The Siouan Indians in Kansas

A brief review of the foregoing will show that there were five native linguistic families in Kansas. The emigrant linguistic families were four in number. Two of these, however, were also native to the soil. One of them—the Siouan—occupied or claimed to own by far the greater part of Kansas at the period when treaty-making began in the West. Of native tribes in Kansas there were eight, belonging to the Algonquian, Caddoan, Kiowan, Shoshonean, and Siouan families. There were twenty-eight emigrant tribes in Kansas. They belonged to the Algonquian, Iroquoian, Tanoan, and Siouan families. In the matter of importance the Kansa, Osage, and Pawnee stood first in the list of native tribes. This arose from the fact that they were treated with for the lands at an early date. Their cession of land to the Government embraced almost all the State. They did not own this land in any proper sense. They had not occupied it, and in the case of the Kansa, had not even hunted over much of it for any great length of time. Other tribes were not called upon to dispute their claims. The Government accepted their word, and, taking account of the consideration paid by the United States, the Indians could boast little. In dealing with the Indians our Government was mean and stingy from the first.

It will appear later that a number of the emigrant tribes did not move to Kansas. Some of them had no representative on the lands assigned them in the State. This is especially true of the tribes of the Iroquoian family, and, to a considerable extent, of the Siouan family. In the treatment of the Indian tribes of Kansas they will be considered in their historical importance, and not by linguistic families, as logic might suggest. In this respect the Kansa come first.

The Siouan family is exceptional in that it was the only Indian family moving bodily in a western direction when the interior of America was first known to Europeans. The cause of this movement is not now known. It may have been that the Siouan were forced out of their ancient seat in the regions of the Allegheny Mountains by the Iroquois. Whatever the reason, the tribes of the Siouan family were drifting towards the West when they became known to white men. Their traditions confirmed this westward tendency. Historical conditions also bore out the traditions of this family, for in the Carolinas were still found the Catawba Siouan. Small tribes of the family other than the Catawba were found in Virginia and North Carolina— and even in Kentucky. Tribes of this family still claimed up the Ohio Valley as far as the Wabash in the period of treaty making. In their westward march the tribes of the Dhegiha group of this family reached the mouth of the Ohio River. There divisions arose in their councils and purposes. One portion desired to go down the Mississippi. The other portion, it seems, thought best to go up that river. No agreement could be reached, and a division of the group occurred, part going up and part going down. This is the conclusion generally accepted, but this division may have arisen from other causes. The people of the group crossed the Mississippi at the mouth of the Ohio and occupied the country directly opposite. In the course of time they may have spread both up and down the Mississippi Valley without any design to form a permanent separation. The old theory is that when the division took place at the mouth of the Ohio, the Quapaw (or Kwapa) were called the down-stream people, from their going down the Mississippi. The other division was then known as the Omaha. Or there was at least an Omahan group. These people were spoken of as the up-stream people, as their name signifies a people pushing upward or traveling against the current. This name may have come from the fact that the group gradually grew and drifted up the Valley of the Mississippi without any design of a permanent separation from the Quapaw group.

The fact remains, however, that such a separation did take place. Whether it was by design or otherwise can not be now certainly said. The group which went up-stream kept to the Missouri Valley when the mouth of that stream was reached. At the mouth of the stream which came to be called the Osage River there seems to have been a long residence of the group. If the tribes of the Dhegiha group had not taken form previous to the arrival of the up-stream group at the mouth of the Osage, they developed into tribal individuality there. The Osages started on a slow ascent of the river to which they gave their name. One must understand Indians and their nature to have any conception of how persistent, and at the same time how erratic, an Indian migration is. In such an instance as that of the Osages, it is very rare indeed that there is any prior agreement or understanding or even the recognition of the possibility that the tribe would in the future occupy and live on any particular spot. Chance and conformity to circumstances have always been very great factors in the destination of primal migrations.

In time the up-stream group of Siouan departed from the country about the mouth of the Osage. The Osages ascended the Osage River. The Omaha and Ponka crossed the Missouri River and went north through what is now the State of Missouri. The Kansas were evidently among the last to leave the family seat at the mouth of the Osage —perhaps the very last. And their progress up the Missouri must have been at about the same pace of the Osages up their river. For there was ever a connection between these two tribes of the Siouan. Not that they were ever and always on terms of amity, for they had their disagreements and even their wars. But they were always closely associated. Their language remained practically the same. Intermarriage of members of these tribes was common well down into historic times. Each tribe was a sort of refuge for the renegades of the other. There are, indeed, those who maintain that the Kansas were a sort of renegade band of the Osages, yielding always a sullen and unsatisfactory allegiance to the discipline of the mother tribe. This may have been true in the early period of the existence of the Kansas, but they became a nation of themselves, so recognized by all the tribes, including the Osages, before they were known to white men. 1

The course of the Kansas Indians from the historic seat at the mouth of the Osage was up the Missouri, and possibly on both sides of the river. They were far enough in the rear of the Omahan group to not become involved in the traditional wars between the Pawnee on the one side and the Omaha and Oto on the other side. This would indicate that they remained for a long time below the mouth of the Kansas River, and that they were the last of the Siouan to leave the mouth of the Osage. There is no evidence whatever that the Kansas Indians left the banks of the Missouri River to establish a residence until after their contact with white people. Their settlement in the valley of the Kansas River is clearly within historic times.

This raises the question of ownership to the country back from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers during the period of migration of the Siouan people. There is no record. If positive evidence exists it lies concealed in uncovered village sites westward from the two great rivers. But the habitat of the Siouan when first seen by Europeans can be reasonably estimated. De Soto, Coronado, and other Spanish explorers found them on the banks of the Mississippi and the Missouri. It is known that the Caddoan family, with its various tribes, lived immediately back and west of them. If the Siouan displaced any peoples on the west banks of those streams they were Caddoan. And the countries of the Siouan and the Caddoan must have joined. As the Kansas Indians were not in possession of any lands away from the Missouri River even in historic times, the Caddoan must have possessed the country well down all streams toward the Mississippi and the Missouri. And in the days of Coronado the country of the Kansas Indians consisted of a narrow strip on each side of the Missouri from the vicinity of the mouth of the Kansas River to Independence Creek. These were, indeed, the bounds of their country nearly two hundred years later. Their holdings in what is now Kansas were insignificant. The Pawnees, Wichita, and perhaps other Caddoan owned the plains-country, and their possessions reached to within a few miles of the Missouri, especially in Kansas. The Kansas Indians hunted westward for buffalo, no doubt, but for generations they were intruders, and they were always at war with the Pawnees. It is said 2 that the Kansas were forced up the Kansas River by the Dakota. There may have been pressure on the Kansas by some other Siouan stock, but this is improbable. The more probable cause, however, of the passage of the Kansas up the Kansas River, is that they pressed into the Caddoan (Pawnee) country in pursuit of the receding buffalo. This was made possible for the Kansas by the final gathering of the Pawnees along the Platte. According to John T. Irving, Junior, the Pawnees claimed all the country between the Platte and Kansas rivers as late as 1833, and this claim was supported by the Otoe. It was the cause of the war with the Delaware. Of course the Kansas may have been subject to pressure from tribes to the eastward, and the Sac and Fox, together with the Iowa, did war on them in later years. The migration to the mouth of the Blue might have been in consequence of the hostility of the Sacs and Foxes, but if even so that does not alter the facts as to the ownership of the valley of the Kansas River by the Caddoan stock— the Pawnee —to a comparatively late date in historic times, say 1780. They made claim to it to as late a date as 1842.

There has been much discussion of the probable origin of the name Kansas as applied to this tribe of Siouan. It is never safe to accept positive conclusions which admit no possibility of error. They are rarely correct. The theory that the name Kansas is derived from any term found in an European language must be rejected as untenable. The word is a genuine Indian term. It is imbedded in the Siouan tongue far back of historic times. In the Omaha tribe there was a Kansa gens. Its designation was —Wind People. The Omaha was, as has been shown, the mother group, or the up-stream people. In a sense, probably, the Kansas developed tribal identity from the Omahan group of Siouans. It is certain and well settled that the gens or clan organization of the Siouan, and other linguistic families, was perfected long before contact with Europeans. There are Kansas gens in other Siouan tribes than the Omaha, Kansa, the Siouan form of the word, is so old that its full signification was lost even to the tribes of the Siouan family when they first met white men. It has some reference to wind. Exactly what this reference means there is little hope of ever finding out. In every mention of the word in the Siouan tongue generally, and in all tribal tongues of the family, it bears some reference and application to wind. The fourth gentes in the Kansa tribe is the Kansas gentes. Dorsey calls this the Lodge-in-the-rear, or Last-lodge Gentes. It is separated into two sub-gentes —first, Wind people, or South-wind people, or Camp-behind-all; second, Small-wind, or Makes-a-breeze-near-the-ground.Citations:

  1. The Fifteenth Annual Report, Bureau of Ethnology, contains a very excellent article on the migration of the Siouan.[]
  2. Fifteenth Annual Report, Bureau of Ethnology, p. 193; article by McGee.[]


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