The Miami Nation was presented before the “Fort Wayne Quest Club” by William R. Clark on October 29th 1993: The Miami men hunted and warred and when they were not so engaged they made weapons, held councils, played games, feasted and participated in ceremonies. The women did everything else which included planting and harvesting crops, skinning animals, preparing the meat and hides, making the clothes, building the huts, preparing the meals, rearing the children and carrying the loads between encampments. At a later time of attempting assimilation, despite subsidies by the federal government, it proved impossible to turn any self-respecting Miami male into a plow farmer. This statement over-simplifies the many-factor basis of failure, but I believe strikes close to the essence of the matter.
The periods following contact up to the end of the French and Indian wars in 1763 was dominated by the incredibly lucrative fur trade; and, although the Miamis dealt with French and English, it was the former who were to exert the greatest influence. This period was characterized as the Miami Golden Age as the British and French contended for the Miamis favor both as military and trading allies. The Miamis were characterized by observers at the time as being more politically astute at playing this game than other tribes and were often capable of maintaining neutrality. There are two features of that period worthy of citing. The first is the impact of the trader’s goods-metal tools, utensils, textiles and guns. Alcohol is a separate topic. The traded goods enhanced the Miami lifestyle but quickly became essential to them if they were to compete successfully with their neighbors. A dependency upon the goods developed that would prove to undermine the Indian culture in perverse ways. A second feature of this time was the extent of French-Indian intermarriage, perhaps more prevalent among Miamis than neighboring tribes. Frenchmen and descendants of mixed marriages were integrated into the tribe, influenced the culture and many provided effective advocacy for at least some Miami during the time of the tribe’s removal in the 1840s. As an aside, it’s noted that French policy discouraged French settlement of the area with intent to preserve the benefits of the fur trade for the French Crown. British rarely married Native Americans, explained by some as related to a rather more Protestant judgmental attitude upon the issue.
The disappearance of the French presence after its loss in the French and Indian War to the British in 1763 ushered in a new era for the Miamis. The British adopted a policy of prohibiting colonial expansion of settlers beyond the Ohio River, a policy that ranked significantly among the grievances prompting the Declaration of Independence. Although the policy was in part advantageous to the Indians, the lack of French competition in the area resulted in curtailment of favorable trading exchanges and sparked Chief Pontiac of the Ottawas to lead uprisings against the British. The Miami participated in a limited way by attacking the small British garrison located in the fort originally built by the French on the east bank of the St. Joseph River just above the confluence of the three rivers. It is parenthetically added that the first fort constructed in this area was in 1722, also by the French, and was located at a point where the Van Buren Street bridge now crosses the St. Mary’s River just north of St. Joe Medical Center. The story told is that the commanding officer, Ensign Robert Holmes, was lured outside the stockade by his young Miami mistress (who was unaware that she was pregnant with his child), under pretense of helping an old squaw. Ensign Holmes was killed, scalped and the fort was captured, by the Miamis. To be continued…
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