Quapaw Tribe

Quapaw Indians (from Ugákhpa, ‘downstream people’). A southwestern Siouan tribe, forming one of the two divisions of the Dhegiha group of Dorsey. At the time of separation the Quapaw are supposed to have gone down the Mississippi, and the Omaha group, including the Omaha, Kansa, Ponca, and Osage, up the Missouri. There is undoubtedly a close linguistic and ethnic relation between the Quapaw and the other four tribes. The recorded history of this tribe is commonly supposed to begin with the chronicles of ‘De Soto’s expedition (1539-43). In the relation of the Gentleman of Elvas and that of Biedma, they or their chief band are mentioned under the name Pacaha, and in that by Garcilasso de la Vega under the name Capaha, the latter being nearer the true pronunciation, though the author wrote only from information and manuscripts furnished, while the former two were members of the expedition. The people of the tribe, or rather of one portion or division of it, were found in a strongly fortified village, which one of the chroniclers, probably with some exaggeration describes as “very great, walled, and beset with towers.” He adds: “Many loopholes were in the towers and wall a great lake came near unto the wall, and it entered into a ditch that went round about the town, wanting but little to environ it around. From the lake to the great river [Mississippi] was made a weir by which the fish came into it” 1. He further says: “And in the town was great store of old maize and great quantity of new in the fields [the date was June 19]. Within a league were great towns, all walled.” Their village was on the west bank of the Mississippi, north of Arkansas river, within the limits of the present Arkansas, probably in Phillips county. There are archeological remains and local conditions in this county which suit exactly the description of Pacaha: the lake on one side, Mississippi river on the other, the connecting channel, and the island near by. There is, it is true, a locality in Crittenden county where the ancient works, lake, channel, river, and island are all found, but this locality does not agree so well with the narration. The statement by early French explorers, who found them below the mouth of St Francis river, that they had removed from their old town, where the outworks were still to be seen, a short distance to the north, indicates that they had been in that region for many years. Their traditional history seems to have a substantial basis. Father Gravier, in the description of his voyage down the Mississippi in 1700, remarks 2 that Wabash and lower Ohio rivers were called by the Illinois and Miami the river of the Akansea (Quapaw), because the Akansea formerly dwelt on their banks. Three branches were assigned to it, one of them coming from the north west and passing behind the country of the Miami, called the river St Joseph, ” which the Indians call properly Ouabachci.” The Quapaw are known historically and from other evidence to have been mound builders, and also builders of mounds of a given type. A mound group containing mounds of this type is found in south west Indiana on the Ohio near its junction with the Wabash; and further, there is a map of the War Department showing the territory claimed by the Quapaw, which borders the Ohio from this point downward. Dorsey found traditions among the tribes composing his Dhegiha group asserting a former residence east of the Mississippi, and the separation of the Quapaw from the other tribes, apparently in south Illinois, the former going down the Mississippi and the other tribes up Missouri river, whence the names Quapaw (Ugákhpa), ‘those going downstream or with the current,’ and Omaha, ‘those going upstream or against the current.’ Whether the Akansea of the tradition include also the other tribes of the Dhegiha is uncertain.

It was not until about 130 years after De Soto’s visit, when the French began to venture down the Mississippi, that the Quapaw again appear in history, and then under the name Akansea. The first French explorer who reached their country was the missionary Marquette, who arrived at the village of the Akansea in June 1673, accompanied by Joliet. On his autograph map 3 the name Papikaha, apparently on Arkansas river some distance above its mouth, is a form of Quapaw; but Akansea, on the east bank of the Mississippi, apparently opposite the mouth of the Arkansas, must have been another Quapaw village, not the one visited by Marquette, which was on the opposite side, as Gravier found them on the west side and said that he “cabined a league lower down, half a league from the old village of the Akansea, where they formerly received the late Father Marquette, and which is discernible now only by the old outworks, there being no cabins left” 4. Biedma, one of the chroniclers of De Soto’s expedition, says that a village on the east bank was tributary “like many others” to the sovereign of Pacaha. La Salle (1682) found three villages of the tribe along the Mississippi river, one on the west bank, the next 8 leagues below on the east bank, and another 6 leagues below on the west bank at the mouth of the Arkansas river. This order is given in describing the descent and ascent of the stream. Tonti mentions as Akansea villages Kappa on the Mississippi, and Toyengan, Toriman, and Osotuny inland 5. La Métairie, La Salle’s notary, in his expedition down the Mississippi in 1682, mentions the Akansea villages as follows: “On the 12th of March we arrived at the Kapaha village, on the Arkansas. Having established a peace there and taken possession, we passed on the 15th another of their villages situated on the border of their river, and also two others farther off in the depth of the forest, and arrived at that of Imaha, the largest village of this nation” 6. In July, 1687, 2 of their villages were, according to Joutel, on Arkansas river, the others being on the Mississippi. St Cosme, who descended the Mississippi with Tonti in 1698, found the tribe, or at least 2 of the villages, decimated by war and smallpox, the disease having destroyed “all the children and a great part of the women.” He estimated the men of the 2 villages at 100. De l’Isle’s map of 1700 places the Acansa village on the south side of Arkansas river. Gravier (1700) locates the village of Kappa on the Mississippi half a league from the water’s edge and 8 leagues above the mouth of the Arkansas. Tourima seems to have been close by. Gravier says: “The Sitteoui Akansea are five leagues above its [the Arkansas’] mouth and are much more numerous than the Kappa and Tourima; these are the three villages of the Akansea.” A document of 1721 7 says, on what authority is unknown, that the “Acansa” who were on the east side of the Mississippi, as has been noted above, differed from the “Acansia” who dwelt on the west side. Nuttall says the people called Arkansa by Charlevoix were then (1761) made up of confederated remnants of ruined tribes.

At the time Le Page Dupratz visited that section, a few years later, it seems the Akansea had retired up the Arkansas river and were living about 12 miles from the entrance of White river, and had been joined by the Michigamea and some Illinois. Sibley (1805) states that the Arkensa were then in 3 villages on the south side of Arkansas river about 12 miles above Arkansas Post. They claimed to be the original proprietors of the country on Arkansas river, extending up it about 300 miles to the Osage country. According to a Mexican document there were 150 families on Sulfur creek, a southern affluent of Red red of Texas, in 1828. Porter in 1829 said they were then in the Caddo country on Red river in Louisiana. In 1877 they were on their reservation in the north east corner of Indian Territory, and in that year the Ponca tribe was brought on their reservation for a short time, being removed to the present Ponca reservation, west of the Osage, in 1878. Most of the Quapaw soon left their reservation and removed to that of the Osage.

On account of the great change wrought in the condition of these Indians by contact with the whites, their true character and customs can be learned only by reference to the accounts of the early explorers. Father Zenobius 8 says: ” These Indians do not resemble those at the north, who are all of a morose and stern disposition; these are better made, civil, liberal, and of a gay humor.” Joutel says they are strong, well made, and active; ” the females better made than those of the last village [Cahinnio?] we passed.” That the people had made considerable advance in culture is evident from the accounts given of their structures; as, for example, the walled village described above. They also built large mounds-the height of one is given as 40 feet-on which they placed, in some instances, their chief buildings. Joutel 9 mentions a house “built on a place a little elevated [mound],” of great pieces of wood jointed one with another dovetailed to the top, of beautiful cedar (cedre) wood (cypress?), and covered with bark. Their village houses he describes as long, with “domed” roofs, each containing several families. Mention is made of a fish weir near one of their villages, in an artificial canal, and of nets which De Soto’s followers utilized on their arrival for procuring a supply of fish. The Akansea were active tillers of the soil, and also manufacturers of pottery, many of the finest specimens taken from the mounds of east Arkansas in all probability having been made by this tribe. Their drum was made by stretching skin over a large pottery vessel. Du Poisson (1727) speaks of their painted designs on skins. A matachee, he says, “is a skin painted by the Indians with different colors, and on which they paint calumets, birds, and animals. Those of the deer serve as cloths for the table, and those of the buffalo as coverings for the bed.” The same author describes their dress of ceremony as “well mataché, that is having the body entirely painted of different colors, with the tails of wildcats hanging down from places where we usually represent the wings of Mercury, the calumet in their hands, and on their bodies some little bells” 10. Their method of disposing of their dead was by burial, often in the floor of their houses, though usually they were deposited in graves, sometimes in mounds; sometimes the body was strapped to a stake in a sitting position and then carefully covered with clay. Though polygamy was practiced to some extent, it was not common.

The population of the Quapaw at the time of De Soto’s visit in 1541 must have been considerable, as the number of those of the village of Pacaha, who fled to the island on the approach of the Spaniards, is given as 5,000 or 6,000. Father Vivier (1750) speaks of the “Akansas” as “an Indian tribe of about 400 warriors,” equaling 1,400 to 1,600 souls 11. Porter 12, gives 500 as their number in 1829. In 1843 they numbered 476. In 1885 there were 120 on the Osage reservation and 54 on the Quapaw reservation; and in 1890 the total number on both reservations was given as 198. The population in 1909, including all mixed-bloods, was 305, all under the Seneca School superintendency, Oklahoma.

The following are the gentes of the Quapaw as obtained by J. O. Dorsey:

Zhawe (beaver),
Wazhingka (small bird),
Wasa (black bear),
Te (buffalo),
Petang (crane),
Nanpanta (deer),
Shangke (dog),
Khidh (eagle),
Anpan (elk),
Hu (fish),
Mantu (grizzly bear),
Hangka (ancestral),
Tangdhangtanka (panther),
Wesa (snake),
Mikakh (star),
Mi (sun),
Tukhe (reddish yellow buffalo),
Wakanta (thunder-being),
Ke (turtle),
Nikiata (meaning unknown),
Tizhu (meaning unknown),
Makhe (upper world).

Other subdivisions are: Grands Akansas Epiminguia Ozark, Petits Acansas, and possibly the Casqui.

The Quapaw participated in the following treaties with the United States:

  1. St Louis, Aug. 24, 1818.
  2. Harrington’s, Ark., Aug. 15, 1824; at an unnamed locality, May 13,1833.
  3. Camp Holmes, Ind. Territory, Aug. 24, 1835; Washington, Feb. 23, 1867.

The Quapaw villages were Imaha, Tongigua, Tourima, Ukakhpakhti, and Uzutiuhi, but it is probable that Imaha and Tourima were identical.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. French, Hist. Coll. La., pt. 2, 172, 1850.[]
  2. Shea’s trans., 120, 1861.[]
  3. Shea, Discov. and Expl. Miss., 1852[]
  4. Shea, Early Voy., 126, 1861.[]
  5. French, Hist. Coll. La., i, 60, 1846.[]
  6. French, Hist. Coll. La., 2d s., it, 21, 1875.[]
  7. N. Y. Doc. Col. Hist., v, 622, 1855.[]
  8. Le Clercq, Estab. Faith, Shea ed., 2,168, 1881.[]
  9. Margry, Dec., in, 442, 1878.[]
  10. Kip, Early Miss., 258, 1866.[]
  11. Kip, Early Miss., 318, 1866.[]
  12. Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes.[]

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