The Many Branches of Tahkamwa’s Family Tree

May 29, 2015

by John Bickers and George Ironstrack

This post is the first in a new series of articles touching on Myaamia kinship and genealogy. It is the hope of the authors that Myaamia community members will be interested to learn more about how our Myaamia families are interrelated. Additionally, we hope that community members will request future posts covering the genealogy of different branches of our big Myaamia family.

In the winter of 1790-91, a British man by the name of Henry Hay came to stay at Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne). He spent the winter visiting with British and French traders and with nearly all the key Myaamia leaders of the era: Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle), Le Gris, Moohswa, Pinšiwa (J.B. Richardville), and Tahkamwa (Marie Louisa Richardville). Hay kept a very detailed journal, and this record provides rare tidbits of information about Tahkamwa, a very influential akimaahkwia (female civil chief).[1]

In their writings, Euro-American men rarely focused their attention on Myaamia women. Every village had female civil leaders, female war leaders, and women’s councils, but they rarely interacted with Euro-American men, except for those who married into the community. In Myaamia villages, face-to-face diplomacy was the responsibility of male leaders. However, Tahkamwa provides us with a rare example of an akimaahkwia who actively participated in her village’s public council sessions and who interacted with Euro-American men in a political environment. Her unique role was partly a result of her personal stature, knowledge, experience, and influence within her community. Her role was also partly the result of the absence of her brother Pakaana, the acknowledged akima (male civil leader) of Kiihkayonki. At the time of Hay’s visit, Pakaana was in the south on the Mihšisiipi (Mississippi River) negotiating with the Iihpaawala (Spanish) and hunting.[2]

Hay met with Tahkamwa on at least two occasions and described her “as very clever.” He also mentions that in her youth she was a “handsome woman.” Because of her brother’s absence and her son’s young age, Hay commented that Tahkamwa was “obliged” to speak on their behalf in council. During the winter, she apparently spent much of her time at her trading camp, which was about 75 miles away from Kiihkayonki and probably near the Yellow River hunting grounds in what is today western Indiana.[3]

Sadly, Hay’s tidbits do not paint a full picture of Tahkamwa’s personality or provide deeply meaningful examples of her wisdom. She had a large impact on our community through her influence as a leader and as the matriarch of a large family that was committed to serving their people. Tahkamwa helped to train her son, Pinšiwa, to become a leader. She was a key source of knowledge and example of wisdom in action that her young son followed when he stepped into the role of akima. His mother’s lessons served Pinšiwa well during his decades as an akima representing his Myaamia community. Much of this knowledge was passed on to later generations of Myaamia leaders and many of these leaders directly descended from Tahkamwa or were related to her by marriage.

Unfortunately, not that much more is known about her early life or ceelaweemaawaaci (the close relatives who raised her). We are fairly certain of two of her siblings: her elder brother Pakaana and her younger sibling Mihšihkinaahkwa. Her relationship to Pakaana is established several times within the written record. The clearest evidence comes from a transcript of a court case that occurred in Detroit between Tahkamwa and her ex-husband, Joseph Richardville. After Tahkamwa left Richardville, she kept possession of the household and children, as any Myaamia woman would do at the time. However, that kind of assertion of rights by women was not acceptable by European standards of the time. The main object of the suit was a portage that was controlled by Tahkamwa and her other family members.[4] Richardville, nevertheless, claimed that because they had been married, the rights to the portage transferred to him and he could sell it to anyone he wished. Pakaana joined his sister in Detroit to testify on her behalf. Additional evidence of her connection to Pakaana surfaces through references related to her son, Pinšiwa. As he grew in age and respect, Euro-Americans began to take more notice of him. In many of these early references, Pinšiwa is described as the nephew and successor to Pakaana in Kiihkayonki.

Tahkamwa’s connection to her younger sibling Mihšihkinaahkwa, is established in the historical record, however, this evidence is weaker than that which establishes her connection to Pakaana. In fact, Mihšihkinaahkwa and Pakaana are never mentioned as siblings in the historical record. It is only through their connection to Tahkamwa that a relationship between the two men surfaces. The connection between Tahkamwa and Mihšihkinaahkwa is primarily established through sources that talk about Pinšiwa and through interviews with Mihšihkinaahkwa’s granddaughter Kiilhsoohkwa.

As Mihšihkinaahkwa became well known through his military exploits and his later work to achieve peace with the Mihši-maalhsa (Americans), representatives of the American government identified Pinšiwa as his nephew. However, it should be noted that this does not appear to be a claim that Pinšiwa himself made, but something Euro-Americans said about him. We must also remember that the Myaamia word that is usually translated as “uncle” means something different than the English term. In Myaamia, “nišihsa” (my uncle) was used to refer to all of the speaker’s mother’s brothers and their male children and grandchildren. One’s father’s brothers were all called “noohsa,” which is the same term that one would use to refer to their birth father. Because of the difficulty presented by challenging the notion of “uncle” in that period, this evidence is not conclusive by itself.[5]

Thankfully, stronger piece evidence comes from an interview that Kiilhsoohkwa gave to the historian and lay-linguist Jacob Piatt Dunn around 1905. Kiilhsoohkwa, also known as Margaret Revarre, was a woman of distinction among her Myaamia relatives in Indiana. She was born in 1810 and remembered sitting in her grandfather’s lap before he died in the summer of 1812.[6] Kiilhsoohkwa was a prominent midwife in the Wabash River Valley for Myaamia families and was also well known for naming Myaamia children. In 1905, she listed for Jacob Dunn all the siblings of Mihšihkinaahkwa and among these she included Tahkamwa.[7] Because of Kiilhsoohkwa’s age and the respect with which she was held by her community, there is little reason to doubt her recollections.

Within the 20th century another interesting question surfaced about the genealogy of Tahkamwa. Specifically, a story began to circulate about a potential connection between Tahkamwa and another Myaamia woman named Waapankihkwa and her husband, Pierre Roy. Waapankihkwa was born in the late 17th century or early 18th century into an unknown family. We know that she married a man named Pierre Roy and they had several children together: Marguerite, Pierre, Marie Louise, Magdalene, Francois, and possibly Andre. Andre, also known as Pakaana, and Francois appear later as interpreters and traders for the village of Kiihkayonki during the life of an akima named Le Pied Froid (Cold Feet). Because Andre Roy’s Myaamia name is the same as the later akima, Pakaana, it is often assumed that they must be related or even father and son. However, this does not fit into a traditional Myaamia way of naming people. In European cultures it is traditional to identify someone by their father’s name, hence many men are given their father’s first name and most children carry their father’s last name, like Johnson or Patterson, etc. However, it was very rare during that time period to see Myaamia people carry the same name as one of their parents. It is also strange that there is no mention in the historical record of Tahkamwa or any of her siblings having French ancestry. This detail is something that would have been mentioned by Euro-Americans. The Roys are always referred as both French and Myaamia and the same is true of Tahkamwa’s son, who had a French father. Whenever Pinšiwa is mentioned by Euro-Americans it is always said that he is the son of a Frenchman and a Myaamia woman.

Unfortunately, there just is not a lot we know about Tahkamwa. Euro-American men were never much interested in writing about Myaamia women. But we do know a lot about her descendants. Tahkamwa is one of the great matriarchs in Myaamia history. Although she only had two children, Pinšiwa and Josette Beaubien Roubidoux, she had many grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren. As a result, most Myaamia people are descended from her or related to her by marriage. Today, descendants of Tahkamwa can be found among the following family groups: Geboe, Lafalier, Lafontaine, Leonard, Richardville, Roubidoux, and many others. She came from a family who cared deeply about their people. With two of her brothers, her son, many of her descendants, and of course herself representing Myaamia people as both civil and war leaders, it is clear that this dedication to Myaamia people has continued within her family through the ages.

If you would like to comment on this story, or ask general genealogical questions, or request a future genealogy article looking at a different individual or family group, then please make a comment below. This blog is a place for our community to gather together to read, learn, and discuss our history and ecology. You can also email George at ironstgm@miamioh.edu

Notes

[1] Henry Hay, Fort Wayne in 1790, ed. Milo Milton Quaife, Indiana Historical Society Publications; V. 7, No. 7. (Greenfield, Ind.: William Mitchell Printing Co., 1921), 22, 54. Hereafter referred to as Hay’s Journal. In 1790 Fort Wayne did not yet exist and therefore Hay’s own title would have been a more fitting choice. Hay’s full name was Pierre Henry Hay but he signed his entries in the journal as Henry Hay and so he has been referred to in this manner. A different edition of Hay’s journal can be found on Google at the following link: http://goo.gl/DWUwrz Harvey Lewis Carter lists the exact dates of Hay’s visit as from December 16, 1789 to March 24, 1790. Harvey Lewis Carter, The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 76-77. Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654-1994 (Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana Historical Society, 1996), 47. Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-1794: Translations of Materials from the Spanish Archives in the Bancroft Library, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949), 3:179-80, 292.

[2] Hay’s Journal entry on 23 December 1789, 313-14. Carter, Life and Times, 76-77.

[3] Carter, Life and Times, 17.

[4] Karen Marrero, “She Is Capable of Doing a Good Deal of Mischief: A Miami Woman’s Threat to Empire in the Eighteenth-Century Ohio Valley.” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 6, no. 3 (2005). “Copy of a council held at Detroit 18th Sept. 1774 by Pacan Chief of the Miamis Indians with five other of the Chiefs & Principal men of his nation in presence of Rich. Berr. Lernoult Esq.r Capt in the Kings 18th Regt Commander of the Detroit & its Dependencies.” Thomas Gage Papers, American Series, Vol 123, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

[5] Pinšiwa described as nephew of Mihšihkinaahkwa in Jacob Piatt Dunn, True Indian Stories: With a Glossary of Indiana Indian Names (Indianapolis: Sentinel Printing Company, 1908), 44. For more information on the terminology for “uncle” see David J. Costa, “The Kinship Terminology of the Miami-Illinois Language,” Anthropological Linguistics, 41 No. 1 (1999), 32-33.

[6] Kiilhsoohkwa’s first husband was John Owl and so she is also found in the historical record listed at Margaret Owl. Kiilhsoohkwa’s account of her grandfather Mihšihkinaahka appeared in Matilda Henderson Wheelock, “The Last of the Miamis: Being the Story of a Day’s Hobnobbing with American Royalty in Indiana,” Indianapolis Sunday Star Magazine Section, Vol. 7, No. 78 (Indianapolis, Indiana), August 22, 1909.

[7] Jacob Dunn Interview with Kilsoqua, near Roanoke, Aug 4, 1905, L47, V46., 87, Jacob Piatt Dunn Collection, Indiana State Library.

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