The Crooked Trail to Pickawillany (1747-1752)

April 19, 2012

waakihsenki miiwi pinkwaawilenionkiši
The Crooked Trail to Pickawillany (1747-1752)

In our last post we looked at the beginning of the longest period of stability in the recorded history of Myaamia people (1700-1780).  In the first part of that period (1700-1740), Myaamia people resumed the “normal” patterns of their lives in villages along the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River).  These patterns included summer agricultural village life, seasonal hunting and gathering camps, and seasonal raiding of enemy villages in the south and west.

Following the Beaver Wars, the Meehtikoošia koohsina (our French father) struggled to live up to the expectations of the many diverse groups included in the French “family” alliance.  The Meehtikoošia found it difficult to provide for the material needs of their children, and they constantly struggled to mediate the disputes that erupted within the alliance.  These disruptions eventually led to a brief period of instability for Myaamia people that endured from 1747-1752.[1]  The disruption of this period was nothing like the catastrophes of the Beaver Wars or the intense struggles with the Americans that followed 1780.  Yet, these challenges did lead to the creation and destruction of an entire Myaamia village.  The story of this village is engaging and worth telling in and of itself, but its story also tells us a lot about how Myaamia people perceived both their landscape and their relationships with their neighbors both near and far.

In August of 1747, Coldfoot, a leader from the Myaamia village of Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), began the long trek to Montreal (nearly 800 miles away).  This trip came at the request of the Meehtikoošia (French), but Coldfoot’s community had its own reasons for supporting his efforts.

French trade supplies had become increasingly scarce and expensive because of a series of wars with the British. The Myaamia, and many other members of the family alliance were upset with their “father” over the resulting trade policies.  From the Myaamia perspective, the fur trade was the symbolic and literal means through which the Meehtikoošia provided for the needs of the alliance.  As the quantity of trade goods declined and the price of metal goods, firearms, lead, and gunpowder rose, Myaamia people perceived the Meehtikoošia as acting in a stingy uncaring manner.

Coldfoot desired to hear what the Meehtikoošia had to say but he also wanted to remind them of their obligations to their Myaamia “children.”  Unfortunately, Coldfoot never had the opportunity to deliver his message.  He only made it as far as the French fort at Detroit before violence erupted throughout the Great Lakes.  In his home village of Kiihkayonki, some of his own community joined in this region-wide effort to punish the Meehtikoošia for their failures.

Sometime after Coldfoot departed Kiihkayonki, a group of Myaamia men attacked the French trading post called Fort St. Phillipe, which was located adjacent to the village.  They captured eight Frenchmen, seized all of the trade goods contained within, and burned down a part of the structure.[2]

It appears that most of the Myaamia men who attacked the fort did not live in Kiihkayonki.  They came from a village recently established nearby.  In most historical works, this village is associated with its well-known akima, or civil leader, Meemeehšihkia (La Demoiselle) and as a result is often named for him.[3]  We do not know what the people of this community called themselves, but shortly after their attack on the French Fort, most of this community relocated yet again.  This move took them to the place that forms the center of this story: Pinkwaawilenionki, or as it is more commonly known in English, Pickawillany.

Pinkwaawilenionki (the place of the Ash People) is the name that we use to refer to this village in our language today.  We do not know for sure how the people who lived in this  historic village referred to their community in their language.  We do know that at the end of the 1800s, Myaamia people called the villagers from Pickawillany “Pinkwaawilenia” and “Pinkwi Mihtohseenia.”  Both of those terms can be translated to mean “Ash Person” in English.[4]

This map shows the position of Pinkwaawilenionki within Myaamionki. It lies just outside of the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi and 80 miles or so southeast from Kiihkayonki. Eastern groups could be found by journeying east on the Ohio River, which forms the southern edge of Myaamionki, or via overland heading directly east from the village. See John Patten’s map below for more information regarding trails.

In the 1740s, it was quite common for the French to call the village either “the village on the Great Miami River” or “the village on the Rocky River.”[5]  The “Rocky River” is a translation of the Myaamia name for the river: Ahsenisiipi (the Rocky River).  The “Great Miami River” comes from peoples who lived to our east – the Shawnee, Delaware, and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).  They called this waterway the “Miami River” or the “Great Miami River” because it was a significant route by which one could reach our heartlands in the Wabash River Valley.  Today, residents of Ohio still refer to this river according to the naming patterns of the eastern peoples.  As a result, the name “Miami” can be found throughout the Great Miami River Valley.

The site of Pinkwaawilenionki lies north of Dayton, Ohio near the confluence of the Great Miami River and Loramie Creek.  The site is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society and the Friends of the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency, a contiguous historic site located just to the south of the Myaamia village site.  Pinkwaawilenionki was an ancient village site and many groups had been drawn to the area in part because of its geography. Myaamia may have used it irregularly as a hunting camp, but there had been no village there since before the Beaver Wars.

Late in the fall of 1747, supporters of the attack on the French left the Wabash River Valley and made the two to four day journey on what came to be known as the Piqua Road, a trail that linked Kiihkayonki to the place where they would build their new village of Pinkwaawilenionki.[6]  The trail was commonly used for hunting and war parties and the land around it was well known.  The site had river bottomland for farming, a couple of natural springs for fresh water, and access to lesser-used hunting grounds.

Despite these benefits, the first founding families of this village had a difficult winter ahead of them.  They had to survive on what they carried with them on the trail, what they could hunt in the surrounding lands, and whatever supplies visiting traders from Pennsylvania could bring to the village.  For the short term, the move to Pinkwaawilenionki produced few dramatic benefits outside of distancing the villagers from the immediate anger of the Meehtikoošia.  As the village’s population swelled in the years that followed, the benefits of this move would become startling clear to everyone involved.

After that first hard winter, Pinkwaawilenionki became a gateway village for groups who wanted to build relationships with eastern peoples: Haudenosaunee (mostly the Seneca – the westernmost of the 6 Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy), Shawnee, Delaware, British Pennsylvanians, and British Virginians.  By building alliances with eastern communities, the Pinkwaawilenionki villagers could distance themselves from the Meehtikoošia who had grown neglectful and even abusive.  They could also enter into these new alliances as “brothers,” who were interdependent and responsible for each other.[7]

Pinkwaawilenionki was connected to these eastern peoples by a variety of routes.  An overland trail ran from Pinkwaawilenionki to the Seneca town of Chiningué (near contemporary Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).  Chiningué, also known as Logstown, was a newer village itself and was a common staging ground for British Pennsylvanian fur traders.[8]

Drawn by the British trader John Patten, this map depicts the area around Pinkwaawilenionki in the early 1750s. The octagon marks Kiihkayonki, the circle Pinkwaawilenionki, and the rectangle Logstown. The four-pointed stars mark the trails linking the villages.

This newer Myaamia village was also linked to the east via rivers.  A short journey south on the Ahsenisiipi (Great Miami River) brought one to the Kaanseenseesiipi (Ohio River).  There were villages of Shawnee, Delaware, and Haudenosaunee all along the Kaanseenseesiipi running back to Chiningué.  In addition to traveling by canoe along the rivers, travelers could use a system of trails that followed the waterways.

By moving to Pinkwaawilenionki, the villagers did not severe their connections to their Myaamia relatives along the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River) or their Meehtikoošia father.  A multitude of portages and trails made it easy for a constant flow of people and goods to move from Pinkwaawilenionki to the Wabash River Valley.  The largest overland trail ran eighty miles or so between Kiihkayonki and Pinkwaawilenionki.  Smaller portage trails ran from the Ahsenisiipi (Great Miami River) into the Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi (Mississinewa River) and Nameewa Siipiiwi (St. Marys River).  When the water levels permitted, these portages allowed people to move via canoe from the Myaamia villages at Kiihkayonki and the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi to Pinkwaawilenionki.

In just a few short years, the rivers and trails brought hundreds of people from a variety of communities to Pinkwaawilenionki.  Families from Myaamia villages up and down the Wabash moved their homes to this new village – some intending to live in the new village permanently and some only to visit and trade.  British Pennsylvanians came to the village to trade and even went so far as to construct a blockhouse, a sign that they thought their endeavor was at least semi-permanent.  British Virginians came to the village to establish a diplomatic relationship with Myaamia people and to complete a preliminary survey of the Ohio Valley, land that they believed belonged to the colony of Virginia.   By 1751, the population of Pinkwaawilenionki skyrocketed to around 400 families, or between 1,600 and 2,000 individuals.[9]

This large number included a mix of both permanent and visiting families.  In either case, the rapid growth stretched resources of the village to the breaking point.  The hunting grounds close to the village very quickly became depleted, and hunters had to journey farther and farther from the village in order to bring in the necessary meat and hides.  The river bottomland would have offered a cleared and fertile place to farm for the earliest setters. Yet as the village population soared, they were forced to engage in the difficult labor of clearing land in order to grow enough food.

By the summer of 1752, much of the village had temporarily moved away in order to access hunting grounds, which could sustain them until their corn ripened in the early fall.  It was in this weakened moment, that 250 Ottawa and Ojibwe made a crippling attack on the village. The Ottawa and Ojiwbe warriors took the village by surprise and the majority of the villagers who remained were caught in the cornfields that surrounded the village. The Ottawa and Ojibwa warriors then attacked the British blockhouse into which some of the inhabitants had fled. Following a brief standoff, the defenders surrendered.  The Ottawa and Ojibwe then killed a few of the wounded and ritually executed the village’s civil leader Meemeehšihkia.[10]

The Ottawa and Ojibwe attacked Pinkwaawilenionki because to them it represented a threat to the family alliance headed by the Meehtikoošia (French).  As the Myaamia at Pinkwaawilenionki began to look away from the French and towards a newer family in the east, their Ottawa and Ojibwe elder brothers became concerned.  The Ottawa had tried to use diplomatic means to bring the Myaamia back to Kiihkayonki.  But those negotiations ended with anger and insults.  And so the Ottawa – with the support of the Ojibwe and the French – chose to attack in order to violently close the doorway to the east that the Pinkwaawilenionki villagers had so skillfully opened.  In this, they were successful.

Following the attack, the villagers of Pinkwaawilenionki tried to rebuild.  But to do so they needed the assistance of their new brothers in the east, especially the Seneca and the Pennsylvanian British.  However, none of the eastern groups would agree to send armed men to support Pinkwaawilenionki.[11]  Without this protection, Myaamia people could not safely link themselves with groups living in the east.  As a result, the majority of the Pinkwaawilenionki villagers returned to Kiihkayonki and the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi.

The failures of 1752-53 did not mark the end of Myaamia association with the site of Pinkwaawilenionki.  Villages were built on the Ahsenisiipi (Great Miami River) all the way through the 1770s.  It is quite likely that the site was also used as a camp for hunting and war parties until the 1790s.  In the 1800s, the Miami-Erie canal was dug along the Ahsenisiipi (Great Miami River) past the village site.  In a twist of fate, Myaamia people were taken by the old village site during their forced removal from their homelands.  Despite these events, Myaamia connections to Pinkwaawilenionki continue.  At least once every couple of years, groups of Myaamia make a trip to the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency and visit the site where the ashes from the fires of Pinkwaawilenionki still sit beneath the surface.

Miami-Erie Canal Lock near Pinkwaawilenionki: during forced removal, the canal boats carrying Myaamia people to Cincinnati were pulled through these locks. The Pinkwaawilenionki village site lies just on the other side of the treeline in the background.

If you would like to comment on this story, ask historical questions, or request a future post on a different topic, then please post a comment below.  This blog is a place for our community to gather together to read, learn, and discuss our history.  Our history belongs to all of us and I hope we can use this blog as one place to further our knowledge and or strengthen connections to our shared past.

You can also email me at ironstgm@miamioh.edu, call me at 513-529-5648, or write me at

George Ironstrack
Myaamia Center
Miami University
200 Bonham House
Oxford, OH 45056


[1] Richard White discusses French struggles to behave like a “father,” see his passage on the Fox Wars, the attacks on Detroit, and Pickawillany in Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Cambridge Studies in North American Indian History. (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 82-90, 149-175, 186-222.

[2] White, Middle Ground, 216. Harvey Lewis Carter, The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 32.

[3] It is possible that prior to the attack Meemeehšihkia was not the leading civil chief for this village.  Prior to 1747, the recognized akima for the village may have been Akaawia (Le Porc Epic).  Akaawia was attempting to maintain his village’s alliance with the French.  If his village was divided on this issue, then it possible that a part of the village selected Meemeehšihkia to represent their unwillingness to remain allies of the French.  Harvey Lewis Carter hypothesizes that the village may have been located on the Eel River portage as this would have given the village direct access to the trade network.  Carter also claims that the villagers moved to the Kiihkayonki area order to negotiate with the main Myaamia village and create unity around a new alliance with the British.  Carter, Life and Times of Little Turtle, 31, 36 (n. 4).

[4] David Costa thoroughly analyzes the origin of the term Pickawillany in his 2014 article in which states that the English term Pickawillany derives from the Shawnee word for the Myaamia – “pkiiwileni” (foreigner). The Myaamia name for the village (Pinkwaawileniaki) is direct translation of the Shawnee “pekowiiøa” – Ash People. David J. Costa, “On the Origin of ‘Pickawillany,'” Names, Vol. 62 No. 4, December 2014, 214-17. Gatschet claims that the names Pinkwi Mihtohseeniaki and Pinkwaawileniaki referred to the Peoria. Costa states that this claim can be dismissed. The error is potentially the result of the Piankashaw confederating with the Peoria in the mid-19th century. Albert S. Gatschet, see file cards 916, 2012.  Photocopies in the collections of the Myaamia Project.

[5] Bonnecamp names the river and describes in attributes in his account of Celeron’s 1749 journey through the Ohio Valley. “Riviere a la Roche is very well named.  Its bottom is but one continuous rock; its waters are extremely shallow.  Notwithstanding this, we had the good fortune to guide our canoes, as far as the village of la Demoiselle [Meemeehšihkia].” “Account of the voyage on the Beautiful river made in 1749, under the direction of Monsieur de Céloron, by father Bonnecamps.” in Jesuit Relations, Vol. 69, 181.  Accessed at http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_69.html

[6] It was approximately 80 miles by trail between Pinkwaawilenionki and Kiihkayonki.

[7] Throughout the Treaty of Lancaster all involved parties call each other by the term “Bretheren” except when referring to the Delaware, whom are called Grandfathers by the Algonquian speaking groups.  Samuel Hazard et al., Pennsylvania Colonial Records, vol. 5 (Philadelphia: published by the state; printed by J. Severns, 1851), 308-17.  The treaty can also be found at http://gbl.indiana.edu/ethnohistory/archives/miamis9/M46-48_24a.html

[8] According to Helen Tanner, the village of Chiningué was made of Shawnee, Iroquois, and Delaware residents and was first settled around 1743. Helen Hornbeck Tanner and Miklos Pinther, Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (Civilization of the American Indian series; v. 174. 1st ed. Norman: Published for the Newberry Library by the University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 40-41.

[9] William M. Darlington, ed., Christopher Gist’s Journals: With Historical, Geographical and Ethnological Notes and Biographies of His Contemporaries (Cleveland: A.H. Clark Co., 1893), 40-41.

[10] R. David Edmunds, “Pickawillany: French Military Power Versus British Economics,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 58, no. 2 (1975), 169-84. Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge, 1991), 94-223.

[11] Samuel Hazard et al., Pennsylvania Colonial Records, vol. 5 (Philadelphia: published by the state; printed by J. Severns, 1851), 670-89.  The text of the Treaty of Carlisle can also be found at http://gbl.indiana.edu/ethnohistory/archives/miamis11/M53-58_17a.html

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