St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - July 28, 1996


Author: Tom Uhlenbrock and Charlene Prost of the Post-Dispatch Staff

Dateline: MIAMI, OKLA.


WHEN TRIBES and museums ask about Tom Julian's past in St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society sends them newspaper stories revealing the scandal of the missing American Indian artifacts.

Floyd Leonard, chief of the Miami tribe, has read those clippings from 1987.

"That was a long time ago," Leonard said. "I don't know that that has any significance with what we're doing here. Tom's been straight with us."

The Miami tribe once inhabited western Ohio, all of Indiana and parts of Illinois. In 1794, their chief, Little Turtle, directed one of the greatest defeats of the white forces invading the ir lands.

But Little Turtle, known for his intelligence and fine manners, saw the invasion was inevitable. He signed a treaty with the whites the next year in which he agreed to share the land.

"I was the last to agree to make this treaty," he said. "I shall be the last to break it."

October marks the 150th anniversary of the tribe's relocation from their native lands.

They were loaded on canal boats in Peru, Ind., and taken to Cincinnati, where they were transferred to a steamboat. They changed boats in St. Louis and steamed up the Missouri to Kansas City, where they got out and walked to a reservation in the plains of Kansas.

The white invasion followed them, and in 1867 the agreement giving them a reservation was revoked. The Miami were marched 60 miles south to Oklahoma, where they were given 160 ac res each.

Today, they are scattered. Most have sold their 160-acre allotments. Leonard, 70, a retired assistant superintendent of schools in Joplin, Mo., is serving his second stint as chief.

The tribe has offices in a one-story complex built with federal funds. On the wall is an architectural drawing of an off-track betting outlet and high-stakes bingo parlor the tribe hopes to build in Oklahoma, which does not allow casino gambling.

Leonard said Little Turtle is to the 1,586 members of the Miami what George Washington is to most Americans. He said the tribe hired Julian to get back from the Fort Wayne Historical Society items taken from Little Turtle's grave in Indiana.

"Those are the only artifacts we've claimed as yet - but they are ours, and we want them," Leonard said. "Because he did have expertise working with museums and art objects, we became interested in having Tom represent us."

Leonard said the tribe hopes to pay Julian by applying for a federal grant aimed at helping tribes and museums comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Or, he said, money could be raised by selling one of Little Turtle's belongings, which include a sword presented by George Washington.

"If we might be able to sell a silver armband or something else that belonged to Little Turtle for an enormous sum, we might do it," he said.

But the claim on Little Turtle items in Fort Wayne may run into legal problems. Director William Decker said the society gets no federal, state or county funds, which may mean it does not fall under the repatriation act.

"We're not sure it pertains to us," Decker said. "This law has not gone to trial. You could put 20 different attorneys in a room together, and they'd come out with 20 different opinions.

"But we're hoping to open up some negotiations regarding these materials - directly with the Miami."

Leonard, an affable, easygoing man, tensed when asked whether the land in Illinois that Julian was trying to reclaim for the tribe would be used for a casino.

"I don't want to talk about gaming, this is about (the repatriation act)," he said of the interview.

Later, Leonard added: "Tom's been working several years on the land claim in Illinois. We'd love to have a casino anywhere because we don't have any revenue. We'd welcome any kind of economic development. We'd like to have a truck stop on Highway 40."

Color Photo by Tom Uhlenbrock/Post-Dispatch - In Miami, Okla., Miami Chief Floyd Leonard visits the grave of two ancestors dug up at a construction site in Illinois and reburied in the tribe's land in Oklahoma. The Miami have hired Tom Julian to stake a claim to 2 million acres the tribe formerly inhabited in Illinois.

Copyright (c) 1996 St. Louis Post-Dispatch


   Department of Anthropology
   copyright © 2002 University of Illinois, All rights reserved.
Questions and Comments to Brenda Farnell
Technical problems to Web Technology Group