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Gil Porter: Kokomo’s Native American Story

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Proud heritage - Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore, second from right, with, from left, Richard Moore, Gil Porter, Sally Tuttle and David Foster, at the signing ceremony of the Native American Heritage Month proclamation, Nov. 3, 2021, at Kokomo City Hall.

Amanda Foster Welsh was visiting her hometown back in 1927, when she showed up in the Kokomo Tribune office to straighten out the history.

Mrs. Welsh was David and Elizabeth Foster’s second-to-last child (out of 11) and the last surviving member of the immediate family. She was born in 1851 in the family home in the middle of present-day Main Street, just south of Superior Street (probably in the freshly built frame house that had replaced the original two-sided cabin).

Her parents had come into the residue of the Great Miami Reserve as squatters in the fall of 1842 and obtained the 640-acre Lafontaine Reserve No. 6 at the Rapids of Wildcat in January 1844. That December, the Fosters deeded 40 acres for the county seat of Indiana’s last-named county.

At that time, Mrs. Welsh said, a Miami Indian village was located on the high ground about a quarter-mile south of Wildcat Creek, “near where Main Street now runs.” This puts it about where West Harrison Street meets South Main Street. According to Amanda, who lived until 1946, the traditional story that the present city was named for the head man of this village is “authentic” and “correct”, since she heard the story directly from her parents.

We now know the name “Kokomo” was in use for the squatter community as early as 1843 (Methodist Church records), so the name – and presumably the man – apparently meant something to the Fosters. Evidence suggests he was an akima (village chief) in this area at the time. His parents were likely a Miami and a Potawatomi Indian. And the name Co-come-wah is found on the original 1834 treaty between the Miami and the U.S. government. (No, we don’t yet know what the name means.)

Kokomo and his family were, in fact, related by marriage through kinship with the Meshingomesia and Richardville Miami families who lived in north central Indiana, and it’s important to understand this concept of family within the tribe. “The best way to view a Myaamia person is through the lens of kinship, which to the Myaamia includes close and extended kin,” said George Ironstrack, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and assistant director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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According to Myaamia Center research, Kokomo’s family lived on for a time, and there are records of a direct descendant – Pimweeyotamwa (Eli Goodboy) – who served in the Civil War.

No children of Pimweeyotamwa and his wife, Tahkamwa, survived infancy, thus no direct descendants of Kokomo exist among Myaamia people today. But viewed through Myaamia kinship, other descendants and relatives can be found living throughout Indiana and the broader Midwest.

This concept of kinship extends to our story today. Mayor Tyler Moore, who signed and issued the proclamation designating November as “Native American Heritage Month”, is a descendant of Miami Maawikima (principal chief) Jean Baptiste Richardville, for whom the county was first named.

Mayor Moore’s father, Richard, joined me, Foster descendant David Foster, and Sally Tuttle, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the vice chair of the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission (INAIAC), for the signing ceremony Nov. 3, 2021, at Kokomo City Hall with the mayor.

The proclamation proudly points to a heritage beyond even the town and the county having Miami tribal names. Other Indigenous peoples with homes in north central Indiana before the forced removals include the Wea and the Potawatomi. The important Royce Indian Land Cessions treaty map collection (United States Serial Set, Number 4015) shows Kickapoo, Wyandot and Delaware villages in and around the Miami’s last communal land. All of Howard County today lies within the reserve, and census data confirm the continued sizeable presence of Native people locally and throughout the state.

Native American Heritage Month is more than just a proclamation, or even a land acknowledgement statement, crucial as they are. For Kokomo, it’s a shared history.