Original and historical documents open a portal to step into the minds of historical figures, and the Helmerich Center for American Research is filled with these time machines. When H.G. Barnard Associate Professor of Western American History Brian Hosmer stumbled across the papers of Thomas F. Richardville, he discovered a story that needed to be told.
Richardville was a Miami Indian from the middle 19th century into the 20th century who collected and preserved his correspondence and council books that document the Miami tribe’s forced relocation to Indian Territory and their struggle to maintain nationhood. “His papers offered this great sense of the sweep of history for the Miami people,” Hosmer said.
The Miami were moved from Indiana to Kansas and finally to the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, where the city of Miami is today. “Richardville transcribed council meetings that described the ways the Miami tried to build their community in Kansas and the struggles they had after they moved here and rebuilding their community,” Hosmer said.
Richardville conserved these records of negotiations that defined the ideas of citizenship, and at the heart of their mission was to preserve nationhood. Along with the help of the Miami tribe, Hosmer used Richardville’s documents to tell the story of the Miami people in his article, “Nationhood Defined and Defended: A Slice of Miami History Revealed Through the Thomas F. Richardville Papers,” which was published in The Chronicles of Oklahoma.
It was significant that the Miami people had a role in Hosmer’s research. “One of the struggles we have in American Indian history is finding native voice,” Hosmer explained. “We have lots of non-Indians talking about Indian people and historical records but not as many native people talking about themselves.” By collaborating with the Miami tribe, Hosmer was sensitive to writing their history, because first, it is their history to tell.
Hosmer’s efforts paid off. He was chosen as the recipient of the Oklahoma History Society’s Muriel Wright Award as the outstanding article to appear in The Chronicles and he will be recognized at the 2018 Oklahoma History Conference. “Being recognized by historians and librarians here in Oklahoma means a great deal to me. It’s a distinct honor and one I cherish,” Hosmer said.
The Miami people have a nation today partly due to Thomas Richardville and his ability to keep their story alive.