It is not generally known that the Kansas Indians inhabited this region when they were first known to civilized man.
The early history of this tribe, like the origin of their ancestors, is sealed up in the archives of prehistoric times which antiquarians have been trying to pry open ever since Columbus discovered this continent in 1402.
The first account we have of this tribe they were living on the "Pekitanoui" (Missouri) river in 1670, where they probably had been living for a long time previous to that. Marquette, who gives us this account, says: "Six or seven days below the Ilois (Illinois) river, is another great river on which are prodigious nations, who used wooden canoes. We cannot write more till next year, if God give us the grace to lead us there." One of these "prodigious nations" was the Kanza Indians, as they were then called.
This expedition, however, did not take place until 1673, when Marquette accompanied by Joliet, embarked on the waters of the Mississippi and discovered the mouth of the Missouri river. This account says: "Following the course of the river toward another called Pekitanoui, which empties into the Mississippi, coming from the northwest, of which I have something considerable to say, after what I have remarked of this river. We judged from the direction the Mississippi takes, that it keeps on the same course it has its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. It would be very advantageous to find that which leads to the South Sea toward California, and this, as I said, I hoped to find by Pekitanoui, following the account which the Indians had given me, for from them I learned that advancing up this river for five or six days you come to a beautiful prairie twenty to thirty leagues long, which you must cross to the northwest. It terminates at another little river on which you can embark, it not being difficult to transport our canoes over so beautiful a country as that prairie. The second river runs southwest for ten or fifteen leagues, after which it enters a small lake which is a source of a deep river, running to the west where it empties into the sea."
LaSalle repeated Marquette's expedition in 1681--2, leaving the mouth of the Illinois river January 13, 1682. This account says: "Then we set out and six leagues lower down found the Ozage (Missouri) river, coming from the west. It is fully as large as the river Colbert (Mississippi), into which it empties. The Indians assure us that this river is formed by many others, and that they ascend it for ten or twelves days to a mountain where it rires; that beyond this mountain is the sea, where they see great ships; that on the river are a great number of large villages of many different nations, that there are arable and prairie lands, an abundance of cattle (buffalo no doubt), and beaver. Although this river is very large, the Colbert (Mississippi) does not seem to he augmented by it."
Having located the Kansas Indians on the Pekitanoui or Missouri river, more than two hundred years ago, let us now find, if we can, where they were located on that stream.
Fifty-four years after Marquette first heard of them, Bourgmont, military commander of the French province of Louisiana, visited them, but his account of their location is vague and unsatisfactory; but Renoudiere, one of Bourgment's companions, gives this description of the location of the village, which some have supposed was at Atchison and others at the mouth of Independence creek below Doniphan; but it tallies equally as well with the mouth of Wolf river.
"Thirty leagues above Quans (Kansas) river, a small river flowing from the north is found. Here is the great village of the Quans (Kansas) Indians, consisting of 150 lodges adjoining the Missouri. There are fine prairies to the south and many mountains to the west."
Professor Remsburg of Potter, Kan., who is well posted in old Indian history, has a lengthy and interesting article in a late issue of the Kansas City Journal, in which he brings much proof to show that Doniphan is the site of the old Kansas Indian village, Bourgmont visited in 1724, and there can be no doubt, from the proof he brings, that they actually did live there at one time, and it may have been when Bourgmont visited them. But it must he remembered that thirty leagues, which would he ninety miles from the mouth of the Kansas river, would reach ranch farther than the mouth of Independence creek, and as distances in those days were guessed at and not measured, Renoudiere's thirty leagues might have been much more than that and consequently reached the mouth of Wolf river.
Without taking issue with Professor Remsburg, let us now examine the surroundings at the mouth of Wolf river and see how they correspond to Renoudiere's description of the country around the old Quans village.
Anyone who has been on what is known as Lookout mountain, a high point between the mouth of Wolf river and the Missouri, which commands the finest view in all directions of any point in the state of Kansas, will readily recognize that Renoudiere's description applies to this locality. To the south in the direction of Highland and Severance, is what was once a fine prairie country but now covered with productive farms, while to the north the chain of rugged bluffs, which bounds the Missouri river on the west, rises abruptly. When I first came to Doniphan county, fifty years ago, Wolf river emptied into the Missouri river from the north more than a mile below where it does now, running parallel with the Missouri from near the old Rock Ford, where S. F. French now lives. From this point Wolf river valley cannot be seen. What is called the Devil's Backbone, a lateral spur which puts out from Lookout mountain, shuts it out from view at the Great Bend near Willow Springs school house, and Indian creek, which has its source near the old Presbyterian mission and Great Nemaha agency, could be easily mistaken for Wolf river coming in from the north.
Having disposed of this feature of the subject, let us examine more tangible evidence, that this was the abiding place of these old settlers at a remote period of time, when they were a numerous and war-like tribe, and their dominion probably extended from the Great Nemaha river along the boundary between Kansas and Nebraska south to the Kansas river and westward to the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers.
Stone axes, spear heads, flint arrow points and broken fragments of primitive pottery are scattered over a scope of country, extending south from the mouth of Wolf river to Eagle Springs and westward along the Wolf river valley north of Highland Station on the Burlington and Missouri River railroad and southeast to the old town site of Lafayette on the Missouri river, now occupied as a fruit farm by Levi Kunkle. At Eagle Springs these implements are found covered up in some instances six or eight feet under ground. In these places heaps of ashes, burnt stones, bones of wild animals and shells of mussels are always found.
In removing a large mound for the foundation of the hotel at Eagle Springs, these evidences of the country having been inhabited in prehistoric times were unearthed eight feet under ground.
It is a well known fact that the Kansas Indians, like the Sioux, divided up into bands and had their villages in different localities, and the evidences I have noted show that, at least, a very large band of them was located here, perhaps long before Bourgmont's visit in 1724, nearly two hundred years after Columbus discovered the New World, peopled with a race whose appearance on this continent is yet shrouded in mystery.
The following extracts are taken from Lewis and Clark's journals in 1804, which Miss Zou Adams, assistant secretary of the Kansas State Historical society at Topeka, has kindly furnished me:
"This river, [the Kansas,] receives its name from a nation which dwells at this time on its banks and has two villages, one about thirty leagues and the other forty leagues up. Those Indians are not very numerous at this time, having been reduced by war with their neighbors. They formerly lived on the south banks of the Missouri twenty-four leagues above this river in an open and beautiful plain, and were very numerous at the time the French first settled on the Illinois. I am told they are a fierce and warlike people, but being unsupplied with fire-arms became easily conquered by the Aiauway and Saukees [Iowa and Sacs] who are better furnished with those materials of war."---Pages 60, 61.
"We camped after dark on the S S [1 don't understand what this means]. above an island [supposed to be Kickapoo island above Fort Leavenworth], opposite the first old village of the Kanzas, which was situated in a valley between two points of high land and immediately on the river bank back of the village and on arising ground at about one mile." Page 64.
"We came to and camped in the lower edge of a plain where the second old Kanzas village formerly stood, above the mouth of a creek thirty yards wide. This creek we called creek Independence. As we approached this place the prairie had a most beautiful appearance. Hills and valleys, interspersed with copses of timber, gave a pleasing diversity to the scenery, the right fork of creek Independence meandering through the middle of the plain. A point of high land near the river gives an elevated situation. At this place the Kanzas Indians formerly lived. This town appears to have covered a large space. The nation must have been numerous at the time they lived here. The cause of their moving to the Kanzas river I have never heard, nor, can I learn. War with their neighbors must have reduced this nation and compelled them to retire to a situation in the plains better calculated for their defense and one where they may make use of their horses with good effect in pursuing their enemy."
"The origin of this old village is uncertain. M. de Bourgmont, a French officer, in command of a fort near the Town of the Missouris, in about the year 1724, and in July of the same year he visited this village. At that time the nation was numerous and well disposed toward the French."--Pages 66, 67.
It will be noticed from the above extracts, that Lewis and Clark place the old Kansas village Bourgmont visited in 1724, where the town of Doniphan now is, but as they were not there till eighty years later, and the Kansas Indians had all gene south along the Kansas river, they might have been mistaken, and that they might seems plausible from the fact that there is a difference of six leagues in the distance the villages they describe were located from the mouth of the Kansas river, Lewis and Clark putting their village twenty-four leagues from that point and Renoudiere, Bourgmont's companion, putting his thirty leagues, which, as I have said before, might have been more than that and reached the mouth of Wolf river. This, however, is immaterial as both villages, beyond a doubt, were located in Doniphan county.
I think it highly probable that all three of the villages, the one on Wolf river, the one at Doniphan, and the one near Kickapoo Island above Fort Leavenworth, were occupied by different bands of this tribe at the same time.
The following extract from an address by George P. Morehouse of Council Grove, before the twenty-eighth annual meeting of the State Historical society December 1, 1903, shows that they followed this custom after they left the Missouri river and went south:
"The Kaw or Kansas Indians lived for a long time in the Kaw valley east of the present city of Manhattan. In 1847, they removed to a reservation in the Neosho valley adjoining Council Grove. Their three villages were down the river and the Indian agency, the buildings of which still stands, was near the month of Big John creek, about four miles from Council Grove.
"They had three villages, governed in a manner by three chiefs. Al-Ie-ga-wa-ho, for many years their wisest leader, a man over six feet tall and noted as an eloquent Indian orator, presided at the village located on Cahola creek. Kah-he-ga-wa-ti-an-gah, the "fool chief," governed the village near the present site of the town of Dunlap. Wah-ti-an-gah held forth a chief of the village near the official agency."
The address, from which the foregoing is taken, is an interesting sketch of the Kansas Indians, after they left the Missouri river and went south, that will pay anyone interested in old Indian history to look up. It can be found in Volume VIII, Page 206, of Kansas Historical collections for 1903--4.
The following extract from Major Stephen H. Long's account of an expedition to explore the Rocky Moutains 1819, shows that a band of the Kansas Indians were then living in this vicinity:
"The country southwest of the Missouri, between the Kansas and Platte rivers, is drained principally by the Wolf and the Great Nemaha rivers. These rivers, like the Nodaway and Nishnabotna rivers, that empty into the Missouri nearly opposite them from the northeast, rise in the prairies at an elevation of probably forty or fifty feet above the level of the Missouri. As they descend, their valleys gradually become wider, embosom a few trees, and at length near their entrance into the Missouri valley, are forests of considerable extent. The surface of these prairies presents a succession of small rounded hills becoming larger and more abrupt as you approach the beds of the rivers. The soil is deep, reposing usually on beds of horizontal argillaceous sandstone, and secondary limestone. The soil superimposed upon this strata of limestone is a calareous loam. Near the rivers it is intermixed with sand. This is also the case with the soil of the high prairies about the Konzas village."
It will be remembered that Lewis and Clark mentions only two villages of this tribe on the Kansas river, which shows that the bands that were here when Major Long visited them in 1819, had not yet gone south, but they were at the time Mr. Morehouse speaks of, and the tribe was living in three separate villages as they had previously done when they were on the Missouri river.
I know Lewis and Clark speaks of only two Kansas villages on the Missouri river, the one above Fort Leavenworth and the one at Independence creek. Why they did not mention this village Wolf river is explained by the fact that it was then situated in the Wolf river valley south of the "Devil's Backbone," which, as I have explained, shuts out a view of this valley from the Missouri river at the Great Bend near Willow Springs school house and, consequently, they did not see it, as they were not exploring the country back from the river. The other two villages were on the river and they saw them and made a note of it.
The following items are taken from letters I received some time ago from Professor Remsburg, to whom I am indebted for valuable information in connection with the present and past history of the Kansas Indians:
"Dear Sir: I notice by the Atchison Globe of recent date, that you are preparing a history of the Indians of Doniphan county, which is a very commendable move, as this is a subject that has been too much neglected.
Perhaps you may be interested in knowing that I have lately identified the site of the Kaw or Kansas Indian village visited by Bourgmont in 1724, and that it is to the credit of Doniphan county that the ancient capital of this indigeneous tribe of Kansas was located within her (Doniphan county's) borders, notwithstanding, that some historians, Professor Dunbar for instance, have placed it at Atchison. I have a large amount of evidence, both historical and archaeological, to show that the old village was situated at the present town site of Doniphan, while I can find nothing to establish the location at Atchison. I have prepared a paper, giving the results of my investigations at Doniphan, which will be published in the Kansas City Journal, a copy of which I will send you.
Assuring you of my interest in your efforts to perpetuate the early Indian history of Doniphan county, and wishing you success, I am yours sincerely,
"Dear, Sir: Replying to yours of the 3d inst., will say, that as near as I can learn at present, there are only 247 of the Kaws or Kansas Indians left. Their reservation lies along the Arkansas river valley, just south of the Kansas state line and comprises 100,037 acres of the finest land in the territory. Gen. W. E. Hardy is their chief. He is an uncle of Congressman Charles Curtis, and is one of the best known Indians in the United States. He has been conspicuous in Indian councils in Washington during the last sixty years. He has a splendid Civil war record and was an intimate friend of Gen. U. S. Grant. He has lived on three separate Kaw reservations; on the site of St. Louis, where he was born; on the former Kaw reserve in Kansas, and on the present reserve, set aside for his tribe in Oklahoma. Secretary Hitchcock of the Interior department, some time ago made him secretary of the Kaw tribal council for life, an honor never bestowed on any other Indian. As near as I have been able to trace the Kansas Indians when they first came up the Missouri in prehistoric times, they proceeded as far as the northeast corner of the present state of Kansas, where they met the Cheyennes, who drove them southward. You are probably correct in asserting that they were located on Wolf river at one time, but that river does not tally with their location in Bourgmont's time, as described in the narratives of the early explorers, while topographical features at Doniphan are identical with the early descriptions of the locality, where the old Kansas town was located. I shall be glad to hear from you occasionally, and to know of any developments that you might make along this line of research. It is a subject in which I am deeply absorbed, and one which I am anxious to see made tangible.
The foregoing brief history of the Kansas Indians traces them from the first account we have of them in 1670 down to the present time, a period of 235 years. From the best information obtainable, they were living in the territory that now constitutes Doniphan county, when Marquette first heard of them in 1670, as one of the "prodigious nations" that lived along the Pekitanoui, or Missouri river at that time, and there is abundant archaeological evidence that they or some other primitive race of people had inhabited this region front a remote period in prehistoric times.
Transcribed from Gray's Doniphan County history: A record of the happenings of half a hundred years. By P. L. (Patrick Leopoldo) Gray. Bendena, Kan.: The Roycroft Press, 1905. 3p. l. -84, 166,  p. front., plates, ports. 24 cm.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project