The Miami are thought by anthropologists to be one of the cultural descendants of the Mississippian culture, characterized by maize-based agriculture, chiefdom-level social organization, extensive regional trade networks, hierarchical settlement patterns, and other factors. The historical Miami seem also to have enjoyed hunting.
When French missionaries first encountered the Miami in the mid 17th century, they were living around the shores of Lake Michigan. The Miami had reportedly moved there because of pressure from the Iroquois further east. Early French explorers noticed many linguistic and cultural similarities between the Miami bands and the Illiniwek.
In 1696, the Comte de Frontenac appointed Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes as commander of the French outposts in northeast Indiana. Here he became good friends with the Miami people, settling first at the St. Joseph River, and, in 1704, establishing a trading post and fort at Kekionga, present day Fort Wayne, Indiana.
By the eighteenth century, the Miami had for the most part returned to their homeland in present-day Indiana and Ohio. The eventual victory of the British in the French and Indian War led to an increased British presence in traditional Miami areas. Shifting alliances and the gradual encroachment of white settlement led to some Miami bands merging. Native Americans created larger tribal confederacies as they allied both to participate in European wars and to fight advancing white settlement. By the end of the century, the tribal divisions were:
The latter two groups were closely aligned with some of the Illini tribes and were later lumped with them for administrative purposes. The Eel River band maintained a somewhat separate status, which proved beneficial in the removals of the nineteenth century. The nation's traditional capital was Kekionga.
A Contemporary Kansas History of the Miami Tribe
By William G.Cutler (1883)
The first treaty with the United States to which the Miamis were a party was concluded at Greenville, August 3, 1795. It was a treaty of peace, and also a definite settlement, for the time, of the boundary between the United States and various Northern and Central contracting tribes. It was consummated by "Anthony Wayne, Major General, commanding the army of the United States, and sole Commissioner for the good purposes above mentioned, at Greenville, the headquarters of said army."
Among the tribes represented were the Miamis; their principal chief, Little Turtle. When asked to tell the limits of his country, he answered: "My forefather kindled the first fire at Detroit; from thence he extended his line to the head-waters of the Scioto; from thence to its mouth; from thence to the mouth of the Wabash, and from thence to Chicago, on Lake Michigan. These are the boundaries within which the prints of my ancestors' houses are everywhere to be seen."
At the time the Western or Indian Territory was set apart for the occupancy of the Indian tribes, the Miamis were located on several reservations, which had been assigned to the different bands in the valley of the Wabash, the most important being Massassinawa, the residence of the principal chief. These lands were ceded to the United States November 28, 1840, and the following described tract in the Indian Territory given them for a future home: "A tract bounded on the east by the State of Missouri; on the north by the country of the Weas and Piankeshaws; on the west by the Pottawatomies of Indiana; and on the south by the land assigned to the New York Indians." This tract was estimated to contain five hundred thousand acres.
By virtue of this treaty, the Miamis located in the territory comprised in the southeastern part of the present county of Miami. About eleven hundred settled on Sugar Creek during 1846-47, of whom nearly half returned to Indiana the following year. Sickness so decimated the ranks of those who remained that only about three hundred were left when the band removed to the banks of the Marais des Cygnes.
Their principal village was on the east bank of the river, a little settlement growing up in the neighborhood, composed of mission buildings, one of the Indian Agencies, and a few log houses occupied by pioneer white settlers. Dr. David Lykens, the first white settler in the county, established a Baptist Mission among the Weas (a band of Miamis) on Wea Creek, about the year 1840. It was a successful and well-conducted school, and was in operation many years.
The Catholics established a branch of the Osage Mission among the Miamis in 1850, the missionaries visiting the tribe once a month. Fathers Truyens and Van Micorio were the first priests. They were afterward visited by Fathers Schact and Favre, of Lawrence, until Father Waltron was located at Paola.
On the 5th day of June, 1854, the Miami Indians ceded to the United States all the land acquired by the treaty of 1840, excepting and reserving therefrom 70,000 acres for their future homes, and also a section of 640 acres for school purposes, "to be selected and assigned to said tribe as hereinafter provided."
The reservation was to be surveyed as Government lands were surveyed; individual selections of 200 acres each were to be made, to include, as far as practicable, the residence and improvements of each person then living on the reservation; the residue of the land to be held as common property to be sold in the same manner as United States land was sold, whenever the chiefs and majority of the tribe desired it; the proceeds to be paid to the tribe after deducting expense of the sale.
By treaty of February 23, 1867, provision was made that all members of the tribe wishing to become citizens of Kansas could do so; those who elected to continue tribal relations to remove to the Indian Territory and become confederated with the Peorias, the united tribe to take the name of Peorias and Miamis. In 1871, the remnant of the tribe, numbering about one hundred and thirty, removed to the Neosho River in the Indian Territory.