Friday, October 22, 2010

When the Indians Lived Here

The subject of Indians in Kansas is obviously a large one. There are many issues which historians can write about but not resolve. From time to time I will add some thoughts.

Several great books describe life on the Plains before the settlers moved in. My favorite for this area is James Meads', Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains. The first book I read as a teenager is, the more well-known book by Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail. (I will try to add others as I come across them.)

Mead's recollection is perhaps the better account of the two stories, as he was one of the original founders of the city of Wichita. His book depicts in detail coming to Kansas from Iowa, his encounters with the Indians, and the trials and tribulations of starting a new life then. Parkman's account recalls the heady days of the hunters who first encountered the Indian and buffalo on the High Plains.

There are other histories. We are fortunate to have online the full text of the illustrated History of Butler County, written by Vol. P. Mooney and published in 1916. There are several online sources for this book.

Once Kansas was a land where hunters of buffalo and antelope roamed. Here and there a few Indian settlements existed.  The Wichita, Kansas, and later Kickapoo and Pawnee were the tribes which originally inhabited the area, but they were later joined by other tribes as eastern tribes were relocated forceably west of the Mississippi. Even with the presence of Indians, a person could wander for days across open plains and through wild woods without seeing another human.

Much of Indian life centered around the buffalo hunt. Two major hunts were organized each year - the first in the spring and summer from May until August, and the second in the late fall, from September until December. The hunting followed the migration patterns of the buffalo from southern Oklahoma as far north as Canada. Buffalo once roamed in herds estimated to be as large as 30 million, but these herds were largely destroyed by the late 1870's.

Washington Irving came west in 1832, following the Arkansas River near the present day cities of  Stillwater, Oklahoma City and Norman. He shot elk and encountered bear, buffalo, deer, turkey, and wild horses. It was not uncommon then to see flocks of one thousand to two thousand turkeys.

We can only imagine life as the Indian lived it. There are no known accounts that I am aware of. But, I will look for them. We are only left with the imaginings of the white trappers, hunters, and farmers who first came and then interacted with the native tribes. Mooney in his History gives us his thoughts in Chapter Five at page 64.

Let us turn back the hour and traverse the years and the changes.
A panorama touched with the brush of the master artist, the description
of which is beyond the power of the pen. Picture the beginning; the
wilds of the wolf and the coyote, the bounds of the buffalo, the deer, the
elk and the antelope ; the primitive home of the Red Man, his wigwam,
his tribe, the little Indian village planted among the trees at the water's
edge ; the stream where the red children played and grew to the stature
of men and took up the life of their fathers, hunting, fishing, sleeping,
fighting, stealing and passing on to the Happy Hunting Grounds, thank-
ing the Great Spirit for life and opportunity.

Mooney also repeats a story by Mead of an Indian encounter in 1863 in Butler County:

"In 1863 there came from the south camps of Kickapoos, Shawnees, Delawares and others who settled on the Walnut and Whitewater. These Indians were the friends of all the wild Indians of the plains, and so long as they remained, the southwestern frontier was safe from hostile attack. The Kickapoos I mentioned lived in the Indian Territory, or Texas, and were kinfolks and friends of the Kickapoos in Old Mexico.At the close of the Civil war, or about the fall of 1866, they outfitted at my place (Mead's Ranch on the Whitewater, present location of Towanda) and all left for Old Mexico directly across the county. They knew the country well, and were the finest body of Indians I ever met — brave, honorable, noble and were expert hunters. There were not over thirty men with families. Their lodges were models of neatness and comfort. The Shawnees and Delawares I mentioned also lived in the Indian Territory before the Civil war and returned."

[typographical errors corrected]

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