American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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"Wichita" is the name of one band of a loose confederacy of several tribes living in separate villages. The Spanish called them Jumanos. They have also been called Black Pawnees as well as by the names of related tribes such as Wacos, Tawakonis, Tawehashes, and Akwits. Their self-designation was Kitikiti'sh, meaning "Men." Wichita is a Caddoan language.

Kinnikasus was the great creator. Other deities were recognized, too, particularly those related to the celestial bodies. The people held a deer dance three times a year. They also performed a calumet (pipe) ceremony. There were many secret societies, for both men and women, each with its own ceremonies and dances.

The Wichita were traditionally a loose confederation of several bands or tribes occupying independent villages. A chief and a subchief, chosen by a council of warriors, presided over each village. The smallest economic unit was the family. Descent was matriarchal. Corpses were buried in a nearby hill with various goods associated with their earthly activities. Mourners cut their hair and gave away some of their possessions.

The various Wichita bands lived in separate villages near rivers. In the sixteenth century, settlements consisted of up to 1,000 round houses, each fifteen to thirty feet in diameter and built of a pole framework tied with branches or reeds and thatched with grass. The houses had two doors, a smoke hole in the center of the roof, and sleeping platforms along the walls. The people also used ramadas in the summer and for some occasions, as well as skin teepees during the fall buffalo hunts.

Women grew corn, beans, squash, and tobacco. Crops were stored in underground caches. Pumpkins were cut, dried, and woven into mats for storage. Women also gathered foods such as plums, grapes, and nuts. Men hunted buffalo, usually twice a year—in June and following the harvest—after they obtained horses. They also hunted deer, elk, rabbit, antelope, and bear. Women made all clothing of animal skins. Both sexes practiced extensive body and facial tattooing.

The Wichita traded agricultural goods to nomadic tribes in exchange for animal goods. There was little trade with the New Mexico pueblos, although the two societies communicated. After 1720, the Wichitas acted as intermediaries between the French (tools, guns) and the western nomadic tribes (hides, furs). Following a 1746 friendship treaty, they traded guns to the Comanches for horses, which went eventually to the plantations on the lower Mississippi or Southeastern states.

The people who were to become the historic Wichitas split from the proto-Pawnees about 1,500 years ago. These people may have lived near the Washita River of western Oklahoma about 1,000 years ago. They probably moved north from eastern Texas in the fourteenth century to the Great Bend of the Arkansas River. There they were visited by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541, when he referred to their villages as Quivira. The people acquired horses by 1700.

During the eighteenth century, under pressure from the well-armed Osage, the Wichitas began moving south toward Oklahoma and Texas. Trade with the French began after 1720; with the southern Pawnees, the Wichitas dominated the gun trade out of New Orleans. However, in the mid- to late eighteenth century the French trade was suspended while the Wichitas were engaged in periodic wars with the Spanish. A severe smallpox epidemic crippled the people in 1801. Osage and non-Indian raids depleted their population even further in subsequent years. An 1835 treaty between the United States and the Wichitas, Comanches, and several eastern tribes marked the first time that the Wichitas were officially referred to by that name.

In 1854, several Wichita bands settled with the Shawnees and Delawares on a reservation on the Brazos River, although the non-Native Texans soon forced them out. The United States established a Wichita reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), south of the Canadian River, in 1859. Wichitas left the Indian Territory for Kansas (near present-day Wichita) during the Civil War but returned in 1867. They formally ceded all their non-reservation land in 1872 in exchange for a 743,000-acre reservation along the Washita River. However, the agreement was never ratified by Congress. Tribal lands were allotted in 1901. The government paid them $1.25 an acre for the "excess" and then opened that land to non-Indian settlement.


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