The Pawnee of Kansas

On July 2, 1804, Lewis and Clark made the following entry:

Opposite our camp is a valley, in which was situated an old village of the Kansas, between two high points of land, on the bank of the river. About a mile in the rear of the village was a small fort, built by the French on an elevation. There are now no traces of the village, but the situation of the fort may be recognized by some remains of chimneys, and the general outlines of the fortification, as well as by the fine spring which supplied it with water. The party who were stationed here were probably cut off by the Indians, as there are no accounts of them.

In an article on the “Kansa or Kaw Indians,” Volume X, Kansas Historical Collections, George P. Morehouse quotes Bougainville on French Forts, who said in 1757:

Kansas. —In ascending this stream [the Missouri River] we meet the village of the Kansas. We have there a garrison with a commandant, appointed, as in the case with Pimiteoui and Fort Chartres by New Orleans. This post produces one hundred bundles of furs.

This old village found abandoned by Lewis and Clark had no doubt grown up around the French fort. And this French post was certainly the first settlement and trading-station ever set up in what is now Kansas by the white people. It was established after the visit by Bourgmont, in 1724, and was in a flourishing condition in 1757.

It has already been noted that the Kansas Indians could not have been Escanjaques. At the period when the Spaniards came in contact with the Escanjaques on the Arkansas, the Kansas were evidently living in towns along the Missouri, principally above the mouth of the Kansas River. They did not then own or claim much of the valley of the Kansas —perhaps they did not claim west of what is now Wyandotte County. Their country joined, on the south, that of the Osages, always a much more numerous people than the Kansa.

The Pawnees were the hereditary enemies of the Kansas. There is every reason to believe that the Pawnee country extended to within fifteen to twenty miles of the Missouri above the mouth of the Kansas. Also, that in what is now Doniphan County, Kansas, the Pawnee country reached the Missouri, extending along the west bank of the stream well into Nebraska. The Kansas were never able to break through this Pawnee wedge driven into the Siouan territory, and when the Pawnee pressure on the west was lessened, the Kansas abandoned their northward migration and ascended the Kansas River. Their greatest height on this stream was the mouth of the Big Blue. There is no creditable evidence that they ever had a village westward beyond the Blue. They hunted the buffalo far to the west of that point, but fear of the Pawnees made them bear to the south, throwing them to the Arkansas beyond the present Hutchinson. They were not unmolested even there, for the Pawnees claimed all that country and hunted over it.

The following is taken from Vial’s Journal of his trip from Santa Fe to St. Louis. While the Kansas Indians he was captured by were hunting on the Upper Arkansas, they were out of their own country and in that claimed by the Pawnees —in possession of the Pawnees.

June 29, 1792. We left in the morning at day break along the said river, which flowed northeast. We found some buffaloes which the Indians had killed, and we believed that they were of the tribe of the Guachaches, who were hunting through that region. We went to find them, since I know they are well inclined to the government of the Province of Louisiana. We found them about four in the afternoon in their hunting camp on the said shore of the Napeste River. As they approached us on the opposite side with river between us, we fired some shots into the air, to get them to see us. They immediately set out and came to stop us on the other side. Those who first met us grasped us cordially by the hand. I asked them of what tribe they were, and they told me they were Cances. They immediately took possession of our horses, and of all our possessions and cut the clothes which we wore with their knives, thus leaving us totally naked. They were of a mind to kill us, whereupon some of them cried out to those who were about to do it, not to kill us with guns or arrows because of the great risk that would be run of killing one another as they had surrounded us; but that if they killed us it should be by hatchet blows or by spears. One highly esteemed among them took up our defense, begging all of them to leave us alive. Thereupon another highly respected one came and taking me by the hand made me mount his own horse with him. Then another one came up behind and hurled a spear at me, but the one who had me on his horse restrained him by laying hold of him, leaving me alone on the horse. A crowd of them even coming to kill me from behind, his brother mounted behind me. Then one of them, who had been a servant in the village of San Luis de Ylinneses and who talked excellent French, came up to me, and recognized me. He began to cry out: “Do not kill him. We shall ascertain whence he is coming, for I know him.” Taking the reins of my horse, he took me to his tent and said to me: “Friend, now your Grace must hurry if you wish to save your life, for among us it is the custom and law that after having eaten no one is killed.” After having eaten hastily as he charged me, they left me quiet, and the chiefs having assembled after a moment came to me and asked me whence I was coming. I told them I was coming to open a road from Santa Fe to Los Ylinneses, having been sent by the Great Chief, their Spanish Father, and that I had letters for the Spanish Chief at Los Ylinnese. Thereupon they left me in quiet until the following day. My two companions did not fail to run the same danger as myself, but they have also been saved by other Indians who were well inclined. On the following day they joined me, both naked. But the one called Vicente Villanueva had his horse cut and a dagger thrust in the abdomen which would have proved fatal had he not shrunk away when the blow was delivered. An Indian, who wished to save him received all the force of the blow on his arm and was quite badly wounded. They kept us naked among them in the said camp until the fifteenth of August.


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