July 12, 2012

Kaw Nation


The Kaw Nation is a federally recognized indian tribe in Oklahoma that were originally from the Midwest area that is now Kansas. The state of Kansas is named after this tribe.

Official Tribal Name: Kaw Nation

Address:  698 Grandview Drive, Drawer 50 – Kaw City, OK 74641
Phone:  580-269-2137
Fax:  580-269-2116
Email Addresses depend on the department you want to contact.

Official Website: Kaw Nation 

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Kanza, meaning People of the South Wind, a reference to the tribe’s role in war ceremonials, using the power of the wind when recognizing warriors.

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings: Formerly known as the Kanza or Kansa. Kansa means “Wind People.”

Name in other languages:

Region: Great Plains

State(s) Today: Oklahoma

Traditional Territory:

The Kaw, Osage, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw lived together as one people in the lower Ohio valley in the late 15th century when they were first encountered by Europeans.

Sometime prior to about 1750, the search for better sources of game and pressure from the more powerful Algonquians to the east prompted a westward migration of the Kaw, Osage, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw to the mouth of the Ohio River.

The Quapaws continued down the Mississippi River and took the name “downstream people” while the Kaw, Osage, Ponca, and Omaha — the “upstream people” — moved to the mouth of the Missouri near present-day St. Louis, and up the Missouri to the mouth of the Osage River, where another division took place.

The Ponca and Omaha moved northwest to present-day eastern Nebraska, the Osage occupied the Ozark country to the southwest, and the Kaws assumed control of the region in and around present-day Kansas City as well as the Kansas River Valley to the west. Their territory extended over most of present-day northern and eastern Kansas, with hunting grounds extending far to the west.

Confederacy: Dhegiha-Siouan division of the Hopewell cultures of the lower Ohio Valley


The treaty of 1825 reduced the tribe’s 20 million-acre domain to a 30-mile wide 2 million-acre reservation beginning just west of future Topeka. For this huge cession the Kaws were awarded a $3,500 annuity for 20 years, a quantity of cattle, hogs and domestic fowl, a government blacksmith and agricultural instructor, and schools to be funded from earlier Kaw land sales in the Kansas City area.

Promised annuities were seldom delivered or were obligated to unscrupulous traders, while disease decimated the tribal population.

As a special concession to Chief White Plume’s vigorous support of the treaty, 640-acre plots along the Kansas River just east of the new reservation were granted in fee-simple to all 23 half-bloods of the Kaw tribe.

When railroad, town and land speculators coveted the 1825 treaty lands, the Treaty of 1846 further reduced Kaw territory to 256,000 acres at present-day Council Grove.

The 1846 treaty required the sale of the 2 million-acre reservation to the government for just over 10 cents an acre. The money received was to be divided between a 30-year annuity at $8,000 per year, $2,000 for educational and agricultural improvement, a $2,000 grist mill.

A census in 1855 revealed that at least 30 white families had located illegal claims on the new Kaw reservation, but when a federal agent attempted to evict the squatters, his cabin was burned, and he and his family were forced to flee to Missouri. Then it was discovered that the Council Grove town site was actually on Kaw reservation land, too.

The subsequent Treaty of 1859 removed the town of Council Grove from Kaw lands and gave the tribe only 80,000 of the poorest acres, sub-divided into 40-acre plots for each family, with the remaining 176,000 acres to be held in trust by the government for sale to the highest bidder.

Forty acres of marginal Kansas land was wholly insufficient to support one Kaw family, and by the late 1860s the government was obliged to authorize emergency funds to prevent outright starvation of the Kaw people.

Finally, on May 27, 1872, over the strong protests of Chief Allegawaho and his people, a federal act moved the Kanza to a 100,137-acre site in northern Kay County, Oklahoma.

In June 1898, Charles Curtis sponsored a bill in Congress which upon passage came to be known as the Curtis Act. The reservation was broken into individual Indian allotments, and Congressman Curtis (one-eighth Kaw and future Vice President under Hoover) and his three children received 1,625 acres (Unrau, 1991).

With the enactment of the Kaw Allotment Act of July 1, 1902, approximately 400 acres of land was held under government trusteeship for 249 persons whose names were placed on the final allotment roll.


Land Area:  
Tribal Headquarters:  Kaw City, Oklahoma
Time Zone:  Mountain

Tribal Emblem:

The Kaw Nation Seal symbolizes the relationship between the Southwind and the Kaw (Kanza) people. The Kaw’s lived long with the Southwind and the Southwind with them. The south wind travels far and fast and knows the movements of the buffalo and other foragers. The wind conducts reconnaissance on enemies and carries messages to and from allies. The wind knows where nuts, fruits, and grains grow, and the hiding place of squirrel, rabbit, and turkey.

Population at Contact: From a population of several thousand, the Kaw had declined through disease and starvation to 1,500 by 1800, to 553 by 1872, and to 194 within 16 years of the move to Oklahoma’s Indian Territory. Even here their land claim was not safe. The Kaw Allotment Act of 1902 legally obliterated the tribe until federal reorganization in 1959. Their former reservation land was inundated in the mid-1960s by the construction of Kaw Reservoir. This required the relocation of the tribal Council House and tribal cemetery.

Registered Population Today: About 3,376 enrolled members. The last full blood Kaw passed away in 2000.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

The primary requirement is a demonstrated line of ancestry from one or more individuals listed on the 1902 Kaw Indian Allotment Roll. However, there are some exceptions to this rule if you are also eligible for enrollment in another Indian tribe.

Genealogy Resources:


Charter:  Reorganization in 1959.
Name of Governing Body:  Kaw Nation Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   All mentally competent tribal citizens above the age of 18 make up the Tribal Council.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Starting in the spring of 2009, the Constitution Committee set out the task of revising the Constitution. Over the next two years, the committee held nearly a dozen public meetings for tribal citizens to solicit comments, sent out two surveys, and drafted a new constitution. A signed petition was presented to the Chairman at the April 2011 General Council meeting. This petition was certified by the Kaw Nation District Court, and a vote was set for Aug. 20, 2011, for the Kaw people to vote for or against ratification. The Kaw people voted 58 percent to 42 percent to accept the new Constitution.

Number of Executive Officers:  


Language Classification:

Language Dialects:

Number of fluent Speakers:

The Kaw language, almost lost with the death of the last of the full-bloods, is being revived through lessons beginning with elementary school children and includes weekly conversational lessons for adults and children.


In June 1974 Robert Rankin, linguist from the University of Kansas, worked with Maudie McCauley Rowe to preserve the language. He recorded her and developed a 3,500-word dictionary of the Kaw language.


Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Osage, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

I’Loshka Wachín, called I-Lo-Skah by the Osage 

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The Kaw Nation sponsors a Powwow during Council Grove’s annual Washunga Days in June. The Kaw Nation’s Annual Oklahoma Powwow is held at Washunga Bay the first weekend in October. Visitors are welcome at both events.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:



The men wore a blue or red breechcloth with a belt, deerskin leggings, moccasins with no ornamentation, and sometimes a blanket over the upper part of the body. Shells, beads, or metal ornaments were attached to the rim of the ear, sometimes in great profusion, and long slender hair pipes were common.

Kaw men shaved their heads, leaving only the scalp lock uncut. Sometimes the edge of the lock was colored with vermilion, or an eagle feather was inserted. On top of the head a roach (headdress) might be worn, made of deer tail, dyed red and parted longitudinally by a silver spreader (James, 1823).

Kaw women wore moccasins, knee-length leggings of blue and red cloth, a skirt and occasionally a cloth thrown over one shoulder. The hair was worn long, parted in the middle, the part colored with vermilion. Like the men, many of the women tattooed the body (Thwaites, 1906).


The tribe used at least two different types of homes. Accounts by French observers refer to the “cabanas” of the Kanza, which were bark-covered lodges.

The first detailed description of the Kaw bark houses indicated they were 60 feet long and 25 feet wide, constructed of stout poles and saplings arranged in the form of an arbor and covered with skins, bark and mats. The place for the fire was a hole in the earth under the ridgepole of the roof, where an opening was left for the smoke to pass. All the larger lodges had two to sometimes three fireplaces, one for each family dwelling in it (Pike, 1810).

In 1819 Major Long’s party gave a different description of their appearance and construction. They were circular in plan, with the floor excavated one to three feet below the adjoining surface. The Chief’s house, differing only in size, had 12 posts set just within the excavated area, and eight longer ones forming an inner circle. In smaller houses four posts were sufficient.

Beams ran from post to post around each of the circles, and other poles, their butts resting on the outer series of beams, ran inward and upward to meet at the summit. Slender rods were laid parallel to each other and laced with bark, and these were covered with matted grass, reeds or bark slabs. A steeply sloping wall was built in similar fashion, with the whole structure banked and covered with earth.

A covered tunnel-like passageway to the east formed the doorway. The fireplace was an unlined circular basin in the center, where smoke found its way out through the hole left in the summit. Against the wall, between the outer circle posts were raised bunks, padded with buffalo robes and screened mats. To some of the mats, medicine bundles were attached. Beside the fireplace was an upright pole with an inclined arm to support a cooking pot over the hearth (James, 1823).

The portable skin-covered tipi was customary when the tribe was on the move, such as when hunting or traveling to gatherings.


The Kaw were primarily semi-sedentary farmers who maintained small community vegetable gardens. However, their primary staple food was the bison. Kaw hunters engaged in semi-annual hunting expeditions onto the plains of western Kansas.

Economy Today:

Tribal Enterprises include the Braman, Okla., Travel Plaza properties at Interstate 35 and Highway 177, the Kaw Nation SouthWind Casino near Newkirk, an experimental pecan tree farm at Washunga Bay, and Discount Tobacco Shops at Ponca City and Newkirk. KEDA Enterprises also include Woodridge Market and Tobacco Row Inc. in Ponca City.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Wakanda – The Great Spirit

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs: 


Kaw People of Note:

Allegawaho, b. ca. 1820, d. ca. 1897 – Kaw Chief, 1867-1873. Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park in Council Grove, Kansas is named after him.

Charles Curtis – The only Native American to be elected Vice President of the United States (under Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)). More important was his Congressional career, where he served long terms both in the House and Senate, where he was elected Minority Whip and Majority Leader, reflecting his ability to manage legislation and build deals. Curtis’ mother Ellen Pappan Curtis was one-quarter each of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi and French ancestry.

Lucy Tayiah Eads, b. 1888 – Adopted daughter of Washunga. Elected Chief of Kaw in 1920s and attempted to get federal recognition for the tribe.

Joseph James and Joseph James, Jr. (Joe Jim or Jojim) – 19th century interpreters and guides.

William A. Mehojah – The last Kaw full blood, died on April 23, 2000. The Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park (AMHP) was dedicated in his name on June 19, 2005 near Council Grove, Kansas.

Jim Pepper – The U.S. jazz saxophonist, singer, and composer was of both Kaw and Creek ancestry.

Maude McCauley Rowe, died in 1978 – One of the last three native speakers of the Kansa language. Between 1974 and 1977 linguist Robert Rankin recorded many hours of Rowe speaking Kansa, thus enabling the survival of the language and many of its oral traditions.

Washunga – Principal chief of the Kaws from 1873 until his death in 1908. Washunga, Oklahoma was named for him.

White Plume (Monchousia) – Kaw Chief who visited President Monroe in 1822 in Washington D.C.

Mark Branch – Two-time NCAA-champion wrestler and University of Wyoming wrestling coach (2008–Present). Branch won NCAA championships in the 167-pound weight class in 1994 and 1997 and placed second in 1995 and 1996. Branch won four straight Western Wrestling Conference titles as the coach of Wyoming. He has been named WWC Coach of the Year three times.

Catastrophic Events:

It has been estimated that, as a consequence of epidemics (principally smallpox, cholera, and influenza) brought by the Europeans, to which they had no imunity, their population had been reduced to less than 50 percent, down to about 1,500 by 1800.

Beginning in 1825, formalized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and continuing for more than fifteen years, the federal government forcibly transplanted nearly 100,000 people comprising tribes such as the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Miami, Sac and Fox, Ottawa, Peoria, and Potawatomie onto lands claimed by the Kaw and Osage.

This action required Kaws to sign treaties whereby vast acreage was ceded to the government in return for annuities and promises of educational, agricultural, and other forms of material assistance. This rapidly changed the Kaw from an independent, semi-sedentary people into individual family farmers on the model of white agricultural society.

Tribe History:


In the News:

  • Lena Sumner Lockhart, last full-blood Kaw woman, died on December 17, 1985. She had the woman’s drum and was the last woman drum keeper. In 1992 Bill Koch named one of his yachts after the Kaw Nation. Kanza was one of the yachts to be used in the American’s Cup race. Koch won the Cup that year racing against Dennis Conner.
  • In November 1994 a contract was signed with sculptor, Mark Sampsel of Council Grove, Kansas to cast bronze busts of the last five full-bloods. The Executive Council wanted to honor these individuals. They were: Edgar Pepper, Jesse Mehojah Jr., William A. Mehojah Sr., Clyde G. Monroe and Johnnie R. McCauley. The busts are displayed today in the Kaw Museum. The busts of five Kaw Chiefs are also displayed in the museum.
  • On August 5th, 1995 the Kaw Nation honored the last four Kaw Full Bloods. They were presented honor blankets during the dedication of the Kaw Museum. They were: Jesse Mehojah, William A. Mehojah, Clyde G. Monroe and Johnnie R. McCauley. An honor blanket identical to the one they received is hanging in the Kanza Museum today with their names embroidered on it.
  • In 1999 the Kaw Language Project is funded and revival of the Kaw language began.
  • The last Kaw full-blood, William A. Mehojah, died April 23, 2000, Easter morning, in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Over 100 bodies were discovered by the Kaw Nation’s Environmental Department at Washungah Bay. The bodies had been left during relocation of the cemetery in the early 70s. The Corps of Engineers was contacted. The tribe relocated the remaining bodies to the Kaw Cemetery in Newkirk, Oklahoma in October 2000.
  • On August 20, 2011 Kaw Nation approved a new Ratified Constitution.

Further Reading:


US Tribes K to M
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