Kokomo and His Family

May 8, 2017

kokomo neehi eeweemaacihi
A Brief History of Kokomo and His Family
By John Bickers and George Ironstrack

In the spring of 1864, in the town of Wabash, Indiana, a young Myaamia (Miami Indian) man named Pimweeyotamwa enlisted in the United States Army to serve in the 101st Infantry Regiment fighting in the United States Civil War. Pimweeyotamwa, also known as Eli Goodboy, served with the 101st until June of 1865.[1] As a member of the 101st., Pimweeyotamwa would have likely participated in many key events in the Civil War, including the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea.[2] Pimweeyotamwa likely had much in common with his fellow soldiers in Company K. Many of them came from rural backgrounds and had grown up farming, hunting, and fishing the river valleys of northern Indiana. But Pimweeyotamwa was unique among his particular “band of brothers,” in that his Myaamia family had ties to the northern Wabash River Valley that stretched back to long before the state of Indiana existed. In a strange twist of fate, Pimweeyotamwa was fighting to preserve the Union of a country that had diminished his people’s homelands and forcibly removed hundreds of Myaamia people west of the Mississippi.

Current residents of Howard County County, Indiana should also consider Pimweeyotamwa unique among his fellow soldiers because he was the grandson of the man often called Kokomo, the namesake of the county seat. Since the incorporation of the town of Kokomo in 1865, many interesting stories and myths have circulated about the man people call “Chief Kokomo,” yet few of these stories have addressed his family in any detail.

From the point of view of many Myaamia scholars, one of the best ways to understand a Myaamia person is through the lens of kinship, which includes close and extended kin. By doing this, we connect historical figures to living people today, and along the way remind ourselves that the complicated pasts we all share in common are reflected in complicated present we all currently share. This short biography of Kokomo and his family could not have been possible without a transcription of the Meshingomesia Testimonials, which were completed by the Myaamia scholar Dr. Scott Shoemaker, who graciously shared this document with the authors. The Testimonials are centered on the extended kin of Mihšiinkweemiša, which is often anglicized as “Meshingomesia,” as that family sought to divide their shared reserve into individual parcels of land. The Testimonials remain a vital resource for all Myaamia people seeking to understand the difficult transitions taking place at the end of the 19th century.    

According to the best available evidence, the man known as Kokomo was likely born in the latter half of the 18th century.  Most his contemporaries were born between 1750 and 1780 and it is likely that he was born in the same period. According to Pakankia, the son of Mihšiinkweemiša, and the American fur trader Samuel Milroy, Kokomo had one Myaamia (Miami Indian) parent and one Potawatomi parent. Intermarriage among Myaamia and Potawatomi people was common in this period of time, and no one disputed this assertion at the time it was made.[3] The man Kokomo surfaces only rarely in the historical record. One possible early reference comes in the initial version of the 1834 Treaty of the Forks of the Wabash. This treaty was signed by seventy-three men including one named “Co-come-wah.” Jacob Dunn, who interviewed many Myaamia people in the late 1800s and early 1900s, claimed that this was Kokomo’s signature. It is not clear who reported this to Dunn, but Kokomo’s name shows up in a multitude of garbled forms, so it is possible that “Co-come-wah” is a distorted form of Kokomo’s name.[4]

Kokomo’s absence in the historical record indicates that he was not a head man or a war leader of distinction during the Myaamia wars with the Americans (1778-1794) or the War of 1812. Civil leaders, or headmen, and war leaders were consistently documented by the Americans and the British in this period, and so it seems unlikely that Kokomo was a significant leader in his community. The name Kokomo does not show up on an 1837 treaty ratification agreement or on the Treaty of the Forks of the Wabash in 1838 and so it is assumed that he passed away in 1837.[5] However, Kokomo may have moved regularly between his Myaamia family south of the Wabash and his Potawatomi family living somewhere north of Wabash. This movement could explain his relative invisibility in the historical record.[6].

As a young adult, likely in his early to mid-twenties, Kokomo married Lo-pu-ge-quah, a Myaamia woman. We know from an account recorded in 1824 that among the Myaamia “men & the women were considered unfit for marriage until the age of twenty three or twenty five, & they never thought of breaking the law in this case.”[7] It is likely that Kokomo and his wife Lo-pu-ge-quah followed this norm.

Sadly, we know even less about Lo-pu-ge-quah than we do about her husband. We have multiple different hypotheses regarding the meaning of Kokomo’s name, for example, his nephew Thomas Richardville said that Kokomo’s name meant “the Diver.” However, we do not even have any speculative guesses at what Lo-pu-ge-quah’s name meant. We do know that two of her siblings married men of distinction within the Myaamia community. Her sister, Kaapeenohkwa, married Mihtohseenia. Mihtohseenia was a noted Myaamia village leader, whose community was located on the Mississinewa River. Kaapeenoohkwa and Mihtohseenia were the parents of Mihšiinkweemiša (Meshingomesia) and the grandparents of Pakankia, who was quoted at the beginning of this post.

Another sister, Katakimaankwa, married Waapimaankwa (Joseph Richardville). Waapimaankwa was the son of Pinšiwa (Jean Baptiste Richardville) a prominent Myaamia civil leader from 1816-1841. Care must be taken not to confuse this Waapimaankwa (Joseph Richardville) with his grandson Thomas F. Richardville who carried the same Myaamia name.[8] With good evidence then, we know that through marriage Kokomo and Lo-pu-ge-quah’s family was connected to two large and influential Myaamia families: the Meshingomesia family and the Richardville family.

In 1824, Lo-pu-ge-quah and Kokomo had their first and only child, a son whom they named Nkotikaapwa. As a young child, Nkotikaapwa would have been taught to call his mother’s sister, Kaapeenohkwa, “iinka” (mom) and her son Mihšiinkweemiša “iihseensa” (older brother). He would been taught to refer to Mihšiinkweemiša’s sons, Pakankia and Aahtowaata, as “ninkwihsinka” (my sons). The Myaamia kinship system that Kokomo and Nkotikaapwa grew up within was broad and cut across generational lines from an American perspective. This system was layered with support family. If one’s biological parents passed away there were often many additional parents and a multitude of siblings to step in to help. However, the system appeared complex and confusing to Americans. In the late 1830s, Kokomo died and it’s not certain when Lo-pu-ge-qua passed away. In any event, Nkotikaapwa would have had the support of his mother’s sister, Kaapeenohkwa, whom he also called “iinka,” and her son Mihšiinkweemiša, whom he called “iihseensa,” well into his adulthood.[9]  

As an adult Nkotikaapwa was married twice, his first wife, Eepinsahkwa, who was the daughter of Meehcikilita, for whom the town of La Gros, Indiana was named after his French nickname. However, their marriage only lasted for a few years until they divorced. Myaamia marriages were, for the most part, defined by a couple’s decision to live together. Once they ceased to live together they were considered divorced. Sometime afterwards, Nkotikaapwa married a Myaamia woman named Waahseehkamohkwa. She had previously been the wife of Mahkwaahkonanka, the younger brother Mihšiinkweemiša. Mahkwaahkonanka and Nkotikaapwa were 1st cousins, but this marriage did not seem to give rise to any hard feelings. Around the time of this marriage, Nkotikaapwa moved onto the Meshingomesia Reserve. In roughly 1848, while living on the reserve, Nkotikaapwa and Waahseehkamohkwa became parents to their only child, whom they named Pimweeyotamwa (Eli Goodboy).[10]

Both Nkotikaapwa and Waahseehkamohkwa lived to see Pimweeyotamwa (Eli Goodboy) enlist in the army at sixteen years old and witnessed his return from war in 1865. Nkotikaapwa and Waahseehkamohkwa passed away in the early 1870s, and for a time afterwards Pimweeyotamwa lived on the Meshingomesia Reserve with Aahtowaata, the son of Mihšiinkweemiša.[11]  Within the Myaamia kinship system Pimweeyotamwa would have referred to Aahtowaata as “iihseensa” (elder brother).   

Sometime later, Pimweeyotamwa moved off reserve to Wabash County, Indiana. Here he married, in a Myaamia fashion, a woman named Tahkamwa (Mary Mongosa), who came from a Myaamia family centered in Miami County. Together they had two children, Nkotikaapwa and Kinooseensa, both of whom died in infancy. On April 15, 1873, Pimweeyotamwa and Tahkamwa renewed their marriage by getting married again in the American fashion in Wabash County. At the time of the Meshingomesia Testimonials in 1873, Pimweeyotamwa and Tahkamwa were still living off reserve in Wabash County, but Pimweeyotamwa still returned to the reserve to receive his treaty annuity payments.[12] In the end, Pimweeyotamwa did not receive a part of the Meshingomesia reserve when it was allotted. This decision reflects the difference between kinship connections and village residency. Kokomo’s descendants had many kinship connections to the Meshingomesia family, but they only ever lived within the Meshingomesia community as guests and this did not entitle them to land rights.

One of the more prominent residents of Kokomo’s village was a Myaamia man named Waapimaankwa (Thomas F. Richardville), the great-grandson of the well-known Myaamia akima, Pinšiwa (Jean Baptiste Richardville). Waapimaankwa was born April 23, 1830. When only a few months old, his family moved to the Pinšiwaamootayi Siipiiwi (Wildcat Creek) at the time that Kokomo was the akima, or head man, of the village. He was related to Kokomo on both sides of his family, his father Pimicinwa Richardville was the nephew of Kokomo’s wife, Lo-pu-ge-quah, and his mother Angelique is believed to be Kokomo’s sister. By 1836, Waapimaankwa’s immediate family at the village had died and so he moved to the Meshingomesia Reservation to live with his father’s cousin Šaapantohsia, who was the brother of Mihšiinkweemiša. As a young man he attended Notre Dame and later became a Baptist Preacher. On December 11, 1888, the former resident of Kokomo’s village was elected akima, or Chief, of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. He continued to serve as chief until 1910.[13]

Waapimaankwa (Thomas F. Richardville) was interviewed on a few occasions regarding his time living along Pinšiwaamootayi Siipiiwi (Wildcat Creek) at Kokomo’s village. In the early 20th century, Waapimaankwa told the amateur linguist Jacob Piatt Dunn that the city of “Kokomo” was “named for his uncle Ko-ka-ma,” whose name meant “Diver” and who was his “mother’s brother.” Unfortunately, Waapimaankwa’s claim cannot be verified as the written recordings of Kokomo’s name do not align with any known word that means ‘diver’ or ‘diving’ in the Miami-Illinois language.[14]  

Unfortunately, Kokomo’s strong link to the Richardville family has led to a myth that he was the son of Pinšiwa (Jean Baptiste Richardville). There is no proof of any such connection. All of Pinšiwa’s children are heavily documented in treaties, payrolls, wills, and correspondence. Kokomo is never mentioned in any of these documents as a child of Pinšiwa.

Kokomo’s name and much of his life remain a mystery to us today. However, we do know that his family continued on after his death through his direct descendants Nkotikaapwa and Pimweeyotamwa (Eli Goodboy). Pimweeyotamwa and his wife Tahkamwa did not have any children to survive infancy and so no direct descendants of Kokomo exist among Myaamia people today. But the web of family is larger from a Myaamia point of view and thus Myaamia people with concrete ties to Kokomo continue with us today. Today, descendants of Waapimaankwa (Thomas F. Richardville) can be found living in St. Louis, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Columbus, Ohio. Additionally, relatives of Kokomo’s wife among the Meshingomesia family and relatives of Kokomo’s grandson’s wife, Tahkamwa (Mary Mongosa), can be found living throughout Indiana and the broader American midwest.

 

NOTES

[1] Eli Goodboy Civil War Service Record, Indiana Digital Archives, http://www.in.gov/digitalarchives (accessed on April 11, 2017).

[2] National Park Service, Civil War Battle Unit Details, UNION INDIANA VOLUNTEERS 101st Regiment, Indiana Infantry, https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UIN0101RI (accessed on April 11, 2017)

[3] Report of Commission appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to make partition of the Reserve to Me-shin-go-me-sia and his band under provisions of the Act of Congress, approved, June 1st 1872. National Archives. Record Group 75, Irregularly Shaped Papers, 1849-1907, Entry 310, Item 95, Box 53, Folder 1. 4, 15. Hereafter referred to as Meshingomesia Testimonials. Mihši-neewe to Dr. Scott Shoemaker for sharing his transcript of this document.

[4] Jacob Piatt Dunn, True Indian Stories with Glossary of Indiana Indian Names (Indianapolis: Sentinel Printing Company, 1909), 271-72. Dunn posits that “Co-come-wah” – a signatory to the 1834 Treaty – might be the same man. Dunn reports that Gabriel Godfroy and Kiilhsoohkwa both stated there was a “Thorntown Indian named Kō-kah’-mah [Kokomo].” The full text of the first version of the Treaty of 1834 can be found within A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Kappler’s version of the treaty only references the copy that was brought back to the Miami Nation for certification after the Senate ratified it. This version lacks the “Co-come-wah” signature, which can be found here United States Congress, Statutes at Large, 1789-1875, Volume 7: 1778-1842, List of Indian Treaties, Articles of a Treaty, proclaimed December 22, 1837, 462 (View the page cited).

[5] The final ratification of the Treaty of 1834, which was signed in November 1837, does not have Co-come-wah’s signature or any other name that corresponds with Kokomo. The Treaty of 1838 also lacks any similar signature. The full text of the Treaties of 1834 and 1838 can be found in Charles J. Kappler, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol. II, Treaties (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), 425-28, 519-24.

[6] As a case in point, at the time of the 1846 forced removal a group of Myaamia-Potawatomi people, known as Flat Belly’s Band, fled north to live with their Potawatomi kin. Bert Anson, The Miami Indians, 1st ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), 228.

[7] C. C. Trowbridge, W. Vernon Kinietz, and Burton Historical Collection. Meearmeear Traditions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938), 39.

[8] Meshingomesia Testimonials, Case of Thomas F. Richardville, 47-96.

[9] Meshingomesia Testimonials, Case of Eli Goodboy, 132-33. David J. Costa, “The Kinship Terminology of the Miami-Illinois Language,” Anthropological Linguistics, 41 No. 1 (1999), 31-35.

[10] Meshingomesia Testimonials, Case of Eli Goodboy, 133-35.

[11] Meshingomesia Testimonials, Case of Eli Goodboy, 136.

[12] Meshingomesia Testimonials, Case of Eli Goodboy, 137-38. Wabash Country Probate Records: Will and Testament of Pe=my=o=ta=ma alias Eli Goodboy, filed February 9, 1875.

[13] Anson, The Miami Indians242-44, 258-59. Miami National Council Journal (Book 2), 1870-1895, Myaamia Heritage Museum and Archive, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Record of an Election December 11, 1888, 27.

[14] Jacob P. Dunn Notes from Fieldwork with Thomas Richardville, Miami Language Field Notes, Oklahoma (1909-1914), Indiana State Library, 48. Personal communication with David J. Costa, email January 8, 2017.

 

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