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Native American History in Kansas

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At the time 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. In the extreme north were the Eskimo tribes, who have never played a conspicuous part in the country's history. 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, thence 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 shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, extending to the lower Susquehanna and westward into Illinois.

 

Coming of the White Man

Coming of the White Man, G. Reid, 1914. This image available for photographic prints & downloads HERE!

 

 

 

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.

 

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, located south of the Kanza; the Pawnee, whose country lay west and north of the Kanza; and the Padouca or Comanche, whose hunting grounds were in the western part of the state.

 

A hand-book issued by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1907 defined the Kanza as "A southwestern Siouan tribe." Their linguistic relations are closest with the Osage, and are also close with the Quapaw. In the traditional migration of the group, after the Quapaw had first separated there from, the main body divided at the mouth of the Osage River, the Osage moving up that stream and the Omaha and Ponca crossing the Missouri River and proceeding northward, while the Kanza ascended the Missouri River on the south side of the month 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 "up stream people."

  

After the Kanza separated from the Omaha and Ponca and established themselves at the mouth of the Kansas River, before gradually extending their domain to the present northern boundary of Kansas, where they were met and driven back by the Iowa and Sauk tribes, who had already come in contact with the white traders from whom they had received fire arms. 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 successively occupied some twenty villages along the Kansas Valley before they were settled at Council Grove, whence they were finally removed to the Indian Territory in 1873.

 

Probably the first white man to acquire a knowledge of the Kanza Indians was Juan de Oate, who met them on his expedition in 1601, and who refers to them as the "Escansaques." In this connection it is well to note that the name of the tribe is spelled in various ways. Morehouse, in the article already alluded to, says:

 

"In the 9th volume of the Kansas Historical Collections Professor Hay's article on the name Kansas, prepared in 1882, gives 24 ways of spelling the word. The editors of volume 9, in a footnote, add some 20 additional forms, and for several years past I have been gathering similar data coupled with authority for the same. In 1907 it was determined that there were over 125 ways used in the past to spell the name designating this tribe of Indians, the verbal forerunners of the word Kansas."

 

Although 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. Their success obliterated from their minds the reverses they had experienced on the upper Mississippi River likewise the very existence of the copper mines."

 

A Kanza Indian bark house.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. As the Lewis and Clark Expedition ascended the Missouri River a daily journal was kept, in which were recorded the events of each day as they proceeded.

 

On June 28, 1804, referring to the Kansas River, the journal states that: 

 

"This river receives its name from a Nation which dwells at this time on its banks and has two villages one about 20 leagues and the other 40 leagues up, those Indians are not very numerous at this time, reduced by war with their neighbors. They formerly lived on the south banks of the Missouri River 24 leagues above this river in an open and beautiful plain, and were very numerous at the time the French first settled the Illinois River."

 

The journal for July 2, 1804 reported:

 

"We camped after dark on the S. Side above the Island and opposite the first old village of the Kanza, which was situated in the valley between two points of high land, and immediately on the river bank, back of the village and on a rising ground at about one mile."

 

Two days later, the July 4th entry said:

 

"The right fork of Independence Creek meanders through the middle of the plain to a point of high land near the river, giving it an an elevated situation. At this place the Kanza formerly lived. This town appears to have covered a large space, the nation must have been numerous at the time they lived here, the cause of their moving to the Kansas River, I have never heard, nor can I learn." .

 

On September 14, 1806, as the expedition was returning, the journal tells of a custom of the tribe to rob boats passing up the river. "We have every reason," says the narrator, "to expect to meet with them, and they will expect us agree to their common custom of examining every thing in the canoes and taking what they want out of them. It is probable they may wish to take those liberties with us, which we are determined not to allow and for the smallest insult we shall fire on them."

 

 

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