History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


The Kanza (or Kaw) Indians - Page 2

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Kanza Indian menAfter 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.


Kanza Indians In 1819, the hereditary principal chief was Ca-ega-wa-tan-ninga, but could maintain his authority only by the force of personal qualities; all distinction, civil as well as military, being a reward for bravery or generosity. There were several inferior chiefs, but they possessed little authority.


Like all the Indian tribes, the Kanza believed in a Great Spirit, and had vague ideas of a future life. In their family relations they were more honorable than many of the Eastern tribes. Marriage was celebrated with such ceremonies as served to render the tie more binding, and chastity was one of the requisites to fit a woman for the "wife of a chief, a brave warrior or a good hunter."


They bore pain with the common Indian stoicism, never complaining. They were faithful to the ties of relationship and friendship, and cared for the sick and disabled. Drunkenness was rare, and insanity unknown. The women had entire management of all domestic concerns, and appeared to take pride in excelling in that department.


The first treaty between the United States Government and the Kanza Indians was made and concluded between Ninian Edwards and August Choteau, Commissioners of the United States, and certain chiefs and warriors of the Kanza tribe, on behalf of said tribe, in the year 1815. It was a treaty of peace, the parties mutually agreeing to forgive any past injury, to perpetuate friendly relations, and the tribe, through its chiefs, acknowledging itself under the protection of the United States and of "no other nation, power or sovereign whatsoever."


In June, 1825, treaties for the cession of their lands were made with the Kanza and Osage Nations at St. Louis, Missouri. These treaties were made by General Clarke, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, without previous authority from the Government, but by the advice of Honorable Thomas H. Benton, and on the strength of his assurance that they would be ratified by the Senate. They were duly ratified, and the necessary appropriations made. The treaty with the Kanza was made June 3, 1825, by the terms of which the following named country was ceded: "Beginning at the entrance of the Kansas River into the Missouri River; from thence north to the northwest corner of the State of Missouri; from then westerly to the Nodaway River, thirty miles from its entrance into the Missouri River; from thence to the entrance of the Nemaha into the Missouri River, and with that river (the Nemaha) to its source; from thence to the source of the Kansas River, leaving the old village of the Pania [Pawnee] Republic to the west; from thence on the ridge dividing the waters of the Kansas River from those of the Arkansas, to the western boundary line of the State of Missouri; and with that line thirty miles to the place of beginning."


From this cession a reservation "for the use of the Kanza Nation" was made of a "tract of land, to begin twenty leagues up the Kansas River and to include their village on that river; extending west thirty miles in width, through the lands ceded in the first article."


About twenty half-breed reservations of one mile square were made "to be located on the north side of the Kansas River, commencing at the line of the Kanza Reservation" (a little west of the present site of North Topeka) "and extending down the Kansas Riverfor quantity."


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