The Kanza (or Kaw) Indians


Kanza Indian

Kanza Indian

From a period extending far back into the past — far back of any written record — the Kanza claimed, as a nation, the region that they ceded to the United States by the treaty of June 1825.

From the time that Father Marquette inscribed the name of the “Kanza” nation on his map of 1673, a half-century elapses before the name again appears; when special mention of the “Canzas” is made by Etienne Venyard, Sieur de Bourgmont, commander at Fort Orleans, who passed directly through Kansas from east to west, and north of the Kansas River in 1724, on his expedition to the Padoucas, in the West. He was accompanied by delegations from several Eastern tribes, consisting of their principal chiefs and warriors. Conspicuous among these was the “Kanza” delegation — the general rendezvous for the other tribes being at the Kanza village on the Missouri River. The hospitality of the tribe, and their generous treatment of their visitors is especially noted by Monsieur de Bourgmont in his journal.

There were formerly two Kanza villages on the Missouri River. The lower, about 40 miles above the junction of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, was situated on the west bank, between two high bluffs; the upper was a little above the mouth of Independence Creek, on the south bank of the river, and is described as having been located on “an extensive and beautiful prairie.” It was called the “Village of the Twenty-four.”

Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark

When Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, visited the sites of these old villages in 1804, every trace of the lower had disappeared; but on a hill, a little in the rear, were the remains of an old French fort, of which the general outline of fortification and the ruins of the chimneys were plainly discernible. A fine spring of water was found in the vicinity. There is no clue to the history of the parties who built or occupied the fort, but the supposition is that they were destroyed by the Indians.

Enough of the remains of the upper village could be distinguished to show that it was quite extensive.

The Kanza were driven from their settlements on the Missouri River by the inroads of the Iowa and Sac tribes, who, by reason of their intercourse with the traders of the Mississippi Valley, were tolerably well supplied with firearms. The exact time at which this occurred is not known, but it was probably thirty years before the visit of Captain Meriwether Lewis, as the Osage were driven from the Missouri River by the Sacs Indians and forced farther south, onto the Osage River, about that time.

After the incursion of the hostile Indians, the Kanza, considerably reduced in number, located their principal village on the north bank of the Kansas River, about two miles below the confluence of the Big Blue River.

The site of this village was surveyed and mapped in the spring of 1880, under the supervision of Judge F. G. Adams, Secretary of Kansas Historical Society, who described it as follows:

“The site is in Pottawatomie County, about two miles east of Manhattan, on a neck of land between the Kansas and Big Blue Rivers. The rivers here by their courses embrace a peninsular tract of about two miles in length, extending east and west.

At the point where the village was situated, the neck between the two rivers is about one-half mile in breadth, and the village stretched from the banks of the Kansas River northward for the greater part of the distance across toward the Blue. The site of the village is on the present farm of Honorable Welcome Wells, and is crossed by the Kansas Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad.”

Although the Kanza and Osage tribes were of the same nation, their language nearly identical, and their government and customs similar, they were almost continually at war, from the time they were first known to Europeans until 1806, in which year a treaty was negotiated between the two nations by the United States Government.

Zebulon M. Pike, early 1800s

Zebulon M. Pike, early 1800s

A grand council was held September 28, 1806, at the village of the Pawnee Republic, between Lieutenants Zebulon Pike and James Wilkinson on the part of the United States, and various chiefs of the Pawnee, Osage and Kanza Nations. The treaty formed between the two nations at that time, copies of which were forwarded to the several tribes through their respective chiefs, read as follows:

“In council held by the subscribers, at the village of the Pawnee Republic, appeared Wahonsongay with eight principal soldiers of the Kanza Nation on the one part, and Shinga-Wasa, a chief of the Osage Nation, with four of the warriors of the Grand and Little Osage villages on the other part. After having smoked the pipe of peace and buried past animosities, they individually and jointly bound themselves in behalf of and for their respective nations to observe a friendly intercourse and keep a permanent peace, and mutually pledge themselves to use every influence to further the commands and wishes of their great father. We, therefore, American chiefs, do require of each nation a strict observance of the above treaty, as they value the goodwill of their great father, the President of the United States. Done at our council fire, at the Pawnee Republican village, the 28th of September, 1806, and the thirty-first year of American independence.”


Z. M. Pike
J. B. Wilkinson

The treaty thus formed was never broken by either nation, their common hostility being henceforward directed mainly to the Pawnee tribe, and the many marauding tribes that lived on the Western plains.

The Kanza Nation, although smaller numerically than either the Osage or Pawnee, was more warlike than the former, and, from its rapidly acquired skill in the use of firearms, was dreaded by the latter. It was not many years after the visit of Lieutenant Pike before the increasing influx of traders and explorers into the country gave a new direction to the warlike propensities of the tribe, which, from its position, was able to cause much trouble and annoyance, both to those who sought to pass up the Missouri River and those who wished to cross the plains to the Rocky Mountains.

Their depredations becoming more frequent and serious, culminated in 1819, by their firing on one of the Indian Agents, and attacking and plundering soldiers attached to the command of Captain Martin, who was sent up the Missouri River with a detachment of troops the preceding fall, and was obliged, during the winter, to form a hunting-camp to keep himself and party from starving.

Kansas Indian Map

Kansas Indian Map

To prevent the recurrence of similar outrages, Major O’Fallon, the Indian Agent who had been attacked, summoned the chiefs and principal men of the Kanza Nation to a council, to be held at Isle au Vache, in the Missouri River, near the present site of Atchison, on the 18th of August, 1819.

The Indians were absent on a hunting excursion when the messenger arrived at their village on the Kansas River but arrived at the designated place on the 23rd, and on the following day, the council was held in the arbor prepared for their reception. There were present 161 Kanza and thirteen Osage, including Na-he-da-ba, or Long Neck, one of the principal chiefs of the Kanza; Ka-he-ga-wa-ta-ning-ga, Little Chief, second in rank; Shen-ga-ne-ga, an ex-principal chief; Wa-ha-che-ra, Big Knife, a war chief; and Wom-pa-wa- ra, or White Plume, just then becoming famous. Major O’Fallon had with him the officers of the garrison and a few gentlemen connected with Major Stephen Long’s exploring expedition.

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