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According to tribal traditions collected by Dorsey, the ancestors of the Omaha, Ponka, Elwapa, Osage, and Kansa were originally one people dwelling on Ohio and Wabash rivers, but gradually working westward. The first separation took place at the mouth of the Ohio, when those who went down the Mississippi became the Kwapa or Downstream People, while those who ascended the great river became the Omaha or Up-stream People. This separation must have occurred at least as early as 1500, since it preceded De Soto’s discovery of the Mississippi.
The Omaha group (from whom the Osage, Kansa, and Ponka were not yet separated) ascended the Mississippi to the mouth of the Missouri, where they remained for some time, though war and hunting parties explored the country northwestward, and the body of the tribe gradually followed these pioneers, though the Osage and Kansa were successively left behind. Some of the pioneer parties discovered the pipestone quarry, and many traditions cling about this landmark. Subsequently they were driven across the Big Sioux by the Yankton Indians, who then lived toward the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi. The group gradually differentiated and finally divided through the separation of the Ponka, probably about the middle of the seventeenth century. The Omaha gathered south of the Missouri, between the mouths of the Platte and Niobrara, while the Ponka pushed into the Black Hills country.
The Omaha tribe remained within the great bend of the Missouri, opposite the mouth of the Big Sioux, until white men came. Their hunting ground extended westward and southwestward, chiefly north of the Platte and along the Elkhorn, to the territory of the Ponka and the Pawnee (Caddoan); and in 1766 Carver met their hunting parties on Minnesota river. Toward the end of the eighteenth century they were nearly destroyed by smallpox, their number having been reduced from about 3,500 to but little over 300 when they were visited by Lewis and Clark, their famous chief Blackbird being one of those carried off by the epidemic. Subsequently they increased in numbers; in 1890 their population was about 1,200. They are now on reservations, mostly owning land in severalty, and are citizens of the United States and of the state of Nebraska.
Although the name Ponka did not appear in history before 1700 it must have been used for many generations earlier, since it is an archaic designation connected with the social organization of several tribes and the secret societies of the Osage and Kansa, as well as the Ponka. In 1700 the Ponka were indicated on De l’Isle’s map, though they were not then segregated territorially from the Omaha. They, too, suffered terribly from the smallpox epidemic, and when met by Lewis and Clark in 1804 numbered only about 200. They increased rapidly, reaching about 600 in 1829 and some 800 in 1842; in 1871, when they were first visited by Dorsey, they numbered 747. Up to this time the Ponka and Dakota were amicable; but a dispute grew out of the cession of lands, and the Teton made annual raids on the Ponka until the enforced removal of the tribe to Indian Territory took place in 1877. Through this warfare, more than a quarter of the Ponka lost their lives. The displacement of this tribe from lands owned by them in fee simple attracted attention, and a commission was appointed by President Hayes in 1880 to inquire into the matter; the commission, consisting of Generals Crook and Miles and Messrs William Stickney and Walter Allen, visited the Ponka settlements in Indian Territory and on the Niobrara and effected a satisfactory arrangement of the affairs of the tribe, through which the greater portion (some 600) remained in Indian Territory, while some 225 kept their reservation in Nebraska.
When the ȼegiha divided at the mouth of the Ohio, the ancestors of the Osage and Kansa accompanied the main Omaha body up the Mississippi to the mouth of Osage river. There the Osage separated from the group, ascending the river which bears their name. They were distinguished by Marquette in 1673 as the “Ouchage” and “Autrechaha,” and by Penicaut in 1719 as the “Huzzau,” “Ous,” and “Wawha.” According to Croghan, they were, in 1759, on “White creek, a branch of the Mississippi,” with the “Grand Tuc;” but”White creek” (or White water) was an old designation for Osage river, and “Grand Tuc” is, according to Mooney, a corruption of “Grandes Eaux,” or Great Osage; and there is accordingly no sufficient reason for supposing that they returned to the Mississippi. Toward the close of the eighteenth century the Osage and Kansa encountered the Comanche and perhaps other Shoshonean peoples, and their course was turned southward; and in 1817, according to Brown, the Great Osage and Little Osage were chiefly on Osage and Arkansas rivers, in four villages. In 1829 Porter described their country as beginning 25 miles west of the Missouri line and running to the Mexican line of that date, being 50 miles wide; and he gave their number as 5,000. According to Schoolcraft, they numbered 3,758 in April, 1853, but this was after the removal of an important branch known as Black Dog’s band to a new locality farther down Verdigris river. In 1850 the Osage occupied at least seven large villages, besides numerous small ones, on Neosho and Verdigris rivers. In 1873, when visited by Dorsey, they were gathered on their reservations in what is now Oklahoma. In 1890 they numbered 158.
The Kansa remained with the Up-stream People in their gradual ascent of the Missouri to the mouth of the Kaw or Kansas, when they diverged westward; but they soon came in contact with inimical peoples, and, like the Osage, were driven southward. The date of this divergence is not fixed, but it must have been after 1723, when Bourgmont mentioned a large village of “Quans” located on a small river flowing northward thirty leagues above Kaw river, near the Missouri. After the cession of Louisiana to the United States, a treaty was made with the Kansa Indians, who were then on Kaw river, at the mouth of the Saline, having been forced back from the Missouri by the Dakota; they then numbered about 1,500 and occupied about thirty earth lodges. In 1825 they ceded their lands on the Missouri to the Government, retaining a reservation on the Kaw, where they were constantly subjected to attacks from the Pawnee and other tribes, through which large numbers of their warriors were slain. In 1846 they again ceded their lands and received a new reservation on Neosho river in Kansas. This was soon overrun by settlers, when another reservation was assigned to them in Indian Territory, near the Osage country. By 1890 their population was reduced to 214.
The Kwapa were found by De Soto in 1541 on the Mississippi above the mouth of the St Francis, and, according to Marquette’s map, they were partly east of the Mississippi in 1673. In 1681 La Salle found them in three villages distributed along the Mississippi, and soon afterward Tonty mentioned four villages, one (Kappa = Uʞaqpaqti, “Real Kwapa”) on the Mississippi and three (Toyengan = Tanwan-jiʞa, “Small Village”; Toriman = Ti-uad¢iman, and Osotonoy = Uzutiuwe) inland; this observation was verified by Dorsey in 1883 by the discovery that these names are still in use. In early days the Kwapa were known as “Akansa,” or Arkansa, first noted by La Metairie in 1682. It is probable that this name was an Algonquian designation given because of confusion with, or recognition of affinity to, the Kansa or Kanze, the prefix “a” being a common one in Algouquian appellations. In 1687 Joutel located two of the villages of the tribe on the Arkansas and two on the Mississippi, one of the latter being on the eastern side. According to St Cosme, the greater part of the tribe died of smallpox in October, 1699. In 1700 De l’Isle placed the principal “Acansa” village on the southern side of Arkansas river; and, according to Gravier, there were in 1701 five villages, the largest, Imaha (Omaha), being highest on the Arkansas. In 1805 Sibley placed the “Arkensa” in three villages on the southern side of Arkansas river, about 12 miles above Arkansas post. They claimed to be the original proprietors of the country bordering the Arkansas for 300 miles, or up to the confluence of the Cadwa, above which lay the territory of the Osage. Subsequently the Kwapa affiliated with the Caddo Indians, though of another stock; according to Porter they were in the Caddo country in 1829. As reservations were established, the Kwapa were re-segregated, and in 1877 were on their reservation in northwestern Indian Territory; but most of them afterward scattered, chiefly to the Osage country, where in 1890 they were found to number 232.
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The Siouan Indians, Fifteenth Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology, 1893 – 1894