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What's Happening at Metea County Park?

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Life and Times of Chief Metea

By Andrew Hartsock

Metea County Park was named for a Potawatomi leader whose village on the north bank of Cedar Creek near its mouth was close to the boundary of the current park. Metea's village was called Muskwawsepeotan, which means "town on the old red wood creek".1 The village, the southeasternmost Potawatomi village in Indiana, was settled sometime after 1795, when the Potawatomi tribe first moved into northeastern Indiana from the area of the St. Joseph's River of Lake Michigan near modern South Bend.2 The site was abandoned after it was ceded to the United States along with all other Potawatomi lands in the area by treaty in 1828.3 Although the population of Muskwawsepeotan is not known, similar small Potawatomi villages on the Tippecanoe River are estimated to have had 125 to 150 inhabitants.4

Metea was known as a prominent spokesman for his tribe. Although he was not an especially powerful clan elder, his skill as both an orator and a warrior won respect and brought him influence among his people. Many times, Metea fought and argued for the interests of the Potawatomi. He was an active leader during the War of 1812 and a valued lieutenant of Tecumseh.5 Among the battles he directed was the notorious massacre of the United States outpost at Fort Dearborn, now Chicago, in 1812.6 His bravery in warfare left him with a scar on the right side of his nose and a useless right arm. His arm was shattered when he was shot by a sentry while he was scouting General Harrison's army near Fort Wayne on September 11, 1812.7 Despite the debilitating wound, Metea risked his life to save his gun because, as he stated afterwards, "I would rather have lost my life. Had I returned from battle without my gun I should have been disgraced; but had I died with my face toward my enemy, my young men would have said that Metea died like a brave."8

Although he was unable to lead his warriors into battle after he was wounded, Metea's determination continued to serve his tribe as he represented them at many treaty negotiations. His serious, uncompromising nature earned him a reputation as "the sullen one," an ironic contradiction of the literal meaning of his name, "kiss me."9 Metea's memorable appearance added to his commanding presence as a speaker. Tall, at six feet, and scarred, his looks were described as "unpleasant" but, ultimately, "striking."10 The contrast of his relative youth for one so esteemed by his people and grave bearing also struck observers; he was still in his forties when he was most recognized as a spokesperson. Nevertheless, his verbal ability was his most memorable attribute. Senator Tipton of Indiana, among many who professed admiration for Metea's oratory, asserted many years after hearing him that there were few more eloquent speakers.11 During an important negotiation at Chicago in August, 1821, concerning the sale of lands in Michigan and Indiana, Metea was delegated as a spokesman, not only for his own tribe, but for their allies the Chippewa and Ottawa as well. The following is an excerpt from his address to the United States negotiator Lewis Cass which exemplifies the beliefs for which Metea fought; in this speech he admonishes both the land hungry United States and those Native Americans who agreed to further land sales:

"My Father: A long time has passed since we first came on our lands; and our people have all sunk into their graves. They had sense. We are all young and foolish, and do not wish to do anything that they would not approve, were they living. We are fearful we shall offend their spirits if we sell our land and we are fearful we shall offend you if we do not sell them. This has caused us a great perplexity of thought, because we have counseled among ourselves and do not know how we can part with the land. My Father: our country was given us by the Great Spirit, who gave it to us to hunt upon; and to make down our beds upon when we die. And he would never forgive us should we bargain it away. When you first spoke to us of lands at St. Mary's, we said we had a little, and agreed to sell you a piece of it; but we told you we could part with no more. Now you ask us again! You are never satisfied!

"My Father: We have sold you a great tract of land already; but it is not enough! We sold it to you for the benefit of your children, to farm and to live upon. We now have but little left; and we shall want it for ourselves. We know not how long we may live, and we wish to have some lands for our children to hunt upon. You are gradually taking away our hunting grounds. Your children are driving us before them. We are growing uneasy. What lands you have you may retain forever; but we shall sell no more.

"My Father: You think perhaps that I speak in anger; but my heart is good toward you. I speak like one of your children. I am an Indian - a redskin, and live by hunting and fishing. My country is already too small; and I do not know how to bring up my children if I give it all away...."12

Despite Metea's arguments, however, the tribes agreed to sell their lands; many in the tribes wanted money and trade goods which were given in quantity by the government in exchange for territory. Unfortunately, however, to many Potawatomi, material goods were not the primary objective of the negotiations; speaking for them, Topinbe, who claimed to be a leading chief, desperately admitted to Cass, "We care not for the land, the money, or the goods; it is the whiskey we want - give us the whiskey." Cass, professing reluctance, agreed to give the tribes enough alcohol "to make every man, woman, and child in the nation drunk" in exchange for the approval of the treaty.13 In the drunken revelry which followed the treaty signing, nearly a dozen Indians died from inebriation.14

Although Metea was well aware of the danger that white encroachment posed to the Potawatomis' sovereignty and way of life, he was not inveterately hostile to all elements of white culture. Actually, he found some aspects of white culture appealing, beneficial, or, at least, inevitable. Metea, like most of his tribesmen, preferred to wear the latest fashions imported from eastern cities. Observers often commented on the fastidiousness with which he dressed. With many Potawatomi, he probably envied the life of prosperous, independent frontier traders. Metea even advocated the education of some of the youth of his tribe in white-run Indian schools, such as the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky.15 He also sought medicine, such as smallpox vaccination, for his people.16 Undoubtedly, Metea did not believe that all white influences were necessarily a threat; rather, he sought to incorporate the more useful elements of their culture into his own.

Metea, characteristically seeking advantage for his people, tried to exploit differences among whites. During the War of 1812, he personally warned French trader Joseph Bondie of a planned Potawatomi attack on Fort Wayne. Metea sought the gratitude of an important member of the relatively large French community in the area, as well as continued access to European goods during the war. Unfortunately for his plans, however, Bondie betrayed his trust to the U.S. garrison.17 Later, unhappy when required to journey to Detroit to collect annuity payments from the government, Metea opportunistically journeyed to nearby Ontario to receive gifts from the British, who were seeking to inspire dissent among the Indians in the United States.18 Despite treaties of friendship with the U.S., Metea received yearly pension payments from the British as a wounded war veteran.19

Metea's entire life was devoted to ensuring the prosperity of his people and the continuance of their independence. Ultimately, however, his quest was doomed to failure. The unprecedented, unrelenting pressure of white settlers combined with disease which decimated the Native American population eventually destroyed much of the Native American culture in the Old Northwest. In 1838, most remaining Potawatomi were forced out of Indiana at gunpoint.20 Metea, however, did not live that long.

The circumstances of his death remain mysterious. Some assert, with cause, that he was deliberately poisoned for speaking too forcefully against land cessations, possibly by either dissatisfied Potawatomi or white settlers. What is known is that he died at Fort Wayne in October, 1827, after a treaty negotiation. Tired after long discussions, Metea remarked that he must have a "frolic." He was given alcohol and demanded more. Drunk, he mistakenly swallowed a bottle of nitric acid he took from a shop window and died in less than an hour.21 He is believed to be buried on the shore of the St. Mary's River between Wayne and Berry Streets. Some of his descendants still live in Northeast Indiana.22

1William H. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of the St. Peters River...under the Command of Stephen H. Long, Major U.S.T.E. vol 1 (London: George B. Whittaker, 1825), 88.
2Otho Winger, The Potawatomi Indians (Elgin, Ill: Elgin Press, 1939), 81.
3David A. Baerris, The Geographic Location of Potawatomi Bands: 1795 to 1846 (Bloomington, IN: Glenn A Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 1998), 41-42.
4Winger, 67-68.
5Gilbert Bil, God Gave Us This Country (New York: Doubleday, Anchor, 1989), 231.
6Ibid, 98.
7R. David Edmunds, The Potawatomi: Keepers of the Fire (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 191.
8Thomas L. McKenney, History of the Indian Tribes of North America vol. 2 (repr. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1933) 207.
9Edmunds, 140 and Keating, 88.
10Keating, ibid.
11McKenney, ibid.
12Hiram Beckwith, The Illinois and Indiana Indians (Chicago: Fergus, 1884) 179-181, quoting Henry Schoolcraft, Travels...in the Central Mississippi Valley (n.p. 1821).
13Edmunds, 221.
14William E. Unrau and Craig H. Minor, Tribal Dispossession and the Ottawa Indian University Fraud (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 34.
15McKenney, 208.
16Keating, 130.
17Wallace Brice, The History of Fort Wayne (Fort Wayne: D.w. Jones, 1868), 213.
18Charles Poinsatte, A History of Fort Wayne Indiana from 1716 to 1829 (Notre Dame: MA Thesis, 1951), 156-157.
19Edmunds, 216.
20Shirley Willard ed, "Trail of Courage, Trail of Death" Fulton County Historical Society Quarterly 53 (Fall & Winter 1988, Spring 1989), 62.
21McKenney, 211.
22"Potawatomi Indian Clan Installs Chief in Ancient Ritual" The Scottish Rite Standard (Fort Wayne: n.d.), 8.

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