670, when they were living at the headwaters of Fox River, Wis.
In 1671 a part at least of the tribe were living with the Mascoutens in a palisaded village in this locality. Soon after this the Miami part from the Mascoutens and formed news settlements at the south end of Lake Michigan a on Kalamazoo river, Michigan. The settlement at the south end of the lake were at Chicago and on St Joseph river, where missions, were established late in the 17th century although the former is mentioned as Wea village at the time of Marquette visit, and Wea were found there 1701 by De Courtentarche. It is like that these Wea were the Miami mentioned by Allouez and others as being united with the Mascoutens in Wisconsin. The chief village of the Miami on Joseph river was, according to Zenobius, about 15 leagues inland, in lat. 41°. The extent of territory occupied by this tribe a few years later compels the conclusion that the Miami in Wisconsin, when the whites first heard of them, formed but a part, of the tribe, and that other bodies were already in northeast Illinois and north Indiana. As the Miami and their allies were found later on the Wabash in Indiana and in northwest Ohio, in which latter territory they gave their name to three rivers, it would seem that they had moved southeast from the localities where first known within historic times. Little Turtle, their famous chief, said: “My fathers kindled the first fire at Detroit; thence they extended their lines to the headwaters of the Scioto; thence to its month; thence down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash, and thence to Chicago over Lake Michigan.”
When Vincennes was sent by Gov. Vaudreville in 1705 on a mission to the Miami they were found occupying principally the territory northwest of the upper Wabash. There was a Miami village at Detroit in 1703, but their chief settlement was still on St Joseph river. In 1711 the Miami and the Wea had three villages on the St Joseph, Maumee, and Wabash. Kekionga, at the head of the Maumee, became the chief seat of the Miami proper, while Ouiatenon on the Wabash was the headquarters of the Wea branch. By the encroachments of the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and other northern tribes the Miami were driven from St Joseph river and the country northwest of the Wabash. They sent out colonies to the east and formed settlements on Miami river in Ohio, and perhaps as far east as the Scioto. This country they held until the peace of 1763, when they retired to Indiana, and the abandoned country was occupied by the Shawnee. They took a prominent part in all the Indian wars in Ohio valley until the close of the war of 1812. Soon afterward they began to sell their lands, and by 1827 had disposed of most of their holdings in Indiana and had agreed to remove to Kansa whence they went later to Indian Territory, where the remnant still resides In all treaty negotiations they were considered as original owners of the Wabash country and all of west Ohio, while the other tribes in that region were regarded as tenants or intruders on their lands. A considerable part of the tribe, commonly known as Meshingomesia’s band, continued to reside on a reservation in Wabash county, Ind., until 1872, when the land was divided among the survivors, then numbering about 300.
The Miami men were described in 1718 as “of medium height, well built, heads rather round than oblong, countenances agreeable rather than sedate or morose, swift on foot, and excessively fond of racing.” The women were generally well clad in deerskins, while the men used scarcely any covering and were tattooed all over the body. They were hardworking, and raised a species of maize unlike that of the Indians of Detroit, described as “white, of the same size as the other, the skin much finer, and the meal much whiter.” According to the early French explorers the Miami were distinguished for polite manners, mild, affable, and sedate character, and their respect for and perfect obedience to their chiefs, who had greater authority than those of other Algonquian and northwest tribes. They usually spoke slowly. They were land travelers rather than canoe men. According to Hennepin, when they saw a herd of buffalo they gathered in great numbers and set fire to the grass about the animals, leaving open a passage where they posted themselves with their bows and arrows; the buffalo, seeking to escape the fire, were compelled to pass the Indians, who killed large numbers of them. The women spun thread of buffalo hair, with which they made bags to carry the meat, toasted or sometimes dried in the sun. Their cabins were covered with rush mats. According to Perrot, the village which he visited was situated on a hill and surrounded by a palisade. On the other hand, Zenobius says that La Salle, who visited the villages on St Joseph river, taught them how to defend themselves with palisades, and even made them erect a kind of fort with intrenchments. Infidelity of the wife, as among many other Indians, was punished by clipping the nose. According to early explorers, they worshiped the sun and thunder, but did not honor a host of minor deities, like the Huron and the Ottawa.
Three forms of burial appear to have been practiced by the division of the tribe living about Ft Wayne:
- The ordinary ground burial in a shallow grave prepared to receive the body in a recumbent position.
- Surface burial in as hollow log these have been found in heavy forests; sometimes a tree was split and the halves hollowed out to receive the body, when it was either closed with withes or fastened to the ground with crossed stakes; sometimes a hollow tree was used, the ends being closed.
- Surface burial wherein the body was covered with a small pen of logs, laid as in a log cabin, the courses meeting at the top in a single log.
It is impossible to give a satisfactory estimate of the numbers of the Miami at any one time, on account of confusion with the Wea and Piankashaw, who probably never exceeded 1,500. An estimate in 1764 gives them 1,750; another in the following year places their number it 1,250. In 1825 the population of the Miami, Eel , Rivers, and Wea was given as 1,400, of whom 827 were Wea. Since their removal to the west they have rapidly decreased. Only 57 Miami were officially known in Indian Territory in 1885, while the Wea and Piankashaw were confederated with the remnant of the Illinois under the name of Peoria, the whole body numbering but 149; these increased to 191 in 1903. The total number of Miami in 1905 in Indian Territory was 124; in Indiana, in 1900, there were 243; the latter, however, are greatly mixed with white blood. Including individuals scattered among other tribes, the whole number is probably 400.
(↵ returns to text)