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The Kanza (or Kaw) Indians - Page 2

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Kanza Indian menThe Kanza Nation, although smaller numerically than either the Osage or Pawnee, was more warlike than the former, and, from its rapidly acquired skill in the use of firearms, was dreaded by the latter. It was not many years after the visit of Lieutenant Pike before the increasing influx of traders and explorers into the country gave a new direction to the warlike propensities of the tribe, which, from its position, was able to cause much trouble and annoyance, both to those who sought to pass up the Missouri River and those who wished to cross the plains to the Rocky Mountains.

 

Their depredations becoming more frequent and serious, culminated in 1819, by their firing on one of the Indian Agents, and attacking and plundering soldiers attached to the command of Captain Martin, who was sent up the Missouri River with a detachment of troops the preceding fall, and was obliged, during the winter, to form a hunting-camp to keep himself and party from starving.

 

To prevent the recurrence of similar outrages, Major O'Fallon, the Indian Agent who had been attacked, summoned the chiefs and principal men of the Kanza Nation to a council, to be held at Isle au Vache, in the Missouri River, near the present site of Atchison, on the 18th of August, 1819.

The Indians were absent on a hunting excursion when the messenger arrived at their village on the Kansas River, but arrived at the designated place on the 23rd, and on the following day, the council was held in the arbor prepared for their reception. There were present 161 Kanza and thirteen Osage, including Na-he-da-ba, or Long Neck, one of the principal chiefs of the Kanza; Ka-he-ga-wa-ta-ning-ga, Little Chief, second in rank; Shen-ga-ne-ga, an ex-principal chief; Wa-ha-che-ra, Big Knife, a war chief; and Wom-pa-wa- ra, or White Plume, just then becoming famous. Major O'Fallon had with him the officers of the garrison and a few gentlemen connected with Major Long's exploring expedition.

 

After setting forth the various grievances which the whites had suffered at their hands, and impressing them with a sense of their general bad conduct, which they were assured richly merited severe chastisement, the Major held out the promise of reconciliation, provided their future behavior should merit such a favor.

The chiefs fully acquiesced in the justice of the charges brought against them, and accepted the terms offered by the agent. The ceremonies were enlivened by a slight military display in the form of firing of cannon and hoisting of flags, and an exhibition of rockets and shells, which last evidently made a deeper impression on the minds of the visitors than the eloquence of Major O'Fallon. It was afterward learned that the delegation would have been larger but for a quarrel which arose among the chiefs after they had started, in regard to precedence in rank, in consequence of which ten or twelve returned to the village.

 

Professor Thomas Say, of Major Long's exploring party, visited the nation at the village on the Kansas River during the summer of 1819, being there when the delegation started for the Isle au Vache council. The following account of the reception of his party; of the general appearance of the village, and of the government and customs of the nation at the time, is taken from the report of Major Long's expedition.

"As they approached the village, they perceived the tops of the lodges red with the crowds of natives. The chiefs and warriors came rushing out on horseback, painted and decorated and followed by great numbers on foot. Mr. Say and party were received with the utmost cordiality, and conducted into the village by the chiefs, who went before and on each side to protect them from the encroachments of the crowd. On entering the village, the crowd readily gave way before the party, but followed them into the lodge assigned to them, and completely and most densely filled the spacious apartment, with the exception only of a small space opposite to the entrance, where the party seated themselves on the beds, still protected from the pressure of the crowd by the chiefs, who took their seats on the ground immediately before them. After the ceremony of smoking with the latter, the object which the party had in view in passing through their territories was explained to them, and seemed to be perfectly satisfactory. At the lodge of the principal chief, they were regaled with jerked bison meat and boiled corn, and were afterward invited to six feasts in immediate succession."

 

 

Mr. Say also wrote:

 

"The approach to the village is over a fine level prairie of considerable extent, passing which you ascend an abrupt bank to the right, of ten feet, to a second level, on which the village is situated in the distance, within about a quarter of a mile of the river. It consists of about one hundred and twenty lodges, placed as closely together as convenient, and destitute of any regularity of arrangement. The ground area of each lodge is circular, and is excavated to the depth of from one to three feet, and the general form of the exterior may be denominated hemispheric.

 

The lodge in which we reside is larger than any other in the town, and being that of the grand chief, it serves as a council-house for the nation. The roof is supported by two series of pillars, or rough vertical posts, forked at the top for the reception of the transverse connecting pieces of each series; twelve of these pillars form the outer series, placed in a circle, and eight longer ones the inner series, also describing a circle; the outer wall, or rude frame-work, placed at a proper distance from the exterior series of pillars, is five or six feet high. Poles, as thick as the leg at the base, rest with their butts upon the wall, extending on the cross-pieces, which are upheld by the pillars of the two series, and are of sufficient length to reach nearly to the summit. These poles are very numerous, and agreeable to the position which we have indicated, they are placed all around in a radiating manner, and support the roof like rafters. Across these are laid long and slender sticks or twigs attached parallel to each other by means of bark cord; these are covered by mats made of long grass or reeds, or with the bark of trees; the whole is then covered completely with earth, which, near the ground, is banked up to the eaves. A hole is permitted to remain in the middle of the roof to give exit to the smoke. Around the walls of the interior a continuous series of mats are suspended; these are of neat workmanship, composed of a soft reed, united by bark cord, in straight or undulated lines between which lines of black paint sometimes occur. The bedsteads are elevated to the height of a common seat from the ground and are about six feet wide; they extend in an uninterrupted line around three-fourths of the circumference of the apartment, and are formed in the simplest manner, of numerous sticks or slender pieces of wood, resting at their ends on cross pieces, which are supported by short notched or forked posts driven into the ground. Bison skins supply them with a comfortable bedding. Several medicine or mystic bags are carefully attached to the mats of the wall; these are cylindrical, and neatly bound up. Several reeds are usually placed upon them, and a human scalp serves for their fringe and tassels. Of their contents we know nothing.

 

The fireplace is a simple, shallow cavity in the center of the apartment, with an upright and a projecting arm for the support of the culinary apparatus. The latter is very simple in kind and limited in quantity, consisting of a brass kettle, an iron pot and wooden bowls and spoons. Each person, male as well as female, carries a large knife in the girdle of the breechcloth behind, which is used at their meals, and sometimes for self-defense. During our stay with these Indians, they ate four or five times each day, invariably supplying us with the best pieces, or choice parts, before they attempted to taste the food themselves."

Their food is described as consisting of bison meat, and various preparations of Indian corn or maize, one of which was called "lyed corn," known among the whites as hulled corn. They also used pumpkins, muskmelons and watermelons, and a soup made of boiled sweet corn and beans, and seasoned with buffalo meat.

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