Published on April 2, 2012 by Amy
North American tribe of Algonquian linguistic stock, originally occupying parts of the present states of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Closely associated and sometimes identified with the Wea and Piankashaw tribes, they lived in mat-covered cabins and hunted bison (often called buffalo).
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In the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Miami were allied with the French. During the American Revolution (1775-1783), they joined with the other tribes of the Ohio Valley and fought on the side of the British. Between 1795 and 1854 the Miami signed 13 treaties ceding nearly all their lands to the United States.
In 1827 most of the tribe moved to Kansas, where the remaining members still reside today. Those who remained in Indiana dissolved tribal relations in 1872, divided their land among themselves, and merged with the local population.
In 1990 3,353 people claimed Miami ancestry.
The Miami Indians originally lived in Indiana and southern Michigan. They moved into the Maumee Valley around A.D. 1700. They soon became the most powerful Indian tribe in Ohio. The Miamis speak a form of the Algonquian Indian language and so are related to the Delaware, Ottawa, and Shawnee Indians.
Political alliances were complicated and changed with the times. The Miamis were allies of the French until British traders moved into the Ohio country around A.D. 1740. The French forced the British out of Ohio and the Miamis allied themselves with the French again until the British victory in the French and Indian War. As French trading posts turned into British forts the Ohio Indians banded together to fight the British. During the American Revolution, the Miami fought with the British against the Americans. After the defeat of the British they continued to fight the Americans.
Little Turtle was the greatest chief of the Miamis. He led a force of Miamis and other Indians to victory over two American armies. He defeated the army of General Harmar in 1790 (Harmar’s Defeat) and the army of General St. Clair in 1791 (St. Clair’s Defeat).
General Anthony Wayne finally defeated the Miamis and other Ohio Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. They surrendered most of their lands in Ohio with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville. In 1818 the United States forced the Miamis to give up their last reservation in Ohio.
Among other tribes in the region, the Miami had the reputation of being slow-spoken and polite but had an inclination towards fancy dress, especially their chiefs. Tattooing was common to both sexes, and like the neighboring Illinois, there were harsh penalties for female adulterers who were either killed or had their noses cut off.
Perhaps as many as 15,000 in 1600, the French estimated the combined population of all groups of the Miami at around 8,000 in 1717. During the next 20 years the Miami, as well as the neighboring Illinois, suffered a rapid population decline from several epidemics the most important of which was malaria (ague) which became common in the Mississippi Valley during this period. By 1736 the Miami numbered less than 3,000. British estimates after 1763 varied between 1,800 and 2,700 depending on whether the Wea and Piankashaw were included with the Miami. The first accurate count by the Americans in 1825 gave about 1,100 Miami and Eel River, 327 Wea, and a little more than 150 Piankashaw – total of about 1,600. By 1846 the combined population of the Piankashaw, Wea, and Miami in Kansas stood close to 1,000. The Miami who had remained in Indiana (heavily intermarried) numbered between 500 and 1,500 depending on how much of the mixed-blood population was included. When their land was allotted in 1872, only 247 of the Indiana Miami chose to identify themselves as Native Americans.
The Miami called themselves Twightwee (Twatwa), their name for the cry of the crane and the symbol of the Atchakangouen (Miami Proper). Miami comes from their Ojibwe name, Oumami (Oumamik, Owmaweg, Omaumeg) “people of the peninsula” altered by the French and English into our familiar form of Miami (Maumee). Other names were: Naked Indians, Pkiwileni (Shawnee), Sanshkiaarunu (Wyandot “finely dressed people”), Twatwa (Tawatawa “naked”), and Wayatanoke.
A loose association of six independent tribes: Atchakangouen (Atchatchakangouen, Miami Proper), Kilatika, Mengkonkia (Mengakonia), Pepikokia, Piankashaw, and Wea (Newcalenous, Ouiatenon). By 1796 the Pepikokia had been absorbed by Piankashaw, and the divisions after this time were: Eel River, Miami, Piankashaw, and Wea.
More of an association than confederation, each of the six bands was independent of the others with its own chief. In both language and culture, the Miami closely resembled the Illinois. So much so, the French initially got them confused, even though these two peoples often were hostile to each other. More so than other Great Lakes Algonquin, the Miami appear to have retained strong links to the earlier Mississippian culture. The most noteworthy characteristic was the unusual amount of respect and ceremony accorded to their chiefs. The hereditary Miami chiefs also had religious functions, but many of these were curtailed when they failed to cope with the new European epidemics. As a result, the Midewiwin curing society became powerful during the late 1600s, and this apparently caused a leadership crisis within the Miami which lasted until the 1750s. At the same time, the Jesuit missionaries caused further divisions by the acceptance of Christianity by some of the Miami. Despite this, much of the traditional authority of Miami chiefs has been retained to the present, and it still takes a unanimous vote of the tribal council to override his decisions.
Most of their diet came from agriculture, but the Miami were noted for a unique variety of white corn which was generally regarded as superior to that of other tribes. Their summer villages, located in river valleys for the fertile soil, consisted of framed longhouses covered with rush mats. A separate, larger structure was used for councils and ceremonies. After the harvest, the village moved to the nearby prairies for a communal buffalo hunt, then separated into winter hunting camps.