“Father, we think our answer is good—You point to the West and ask us to go there—There I shall never go, nor will my people. They are all opposed to leaving here. They will not sell their lands. I speak not for myself, but for my people—What you hear from me is the voice of the Miami. We have answered more than once that we will not sell, and still you ask us for land. You tell us again that our Great Father loves us—His acts do not show it—If he loved them he would clothe and feed them—He would not send them into the western wilderness. You go about like the fox in the night to gather information, to steal our opinions. We know the value of our soil as well as the White Man can tell us—Here the Great Spirit has fixed our homes—Here are our cornfields and cabins—From this soil and these forests we derive our subsistence, and here we will live and die—I repeat, we will not sell one inch of our lands.” From Peshewa to the United States, selected excerpts from the proceedings of treaty negotiations at Forks of the Wabash, September 25-26, 1832 (“Notable American Indians, pg. 100)
As someone who grew up on the Great Plains, I find the stories of persons who lived their lives melding the two cultures of Native American and “white” together fascinating. You don’t see that “out west” because by the time those states were being settled, the Indians had been run off their land so often they didn’t have many options but to stand and fight. But it was different to a certain extent in the early days of Indiana. While the British didn’t condone intermingling with the Native Americans–their goal being to take the land for their own purposes–the French were more likely to intermarry and adopt some Indian customs. Doubtless, it wasn’t as altruistic as that sounds. Ultimately, though, the British philosophy won out and tribes were forced to move further and further west and off the land they had once owned.
We have several books in our gift shop at the History Center about those days in our history and an outstanding example of an historical figure from those times in Jean Baptiste Richardville—Chief Richardville as we know him from his home in Fort Wayne.
The Chief’s home at 5705 Bluffton Road is now a National Historic Landmark. On the first Saturday of the month, May through November, you can experience different facets of Miami culture as each month we feature a different artist teaching about everything from weaponry to drumming to beading to the use of herbs to the building of a wikiami.
Legend has it that Peshewa—the “Wildcat” (Richardville’s Indian name) was born under an ancient apple tree at Kekionga or current Fort Wayne. His birth in approximately 1761 was toward the end of the French and Indian War. At about this same time, the French surrendered the fort at Kekionga to the British. In 1763, the Miami massacred the British garrison stationed at the fort, having maintained their primarily pro-French leanings. There are over a dozen possible “Indian” names for Chief Richardville. Those used most in this article are “Peshewa” and “Pinsiwa”.
Peshewa’s father was French—Antoine Joseph Derouet de Richerville and his mother—Tacumwah, which means water bird—was Miami. She was also known as Maria Louisa. The Richardville (as the name later became) family made a living in the fur-trade. Husband and wife worked together and passed along their knowledge to their son. In 1770 the father moved to French Canada. Peshewa spent time with both parents, residing in Canada and attending school there and becoming fluent in both French and English as well as his native Miami language. Richardville and his mother became entrepreneurs, building a trading empire based on control of the portage between the St. Mary’s and Wabash rivers.
Miami culture is intriguing in that women held a high ranking, particularly those who were daughters of chiefs. According to the application submitted to gain landmark status for the house, “Pinšiwa‘s mother had an equally distinguished heritage. Tahkamwa (Maria Louisa) was the sister of Pakaana , the Myaamia‘s akima (principal civil chief). Tahkamwa most likely served as an akimaahkwia (women‘s chief) at Kiihkayonki, and oversaw many of the aspects of village life: Women of the elite, or chiefly class, could also hold positions as either village or war chiefs or medicine women, the same designations used among the men…As chiefs, their power was inherited through their fathers, who would also have been chiefs. Tahkamwa was the daughter of a chief and was probably a chief herself, since she engaged in activities that came under the domain of a woman chief. Jehu Hay, the British Agent at Detroit in 1774, described Tahkamwa as a powerful political influence, and stated, ‘she is capable of doing a good deal of mischief and the rest of the French Traders are under some apprehension that she will…’ Prospering from her political control of the portage, from which as much as $100 a day was earned, Tahkamwa was an established trader whose example and tutelage guided her son.”
The Chief in his later years
Most historians believe Richardville to have been Little Turtle’s nephew and to have been present with him during the bulk of Miami-American armed conflicts during President Washington’s military actions in Indian-held lands of what was then the Northwest Territory. Little Turtle is considered to have been the leader of a coalition of Algonquin-speaking tribes known as the Miami Alliance or Wabash Confederation which fought against American takeover of Indian lands in the 1780s and 1790s. Richardville signed the Treaty of Greenville OH in 1795 while in his early thirties.
The history of this time is too long and too complicated to explain in detail here. Suffice to say that the tribes worked hard to retain their lands and way of life, but to no avail against the drive West by the government of the newly formed United States.
In 1800 Peshewa married Natoequah, a Miami woman, and together they had a son and three daughters. He avoided Tecumseh’s battles and the War of 1812 by living in Canada, returning to the Fort Wayne area after the war ended and becoming civil chief of the Miami in 1814, upon the death of Pacanne, who had fought alongside Little Turtle and led the tribe as its leader.
According to the History Center’s web site: “As American settlements spread through the Old Northwest Territory, it became clear that the United States government intended to remove local Indians and inhabit their land. Richardville, through clever negotiation, was able to maintain a Miami presence in Indiana long after other tribes had been forced to leave the area, notably the Piankashaws in 1805 and the Wea in 1820.
“In 1818, through Richardville’s intervention, individual families were given legal land grants as small parcels of privately held reserves scattered throughout northern Indiana. Richardville himself eventually controlled over twenty square miles of choice property along the St. Joseph, St. Mary’s, Mississinewa, Salamonie and Wabash rivers. This act provided the means for half of the Miami people to remain in Indiana after their official removal in 1846, five years after Richardville’s death.
“In recognition of his role as a principal chief among the Miami people, the U.S. government provided $600 toward construction of a house for Richardville along the banks of the St. Mary’s River. The chief contributed some of his own wealth toward the house that eventually cost $2,200 when it was built in 1827. In his spacious and elegant home, he reportedly entertained some of Fort Wayne’s earliest civic leaders like Samuel Hanna, Allen Hamilton, and William Rockhill.”
In its description of the historical significance of Richardville’s life, the landmark application describes him:
“Throughout the course of his life and to 1789 in particular, Pinšiwa learned to be a cultural broker with the surrounding Indian tribes; with the French and the English; with U.S. military leaders and government officials; and with the growing numbers of U.S. settlers, who crossed the Ohio River into Indian land. These situations required Pinšiwa‘s ability to negotiate and broker between parties who had profoundly different, mutually incomprehensible,‖ worldviews. Pinšiwa spoke the language of the Myaamia, as well as the language of the United States, France and England. The Middle Ground‖ approach and process required a rough balance of interest, need, and power between the parties. As the Pays d’en haut (Great Lakes ―upper country‖) matured and civilizations increasingly collided, the cultural brokerage of leaders, such as Pinšiwa became ever more crucial. The presence and interaction of Myaamia, French, British, Spanish, and United States citizens, other tribes of the Great Lakes and those tribes fleeing U.S. frontier expansion, made the collection of Kiihkayonki villages in which Pinšiwa was raised as cosmopolitan a community as any that existed in the Great Lakes region.
“At a young age, Pinšiwa had been trained to utilize his heritage, ingenuity, and skill, to become an influential assistant to his uncle, the akima Pakaana. He also became a trader under the tutelage of his mother and stepfather, Charles Beaubien. Pinšiwa‘s command of the language and customs of the Euro-American world also gave him an advantage as he attempted to maintain the Middle Ground‖ equilibrium between Euro- American and Indian cultures. Educated in both the French and Myaamia tradition, he gradually ascended to de facto status as akima upon the removal of his uncle to Vincennes after 1785, and became fully recognized as akima by the Myaamia and the United States government by 1818.” But according to the book “Notable American Indians” by Alan J. McPherson and James Carr, there is another view of Richardville: “He won many important concessions during treaty negotiations with the United States from 1815 through 1840, including procurement of the Great Miami Reserve, a reservation of some seven hundred sixty thousand acres in north central Indiana, during the council at the Treaty of St. Mary’s (Ohio) in 1818.
“However, some also accused Peshewa of using his political position for his personal financial gain as well as lucrative considerations for his family and close friends. During his lifetime, he received large grants of money and land and was awarded several homes from the United States government. He became the richest Indian in Indiana and possibly ‘the most wealthy man of the native race in America,’ according to historian Henry Schoolcraft.”
Lois Shepherd Headings, who wrote a definitive article about Chief Richardville for the “Old Fort News” (Vol. 61, Nos. 1 & 2)in 1998, states, “Richardville’s contemporaries were sometimes derogatory—a few traders and officials decrying his cunning and deceit, finding his craft too subtle. But others found him laudably prudent, careful, and deliberate, a patient listener, even beloved and esteemed.”
Chief Richardville died on August 13, 1841 in his house on what is now Bluffton Road. According to Headings’ article, “his casket was ferried down the river to the French-Catholic church in Fort Wayne (on the site of the current Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). His remains lie under Cathedral Square. “ Cathedral Square is at the intersection of Lewis and Calhoun Streets in downtown Fort Wayne.
Doris M. Perry, writing in “The Old Fort News”, (Vol. 53, No. 1, 1990), explains “he was considered the wealthiest Indian in Indiana. He left his family thousands of choice acres of land, a safe full of gold (writer’s note: the safe remains in the house at Bluffton Road for your viewing), trading posts and several houses. His granddaughter, Mongosehquah, reported that it took the family a day and a night to remove the gold found hidden in the house and on the grounds…”
The National Historic Landmark designation, acquired on March 2, 2012, says the structure is a rare example of a treaty house and the only surviving treaty house remaining in the nation. It is also the first Greek Revival style house in northeast Indiana.
Several generations of the Chief’s descendants owned the house until 1908 when it passed out of the family and eventually became the office for the Spy Run Gravel Company that mined much of the surrounding area, leaving the house on a one-acre pedestal of land. The Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society acquired the property in 1991 and has restored the building’s exterior.