Wichita Indians, Wichita Confederacy. A confederacy of Caddoan stock, closely related linguistically to the Pawnee, and formerly ranging from about the middle Arkansas river, Kansas, southward to Brazos river, Texas, of which general region they appear to be the aborigines; antedating the Comanche, Kiowa, Mescaleros, and Siouan tribes. They now reside in Caddo County, west Oklahoma, within the limits of the former Wichita Reservation.
The name Wichita, by which they are commonly known, is of uncertain origin and etymology. They call themselves Kitikiti’sh (Kirikirish), a name also of uncertain meaning, but probably, like so many proper tribal names, implying preeminent men. They are known to the Siouan tribes as Black Pawnee (Paniwasaba, whence “Paniouassa,” etc.), to the early French traders as Pani Piqué, ‘Tattooed Pawnee,’ to the Kiowa and Comanche by names meaning ‘Tattooed Faces,’ and are designated in the sign language by a sign conveying the same meaning. They are also identifiable with the people of Quivira met by Coronado in 1541. The Ouachita living in east Louisiana in 1700 are a different people, although probably of the same stock.
Among the tribes composing the confederacy, each of which probably spoke a slightly different dialect of the common language, we have the names of the Wichita proper (?), Tawehash (Tayovayas), Tawakoni (Tawakarchu), Waco, Yscani, Akwesh, Asidahetsh, Kishkat, Korishkitsu. A considerable parts of the Panimaha, or Skidi Pawnee, also appear to have lived with them about the middle of the 18th century, and in fact the Pawnee and Wichita tribes have almost always been on terms of close intimacy. It is possible that the Yscani of the earlier period may be the later Waco (Bolton). The only divisions now existing are the Wichita proper (possibly synonymous with Tawehash), Tawakoni, and Waco. To these may be added the incorporated Kichai remnant, of cognate but different language. Just previous to the annexation of Texas to the United States, about 1840-5, the Tawakoni and Waco resided chiefly on Brazos river, and were considered as belonging to Texas, while the Wichita proper resided north of Red river, in and north of the Wichita mountains, and were considered as belonging to the United States. According to the best estimates for about 1800, the Wichita proper constituted more than two-thirds of the whole body.
Wichita Tribe History
The definite history of the Wichita more particularly of the Wichita proper begins in 1541, when the Spanish explorer Coronado entered the territory known to his New Mexican Indian guides as the country of Quivira. There is some doubt as to their exact location at the time, probably about the great bend of the Arkansas river and northeastward, in central Kansas, but the identity of the tribe seems established 1 . On the withdrawal of the expedition after about a month’s sojourn the Franciscan father Juan de Padilla, with several companions, remained behind to undertake the Christianization of the tribe, this being the earliest missionary work ever undertaken among the Plains Indians. After more than three years of labor with the Wichita he was killed by them through jealousy of his spiritual efforts for another tribe.
In 1719 the French commander La Harpe visited a large camp of the confederated Wichita tribes on South Canadian River, in the eastern Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma, and was well received by them. He estimated the gathering, including other Indians present, at 6,000 souls. They had been at war with another tribe and had taken a number of prisoners whom they were preparing to eat, having already disposed of several in this way.
They seem to have been gradually forced westward and southward by the inroads of the Osage and the Chickasaw to the positions on upper Red and Brazos rivers where they were first known to the Americans. In 1758 the Spanish mission and presidio of San Sabá, on a tributary of the upper Colorado river, Texas, were attacked and the mission was destroyed by a combined force of Comanche, Tawakoni, Tawehash, Kichai, and others. In the next year the Spanish commander Parilla undertook a retaliatory expedition against the main Wichita town, about the junction of Wichita and Red rivers, but was compelled to retreat in disorder, with the loss of his train and field guns, by a superior force of Indians well fortified, and armed with guns and lances and flying the French flag. In 1760 the confederated Wichita tribes asked for peace and the establishment of a mission, and on being refused the mission, renewed their attacks about San Antonio. In 1765 they captured and held for seine time a Spaniard, Tremiño, who has left a valuable record of his experiences at the main Tawehash town on Red river In 1772 the commander Mezières visited them and other neighboring tribes for the purpose of arranging peace. From his data the Tawakoni, in two towns on Brazos and Trinity rivers, may have had 220 warriors, the “Yscanis” (Waco?) 60, and the Wichita proper and “Taovayas” 600, a total of perhaps 3,500, not including the Kichai. In 1777-8 an epidemic, probably smallpox, swept the whole of Texas, including the Wichita, reducing some tribes by one-half. The Wichita, however, suffered but little on this occasion. In the spring of 1778 Mezicres again visited them, and found the Tawakoni (i. e. the Tawakoni and Waco) in two towns on the Brazos with more than 300 men, and the Wichita proper in two other towns on opposite sides of Red river (below the junction of Wichita river), these last aggregating 160 houses, in which he estimated more than 800 men, or perhaps 3,200 souls. The whole body probably exceeded 4,000. 2
In 1801 the Texas tribes were again ravaged by smallpox, and this time the Wichita suffered heavily. In 1805 Sibley officially estimated the Tawakoni (probably including the Waco) at 200 men, the “Panis or Towiaches” (Wichita proper) at 400 men, and the Kichai at 60 men, a total of about 2,600 souls, including the incorporated Kichai. An estimate by Davenport in 1809 rated the total about 2,800. A partial estimate in 1824 indicates nearly the same number. At this time the Waco town was on the site of the present Waco, while the Tawakoni town was on the east side of the Brazos above the San Antonio road. From about this time, with the advent of the Austin colony, until the annexation of Texas by the United States, a period of about 25 years, their numbers constantly diminished in conflicts with the American settlers and with the raiding Osage from the north.
In 1835 the Wichita proper, together with the Comanche, made their first treaty with the Government, by which they agreed to live in peace with the United States and with the Osage and the immigrant tribes lately removed to Indian Territory. In 1837 a similar treaty was negotiated with the Tawakoni, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache (Ta-wa-ka-ro, Kioway, and Ka-ta-ka, in the treaty). At this time, in consequence of the in roads of the Osage, the Wichita had their main village behind the Wichita mountains, on the North fork of Red river, below the junction of Elm fork, west Oklahoma. In consequence of the peace thus established they soon afterward removed farther to the east and settled on the present site of Ft Sill, north of Lawton, Oklahoma; thence they removed about 1850 still farther east to Rush Springs. The Tawakoni and Waco all this time were ranging about the Brazos and Trinity rivers. in Texas. In 1846, after the annexation of Texas, a general treaty of peace was made at Council Springs on the Brazos with the Wichita proper, Tawakoni, and Waco, together with the Comanche, Lipan, Caddo, and Kichai, by which all these acknowledged the jurisdiction of the United States. In 1855 the majority of the Tawakoni and Waco, together with a part of the Caddo and Tonkawa, were gathered on a reservation on Brazos river westward from the present Weatherford. In consequence of the determined hostility of the Texans, the reservation was abandoned in 1859, and the Indians were removed to a temporary location on Washita river, Okla. Just previous to the removal the Tawakoni and Waco were officially reported to number 204 and 171 respectively. In the meantime the Wichita had fled from the village at Rush Springs and taken refuge at Ft Arbuckle to escape the vengeance of the Comanche, who held them responsible for a recent attack upon themselves by United States troops under Major Van Dorn (1858). The Civil War brought about additional demoralization and suffering, most of the refugee Texas tribes, including the Wichita, taking refuge in Kansas until it was over. They returned in 1867, having lost heavily by disease and hardship in the meantime, the Wichita and allied tribes being finally assigned a reservation on the north side of Washita river within what is now Caddo County, Okla. in the next year they were officially reported at 572, besides 123 Kichai. In 1902 they were given allotments in severalty and the reservation was thrown open to settlement. The whole Wichita body numbers now only about 310, besides about 30 of the confederated Kichai remnant, being less than one-tenth of their original number.
Wichita Tribe Culture
Like all tribes of Caddoan stock the Wichita were primarily sedentary and agricultural, but owing to their proximity to the buffalo plains they indulged also in hunting to a considerable extent. Their permanent communal habitations were of conical shape, of diameter from 30 to 50 feet, and consisted of a framework of stout poles overlaid with grass thatch so as to present from a short distance the appearance of a haystack. Around the inside were ranged the beds upon elevated platforms, while the fire-hole was sunk in the center. The doorways faced east and west, and the smoke-hole was on one side of the roof a short distance below the apex. Several such houses are still in occupancy on the former reservation. There were also drying platforms and arbors thatched with grass in the same way. The skin tipi was used when away from home. The Wichita raised large quantities of corn and traded the surplus to the neighboring hunting tribes. Besides corn they had pumpkins and tobacco. Their corn was ground upon stone metates or in wooden mortars. Their women made pottery to a limited degree. In their original condition both sexes went nearly naked, the men wearing only a breech-cloth and the women a short skirt, but from their abundant tattooing they were designated preeminently as the “tattooed people” in the sign language. Men and women generally wore the hair flowing loosely. They buried their dead in the ground, erecting a small framework over the mound.
The Wichita had not the clan system, but were extremely given to ceremonial dances, particularly the picturesque “Horn dance,” nearly equivalent to the Green Corn dance of the Eastern tribes. They had also ceremonial races in which the whole tribe joined. Within recent years they have taken up the Ghost dance and Peyote rite. Their head-chief, who at present is of Tawakoni descent, seems to be of more authority than is usual among the Plains tribes. In general character the Wichita are industrious, reliable, and of friendly disposition.
- Consult Mooney in Harper’s Slag., June 1899; Hodge in Brower, Harahey, 1899
- H. E. Bolton, inf’n, 1908.