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Kansa Indians. A southwestern Siouan tribe; one of the five, according to Dorsey’s arrangement, of the Dhegiha group. Their linguistic relations are closest with the Osage, and are close with the Quapaw. In the traditional migration of the group, after the Quapaw had first separated therefrom, the main body divided at the month of Osage River, the Osage moving up that stream and the Omaha and Ponca crossing Missouri River and proceeding northward, while the Kansa ascended the Missouri on the south side to the mouth of Kansas River. Here a brief halt was made, after which they ascended the Missouri on the south side until they reached the present north boundary of Kansas, where they were attacked by the Cheyenne and compelled to retrace their steps. They settled again at the month of Kansas River, where the Big Knives, as they called the whites, came with gifts and induced them to go farther west. The native narrators of this tradition give an account of about 20 villages occupied successively along Kansas River before the settlement at Council Grove, Kansas, whence they were finally removed to their reservation in Indian Territory. Marquette’s autograph map, drawn probably as early as 1674, places the Kansa a considerable distance directly west of the Osage and some distance south of the Omaha, indicating that they were then out Kansas River. The earliest recorded notice of the Kansa was by Juan de Oflate, who went from San Gabriel, N. Mexico, in 1601, till he met the “Escansaques,” who lived 100 leagues to the N. E., near the “Panana,” or Pawnee. It is known that the Kansa moved up Kansas River in historic times as far as Big Blue River, and thence went to Council Grove in 1847. The move to the Big Blue must have taken place after 1723, for at that date Bourgmont speaks of the large village of the Quans (Kansa) as on a small river flowing from the north 30 leagues above Kansas river and near the Missouri. The village of the Missouri tribe was then 30 leagues below Kansas river and 60 leagues from the Quans village. Iberville estimated them at 1,500 families in 1702. A treaty of peace and friendship was made with them by the United States, Oct. 28, 1815. They were then on Kansas river at the month of Saline River, having been forced back from the Missouri by the Dakota. They occupied 130 earth lodges, and their number was estimated at 1,500. According to Lewis and Clark, they resided in 1804 on Kansas river, in two villages, one about 20 and the other 40 leagues from its mouth, with a population of 300 men. These explorers say that they formerly lived on the south bank of Missouri river about 24 leagues above the mouth of the Kansas, and were more numerous, but were reduced by the attacks of the Sauk and the Iowa. O’Fallon estimated their number in 1822 at 1,850. By the treaty of St Louis, June 3, 1825, they ceded to the United States their lands in north Kansas and south east Nebraska, and relinquished all claims they might have to lands in Missouri, but reserving for their use a tract on Kansas river. Here they were subject to attacks by the Pawnee, and on their hunts by other tribes, whereby their number was considerably reduced. Porter estimated their number in 1829 at 1,200; according to the Report of the Indian Office for 1843 the population was 1,588. By treaty at Methodist Mission, Kansas, Jan. 14, 1846, they ceded to the United States 2,000,000 acres of the east portion of their reservation, and a new reservation was assigned them at Council Grove, on Neosho river, Morris County, Kansas, where they remained until 1873. As this tract was overrun by settlers, it was sold, and with the funds another reservation was bought for them in Indian Territory next to the Osage; with the exception of 160 acres, reserved for school purposes, all their lands have now been allotted in severalty. The population diminished from about 1,700 in 1850 to 209 in 1905, of whom only about 90 were full-bloods. Much of this decrease has been due to epidemics. In the winter of 1852-53 smallpox alone carried off more than 400 of the tribe at Council Grove.
The Kansa figured but slightly in the history of the country until after the beginning of the 19th century, and they never played an important part in frontier affairs. During the 26 years which the Kansa spent at Council Grove, efforts were made to civilize them, but with little success. Mission schools were conducted by the Methodists in 1850-54, and by the Quakers in 1869-73, but, the conservatism of the tribesmen prevented the attendance of the children, believing it to be degrading and ruinous to Indian character to adopt the white man’s ways. According to T. S. Huffaker, who lived among them, chiefly as teacher, from 1850 to 1873, only one Indian of the tribe was converted to Christianity during that period, while the influence of frontier settlers and traders, with the introduction of liquor, stood in the way of the good that the schools might otherwise have accomplished. While at Council Grove they subsisted largely by hunting the buffalo, until the extinction of the herds, when they took up desultory farming under the instruction of Government teachers, because driven to it by necessity; but the houses erected by the Government for their use they refused to occupy, regarding their own lodges as more healthful and comfortable.1
Say’s account, perhaps the most accurate of the earlier notices2 , describes the ordinary dress of the men as consisting of a breech-clout of blue or red cloth secured in its place by a girdle, leggings and moccasins without ornamentation, and a blanket thrown over the shoulders. The hair of the chiefs and warriors, except a small lock at the back, was scrupulously removed. The dress of the females consisted of a piece of cloth secured at the waist by a girdle, the sides meeting on the outside of the right thigh, the whole extending downward to the knee. In cold weather or for full dress a similar piece of cloth was thrown over the left shoulder, and leggings of cloth, with a broad protecting border on the outside, and moccasins were worn. They were cultivators of the soil. Tattooing was formerly practiced to a limited extent. The chastity of the females was guarded to a greater extent than was usual among the western tribes. The mode of constructing their principal permanent dwellings is described by Say as follows: “The roof is supported by two series of pillars, or rough vertical posts, forked at top for the reception of the transverse connecting pieces of each series; 12 of these posts form the outer series, placed in a circle; and 8 longer ones, the inner series, also describing a circle; the outer wall, of rude frame-work, placed a proper distance from the exterior series of pillars, is 5 or 6 ft high. Poles as thick as the leg at base rest with their butts upon the wall, extending on the cross pieces, which are upheld by the pillars of the two series, and are of sufficient length to reach nearly to the summit. These poles are very numerous, and, agreeably to the position which we have indicated, they are placed all round in a radiating manner, and support the roof like rafters. Across these are laid long and slender sticks or twigs, attached parallel to each other by means of bark cord; these are covered by mats made of long grass, or reeds, or with the bark of trees; the whole is then covered completely over with earth, which, near the ground, is banked up to the eaves. A hole is permitted to remain in the middle of the roof to give exit to the smoke [see Earth lodge]. Around the walls of the interior a continuous series of vats are suspended; these are of neat workmanship, composed of a soft reed united by bark cord in straight or undulated lines, between which lines of black paint sometimes occur. The bedsteads are elevated to the height of a common seat from the ground, and are about 6 ft wide; they extend in an uninterrupted line around three-fourths of the circumference of the apartment, and are formed in the simplest manner of numerous sticks or slender pieces of wood, resting at their ends on crosspieces, which are supported by short notched or forked posts driven into the ground; bison skins supply them with a comfortable bedding.” Restriction of marriage according to gentes has always been strictly observed by the Kansa. When the eldest daughter of a family married, she controlled the lodge, her mother, and all her sisters, the latter being always the wives of the same man. On the death of the husband the widow became the wife of his eldest brother without ceremony; if there was no brother the widow was left free to select her next husband.