Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forgotten Pronunciations

Recently while reading John F. Meginness, The Lost Sister of Wyoming searching for places and dates about Frances Slocum, I ran into a recollections piece by Horace P. Biddle. A highly regarded jurist, Biddle was born on March 24, 1811 in Fairfield County, Ohio, later settling in Indiana. He had studied law as a young man and became so good at it that in 1874 he earned a seat on the bench of the Indiana Supreme Court. Retiring in 1881, he began devoting much of his time to literature and music and in fact authored several books mostly on poetry. Meginness had a great respect for the old Judge and included Biddle’s recollection of notable people of his day.

That brings us around to the point of this posting. We in Indiana and especially in Allen County have long admired the Miami Civil Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville. Many are familiar with the chief’s history, that his father was a Frenchman, that his mother Taw-cum-wah brought their son up in the Miami culture, that his house still stands on Fort Wayne’s south side along Bluffton Road and that most people pronounce the name as “Richard Ville.” Even though from time to time we are corrected by those who would hold to purer articulation, we continue to use the familiar “Richard Ville” cognomen. Maybe it’s because we reason that at times even others’ suggestions don’t agree, so most of us are content to stick with our reliable “Richard Ville” and go on our way. We also enjoy the stories handed down orally and written about this famous man.

Judge Biddle makes it plain on page 197 that the name is pronounced “Roosheville.” He then proceeds to give this anecdote that makes the old Miami so interesting.

It seems that William G. Ewing had a disagreement with a French Indian trader named Mr. Berthelette who was an intimate friend of Chief Richardville. Whatever the squabble, Berthelette was intensely angry with Ewing and made a visit to Chief “Roosheville.” No sooner had the two greeted one another Berthelette was asking to borrow the Chief’s pistols. When Richardville inquired why such a request, Mr. Barthelette made it clear that he wanted to kill Mr. Ewing.

Judge Biddle recreated the scene quoting the chief, “Ah, oui, you shall have my pistol, Mr. Bar-te-lette; but come in and eat some dinner with me.’ After dinner was over Berthelette became very restless. The chief said nothing more about the pistols. Berthelette addressed him: ‘Chief, now for the pistols.’ ‘ Ah, oui; I get you dem pistol.’ The chief retired a few minutes, and came back with two bottles of wine. ‘Here, Mr. Bar-te-lette, my pistol – handing him the two bottles of wine – ‘but take care, now, you (don’t) shoot yourself.’”

Such is the nature of the great civil chief of the Miami who continues to bear the name we may not pronounce to the satisfaction of everyone. However, decisions such as the one he made with a couple bottles of wine demonstrate a wisdom that his people respected and formed the legacy of a wise old leader we can all admire.

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