Historical Landscapes of the Miami


  • Dr. Adolph Greenberg – Major Professor, Institute of Environmental Sciences, MU
  • Dr. Thomas Klak – Committee Member, Professor of Geography, MU
  • Dr. George Esber – Committee Member, Anthropology, MU
  • Brett Governanti – GIS Tech and MA student, Institute of Environmental Sciences, MU
  • Billy Terry – Project assistant and MA student in geography, 2002-4
  • Daryl Baldwin – Myaamia Project Director
  • Dr. David Costa – Miami Language consultant
  • Dr. Joseph Leonard – Professor of Management, MU
  • Michael McCafferty – Miami-Illinois place name consultant, Indiana University
  • Pete Wilhelm – Northwest State Community College
  • Joshua Sutterfield – GIS Tech and MA student, Department of Geography at MU

In 2003, members of Miami University’s Geography department and the Miami Nation began collaborating on a research topic of mutual interest. The project is called “The Historical Landscapes of the Miami” and is aimed at mapping the physical and cultural landscapes and land uses of the Miami from around 1650 to 1850.

We have generated the accompanying map as a first attempt to demarcate the areal extent of Miami-Illinois ancestral land use. We are using the label Miami-Illinois to identify several groups, villages, or bands that were culturally and linguistically affiliated with each other, but politically autonomous. The map depicts only major rivers and lakes within the ancestral lands, and some of the Miami names for these features.

Because we wanted to create a map of the area as the Miami knew it, we have purposefully excluded English names for rivers, the state boundaries, and cities. In the future we will add further details to this base map, which will include village locations and movement patterns. We will include more of the Miami names for rivers, other physical features including the pre-European vegetation patterns, and settlements.

How did we decide what areas to include on the map of the ancestral homelands? We consulted a range of sources, from Little Turtle’s speech at the Treaty of Greenville and historical monographs on the Miami, to current Tribal members and scholars of Native American history. By combining information from multiple sources, we created a map of the north, south, east and west extent of the principal settlements, land uses, and transportation movements of the Miami-Illinois speaking tribes during the two centuries in question. Below we briefly describe why we set the edges of the map as we did, using the Miami names for rivers whenever possible to describe the map’s areal extent. Please follow along on the map during this textual description.

On the western side of the map, the lands of the Miami-Illinois people extended to at least the mihsisiipiiwi (Mississippi River). To the south, the kaanseeseepiiwi and waapaah$iiki siipiiwi (Ohio River) mark the furthest extent of Miami-Illinois lands. Note that the Miami distinguished two rivers (kaanseenseepiiwi and waapaah$iiki siipiiwi) whereas today both parts are called the Ohio River. The waapaah$iiki siipiiwi extends northeast into Indiana to become what is now known as the Wabash River. Such differences in river names suggest how the Miami had different geographical relationships with the physical landscape. The waapaah$iiki siipiiwi was a central transportation artery for the Miami, flowing from what is now west-central Ohio all the way to the mihsisiipiiwi.

The description becomes more detailed to the east. The Scioto River (we have no Miami name for this river), from the kaanseenseepiiwi (Ohio River) northward through what is now Columbus and beyond, was identified in Little Turtle’s 1795 speech as the eastern extent of Miami lands. Northwest of Columbus, the ancestral lands continued northward, through the western portion of Lake Erie (we have no Miami name), and then on to Detroit. The Miami settled in Detroit in 1703, drawn there by French missionaries and trade opportunities. From Detroit, the lands extend to the northeast across Lake St. Clair (we have no Miami name) to include one of the islands in the northeastern corner of the lake near what is now the city of Algonac, Michigan. It is known today as Walpole Island and is located within Canadian Territory. On this island has lived for many decades a family of Miami who fled Indiana prior to the 1846 removal. Tribal advisors asked that Walpole Island be included in the map due to the historical significance of removal and its effects on family movements near the homeland.

The northern extent of ancestral lands also contains a number of details. From the north end of Lake St. Clair, the Miami-Illinois lands extended southwest to the headwaters of the saakiiweesiipi (St. Joseph River) near what is now Hillsdale, in south central Michigan. The Miami-Illinois lands followed the saakiiweesiipi as it winds southwest and into northern Indiana, and then back into southwestern Michigan and into kihcikami (Lake Michigan) at what is now the city of St. Joseph. From the mouth of the saakiiweesiipi, the lands continued westward across the southern portion of kihcikami and reached what is now the state of Illinois just north of Chicago. The lands continued northward along the shore of kihcikami to what is now Green Bay. The Great Lakes were important transportation routes, just as the rivers were, and so all of Lake Michigan is included within the Miami home range. The Green Bay region was the center of Miami refugees in the second half of the 17th century as a result of pressures from the Iroquois. By the beginning of the 18th century the Miami moved southward to the Chicago region and back it into Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. From Green Bay, the Miami-Illinois lands followed the Fox River (we’ve uncovered no Miami name for it) upstream in a southwesterly direction across what is now south central Wisconsin. The boundary to the west of the Fox River is the meehko(o)hsinki siipiiwi (Wisconsin River), which flows into the mihsisiipiiwi (Mississippi River) at what is now Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

We would like to thank Avram Primack for help with Geographical Information Systems, Michael McCafferty for his assistance in Miami-Illinois place names, and Pete Wilhelm for his input on historical resources. Project such as these require the efforts of many and we give a sincere thanks to everyone.


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