February 18, 2014

Last Free Tribes in Kansas


Ten different indian tribes populated the area we now call Kansas at various times.


Cheyenne Tribe

The Cheyenne call themselves Dzitsiístäs, “Our People.” Their language is from the Algonquian stock. Tribal tradition recalls an early home of settled villages, where the Cheyenne practiced agriculture, located about the upper Mississippi river in present Minnesota.

Pressure from other tribes compelled the Cheyenne to migrate in a south and westerly direction, giving up agriculture and adopting the characteristics of a plains life. Their travels continued until large portions of northwest Kansas was contained within the Cheyenne hunting lands.

The Cheyenne were excellent students of horsemanship, fine hunters and feared warriors. As white travel across the plains and settlement of Kansas increased after the middle of the nineteenth century, the Cheyenne were spurred into bitter resistance against the encroaches. Intense raids along the Saline, Solomon and Smoky Hill rivers are testament to Cheyenne resistance.

The 1867 treaty at Medicine Lodge, Kansas, officially sealed the Cheyenne onto a reservation in what is now western Oklahoma.

Arapaho Tribe

Like the Cheyenne, the Arapaho are from the great Algonquian family. Inunaina, “Our People” is the name the Arapaho use for themselves. Earliest tribal memory cites a homeland in the Red River valley of northern Minnesota. There, the Arapaho were a sedentary people.

At an undetermined time in their early history the Arapaho formed a close association with the Cheyenne and moved southwest along the same trails.

About 1840 the Arapaho concluded a peace with the Sioux, Kiowa and Comanche, but remained always at war with the Shoshoni, Ute and Pawnee until reservation days.

In Kansas, the Arapaho hunted and camped predominantly in the northwest portion of the state.

Little Raven, the Arapaho chief, was a prominent figure at the Medicine Lodge treaty making.

The Arapaho held annual Sun Dances and were leaders in the Ghost Dance religion of the 1890s.

Their reservation was opened to white settlement in 1892, concurrently the Arapaho were granted full United States citizenship.

Plains Apache Tribes

Before the nineteenth century, Western Kansas was home to Athapascan speaking peoples commonly called Plains Apaches. Precisely who these Apachean people were is unknown and lost amidst the general confusion associated with early identifications of Apaches. They were not the Kiowa Apache, but likely a group detached from the Arizona or New Mexico Apaches.

Archeological evidence informs us that the Plains Apaches were mainly buffalo hunters, making use of bows and arrows. They lived in skin tipis and small round lodge-type dwellings. Contact and trade with the Pueblos added variety to the Plains Apaches’ lives.

They were evidently pushed from Kansas to New Mexico in the early 1800s by the Kiowa, Comanche and Kiowa Apaches.

Comanche Tribe

Numa meaning “People” is the Comanche’s name for themselves. They are of the Shoshonean language family, and although the only Shoshonean tribe entirely of the Plains, the Comanche are closely related to the Shoshoni people of Wyoming.

Their territorial range traditionally spanned 500 to 800 miles, the Comanches being equally at home on the Arkansas and Platte rivers as they were in Mexico’s Chihuahua.

As part of their highly mobile life, the Comanches lived in tipis made from the dressed hide of the buffalo, hunted the buffalo for food and raided for horses.

The Comanche were long noted as the finest horsemen upon the Plains.

The 1867 Medicine Lodge treaty called for the Comanche to retire upon a reservation bordering the Washita River in Oklahoma; however, it was not until after the Red River War of 1874-1875 that the Comanche finally settled there.

In character the Comanches have been described as generally reserved yet direct, with a strong sense of honor. These are characteristics they maintain to this day.

Kiowa Indians

The Kiowa, or Gai-gwu as they call themselves, recollect a homeland far to the north near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in Montana. Through the late 1700s and early 1800s they moved constantly to the south until forming a confederation with the Comanche.

This peace allowed the Kiowa to base themselves between the Red and Arkansas rivers.

The nomadic Kiowa lived in skin tipis and hunted buffalo for food and for the material to make many of their tools.

Like the Comanche, the Kiowa are renowned horsemen and added numbers to their herds through extensive horse raiding.

The annual Sun Dance was the hub upon which the Kiowa year revolved. Many Sun dances were performed within what is now Kansas.

Kiowa warriors such as Satanta, Big Bow, Lone Wolf and Satank were fierce fighters on the Plains and able orators in council.

Along with other tribes of the southern Plains, the Kiowa were compelled at Medicine Lodge to sign away their claims to Kansas soil and accept a reservation in Oklahoma. In 1901 their lands were allotted in severalty and the remainder opened to white settlement.

Kiowa Apache Indians

The Kiowa Apache called themselves Nadiisha-dena, “Our People” and are now recognized as the Plains Apaches of Oklahoma. Although speaking an Athapascan language altogether distinct from Kiowa, the Kiowa Apache have been closely associated with the more populous tribe from the earliest traditions of either. This relationship was intimate to the extent that the Kiowa Apache had their own official location in the camp circle of the Kiowa Sun Dance.

The Kiowa Apache were brave and proficient warriors, nonetheless, because of the hostile attitude the Kiowa held toward whites, the Kiowa Apache requested and were granted leave from the Kiowa by the Treaty of the Little Arkansas in 1865, and attached to the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

At Medicine Lodge the Kiowa Apache were officially reunited with the Kiowa to share a reservation in Oklahoma. Throughout the trouble of 1874-1875 the Kiowa Apache remained peaceful on their reservation.

Wichita Tribe

The Wichita Indians, a Caddoan speaking people, call themselves Kitikitísh for which the meaning is uncertain, but probably refers to “principal people.” Linguistically they are related to the Pawnee.

Wichita tribal land once extended from the Brazos river in Texas to the Arkansas River in Kansas. The Wichita presence within this territory follows that of the Kiowa and Comanche.

Coronado met the Wichita about the present location of Rice and McPherson counties, Kansas, in the year 1541. Following Coronado’s departure the Franciscan father Juan de Padilla established a mission among the Wichita, the first mission among any of the plains tribes. Unhappily for Padilla, he was killed by the Wichita after his three year’s labor proselytizing.

The Wichita, in contrast to the strictly nomadic tribes, lived a semi-sedentary lifestyle. The women raised corn, squash, beans, pumpkins and tobacco and the men hunted the buffalo. They lived in distinctive grass houses, utilizing skin tipis when on the hunt and away from home.

Many of their tribal neighbors identified the Wichita by the Wichita custom of extensive tattooing. Wichita culture was enriched and enlivened by their strong tradition of ceremonial dances.

Pawnee Tribe

Chahiksichahiks is the Pawnee name for themselves, the meaning of which implies “men of men.” They are of the Caddoan language family.

Actually, “Pawnee” includes several confederated tribes which were organized into four leading villages. Large portions of north central and northwest Kansas formerly were included in the territory of the Pawnee.

While claiming extensive areas of Kansas, the valley of the Platte River, Nebraska is the heart of Pawnee land. Historically powerful in terms of numbers and voracity, the Pawnee nonetheless suffered terribly from diseases introduced by the swelling white population. Especially severe was the cholera epidemic of 1849, which reduced nearly all the Plains tribes, in some cases by two-thirds their former size.

The Pawnee traditionally maintained tribal cohesion by two key means: intricate ceremonies and an influential tribal council.

The Pawnee conducted tribally orchestrated buffalo hunts and were also successful growers of corn, pumpkins and beans, corn being their most sacred crop.

Pawnee arts included basketry, pottery and weaving. Their homes were an earth lodge constructed with painstaking care and exquisite attention to religious meaning.

Kansa Tribe

Kansa, meaning “Wind People” are a Dhegian-Siouan tribe, sometimes identified by the name Kaw. Linguistically they are related to the Osage and Quapaw, from whom they separated during migrations along the Missouri River. Kansas is named for this tribe.

The Kansa continued their travels along the Kansas River, intermittently building and abandoning settlements, until finally settling at Council Grove, Kansas.

Their experiences in Kansas include fierce warfare with the Cheyenne, Pawnee and Sauk, as well as with the Kiowa, Comanche and others.

By treaty in 1846, they ceded two million acres of their reservation to the United States and a new reservation was established for them at Council Grove, along the Neosho River. There, Methodist followed by Quaker missionaries worked among them with a successful conversion tally of one person, according to a teacher who lived with the Kansa from 1850 to 1873. Of more immediate interest to the Kansa were the whites who were overrunning their reservation.

In 1873 conditions had deteriorated so greatly that the Kansa were removed to Indian Territory and located next to the Osage.

The Kansa were skilled buffalo hunters and cultivated small crops to some extent. They lived in earthlodges in their semi-sedentary villages, and inhabited tipis and occasionally bark-covered lodges while on the march.

Osage Indians

The name Osage is a French corruption of Wazhazhe, the Osage name for themselves, which refers to “true Osage” or “war people.” Anthropologists consider them to be from a Dhegian-Siouan speaking group which lived in ancient times along the Ohio River.

In the seventeenth century this primal group comprised a people who would separate to become the Kansa, Quapaw, Ponca and Osage. The Osage eventually rose to dominate a homeland covering the greater part of Missouri and Oklahoma, as well as northwest Arkansas.

Their Kansas territory was roughly bounded by a line from present Kansas City west to Great Bend, and then south to Caldwell, Kansas.

Osage life was a combination of eastern woodland and plains culture types. They lived in wooden framed longhouses fixed in villages, raised crops and hunted bear, deer, buffalo and antelope.

War was a constant occupation for the Osage and they were feared rivals of the Pawnee, Wichita, Kiowa and Caddo tribes. They maintained peace, however, with the United States, often serving as valuable military scouts. Osage intentions were to keep open trading connections they had fostered since the days of French and Spanish occupation in North America.

The United States returned Osage goodwill with forced land cessions in 1808, 1818 and 1825, enormously reducing the Osage land claim from its formerly staggering proportions. Following bouts of smallpox, cholera and other epidemic diseases, coupled with the drain of incessant warfare, the Osage were compelled to give up their remaining villages along the Verdigris River and were placed onto a reservation.

Kansas Tribes
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