Tales of the Old West
In their old home, they were agricultural, but in their new environs, the buffalo were plentiful. They became part of the Plains hunter culture. They built a city, near
The Louisiana Purchase meant a flood of new settlers over the next several decades, all desiring the land, killing the buffalo and bringing disease. Smallpox wiped out many. To the west, the more powerful Sioux and Cheyenne resisted any effort to expand, as did their traditional enemies, the Pawnee, to the north. The coming of the settlers left the Kaw with little place to go. War was continually upon them, from all sides. Floyd of the Lewis and Clark estimated that between smallpox and depredations of their neighbors, the Kaw
“The traveler George C. Sibley gave a favorable description of the Kaw in 1811. He visited their village at the junction of the Big Blue River and Kansas Rivers. “The town contains 128 houses, or lodges, which are generally about sixty feet long and twenty-five feet wide…They are commodious and quite comfortable….” The Kaw “
In 1825, hoping for protection and peace, a treaty was signed with the United States government calling for the Kaw to cede most of their lands and move to a reservation near Council Grove, in return for an annuity of about $3400 each year. The annuity either didn’t come, came late, or found its way into the pockets of dishonest agents. In response, the tribe split into three groups, with White Plume leading a group that wanted to continue to try for rapprochement with the United States.
In 1844, a huge flood washed out the Kaw
With the coming of the Civil War, some of the Kaw were pressed less than voluntarily into the 9th Kansas Cavalry. They served in the pursuit of Quantrill after the sack of Lawrence.
When the war ended, so ended the government’s concern for the Kaw. Pressure increased to remove them from Kansas. Finally, in 1873, the government force them to move to a new reservation in Oklahoma, departing forever the state named for them.
In Oklahoma, they declined further, swindled and pushed on all sides, until finally one of their own broke the tribal government – Charles Curtis, one-quarter Kaw, elected Vice President under Herbert Hoover, pushed for the assimilation of Native American tribes and the breakup of tribal governments. Each Kaw was given 400 acres. In 1959, the Kaw reorganized, and founded a tribal government, achieving tribal recognition. In 1960, the government created the Kaw Reservoir, flooding most of the Kaw land. According to Dorothy Roberts, full-blooded Kaw women were subject to sterilization by the Indian Health Service in the 1970s.
Today there are no longer any full-blooded Kaw, or living native speakers, though the language remains available through recordings online. A proud people have mostly passed into history. Descendants maintain the Kaw Nation near Kaw City, Oklahoma.
Topeka is a word from the Kaw language that means “good place to grow potatoes”.