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Miami Indians

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An important tribe of Algonquian stock formerly claiming prior dominion over the whole of what is now Indiana and western Ohio, including the territories drained by the Wabash, St. Joseph, Maumee, and Miami rivers. They were closely connected, both linguistically and politically, with their western neighbours, the Illinois, the two tribe-groups speaking dialects of the same language. The Miami, however, were of more independent and warlike character. The tribal name, properly pronounced as in Latin, Me-ah-me (whence Maumee), and in the full plural form Ou-miami-wek, is of uncertain meaning and derivation. They were called by the early English writers Twightwee, a corruption of their Iroquois name, intended to imitate the cry of a crane.

About 1685 the French recognized six bands, or subtribes, in the tribe, consolidated at a later period into three, namely: Atchatchakangouen, "crane people", or Miami proper; Ouiatanon, "whirlpool people", or Wea; and Pianguichia, "separators" (?), or Piankishaw. By the United States Government these were recognized as three distinct tribes. Altogether they may have numbered originally over 4,000 souls. It is possible that Nicolet in 1634, and Radisson and Groseilliers in 1658-60 may have met in their Wisconsin journeyings the Miami, but this is not known. They are first mentioned by the Jesuit Dreuillettes in 1658 as a tribe recently discovered, under the name of Oumamik, living southwest from Green Bay, Wis. The estimate of 24,000 souls is an evident exaggeration. About 1668 and again in 1670 they were visited by Perrot. In the latter year the Jesuit Father Claude Allouez found them, or a part of the tribe, living with the Mascoutens in a palisaded town, in which he established the mission of Saint-Jacques, about the head of Fox river in south-east Wisconsin (see Mascoutens). He describes them as gentle, affable, and sedate, while Dablon, his companion, calls them more civilized than the lake tribes. Apparently these were only a part of the tribe, the main body being further south, although all the bands were represented. They listened eagerly to the missionary's instruction and to satisfy them Allouez was obliged to set up a large cross in their section of the village as well as in that occupied by the Mascoutens.

In 1673 Allouez, who had learned the language, reports good progress, and that they now hung their offerings upon the cross instead of sacrificing to their heathen gods, chief among which was the Sun. There was however a strong opposition party. In June of this same year the noted Fr. Jacques Marquette stopped at the village and procured Miami guides for his voyage down the Mississippi. He describes the Miami as the most civilized, liberal, and shapely of the three tribes then assembled in the town. They wore their hair in two long braids down their breasts, were accounted brave and generally successful warriors, lived in cabins covered with rush mats, and were so eager to listen to Fr. Allouez that they left him little rest even at night. The cross was decorated with Indian offerings, and one chief who had recently died at a distance had asked to have his bones brought for interment beside it, which was done.

But despite their willingness the mission languished and was soon afterwards abandoned, partly on account of lack of missionaries and partly on account of the disturbed conditions growing out of the inroads of the Iroquois, who, having destroyed the Hurons and others in the east, had now turned upon the Illinois and others of the west, and latterly (1682) upon the Miami. The missionary Lamberville, then stationed at Onondaga, gives a graphic account of the wholesale butcheries and horrible tortures of prisoners of which he was witness. The Iroquois, it must be remembered, were well armed with guns from Dutch and English traders, while the remote western tribes had only the bow. Shortly after the building of La Salle's temporary fort on the St. Joseph river, near the present South Bend, Indiana, a band of Miami moved down and formed a village near to the same spot, while some Potawatomi, also settled near them. Allouez followed them and, probably about 1685, established the mission of Saint Joseph, where he continued until his death in 1689. In 1692-3 Fr. Gravier wintered with the Miami, probably in Illinois. In 1694 we find the Wea in a village where Chicago now is. In 1721 Fr. Charlevoix visited the St. Joseph village, where he found nearly all of both tribes nominally Christian, but, from long absence of a missionary, "fallen into great disorders". Soon afterwards this matter was remedied and in 1750 the mission was in flourishing condition. At the same time Fr. Pierre du Jaunay was among the Wea, then residing at Wea creek on the Wabash, near the present Lafayette, Indians.

A third Jesuit mission existed among the Piankishaw, who had their principal village lower down the Wabash, adjoining the present town of Vincennes, founded in 1702. After the suppression of the Jesuits in New France in 1762, the missionaries continued their work, as seculars, as well as was possible, until their deaths, Father Pierre Potier, "the last Jesuit in the west", dying at Detroit in 1781.

Through the influence of English traders a large part of the tribe had become hostile to the French and under the head chief "La Demoiselle" had removed about 1748 from the neighbourhood of the French post at the head of the Maumee (now Fort Wayne, Indians.) to a point on the Miami near the present Piqua, Ohio, and established there a town called Pickawilliny, which grew rapidly in size and importance and became a centre of English trading influence. After repeated refusals to return, a party of northern Indians, led by a French trader, Langlade, in June, 1752, attacked and burned the town, killing and eating La Demoiselle, and carrying the traders to Canada. By this time the whole tribe was settled along the Wabash and the upper Maumee. They generally sided with the French in the French and Indian and Pontiac's wars, and with the English against the Americans in the later wars. Their great chief, Mishikinakwa, or Little Turtle (1752-1812), led the allied Indian forces which defeated Harmar in 1790 and St. Clair in 1791, but was himself defeated by Wayne in 1794, resulting in the famous Treaty of Greenville in the next year, by which the Indians surrendered the greater part of Ohio.

After the close of the war of 1812, in which again they fought on the English side, the Miami began a series of treaty sales culminating in 1840, by which they sold all their territory excepting a small tract of about ten square miles, agreeing to remove west of the Mississippi. The final removal to Kansas was made by the main Miami band under military pressure in 1846, the Wea and Piankishaw having preceded them by a new of years. The main emigration in 1846 numbered about 650. The small reserved tract in Indiana was allotted in severalty to its owners in 1872 and their tribal relations were dissolved. In 1854 the united Wea and Piankishaw were officially consolidated with the Peoria and Kaskaskia, the remnant of the ancient Illinois, and in 1867 they removed altogether to their present lands under the Quapaw agency in north-east Oklahoma (Indian Ter.). In 1873 the remnant of the emigrant Miami, having sold their lands in Kansas, followed their kindred to the same agency.

After the withdrawal of the Jesuits various secular priests ministered as best they could to the Indians within reach of the frontier settlements, notably Fr. Gibault about Detroit and Fort Wayne, and Father Rivet at Vincennes (1795-1804), the latter devoting himself particularly to the Piankishaw, Wea, and Kaskaskia. In 1804 the Friends established an industrial farm on the upper Wabash, where for several years they instructed Miami, Shawnee, and others until forced to withdraw to Ohio by the opposition of the Shawnee prophet, brother of Tecumtha. In 1818 the Baptist minister, Rev. Isaac McCoy, began a work among the Wea and Miami which continued for four years and was then discontinued. In 1833 another Baptist minister, Rev. Jotham Meeker, assisted by Rev. David Lykins, began work among the Wea and Piankishaw, already in Kansas for some years, and built up a flourishing school with corresponding good effect upon the tribe.

The main body of the Miami in Indiana throughout this period and for some years after their removal in 1846 were entirely neglected; without either religious or educational work, they sank to the lowest depths through dissipation, and were rapidly and constantly diminishing by intemperance and drunken murders. In 1841 their agent reports that "more than half the adults who die perish by the hands of their fellow Indians." A notable exception was their chief, Richardville, of mixed blood, who died in the same year, a consistent Catholic, whose "stern honesty and strict punctuality, as well as dignified bearing, commanded universal respect".

In the meantime the restored Jesuits had again taken up the western mission work in 1824. In 1836 Frs. Charles F. van Quickenborne and Hoecken began a series of missionary visits among the Kickapoo, Wea, Piankishaw, Potawatomi, and other removed and native tribes in Kansas which resulted in the establishment of a successful mission among the Potawatomi (St. Mary's) to which the other tribes were contributors. In 1847 a mission was started among the removed Miami, who had made official request for Catholic teachers, but it was discontinued two years later, probably because of the utter unworthiness of the Indians, who are officially described in the same year as "a miserable race of beings, considering nothing but what contributes to the pernicious indulgence of their depraved appetites for whiskey". The picture in 1849 is in even darker colors — "destroying themselves by liquor and extensively murdering one another", the lowest in condition of all the removed tribes, and reduced in three years by more than one half. In 1855 we hear of the first improvement, through the temperance efforts of the French half- breeds in the tribe. The Quapaw mission of St. Mary's, Okla., in charge of a secular priest assisted by five Sisters of Divine Providence now cares for 276 Indians of the associated remnant tribes, including about 40 of Miami kinship. Of an original 4,000 or more there are left now only about 400, namely — Indiana, 243; Miami in Okla., 128; Wea and Piankishaw, with Peoria, in Okla., about 40.

Very little has been recorded of the customs or general ethnology of the Miami. They were organized upon the clan system, with, according to Morgan, ten gentes. One of their dances has been described, the feather dance, in which the performers, carrying feathered wands, imitated the movements of birds. They had a cannibal society — or possibly a clan — upon which devolved the obligation of eating the body of a prisoner upon occasion of certain great victories. Such ceremonial cannibalism was almost universal among the northern and eastern tribes. Their chief deities seem to have been the Sun and Thunder. They buried in the ground, under small log structures upon the surface of the ground, or in large logs split and hollowed out for the purpose. Of the language nothing of importance has been published beyond a Wea Primer, by the Baptist mission in 1837, although considerable manuscript exists with the Bureau of American Ethnology. It is still spoken by a large proportion of the survivors.


Margry, Découvertes, I-VI (Paris, 1879-1886); Shea, Cath. Indians. Miss (N.Y., 1854); Jesuit Relations, ed. Thwaites, especially XLIV, LIV, LVIII, LIX, LXII (Cleveland, 1896-1901); Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (2 vols., Boston, 1884); Morgan, Ancient Society (New York, 1877); Comsner, Of Ind. Affairs, Annual Repts. (Washington); Director Cath. Ind. Miss., Annual Reports (Washington); Kappler, Ind. Affairs: Laws and Treaties (2 vols., Washington, 1904); Craig, Ouiatanon in Ind. Hist. Soc. Pubs., II (Indianapolis, 1893).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1911). Miami Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Miami Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Anne McCay. In memory of Charles Chief Wambli-Wa-kita McCay.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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