William Wells was known as a man of great courage and action that set the stage for his violent death just two weeks after Chief Little Turtle’s death. General Harrison asked Wells to assist in the evacuation of Fort Dearborn (current day Chicago), back to the relative safety of Fort Wayne. The retreating party of approximately 100 included his niece who was wife of the Dearborn commanding officer, was ambushed by 600 Potawatomis on the shores of Lake Michigan. Wells fought valiantly but in vain. The Potawatomis mounted his head upon a pole and ate his heart, the later a sign of admiration for his fierce courage despite their dislike of him. Two streets bear his name today, one in Chicago, one in Fort Wayne.
The final period of the Miami occupation in our area from the turn of the century to 1846 was characterized by dispossession of their land through a series of treaties and their failed efforts to adopt farming, disappearance of Miami culture and ultimately the disappearance of the Miami’s themselves.
Following the battle of the Fallen Timbers and the treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ceded much of the current state of Ohio plus selected sites in Indiana (including Kekionga) to the United States, the Miami villages were dispersed to the Eel River, the forks of the Wabash at present day Huntington and other sites along the Wabash River. Even prior to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 during the Andrew Jackson administration, the Painkeshaw and the Weas were among the earliest of the Indians from this area relocated to Kansas. The many treaties formulated by land speculators, lawyers and government agencies, over 40 years, eventually caused the Miami Nation to lose all of their land. In one treaty alone the Miami’s were punished for their perceived inconsistencies with respect to Tecumseh with loss of the entire central portion and remaining southern portion of the state of Indiana. By 1840 the Miami Nation’s domain which originally constituted 60,000 square miles in Indiana and Ohio consisted of only 10 square miles of tribal land along the Mississinewa River plus a handful of individually granted sections of land to chiefs and their families.
The Miami Indians of our area over this time dwindled to perhaps as few as 700 to 800, while the white population of Indiana from the Wabash River North virtually exploded from but a few hundred in 1890 to 3,390 in 1830 to 65,897 in 1840 and 165,286 in 1850. The fertile Miami homeland was now coveted by the oncoming wave of white settlers; later the prospect of economic growth engendered by the Wabash-Erie canal whetted the appetite of greedy land speculators. The Miami seemed ill-prepared for the new civilian protagonists in their midst who manipulated and exploited their position by means often unethical, if not illegal.
One feature of the treaties was payment of annuities in perpetuity to the Indians. The Miamis had negotiated more generous sums than neighboring tribes, a mixed blessing it seems. The payouts were both a disincentive to work and a means to purchase alcohol. The later was a major problem for the Miamis of this time. Alcohol abuse was more of a symptom of individual despondency and collective tribal depression of this once great warrior society than the primary cause of cultural disintegration. One tangible adverse result is to be found in the following statement: In 1839 Samuel Milroy, Indian agent to the Miami, reported that since 1832 the Miami in Indiana had been reduced to 700 members because of the stabbing deaths of 450 men and 36 women that occurred during drunken brawls. To be continued.
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