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Native American history
The thoughts and perspectives of indigenous individuals, especially those who lived during the 15th through 19th centuries, have survived in written form less often than is optimal for the historian. Because such documents are extremely rare, those interested in the Native American past also draw information from traditional arts, folk literature, folklore, archaeology, and other sources.
Native American history is made additionally complex by the diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds of the peoples involved. As one would expect, indigenous American farmers living in stratified societies, such as the Natchez, engaged with Europeans differently than did those who relied on hunting and gathering, such as the Apache. Likewise, Spanish conquistadors were engaged in a fundamentally different kind of colonial enterprise than were their counterparts from France or England.
The sections below consider broad trends in Native American history from the late 15th century to the late 20th century. More-recent events are considered in the final part of this article, Developments in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The historical record of trading enslaved Indigenous peoples is found in disparate and scattered sources including legislative notes, trade transactions, enslaver journals, government correspondence, and especially church records, making it difficult to account for the entire history. The North American trade of enslaved people began with the Spanish incursions into the Caribbean and Christopher Columbus’s practice of enslavement, as documented in his own journals. Every European nation that colonized North America forced enslaved Indigenous peoples to perform tasks such as construction, plantations, and mining on the North American continent and their outposts in the Caribbean and European cities. European colonizers of South America also enslaved Indigenous peoples as part of their colonization strategy.
Nowhere is there more documentation of enslavement of Indigenous peoples than in South Carolina, the location of the original English colony of Carolina, established in 1670. It is estimated that between 1650 and 1730, at least 50,000 Indigenous peoples (and likely more due to transactions hidden to avoid paying government tariffs and taxes) were exported by the English alone to their Caribbean outposts. Between 1670 and 1717, far more Indigenous peoples were exported than Africans were imported. In southern coastal regions, entire tribes were more often exterminated through enslavement compared to disease or war. In a law passed in 1704, enslaved Indigenous peoples were conscripted to fight in wars for the colony long before the American Revolution.
The Comanche were almost completely focused on war
For a tribe that had its beginnings as relatively peaceful hunter-gatherers, the Comanche's transformation into a military juggernaut was almost total. Once they acquired horses and a mastery over them that no other people could match, their culture became almost solely focused on waging war.
As NPR reports, Comanche society was very limited. They didn't have a religious structure, they didn't have social organizations. There was no manufacturing or even art. Children learned how to ride, how to hunt, and how to fight from a very early age, and their entire lives would be focused on those three aspects. Author S.C. Gwynne compares the Comanches to the Spartans in how they were almost totally focused on fighting.
As a result, the Comanches evolved into a force of violence that no one could withstand. They waged war on everyone who came into contact with them—and usually won. One reason for this success was their brutality. A Comanche raid was a terrifying affair. All male enemies would be killed, without exception—even if they surrendered. Older children would be killed as well. Young children would be taken captive, and the women would be sexually assaulted and killed. The Comanches waged Total War long before the United States.
Native American culture areas
Comparative studies are an essential component of all scholarly analyses, whether the topic under study is human society, fine art, paleontology, or chemistry the similarities and differences found in the entities under consideration help to organize and direct research programs and exegeses. The comparative study of cultures falls largely in the domain of anthropology, which often uses a typology known as the culture area approach to organize comparisons across cultures.
The culture area approach was delineated at the turn of the 20th century and continued to frame discussions of peoples and cultures into the 21st century. A culture area is a geographic region where certain cultural traits have generally co-occurred for instance, in North America between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Northwest Coast culture area was characterized by traits such as salmon fishing, woodworking, large villages or towns, and hierarchical social organization.
The specific number of culture areas delineated for Native America has been somewhat variable because regions are sometimes subdivided or conjoined. The 10 culture areas discussed below are among the most commonly used—the Arctic, the Subarctic, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Southwest, the Great Basin, California, the Northwest Coast, and the Plateau. Notably, some scholars prefer to combine the Northeast and Southeast into one Eastern Woodlands culture area or the Plateau and Great Basin into a single Intermontane culture area. Each section below considers the location, climate, environment, languages, tribes, and common cultural characteristics of the area before it was heavily colonized. Prehistoric and post-Columbian Native American cultures are discussed in subsequent sections of this article. A discussion of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as a whole is found in American Indian.
Native American History: Changing the Narrative
(Image: Sogno Lucido/Shutterstock)
This article is the second in a series on Native American peoples. Read the first part here.
Native American History as an Epilogue
In early historical works, Indigenous people were portrayed as supporting actors in the story of America, bit players in a master narrative that celebrated the founding and expansion of the United States. At worst, Indians were cast as treacherous villains and bloodthirsty savages at best, as co-conspirators in their own undoing or tragic heroes who valiantly resisted before accepting the inevitability of their demise.
This is a transcript from the video series Native Peoples of North America. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Either way, Indians exited stage left eventually. History, thus conceived, served as a handmaiden of conquest, and a powerful one at that. By writing Indians out of the past, this version of America’s origin story denied Native people a present and a future.
Frederick Jackson Turner (November 14, 1861 – March 14, 1932) American historian in the early 20th century. (Iage: Unknown/Public domain)
Perhaps the single most emblematic work in this tradition is historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” First presented before an august body of non-Indian historians in 1893, Jackson’s essay defined the frontier as “the meeting point between savagery and civilization” and the source of the unique—and decidedly white—American character.
Turner bemoaned the fact that 400 years after discovery, the frontier had finally closed—and with it, he surmised, came the end of Indian history. Soon, Turner believed, the savage Indians who had done so much to inspire the unique American spirit would be gone. Truth be told, Turner didn’t create this narrative so much as he canonized it. Indeed, as the scholar Philip Deloria notes, “This spatial reading of Indian history as a contest between the savage and the civilized has origins as old as European colonization itself.”
History That Ends in Physical Conquest
So, too, did the assumption that the narrative must end in physical conquest. Through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, non-Native historians wrote and rewrote the same history of inevitable conquest, though locating it in different times and places, involving different Native people. Such history writing resulted in deeply internalized ideas about the impossibility of Indians having a present, much less a future.
Charles Sprague (October 26, 1791 – January 22, 1875) An early American poet, often referred to as the “Banker Poet of Boston”. (Image: By Southworth & Hawes/Public domain)
Consider one example, the words of Charles Sprague, the so-called banker poet of Boston. In an oration delivered to commemorate American independence on July 4, 1825, this is how he eulogized what he called the unhappy fate visited upon Indigenous people:
Two hundred years have changed the character of a great continent, and blotted forever from its face, a whole, peculiar people. Here and there a stricken few remain but how unlike their bold untamed, untamable progenitors! His degraded offspring crawl upon the soil to remind us how miserable is man, when the foot of the conqueror is on his neck. As a race, they have withered from the land. They will live only in the songs and chronicles of their exterminators.
Throughout the 19th century, excerpts from Sprague’s oration were reprinted in multiple editions of McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, which Native and non-Native children used to learn how to read. Consider how these passages may have shaped their impressionable minds, what they communicated about Indians and Indian history.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these messages about Indians and the end of Indian history were ubiquitous, appearing in academic writings, dime novels, sculptures, paintings, musical scores, plays, and moving pictures.
Challenging the Historical Narrative
Now, however, we need to balance the construction of this oppressive historical narrative with the creation of counter-narratives that challenge it. Let me begin by observing that there has never been a time when Native people weren’t the authors of their own histories.
The oral traditions and oral histories found across Indigenous cultures, for instance, have always been means of recording the past. “And,” the scholar Philip Deloria writes, “Native people have reshaped it in order to meet social, cultural, and political challenges. In this, they have been no different from any group of people in the world.”
The Iroquois in the Northeast, as well as other peoples, created belts fashioned from clamshell beads called wampum belts, intended for reading. Wampum belts narrate complex histories, record laws, and tell of the forging of relationships with others. The Western Apache in present-day Arizona recorded histories in the names and stories that they attached to places, or that places conveyed to them, still done to this day.
Winter counts long served as history books for Plains people, such as the Lakota and Kiowa. Lakota pictographic calendars feature a single glyph for each year, referred to as a winter. The Kiowa pictographic calendars feature two glyphs for each year. For the Lakota, each glyph refers to the name of a winter and serves as a mnemonic device from which the keeper of the count tells a much longer history of their people.
During the 19th and into the 20th centuries, Plains Indian graphic art served as a way for Native people to record personal narratives. Ledger art, for instance, takes its name from the ledger or account books on which Native people drew or painted. Ledger art, however, actually continued a tradition of recording history and narratives through images inscribed on everything from rock walls and buffalo hides to teepees and articles of clothing.
Samson Occom (1723 – July 14, 1792) was the first Native American to publish his writings in English. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)
Through the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, too, Native writers, including Samson Occom, William Apess, Christal Quintasket, and D’Arcy McNickle, to name just a few, fashioned first-person narratives, novels, and histories on terms of their own making. None of them told the story that Frederick Jackson Turner had in mind.
It would be negligent not to mention that on July 4, 1827—two years to the day after Charles Sprague characterized Indians as degraded offspring who would live only in the songs and chronicles of their exterminators—leaders of the Cherokee Nation opened a convention that led to the adoption of a constitution.
Modeled on the US and other state constitutions, it reflected Cherokee values and was meant to protect Cherokee sovereignty. The foot of the oppressor certainly wasn’t on the necks of the Cherokees who made this full-throated proclamation of continuing independence.
New Indian History
Moving forward in time, Native and non-Native scholars transformed history from within colleges and universities during the second half of the 20th century. During the 1960s, the so-called New Indian History turned a critical eye toward celebratory conquest narratives and, if haltingly, began to craft Indian-centered stories that recorded Native history from Native points of view.
While many of the New Indian Historians rarely went beyond the archival sources generated by non-Natives, other scholars developed innovative approaches through American Indian Studies and ethnohistory, a blend of history and anthropology.
American Indian Studies grew out of demands made by Native faculty and students for culturally relevant curricula. The number of Indian faculty and students on college and university campuses was small but it was growing considerably during the 1950s: By 1969, Minnesota the University of California, Berkeley UCLA and UC Davis had all started American Indian Studies programs, and many others followed.
By 1969, Minnesota the University of California, Berkeley UCLA and UC Davis had all started American Indian Studies programs, and many others followed.
Among the founders of American Indian Studies were the Crow Creek Sioux writer Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, the Powhatan-Renapé and Lenape scholar Jack Forbes, and the Standing Rock Sioux intellectual Vine Deloria, Jr. A number of these scholars came together in March 1970 for the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Their goal, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn later recalled, was to “bring about a change in the way Native life in America was studied.” She continued:
The main aim of these discussions was to assert that Indians were not just the inheritors of trauma but were also the heirs to vast legacies of knowledge about this continent and the universe that had been ignored in the larger picture of European invasion and education.
The creation of new historical narratives based on these principles developed unevenly, particularly in terms of the periods on which they were focused. Most of the revisionist work from the 1970s through the 1990s, for instance, covered the 400 years between initial contact between Natives and newcomers and the end of the 19th century.
Around the Columbian Quincentenary in 1992, a new interpretive framework focused on encounters emerged. The historian James Axtell richly described encounters as mutual, reciprocal—two-way rather than one-way streets, generally capacious, and temporally and spatially fluid.
Histories modeled on encounters supplanted worn-out narratives of discovery and conquest by emphasizing diplomacy, negotiation, and exchange.
Histories modeled on encounters supplanted worn-out narratives of discovery and conquest by emphasizing diplomacy, negotiation, and exchange. In so doing, the problematic concept of a rigid, racially defined frontier gave way to dynamic conceptions of middle grounds, contact zones, edges, and borderlands.
Distinguishing Past and Present
Strangely, though, few scholars had much to say about encounters that took place after 1900. Instead, historians typically imagined 20th-century American Indian history as being fundamentally different from the more distant past. In recent years, scholars have challenged the drawing of sharp distinctions between the distant and more recent past. Yes, the balance of power shifted dramatically through the 19th and 20th centuries.
But this shift amounted primarily to a change in the context of encounters between Natives and newcomers it didn’t bring an end to the encounters themselves. If 20th- and 21st-century encounters have remained as mutual and reciprocal, as temporally and spatially fluid, and generally capacious as they ever were, then we can imagine the last two centuries as a seamless part of one grand narrative, one story. We return to the relationship between history and contemporary Native America.
Charles Sprague, Frederick Jackson Turner, and the frontier historians who came before and after them wanted people to believe that American Indian history had ended, that Native people would vanish, and that tribal sovereignty would disappear right along with them. They turned the past into a history that served as a weapon of conquest in the 19th century, and that serves as a roadblock to recovery and renaissance in Native America today.
But the creation of new historical narratives can help remove that roadblock. Indeed, recalling the words of Lumbee legal scholar David Wilkins, we can now add the rewriting of the old master narrative as yet another way that tribal sovereignty is manifested in the purposeful actions taken by individuals and groups. This reassertion of sovereignty through the reclaiming of history is especially poignant in the context of the books and articles authored by Native scholars, such as Malinda Maynor Lowery, Joshua Reid, and Philip Deloria, all of whom offer historical perspectives on their own families, communities, and nations. Why does this matter?
Because, as Denetdale explains, for her and many other Native scholars, studying and critiquing history plays a vital role in what she calls “the recovery and revitalization of our community, family, language, and traditions.” It’s about translating the events of the past into a different history, a history of Indigenous survival through more than 500 years of colonialism, one of the most extraordinary stories in human history.
Common Questions About Native American History
Native American history generally shows Native Americans to have entered North America from the Beringia land bridge at least 15,000 years ago.
The European genocide of Native Americans is believed by scholars to have killed, at the very least, 130 million.
It is commonly believed that in 1492 when the Caribbean was reached by Columbus , there were over 10 million Native Americans living in the United States territory alone.
Native American history shows the Comanche Nation to be one of the most dangerous and dominant tribes during the 18th century.
Wounded Knee Massacre
December 29, 1890
US cavalry opened fire on Sioux Native Americans at Wounded Knee Creek, resulting in 300 killed, including women and children. This marked the end of armed Native American resistance to hostile Western forces.
Which one on our list is most significant to you?
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Teaching Native American History in a Polarized Age
When Pope Francis canonized the Franciscan monk Junípero Serra during his 2015 visit to the United States, he brought into the light of public debate the still precarious position of Native Americans in the collective historical consciousness of American people. The canonization of Serra, an eighteenth-century monk who used corporal punishment to evangelize California's indigenous peoples, exposes the ongoing historical tension between how we view the history of colonialism in the Americas and how we understand the place of Native Americans in our collective past.(1)
Native American history is rich and complex, replete with traditions thousands of years in the making it is also a history tainted by the exploitative excesses of settler colonialism. Getting American college students to grapple with the complexities of Native American history is one of the great challenges of teaching in twenty-first-century college classrooms. Thus, while Serra's canonization sparked controversy, it also presented college educators with an opportunity to challenge their students to rethink the place of indigenous people in American history.
The challenges involved in teaching a more nuanced Native American history are multifaceted and not confined to debate about Serra's 2015 canonization. We live in an age of social and political polarization, an era in which some of our leaders demand a "pro-American" history curriculum for K–12 students. Ours is also a time when violence is all too commonplace in our communities, and when serious intellectual debate over historical symbols causes deep anxieties everywhere from the op-ed pages of our newspapers to college classrooms.(2) Talking about the various social, political, and environmental issues that influenced Native American histories, and the role that Europeans like Serra played in those histories, can therefore be a stressful experience for some students.
In recent years I've discovered that many students find Native American history a mystery they're curious, but a lack of historical knowledge has them feeling reticent to engage in conversation. Many of these students express disappointment about the limitations of their K–12 history education. Others bring deep-seated cultural assumptions, clichés, and racial preconceptions about Native American people with them when they arrive at university.
While cultural stereotypes about Native Americans certainly present challenges to the cultivation of a more nuanced understanding of the place of indigenous people in American history, they also offer college educators teaching opportunities. Personally, I'm quite interested in the historical preconceptions that my students bring to the study of American Indian history. At the beginning of each semester I encourage students to give me a sense of what they know about Native American people and their history. Here's a sampling.
Several years ago a student in a class about Native Americans in the Southeast confidently informed me that "I'm related to Pocahontas and my family has the paperwork to prove it." I never saw that documentation.
Significantly, that student is not alone. In Virginia, where I teach, students often claim descent from Pocahontas. It's easy to be cynical about such claims, but the students who make these bold pronouncements tend to perceive the study of American Indian history in very personal terms, with many enrolling in indigenous history classes hoping to deepen not only their knowledge of Native America, but to gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
Other students express attitudes that range from the romantic to the dismissive. Some continue to perceive Native Americans as the ultimate ecologists living in "harmony" with nature. Still others give voice to divergent views about the media coverage of the "redskin" mascot controversy.(3) Students express either condemnation for what they perceive as a blatantly racist symbol, while others, often young men, offer dismissive comments about diversity, "political correctness," and racial sensitivity. As one of my students recently put it, "I don't see what's so offensive about [the "redskin" mascot]."
It's not hard to understand why students have such divergent, and occasionally offensive, perspectives. The purveyors of popular culture—from Hollywood filmmakers to professional sports franchises—continue to fall back on racial stereotypes of Native Americans, thereby naturalizing representations of indigenous people as racially different or even inferior.(4)
It is the case that doing justice to the panoply of human experiences that constitute American history requires a serious engagement with American Indian history.(5) But encouraging students to question cultural stereotypes about indigenous Americans is the most common challenge facing historians who teach Native American history at the college level. There are, however, other challenges.
For instance, I've lost count of the number of students who've graduated from public schools in Virginia and expressed frustration at how "standards of learning" rubrics and bureaucratic metrics narrowed their high school history education. From a young age, these students still learn that "in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and sit through simplistic lessons about Squanto and the origins of Thanksgiving. This might count as "patriotic history," but the dumbing down of Native American history in K–12 classrooms leaves students ill-prepared for the type of critical thinking skills needed in college classrooms and, in the long-term, imperils, rather than strengthens, American democracy.
So can college educators overcome these multifaceted challenges to teaching Native American history? I think we can. Most students are thirsting for a more inclusive history of the United States and want to grapple with the significance of an American history in which American Indians are woven into the brutal story of the nation's settler colonial past.
Starting with misconceptions and cultural stereotypes can be a useful entry point to encourage students to think about the political (and politicized) uses of history. Engaging with the legends of Pocahontas or Squanto, for instance, makes it possible to think about how Europeans and Euroamericans have represented Native Americans in the service of nation-building propaganda.
The college classroom should also be a space where students can analyze the often-brutal aspects of American history. Take, for instance, the history of colonial warfare and disease transfer. For some time historians such as Paul Kelton have exposed the limitations of Alfred Crosby's famous "virgin soil thesis." In my classes, I provide students with an opportunity to read and reflect on Crosby's famous thesis and to compare his analysis with primary sources—written and oral—of disease outbreaks among Native communities in Eastern North America. The result of such analysis is a much more complex history in which students begin to see the active ways indigenous people understood and treated illness.
While we as college educators should not shy away from the more uncomfortable facets of American history, we also need to introduce students to the strength of indigenous communities and the significance of native cultures and traditions surviving and thriving in our current century. For example, recent media interest in Native American two-spirit people opens our classrooms to original discussions about gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ studies. Alternatively, exposing our students to both primary and secondary sources about indigenous concepts of kinship enables us to underscore the enduring significance of reciprocity in native cultures in ways that contrast it with the Western intellectual tradition of individualism and capitalistic accumulation.
The challenges to teaching Native American history in college classrooms are broad ranging they are cultural, institutional, and political in nature. But these challenges are not insurmountable. Indeed, a liberal education that views pedagogy as a means of engaging, intervening, and rethinking the place and roles of native people in American history constitutes an empowering educational experience for our students and cultivates a more open and democratic historical discourse. Such a broadening and deepening of our students' historical perspectives about Native American history may indeed be closer than we think.
Gregory Smithers teaches Native American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. His most recent book is The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (2015).
(1) Joshua Keating, "Why Is the Pope of the Poor Canonizing a Spanish Colonialist? Slate, September 23, 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/09/23/junipero_serra_why_is_the_pope_of
(2) Joseph Berger, "Confederate Symbols, Swastikas, and Student Sensibilities," New York Times, July 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/education/edlife/confederate-symbols-swastikas-and-student-sensibilities.html.
(3) Carol Spindel, Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots (2000).
(4) Shannon Speed, "'Pro-American' History Textbooks Hurt Native Americans," Huffington Post, November 21, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-speed/proamerican-history-textb_b_6199070.html.
(5) Susan Sleeper-Smith, Juliana Barr, Jean M. O'Brien, and Nancy Shoemaker, Scott Manning Stevens eds., Why You Can't Teach United States History without American Indians (2015).
Native American History in Kansas
When Christopher Columbus discovered America, the continent north of Mexico was inhabited by four great groups of aborigines, to whom was given the general name of “Indians,” the discoverers believing they had circumnavigated the earth and arrived at the eastern border of India. The Algonquin group, probably the most important of the four, inhabited a triangle which may be roughly described by a line drawn from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to the Rocky Mountains, then by a line from that point to the Atlantic coast near the Neuse River, and up the coast to the place of beginning. Also, within this triangle lived the Iroquoian group, whose habitat was along the Lakes Erie and Ontario shores, extending to the lower Susquehanna River and westward into Illinois.
South and east of the triangle were the tribes of the Muskhogean stock, the Creek, Choctaw, etc. West of all these lay the Siouan group.
Kanza Chief White Plume by Charles Bird King about 1822.
When the first white men visited the region now comprising the State of Kansas, they found it inhabited by four tribes of Indians: the Kanza or Kaw, which occupied the northeastern and central part of the state, the Osage, who were located south of the Kanza the Pawnee, whose country lay west and north of the Kanza, and the Comanche, whose hunting grounds were in the western part of the state.
A handbook issued by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1907 defined the Kanza as “A southwestern Siouan tribe.” Their linguistic relations are closest to the Osage and are also close with the Quapaw. In the traditional migration of the group, after the Quapaw had first separated therefrom, the main body divided at the mouth of the Osage River, the Osage moving up that stream and the Omaha and the Ponca crossing the Missouri River and proceeding northward, while the Kanza ascended the Missouri River on the south side of the mouth of the Kansas River.”
The 15th annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology said: “According to tribal traditions collected by Dorsey [Indians of The Southwest, 1903], the ancestors of the Omaha, Ponca, Quapaw, Osage, and Kanza were originally one people dwelling on the Ohio and Wabash Rivers, but gradually working westward. The first separation took place at the mouth of the Ohio River. Those going down the Mississippi River became the Quapaw or “dawn stream people,” those who went up became the Omaha or “upstream people.”
After the Kanza separated from the Omaha and Ponca and established themselves at the mouth of the Kansas River, they gradually extended their domain to the present northern boundary of Kansas, where they were met and driven back by the Ioway and Sauk tribes, who had already come in contact with the white traders from whom they had received firearms. The Kanza, being without these superior weapons, were forced back to the Kansas River. Here, they were visited by the “Big Knives,” as they called the white men, who persuaded them to go farther west. The tribe then successfully occupied some 20 villages along the Kansas Valley before settling at Council Grove before they were finally removed to the Indian Territory in 1873.
Juan de Onate, Spanish Conquistador
The first white man to acquire a knowledge of the Kanza Indians was Spanish Conquistador Juan de Onate, who met them on his expedition in 1601 and referred to them as the “Escansaques.”
Although French missionary Jacques Marquette’s map of 1673 showed the location of the Kanza Indians, the French did not actually come in contact with the tribe until 1750, when the French explorers and traders ascended the Missouri River to the mouth of the Kansas River, where they met with a welcome reception from the Indians.
These early Frenchmen gave the tribe the name of Kah or Kaw, which, according to the story of an old Osage warrior, was a term of derision, meaning coward, and was given to the Kanza by the Osage because they refused to join in a war against the Cherokee. Another Frenchman, Etienne Venyard Sieur de Bourgmont, who visited the tribe in 1724, called them the “Canzes” and reported that they had two villages on the Missouri River, one about 40 miles above the mouth of the Kansas River and the other farther up the river, both on the right bank. These villages were also mentioned by Lewis and Clark nearly a century later.
George J. Remsburg, who was regarded as an authority on matters relating to the Kanza Indians, said the grand village of the tribe was located where the town of Doniphan now stands and was known as the “Village of the Twenty-four.” After the white settlers induced them to remove farther west, the principal village of the tribe was near the southwest corner of Pottawatomie County. In the spring of 1880, Franklin G. Adams, Secretary of the Kansas Historical Society, had surveyed this village. In his report, he stated that the old village was “about two miles east of Manhattan, on a neck of land between the Kansas and Big Blue Rivers.
The 15th annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology said there was a Kanza village at the Saline River’s mouth and that the first treaty between them and the United States was concluded there. After the treaty of 1825, the tribes moved east again and in 1830 had two villages near the mouth of Mission Creek a short distance west of Topeka. The village of American Chief, containing some 20 lodges and 100 followers, was on the west side of the creek about two miles from the Kansas River. Hard Chief’s village, nearer the river, had some 500 or 600 inhabitants, and a third village that of Fool Chief was located on the north side of the Kansas River, not far from the Menoken Union Pacific Railroad station.
In 1847, several remnants of the tribe were ordered to what was known as the “diminished reserve” at Council Grove. Concerning this movement on the part of the government of the United States, George P. Morehouse, in his Kanza Indians and Their History, said: “It was not only a blunder, but it was criminal after cheating them out of their Kansas Valley homes, to remove them to Council Grove. Here, they were placed near a trading center on the Santa Fe Trail, where their contact with piejene (fire-water), the whiskey of the whites, and other vices, proved far more injurious than any knowledge of civilization received could overcome. Here, they were totally neglected religiously, and only experiments of a brief nature undertaken for their education.”
Among the Kanza, the gentile system prevailed. There were seven tribal subdivisions, and these were still further divided into 16 clans, including Manyinka (earth lodge), Ta (deer), Panka (Ponca), Kanza, Wasabe (black bear), Wanaghe (ghost), Kekin (carries a turtle on his back), Minkin (carries the sun on his back), Upan (elk), Khuga (white eagle), Han (night), Ibache (holds the firebrand to the sacred pipe), Hangatanga (large Hanga), Chedunga (buffalo bull), Chizhuwashtage (peacemaker), Lunikashinga (thundering people).
Ethnologically, the Osage were closely allied to the Kanza. Geographically they were divided into three bands — Pahatsi (great), Utsehta (little), and the Santsukhdi band, which lived in Arkansas. Marquette’s map of 1675 showed the tribe located on a stream believed to be the Osage River, and other explorers and writers located them in the same place. In 1686 Donay mentioned 17 villages of the Osage. Father Jaques Gravier, eight years later, wrote from the Illinois Mission that the tribe had but one village, the other 16 being mere hunting camps occupied only at intervals. Iberville, in 1701, gave an account of a tribe of some 1,500 families living in the region of the Arkansas River, near the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, and like them, speaking a language that he took to be Quapaw.
French explorer Jean La Harpe said the Osage were a warlike tribe that kept the Jean La Harpe Caddooan tribes in a state of terror. However, when the Illinois Indians were driven across the Mississippi River by the Iroquois, they found shelter with the Osage Nation.
Osage Indians by George Catlin.
Early in the 18th century, French traders visited the Osage and made peace treaties with the tribe that lasted for years. In 1714 some of the Osage warriors assisted the French against the Fox Indians at Detroit, and in 1806 a Little Osage chief named Chtoka (Wet Stone) told Lieutenant Zebulon Pike that he was at the defeat of General Braddock in 1755, with all the warriors of his tribe that could be spared from the village.
Some historians believe that that the Osage Nation was originally one people. According to Lewis and Clark, about half of the Great Osage, under a chief named Big Track, migrated to the Arkansas River about 1802 and laid the foundation of the Santsukhdi band. Two years after this separation, Lewis and Clark found the Great Osage, numbering 500 warriors, in a village on the south side of the Osage River, and the Little Osage, numbering 250 or 300 warriors, about six miles distant on the Arkansas River and one of its tributaries called the Vermilion River. The present Osage reservation was established in 1870.
The Indian name of the tribe was Wazhaze, which the French corrupted into Osage. A tribal tradition relates that originally the nation consisted of two tribes — the Tsishu or peace people and the Wazhaze or true Osage. The Tsishu lived on a vegetarian diet, while the Wazhazelatter, being a war people, ate meat. After a time, the two tribes began to trade with each other. The Tsishu later met a warlike people called the “Hangda-utadhantse,” with whom they made peace, and all three were then united under the general name of Wazhaze. After the consolidation, the tribe was divided into 14 bands — seven of the former Tsishu, five of the Hangda, and two of the Wazhaze, so that the number of bands of the peace people and the war people were equal.
The Pawnee Nation was a confederacy of tribes belonging to the Caddoan family and called themselves Chahiksichahiks, “men of men.” As the Caddoan tribes moved northeast, the Pawnee separated from the main body somewhere near the Platte River in Nebraska, where their traditions say they acquired territory by conquest and where the Siouan tribes subsequently found them.
There is some question about the origin of the name “Pawnee.” The word Pani, which has become synonymous with Pawnee, means “slave.” From this tribe that the Algonquian tribes about the great lakes obtained their slaves, some writers maintain that the word Pawnee is equivalent to the word slave and that the tribal name resulted from the fact that so many members of it were subjected to a state of bondage.
The tribal organization of the Pawnee was based on the village communities, which represented subdivisions of the tribe. Each village had its name, its hereditary chiefs, a shrine, priests, etc. The dominating power in their religion was Tirawa (father), whose messengers were the winds, thunder, lightning, and rain. Pawnee lodges were of two types — the common form of skins stretched over a framework of poles and the earth lodge. The latter was circular in form, from 30 to 60 feet in diameter, partly underground, and elaborate religious ceremonies usually accompanied its construction. Among the men, the only essential articles of wearing apparel were the breechcloth and moccasins, though a robe and leggings supplemented these in cold weather or on state occasions. After marriage, a man went to live with his wife’s family, though polygamy was not uncommon.
Pawnee Chief Pes-ke-le-cha-co by Charles Bird King, 1841.
Juan de Oñate, in his account of his expedition in 1601, says the Escansaques and Quivirans were hereditary enemies, and Professor Dunbar of the Kansas Historical Society demonstrated almost to an absolute certainty that the Quivirans mentioned by Oñate were the Pawnee, who were also the inhabitants of the ancient Indian province of Harahey. The first Pawnee to come in contact with the white man was the one whom the Spaniards of Coronado’s Expedition called “the Turk.” Soon after the expedition of Oñate, the Spanish settlers of New Mexico became acquainted with Pawnee through their raids into the white settlements for horses. For two centuries, the Spaniards tried to establish peaceful relations with the tribe, but with only partial success. Consequently, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Pawnee villages were so remote from the white settlements that they escaped the influences generally so fatal to the aborigines.
In 1702, the estimated Pawnee population was about 2,000 families. When Louisiana was purchased from France by the United States a century later, the Pawnee country was south of the Niobrara River in Nebraska, extending southward into Kansas. On the west were the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, on the east were the Omaha, and south were the Otoe and Kanza. Soon after the Louisiana Purchase, the Pawnee came in contact with white traders from St. Louis. In September 1806, at the Pawnee village in Republic County, Kansas, Lieutenant Pike lowered the Spanish flag and raised the United States flag. In 1838 the number of Pawnee was estimated at 10,000, but in 1849 the tribe was reduced to about 4,500 by a cholera epidemic. Five years before this, however, they ceded to the United States their lands south of the Platte River and were removed from Kansas. Between 1873 and 1875, what remained of the tribe was settled upon a reservation in the Indian Territory. At that time, there were about 1,000, representing four tribes of what was once the great Pawnee Confederacy.
Comanche Hunting Buffalo by George Catlin
The Comanche or Padouca, who inhabited western Kansas in the early part of the 18th century, were an offshoot of Wyoming’s Shoshone, as shown by their language and traditions. The Siouan name was Padouca, by which they were called in the accounts of the early French explorers, notably Bourgmont, who visited the tribe in 1724. As late as 1805, the North Platte River was known as the Padouca Fork. At that time, the Comanche roamed over the country about the headwaters of the Arkansas, Red, Trinity, and Brazos Rivers in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. According to a Kiowa tradition, when that tribe moved southward from the country about the Black Hills, the Arkansas River formed the Comanche country’s northern boundary.
For nearly two centuries, the Comanche were at war with the Spaniards of the southwest and made frequent raids as far south as Durango. They were generally friendly with the Americans but did not like the Texans. The Comanche was probably never a large tribe, as they did not settle down in villages but lived as nomadic buffalo hunters, following the herds as they grazed from place to place. They were fine horsemen, the best riders on the plains, full of courage, had a high sense of honor, and considered themselves superior to the tribes they associated with. In 1867 they were given a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma, but they did not go to it until after the outbreak of the plains tribes in 1874-75.
The Cheyenne belonged to the Algonquian family. They are first mentioned in history by the name of “Chaa,” some of them visiting La Salle’s Fort on the Illinois River to invite the French to their country where beaver and other fur-bearing animals were plentiful. They inhabited the region bounded by the Mississippi, Minnesota, and upper Red Rivers. According to a Sioux tradition, the Cheyenne occupied the upper Mississippi country before the Sioux. When the latter appeared in that locality, there was some friction between the two tribes, which resulted in the Cheyenne crossing the Missouri River and locating about the Black Hills, where Lewis and Clark found them in 1804.
From there, they drifted westward and southward, first occupying the region about the headwaters of the Platte River and next along the Arkansas River in the vicinity of Bent’s Fort, Colorado. A portion of the tribe remained on the Platte and the Yellowstone Rivers and became known as the Northern Cheyenne.
Cheyenne Chief Eagle Feather
The Cheyenne have a tradition that when they lived in Minnesota, before the coming of the Sioux, they lived in fixed villages, practiced agriculture, made pottery, etc.. Still, everything was changed when the tribe was driven out, and they became roving hunters. About the only institution of the old life that remained with them was the great tribal ceremony of the Sun Dance.
In 1838 the Cheyenne and Arapaho attacked the Kiowa on Wolf Creek, Oklahoma, but two years later, peace was established between the tribes, after which the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa Comanche, and Apache were frequently allied in wars against the whites.
The northern Cheyenne joined the Sioux in the Sitting Bull War of 1876. In the winter of 1878-79, a band of the northern Cheyenne was taken as prisoners to Fort Reno, Oklahoma, to be colonized with the southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. The chiefs Dull Knife, Wild Hog, and Little Wolf, with about 200 followers, escaped and were pursued to the Dakota border, where most of the warriors were killed.
In February 1861, the Cheyenne and Arapaho relinquished their title to lands in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and northwest Kansas, and in 1867, the southern Cheyenne were given a reservation in western Oklahoma. They refused to occupy it however, until after the surrender of 1875, when some of their leaders were sent to Florida as a final means of quelling the insurrection. In 1902, the southern Cheyenne were allotted lands in severalty. Two years later, the Bureau of Ethnology reported 3,300 members of the tribe — 1,900 southern and 1,400 northern.
Arapaho Warrior by Edward S. Curtis
The Arapaho, a plains tribe of the Algonquian group, was closely allied with the Cheyenne for almost a century. They were called by the Sioux and Cheyenne “Blue Sky Men” or “Cloud Men.” An Arapaho tradition tells how the tribe was once an agricultural people in northwestern Minnesota but were forced across the Missouri River, where they met the Cheyenne, with whom they moved southward. Like the Cheyenne, they became divided, the northern Arapaho remaining about the mountains near the Platte River’s head and the southern branch drifting to the Arkansas River. In 1867 the southern portion of the tribe was given a reservation with the southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. By 1892 they had made sufficient progress to justify the government in allotting them lands in severalty and the rest of the reservation being thrown open to white settlement. The northern branch was established in 1876 on a reservation in Wyoming.
Between the years 1825 and 1830, the Kanza and Osage tribes withdrew from a large part of their lands, which were turned over to the United States. This gave the national government the opportunity of establishing the long talked of Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Congress, therefore, passed a bill providing that the country west of the Mississippi River that was not included in any state or organized territory of the United States to be set apart as a home for the Indians. This Indian Territory joined Missouri and Arkansas on the west and was annexed to those states for judicial purposes. During the decade following the bill’s passage, several eastern tribes found what they thought were permanent homes within the present State of Kansas. Among them were the Shawnee, Delaware, Ottawa, Miami, Chippewa, Kickapoo, Sauk and Fox, Wyandot, and others.
The Shawnee were the first to seek a home in the new territory. The early history of the Shawnee tribe is somewhat obscure, though it was known to be an important tribe in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina, and along the Savannah River in Georgia. Some writers claim that the Shawnee were identical with the Erie of the early Jesuits, and attempts have been made to show that they were allied to the Susquehannock of the Iroquois family. Their language was that of the central Algonquian dialects — similar to that of the Sauk and Fox –and the Delaware had a tradition that made the Shawnee and Nanticoke one people.
The Shawnee’s recorded history began in about 1670 when there were two bodies, some distance apart, with the friendly Cherokee Nation between. In 1672 the western Shawnee were allied with the Susquehannock in a war against the Iroquois. Twelve years later, the Iroquois made war on the Miami tribe because they were trying to form an alliance with the Shawnee for the purpose of invading the Iroquois country.
About the middle of the 18th century, the eastern and western Shawnee were united in Ohio, and from that time to the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795 were almost constantly at war with the English. They were driven from the head of the Scioto River to the head of the Miami River. After the Revolutionary War, some of them went south and formed an alliance with the Creek Indians, with whom they were closely connected, their language being almost identical. Others joined with a portion of the Delaware tribe and accepted a Spanish invitation to occupy a tract of land near Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
In the early part of the 19th century, the Shawnee in Indiana and Ohio, with some of the Delaware, joined the movement of the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskawata (the Prophet), to unite the tribes of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys in a general uprising against the whites. General Harrison effectually crushed the conspiracy at the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 4, 1811. In the War of 1812, some of the Shawnee fought with the British until Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames.
The fall of their great war chief broke the warlike spirit of the tribe, and the Shawnee sued for peace. In 1825 the Missouri Shawnee sold their lands and received a reservation in Kansas south of the Kansas River and bordering on the Missouri River.
The Ohio Shawnee sold their lands near Wapakoneta in 1831 and joined their brethren in Kansas, the mixed band of Shawnee and Seneca coming in about the same time. Some of the tribe in 1845 withdrew from the Kansas reservation and went to the Canadian River in Oklahoma. They became known as the “Absentee Shawnee.” In 1867 those with the Seneca moved to the Indian Territory, and in 1869 the main body was incorporated with the Cherokee Nation.
The Shawnee tribe consisted of five divisions, which were further divided into 13 clans, the English names of which were the wolf, loon, bear, buzzard, panther, owl, turkey, deer, raccoon, turtle, snake, horse, and rabbit. Of these, the Clan of the Turtle was the most important, especially in their mythological traditions.
The Delaware, formerly the most important confederacy of the Algonquian stock, occupied the Delaware River’s entire valley. They called themselves the Lenape or Leni-Lenape. The English gave them the name of Delaware, and the French called them Loups (wolves). They were divided into three bands — the Munsee, Unami, and the Unalachtigo — though it is probable that some of the bands in New Jersey may have formed a fourth group.
About 1720, the Iroquois tribe assumed authority over the Delaware and forbade them to sell their lands. This condition lasted until after the French and Indian War. Then they were gradually crowded westward by the white men and began to form settlements in Ohio, along the Muskingum River with the Huron.
Here they were supported by the French and became independent of the Iroquois. They opposed the English with determination until the treaty of Greeneville in 1795. Six years before that treaty was consummated, Louisiana’s Spanish government gave the Delaware permission to settle in that province, near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, with some of the Shawnee tribe.
In 1820 there were two bands — numbering about 700 — in Texas, but by 1835 most of the Delaware were settled upon their Kansas reservation between the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Their title to this reservation was finally extinguished in 1866, and on April 11, 1867, President Johnson approved an agreement by which the Delaware merged their tribal existence with the Cherokee Nation.
In 1820 there was found an ancient hieroglyphic bark record giving the traditions of the Delaware tribe. This old record was translated and published in 1885. It gives an account of the creation of the world by great Manito and of the flood, in which Nanabush, the Strong White One, grandfather of men, created the turtle, on which some were saved. This book is known as the “Walam Olum.”
The Munsee, one of the three principal divisions of the Delaware, originally occupied the country about the Delaware River’s headwaters. By what was known as the “walking purchase,” in about 1740, they were defrauded out of the greater portion of their lands and forced to move. They obtained lands from the Iroquois on the Susquehanna River, where they lived until the Indian country was established by the act of 1830, when they removed to what is now Franklin County, Kansas, with some of the Chippewa. The Bureau of Ethnology report for 1885 says the only Munsee then recognized officially by the United States were 72, living in Franklin County, Kansas, all the others having been incorporated with the Cherokee Nation.
According to one of their traditions, the Ottawa were once part of a tribe to which also belonged the Chippewa and Potawatomi, all of the great Algonquian family. They moved as one tribe from their original habitat north of the great lakes and separated about the straits of Mackinaw. Another account says that when the Iroquois destroyed the Huron Indians in 1648-49, what was left of the Huron found refuge with the Ottawa, which caused the Iroquois to turn on that tribe. The Ottawa and the Huron then fled to Green Bay, where they were welcomed by the Potawatomi, who had preceded them to that locality.
The tribe is mentioned in the Jesuit Relations as early as 1670, when Father Dablon, superior of the mission at Mackinaw, said: “We call these people Upper Algonkin to distinguish them from the Lower Alkonkin, who are lower down in the vicinity of Tadousac and Quebec. People commonly give them the name of Ottawa because, of more than 30 different tribes which are found in these countries, the first that descended to the French settlements were the Ottawa, whose name afterward attached to all the others.”
After a time, the Ottawa and Huron went to the Mississippi River and established themselves on an island in Lake Pepin. They were soon driven out by the Sioux and went to the Black River in Wisconsin, where the Huron built a fort, but the Ottawa continued east to Chequamegon Bay. In 1700 the Huron were located near Detroit, and the Ottawa were between that post and the Saginaw Bay. The Ohio Ottawa were removed west of the Mississippi River in 1832.
The following year, by the Treaty of Chicago, those living along the west shore of Lake Michigan ceded their lands there and were given a reservation in Franklin County, Kansas, the county seat of which bears the name of the tribe. In 1906 there were about 1,500 Ottawa living in Manitoulin and Cockburn Islands, Canada 197 under the Seneca school in Oklahoma and nearly 4,000 in the State of Michigan.
The Chippewa or Ojibway formerly ranged along Lake Superior and Lake Huron’s shores, extending across Minnesota to the Turtle Mountains in North Dakota. At the time America was discovered, the Chippewa lived at La Pointe, Ashland County, Wisconsin, on the south shore of Lake Superior, where they had a village called Shangawaumikong.
Arrowmaker an Ojibwa/Chippewa brave by the Detroit Photographic Company, 1903.
Early in the 18th century, the Chippewa drove the Fox tribe from northern Wisconsin and drove the Sioux west of the Mississippi River. Other Chippewa overran the peninsula lying between Lake Huron and Lake Erie and forced the Iroquois to withdraw from that section. There were ten principal divisions of the tribe scattered through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, with more than 20 bands. Before 1815, the Chippewa were frequently engaged in war with the white settlers, but they remained peaceful after the treaty of that year.
In 1836, what was known as the Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa sold their lands in southern Michigan and moved to the Munsee Reservation in Franklin County, Kansas. In 1905 the Bureau of Ethnology estimated the number of Chippewa in the United States and Canada at 30,000, about one-half of which were in the United States.
The Miami, one of the most important of the Algonquian tribes, was called by some of the early chroniclers the “Twightwees.” The region over which they roamed was once outlined in a speech by their famous chief, Little Turtle, who said: “My fathers kindled the first fire at Detroit then they extended their lines to the headwaters of the Scioto then to its mouth then down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash River, and then to Chicago over Lake Michigan.”
The men of the Miami tribe have been described as “of medium height, well built, heads rather round than oblong, countenances agreeable rather than sedate or morose, swift on foot and excessively fond of racing.” The women spun the thread of buffalo hair, of which they made bags in which to carry provisions when on a march. Their deities were the sun and the thunder, and they had but few minor gods. Six bands of the Miami were known to the French, the principal ones being the Piankashaw, Wea, and Pepicokia.
French Explorer Sieur de La Salle first mentioned the Piankashaw in 1682 as one of the tribes gathered about his fort in the Illinois country. Chauvignerie classed the Piankashaw, Wea, and Pepicokia as one tribe but inhabiting different villages. The Miami were divided into ten bands — wolf, loon, eagle, buzzard, panther, turkey, raccoon, snow, sun, and water — and the elk and crane were their principal totems.
Early in the 19th century, the Piankashaw and Wea were located in Missouri, and in 1832 they agreed to remove to Kansas as one tribe. About 1854, they were consolidated with the Peoria and Kaskaskia, and in 1868 the consolidated tribe was removed to a reservation on the Neosho River in northeastern Oklahoma. Numerous treaties were made between the main body of the Miami and the United States, and in November 1840, the last of the tribe was removed west of the Mississippi River. Six years later, some of them were in Linn County, Kansas, and others had confederated with the Peoria and other tribes. In 1873 they were removed to the Indian Territory.
The Sac and Fox, usually spoken of as one tribe, were originally two separate and distinct tribes, but both of Algonquian stock. The Sac (or Sauk), when first met by white men, inhabited the lower peninsula of Michigan and were known as “Yellow Earth People.” At that time, the Fox lived along the southern shore of Lake Superior and were called the “Red Earth People.” There is a tribal tradition that before the Sac became an independent people, they belonged to an Algonquian group composed of the Potawatomi, Fox, and Mascouten tribes. After the separation, the Sac and Fox moved northwest, and in 1720 were located near Green Bay, Wisconsin but as two separate tribes. Trouble with the Fox led to a division of the Sac, one faction going to the Fox and the other to the Potawatomi. In 1733, some Fox, pursued by the French, took refuge at the Sac village near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Sieur de Villiers made a demand for the refugees’ surrender, but it was refused, and in trying to take them by force, several of the French were killed. Governor Beauharnois of Canada, then gave orders to make war on the Sac and Fox. This led to a close confederation of the two tribes, and since then, they have been known as the Sac and Fox.
Sac Chief Black Hawk by John T. Bowen, 1838
In the early days of the confederacy, there were numerous bands, but in time these were reduced to 14. Black Hawk, the Sac War Chief, was a member of the thunder clan. After several treaties with the United States, the Sac and Fox in 1837 ceded their lands in Iowa and were given a reservation in Franklin and Osage Counties of Kansas. In 1859 the Fox returned from a buffalo hunt to find that in their absence, the Sac had made a treaty ceding the Kansas reservation to the United States.
The Fox chief refused to ratify the cession and, with some of his trusty followers, set out for Iowa from which some of the Fox members had previously returned. They purchased a small tract of land near Tama City, Iowa, and later made more purchases until the tribe owned some 3,000 acres. From that time, this faction of the Fox had no further political connection with the Sac. In 1867, the Kansas reservation passed into the hands of the United States Government, the Indians accepting a reservation in the Indian Territory, and in 1889 they were allotted lands in severalty.
The Ioway were a southwestern Siouan tribe belonging to the Chiwere group, composed of the Ioway, Otoe, and Missouri tribes, all of which sprang from Winnebago stock, to which they were closely allied by language and tradition. Old Ioway chiefs said that the tribe separated from the Winnebago on Lake Michigan’s shores, and at the time of the separation, received the name of “gray snow.”
Afterward, they lived on the Des Moines River, near the pipestone quarry in Minnesota, at the Platte River’s mouth, and on the Little Platte River’s headwaters in Missouri. In 1824, they ceded their lands in Missouri and in 1836 moved to a reservation in the northeast corner of Kansas. When this reservation was ceded to the United States, the tribe removed to central Oklahoma, where, in 1890, they were allotted lands in severalty.
The Kickapoo, a tribe of the central Algonquian group, is first mentioned in history about 1670 when Father Allouez found them living near the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers portage. Ethnologically, the Kickapoo were closely related to the Sac and Fox, with whom they entered into a scheme to destroy Detroit in 1712. When the Illinois Confederacy was broken up in 1765, the Kickapoo had their headquarters for a time at Peoria, Illinois. They were allied with Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in his conspiracy early in the 19th century, and in 1832, took part in the Black Hawk War.
Five years later, they aided the government in the war with the Seminole. After ceding their lands in central Illinois, they moved to Missouri and still later to Kansas, settling on a reservation near Fort Leavenworth. About 1852, several Kickapoo joined a party of Potawatomi and went to Texas. Later they went to Mexico and became known as the “Mexican Kickapoo.” In 1905, the Bureau of Ethnology reported 434 Kickapoo — 247 in Oklahoma and 167 in Kansas.
Among the Kickapoo, the gentile system prevailed, and marriage was outside of their bands. In summer, they lived in bark houses, and in winter, in oval lodges constructed of reeds. They practiced agriculture in a primitive way. Many fables of animals characterized Their mythology, the dog was especially venerated and regarded as an object of always offering acceptable to the great Manitou.
The Potawatomi belonged to the Algonquian group and were first encountered by white men in the vicinity of Green Bay, Wisconsin. They were originally associated with the Ottawa and Chippewa as one tribe, the separation taking place about Lake Huron’s head. Subsequently, the three tribes formed a confederacy for offense or defense, and when removed west of the Mississippi River, asked to be united again. They sided with the French until about 1760, took part in the Pontiac Conspiracy, and fought against the United States in the American Revolution. The Treaty of Greeneville put an end to hostilities, but in the War of 1812, they again allied themselves with the British.
Between the years 1836 and 1841, they were moved west of the Mississippi River, those in Indiana having to be removed by force. Some escaped to Canada and lived on Walpole Island in the St. Clair River.
In 1846 all those in the United States were united on a reservation in Miami County, Kansas. In November 1861, this tract was ceded to the United States. The tribe accepted a reservation of 30 miles square near Horton, Jackson County, Kansas, where their reservation continues to stand today. From government reports in 1908, about 2,500 Potawatomi in the United States, 676 of whom were in Kansas.
The 15 bands of the tribe were the wolf, bear, beaver, elk, loon, eagle, sturgeon, carp, bald eagle, thunder, rabbit, crow, fox, turkey, and black hawk. Their most popular totems were the frog, tortoise, crab, and crane. In the early days, they were sun-worshipers. Dog flesh was highly prized, especially in the “feast of dreams,” when their special Manitou was selected.
Kiowa Chief Kicking Bird by William S. Soule, about 1872.
The Kiowa once inhabited the region on the upper Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers. Next, they allied with the Crow but were driven southward by the Cheyenne and Arapaho to the country about the upper Arkansas and Canadian Rivers in Colorado and Oklahoma. They are first mentioned in history by Spanish explorers about 1732, and in 1805 Lewis and Clark found them living on the North Platte River. About 1840, they allied with the Comanche with whom they were afterward frequently associated in raids on Texas and Mexico’s frontier settlements. In 1865 they joined with the Comanche in a treaty which ceded to the United States a large tract of land in Colorado, Texas, and southwest Kansas, and three years later, they were put on a reservation in northwest Texas and the western part of the Indian Territory.
The Quapaw, a southwestern tribe of the Siouan group, were separated from the other Siouan tribes when the Quapaw went down the Mississippi River settling in Arkansas. In contrast, the Omaha group, which included the Omaha, Kanza, Ponca, and Osage, went up the Missouri River. There is a close linguistic and ethnic relation between the Quapaw and the other four tribes, and their name derives from Ugakhpa, or “downstream people. When encountered by the French, they were described as having made considerable advances in culture, evidenced by their villages and structures.
The Quapaw were close allies of the French in colonial Louisiana, and during the later Spanish regime, they helped defend the colony from invasion by Indians allied with the English. The Quapaw tried to maintain a policy of peaceful co-existence with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Still, they were forced to surrender their Arkansas lands to the U.S. government in 1818 and 1824. In 1833 old maps show that some of them lived on a small strip in southeastern Kansas, extending from the Missouri line to the Neosho River. In 1839, the Quapaw Reservation was established in Indian Indian Territory, which is currently utilized today. There are about 2,000 tribal members, most who live near Miami, Oklahoma.
The Otoe, one of the three Siouan tribes forming the Chiwere group, were originally part of the Winnebago, from whom they separated near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Moving southwest in quest of buffalo, the Otoe went up the Missouri River, crossed the Big Platte River, and in 1673 were living on the upper Des Moines or upper Iowa River.
Lewis and Clark, in 1804, found them on the south side of the Platte River, 30 miles from its mouth, where, having become decimated by war and small-pox, they lived under the protection of the Pawnee. The Otoe were never an important tribe in Kansas history, though, in March 1881, they ceded to the United States a tract of land, a small portion of which lies north of Marysville in Marshall County.
By the treaty of New Echota, Georgia, on December 29, 1835, the Cherokee Nation ceded the lands formerly occupied by the tribe east of the Mississippi River and received a reservation in southeastern Kansas. The tribe never assumed an important status in Kansas affairs, and in 1866 the land was ceded back to the United States. The Cherokee tribe was detached from the Iroquois at an early day and for at least three centuries inhabited Tennessee, Georgia, southwestern Virginia, the Carolinas, and northeastern Alabama. They were found by De Soto in the southern Alleghany region in 1540 and were among the most intelligent of Indian tribes.
Last but not least of the Indian tribes that dwelt in Kansas were the Wyandot, or Wyandot-Iroquois, who were the successors to the power of the ancient Hurons, who originally lived on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. About the middle of the 18th century, the Huron Chief Orontony moved from the Detroit River to the lowlands about Sandusky Bay. Orontony hated the French and organized a movement to destroy their posts and settlements, but a Huron woman divulged the plan. The Handbook of the Bureau of Ethnology said: “After this trouble, the Huron seems to have returned to Detroit and Sandusky, where they became known as Wyandot and gradually acquired a paramount influence in the Ohio Valley and the lake region.”
In January 1838, several New York tribes were granted reservations in Kansas, but the vast majority refused to occupy the lands — only 32 Indians came from New York to the newly established Indian Territory. Some 10,000 acres were allotted to these 32 Indians in the northern part of Bourbon County. In 1857 the Tonawanda band of Seneca relinquished their claim to the Kansas reservations, and in 1873 the government ordered all the lands sold to the whites, including the 10,000 acres in Bourbon County because the Indians had failed to occupy them permanently.
During the French and Indian War, the tribe was allied with the French, and in the Revolutionary War, they fought with the British against the colonies. For a long time, the tribe stood at the head of a great Indian confederacy and was recognized as such by the United States government in making treaties in the old Northwest Territory. They claimed the greater part of Ohio, and the Shawnee and Delaware tribes settled there with Wyandot consent. In March 1842, they relinquished their title to Ohio andMichigan lands and agreed to move west of the Mississippi River. On December 14, 1843, they purchased 39 square miles of the Delaware Reserve’s east end in Kansas. There, they organized a Methodist church, a Free Masons’ lodge, a civil government, a code of written laws that provided for an elective council of chiefs, the punishment of crime, and social and public order maintenance.
Soon after the Wyandot came to Kansas, efforts were made in Congress to organize the Territory of Nebraska to include a large part of the Indian country. The Indians realized that if the territory was organized, they would have to sell their lands, notwithstanding the government’s treaty promises that they should never be disturbed in their possessions and that their lands should never be incorporated in any state or territory. A congress of the Kansas tribes met at Fort Leavenworth in October 1848 and reorganized the old confederacy with the Wyandot at the head. At the Congress session in the winter of 1851-52, a petition asking for the organization of a territorial government was presented, but no action was taken. The people then concluded to act for themselves, and on October 12, 1852, Abelard Guthrie was elected a delegate to Congress, although no territorial government existed west of Missouri. At a convention on July 26, 1853, which had been called in the interest of the central route of the proposed Pacific Railroad, a series of resolutions were adopted which became the basis of a provisional territorial government, with William Walker, a Wyandot Indian, as governor.
On January 31, 1855, tribal relations among the Wyandot were dissolved, and they became citizens of the United States. Simultaneously, the 39 sections purchased in 1843 were ceded to the government, with the understanding that a new survey was to be made and the lands conveyed to the Wyandot as individuals, the reserves to be permitted to locate on any government land west of Missouri and Iowa.
In the social organization of the Wyandot, four groups were recognized — the family, the gens, the phratry, and the tribe. A family consisted of all who occupied one lodge, at the head of which was a woman. The gens included all the blood relations in a given female line. When the tribe was removed to Kansas, it was made up of eleven bands, which were further divided into four groups.
Researcher James Mooney said the Wyandot were “the most influential tribe of the Ohio region, the keepers of the great wampum belt of union and the lighters of the council fire of the allied tribes.” But, like the other great tribes that once inhabited the central region of North America, the Wyandot have faded away before the civilization of the pale-face. The wigwam has given way to the schoolhouse, the old trail has been supplanted by the railroad, and in a few generations more, the Indian will be little more than a memory.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated February 2021.
About the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D. Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these pages is not verbatim, as additions, truncation, updates, and heavy editing has occurred.
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Native Americans in Colonial America
Native Americans resisted the efforts of the Europeans to gain more land and control during the colonial period, but they struggled to do so against a sea of problems, including new diseases, the slave trade, and an ever-growing European population.
Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History
Diplomacy between Cheyenne and Settlers
Whether through diplomacy, war, or even alliances, Native American efforts to resist European encroachment further into their lands were often unsuccessful in the colonial era. This woodcut shows members of the Cheyenne nation conducting diplomacy with settlers of European descent in the 1800s.
Photograph of woodcut by North Wind Picture Archives
During the colonial period, Native Americans had a complicated relationship with European settlers. They resisted the efforts of the Europeans to gain more of their land and control through both warfare and diplomacy. But problems arose for the Native Americans, which held them back from their goal, including new diseases, the slave trade, and the ever-growing European population in North America.
In the 17 th century, as European nations scrambled to claim the already occupied land in the &ldquoNew World,&rdquo some leaders formed alliances with Native American nations to fight foreign powers. Some famous alliances were formed during the French and Indian War of 1754&ndash1763. The English allied with the Iroquois Confederacy, while the Algonquian-speaking tribes joined forces with the French and the Spanish. The English won the war, and claimed all of the land east of the Mississippi River. The English-allied Native Americans were given part of that land, which they hoped would end European expansion&mdashbut unfortunately only delayed it. Europeans continued to enter the country following the French and Indian War, and they continued their aggression against Native Americans. Another consequence of allying with Europeans was that Native Americans were often fighting neighboring tribes. This caused rifts that kept some Native American tribes from working together to stop European takeover.
Native Americans were also vulnerable during the colonial era because they had never been exposed to European diseases, like smallpox, so they didn&rsquot have any immunity to the disease, as some Europeans did. European settlers brought these new diseases with them when they settled, and the illnesses decimated the Native Americans&mdashby some estimates killing as much as 90 percent of their population. Though many epidemics happened prior to the colonial era in the 1500s, several large epidemics occurred in the 17 th and 18 th centuries among various Native American populations. With the population sick and decreasing, it became more and more difficult to mount an opposition to European expansion.
Another aspect of the colonial era that made the Native Americans vulnerable was the slave trade. As a result of the wars between the European nations, Native Americans allied with the losing side were often indentured or enslaved. There were even Native Americans shipped out of colonies like South Carolina into slavery in other places, like Canada.
These problems that arose for the Native Americans would only get worse in the 19 th century, leading to greater confinement and the extermination of native people. Unfortunately, the colonial era was neither the start nor the end of the long, dark history of treatment of Native Americans by Europeans and their decedent&rsquos throughout in the United States.
Comanche: The Most Powerful Native American Tribe In History
For many Americans, the story of how we conquered the continent is a straightforward one. It's a story of brutally inevitable conquest, of an advanced nation hungry for territory overpowering a weak coalition of indigenous people who are often portrayed as ignorant and even savage. Even when the violence and brutality of America's tactics are acknowledged, there is usually still the assumption that the Native American civilizations we conquered never stood a chance.
But pull on any thread in that narrative and it falls apart. The Native Americans who found themselves fighting for their lives against the United States were diverse, representing many thriving and complex civilizations—and they were more effective at fighting an endless war against impossible odds than you might think.
Case in point: The Comanches. This Native American nation was once the most powerful in America—and one of the most effective fighting forces in history, hands down. They once controlled a vast empire in the heartland of what would become parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, and they held off invaders for decades. They were only defeated in the late 19 th century, and that defeat required more than American soldiers to bring about. Here's the secret story of the Comanche: The most powerful Native American tribe in history.