Houses of the Quapaw Tribe

The Quapaw, the southernmost tribe of the Dhegiha group, occupied several villages west of the Mississippi, near the mouth of the Arkansas. When the closely allied tribes had removed from their ancient habitat in the upper valley of the Ohio, and had arrived at the mouth of that stream, the Quapaw are believed to have, turned southward while the others went northward. The name of the tribe, Quapaw, signifies “downstream people;” Omaha being translated “those going against the wind or current.” As a people they seem to have been known to the members of the De Soto expedition about 1541, probably occupying villages on or near the sites of the settlements visited by the French during the latter part of the next century.

Père Marquette, while on his memorable journey down the Mississippi, in the year 1673, went as far as the mouth of the Arkansas, where he lingered a few days before returning northward on July 17. The villages of the Quapaw, designated the Arkansa, were reached, but the habitations were only briefly described: “Their cabins, which are long and wide, are made of bark; they sleep at the two extremities, which are raised about two feet from the ground. They keep their corn in large baskets, made of cane, or in gourds, as large as half barrels.” They used both wooden dishes and “plates of baked earth. Their cooking was done in large earthen pots, of their own make.” 1 But the most interesting early account of the villages is contained in Joutel’s narrative of La Salle’s last expedition, when he attempted to reach the Illinois country overland from the Gulf coast. Through jealousy and intrigue of members of the expedition he was murdered by one of their number, March 20, 1687; but others continued eastward, and on July 24, 1687, arrived at the four villages of the Quapaw, and to quote from the narrative of the expedition: “The Nation of the Accancea’s consists of four Villages. The first is call’d Otsotchove, near which we were; the second Toriman, both of them seated on the River; the third Tonginga; and the fourth Cappa, on the Bank of the Missisipi. These Villages are built after a different manner from the others we had seen before, in this Point, that the cottages, which are alike as to their materials and rounding at the top, are long, and cover’d with the bark of trees, and so very large, that several of them can hold two hundred persons, belonging to several Families. The people are not so neat as the Cenis [Caddo], or the Assonis [Caddo], in their houses, for some of them lie on the ground, without any thing under them but some mats, or dress’d hide. How ever, some of them have more conveniences, but the generality has not. All their movables consist in some earthen vessels and oval wooden platters, which are neatly made, and with which they drive a trade.”

The expedition was then resting at the village standing on the banks of the Arkansas, not far above its junction with the Mississippi. Here they remained three days, departing on July 27. On that day “We imbark’d on a Canoe belonging to one of the Chiefs, being at least twenty persons, as well women as Men, and arriv’d safe, without any trouble, at a village call’d Toriman, for we were going down the River.” The river was the Arkansas. Later in the day they reached the “fatal River, so much sought after by us, called Colbert, when first discover’d, and Missisipi, or Mechassipi by the natives that were near us.” The party lingered at Toriman during the twenty-eighth, and on the following day arrived at “the next village call’d Tonningua, seated on the bank of that river [the Mississippi], where we were receiv’d in the Chief’s Cottage, as we had been in the others.” On July 30, “We set out for Cappa, the last Village of the Accancea’s, eight Leagues distant from the place we had left.” 2 Passing up the Mississippi from the Quapaw towns, they encamped during the night of August 2 on an island, “for our greater Safety, for we were then come into an Enemy’s Nation, call’d Machigamea, which put our Indians into great Frights.”

Père Anastasius Douay, also a member of the party, had very little to say about their stop among the Quapaw, only that “We visited three of these villages, the Torimans, the Doginga, and the Kappa; everywhere we had feasts, harangues, calumet-dances, with every mark of joy.” 3 Evidently his notes were faulty, as no mention was made of the fourth town.

When La Harpe made his journey into the region bordering the Mississippi some distance above New Orleans he encountered the Quapaw, and in his journal referred to them as the Alkansa, and said: “La nation Alkansa, ainsi nommee parce qu’elle sort des Canzés [Kansa] etablis sur le Missouri, est située sur le bord du Mississipi dans un terrein isolé par les ruisseaux qui l’environnent; elle se divise en trois villages, Ougapa, Torisna et Tonginga, éloignés d’une lieue les uns les autres, et renfermant ensemble quatre cents habitans; leur principal chef est celui des Ougapas; les Sotoüis le reconnaissent aussi pour le leur; ifs Sotouis le reconnaissent aussi pour le leur; ils sont tons sortis de la même nation et parlent le même langue.” 4 Elsewhere he referred to reaching the “rivière Blanche, qui court dans le nord-ouest du côts des Osages,” which entered the “rivière des Sotoüis,” or Arkansas, 4 leagues from the Mississippi. Here stood a village of the Sotoüis, consisting of 40 habitations and having a population of 330.

Nearly a century elapsed between the time of La Harpe’s visit to the country occupied by the Quapaw and the journey performed by Nuttall. On February 27, 1819, when the latter was ascending the Arkansas River, he wrote: “In the course of the day we passed the outlet of the bayou, or rather river, Meta, which diagonally traverses the Great Prairie, also two Indian villages on the south bank [of the Arkansas]. The first was the periodical residence of a handful of Choctaws, the other was occupied by the Quapaw.” 5 This was near the line between Lincoln and Desha Counties, Arkansas. Some distance beyond, apparently at some point in the present Jefferson County, on March 11, 1819, he saw other native villages, but whether occupied by Quapaw or some other tribe was not told. However, they were probably Quapaw settlements. On that day: “Passed Mr. Embree’s, and arrived at Mr. Lewismore’s. Six miles above, we also saw two Indian villages, opposite each of those settlements The Indians, unfortunately, are here, as usual, both poor and indolent, and alive to wants which they have not the power of gratifying. The younger ones are extremely foppish in their dress; covered with feathers, blazing calicoes, scarlet blanket’s, and silver pendants. Their houses, sufficiently convenient with their habits, are oblong square, and without any other furniture than baskets and benches, spread with skins for the purpose of rest and repose. The fire, as usual, is in the middle of the hut, which is constructed of strips of bark and cane, with doors also of the, latter split and plaited together.” 6

When returning down the Arkansas, on January 18, 1820, Nuttall evidently reached the Quapaw village which he had passed when ascending the stream during the preceding February. He, wrote “About noon we landed at one of the Quapaw or Osark villages, but found only three houses constructed of bark, and those unoccupied. In the largest of them, apparently appropriated to amusement and superstition, we found two gigantic painted wooden masks of Indian, and a considerable number of conic pelt caps, also painted. These, as we learnt from an Indian who came, up to us from some houses below, were employed at festivals, and worn by the dancers. At the entrance of the cabin, and suspended from the wall, there was a female figure, with a rudely carved head of wood painted with vermillion. Being hollow, and made of leather, we supposed it to be employed as a mask for one of the musicians, having in one hand a pendent ferule, as if for the purpose of beating a drum. In the spring and autumn the Quapaw have a custom of making a contribution dance, in which they visit also the whites, who live in the vicinity, and the chief alms which they crave is salt or articles of diet.” The following day the party reached Arkansas Post. 7

This account of the ceremonial lodge, for such it undoubtedly was, of the Quapaw of a century ago, is most interesting, as it proves how the rapidly diminishing tribe held to their old customs. The tribe gradually disappeared from the lower Arkansas. The remnants of this once large body moved westward, and on August 11, 1853, some were encountered by the Whipple expedition in the extreme northwest corner of the Choctaw Nation, on the right bank of the Canadian, where the Shawnee Hills reach to the river bank. There, on the “high bank of the Canadian, stand still some wigwams or rather log-houses of Quappa Indians, who may beast of not having yet quitted the land of their forefathers. But they have shrunk to a small band that cannot furnish above twenty-five warriors, and it would scarcely be supposed that they are all who are left of the once powerful tribe of the Arkansas, whose hunting grounds extended from the Canadian to the Mississippi.” 8

Probably no section of the country has revealed more traces of the period of aboriginal occupancy than has that part of the Mississippi Valley which extends southward from the Ohio to the Arkansas. This was the region traversed by the Quapaw during the latter part of their migration from their earlier habitat east of the Mississippi, and may have been occupied by them since the fifteenth century, or before. Many of the mound groups, village sites, and burial places occurring within this area may undoubtedly be justly attributed to the Quapaw. Vast quantities of earthenware vessels, of great variety of forms and sizes, have been recovered from the sites north of the Arkansas, and these often present marked characteristics differing from the ware found farther south. The Quapaw are known to have been skilled pottery makers. As already mentioned, Marquette, in 1673, referred to their “plates of baked earth,” and also to the large earthen cooking vessels “of their own make.” And in 1687 Joutel wrote of their earthen vessels “with which they drive a Trade.” Therefore it is more than probable that much of the ancient pottery encountered in this part of the Mississippi Valley was made by this southern Siouan tribe. Many of the village sites discovered near the Mississippi, north of the Arkansas, were probably once occupied by the Quapaw who, by the latter part of the seventeenth century, had moved as far south as the mouth of the Arkansas River, in the present Desha County. The earlier references to the tribe, those contained in the narratives of the De Soto expedition, 1541, mention the towns being protected by encircling embankments and ditches. The former were probably surmounted by palisades. The village or villages of this period probably stood on the bank of the Mississippi, and one may have occupied the interesting site at Avenue, in Phillips County, where some remarkable pottery vessels have been discovered. Other ancient sites in Lee and Crittenden Counties, north of Phillips, were possibly occupied by the same people at different times.

The position of the village of the Algonquian Michigamea, who lived north of the Quapaw, has not been determined.Citations:

  1. Shea, John Gilmary, Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley. New York, 1852, p. 48.[]
  2. Joutel, Journal of his voyage to Mexico: His Travels Eight hundred Leagues through Forty Nations of Indians in Louisiana to Canada: His Account of the great River Missasipi. London, 1719, pp. 155-161.[]
  3. Shea, Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley. New York, 1852, p. 220.[]
  4. (La Harpe, Bernard De, Journal Historique de l’etablissement des Francais a la Louisiane. Nouvelle-Orleans, 1831, p. 317.[]
  5. Nuttall, Thomas, A Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory during the year 1819. Philadelphia, 1821 p. 91.[]
  6. Nuttall, Thomas, A Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory during the year 1819. Philadelphia, 1821 pp. 97-98.[]
  7. Nuttall, Thomas, A Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory during the year 1819. Philadelphia, 1821 p. 223.[]
  8. Mollhausen, Baldwin, Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific. London, 1858. 2 vols., I, p. 74.[]


Bushnell, David Ives. Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi. Published in Bulletin 77, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution. Washington. 1922.

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