Collision - Lethal Contact Text

The Kaw Trade with Euro-Americans

France, Spain, and England all claimed the land now known as Kansas. They were all directly interested in the fur trade. This contact between Native Americans and Europeans was both friendly and hostile. Although trade brought native peoples new products and goods, it also created economic dependency. In addition, contact with Europeans brought the Indians new diseases such as smallpox, measles, whooping cough, and influenza, which greatly depopulated the Indian tribes.

The Kaws learned how to exploit the competition between the French and British. They realized that they could, from their strategic position at the mouth of the Kansas River, encourage, or hinder further Euro-American commercial penetration into the vast fur reserves of the Middle Missouri and Arkansas valleys.

By 1800, the principal Kaw village had been established on the north bank of the Kansas River near the mouth of Blue Earth River, well away from the better-armed Omahas, Sacs, and Iowas to the Northeast. This village location provided the Kaws with a greater measure of protection from the tribes to the east, and more convenient access to untapped hunting grounds to the west. However, it placed them in closer proximity to the Pawnees to the north and west.

For their peltry, the Kaws wanted from the Americans a cheap supply of firearms, ammunition, blankets, vermilion, hardware, flour, whiskey, and trinkets. They also demanded that the traders visit their villages on a regular basis. After 1800, at least four groups working out of St. Louis sought to monopolize the Kaw trade.

In 1803, the United States acquired the vast tract of land known as the Louisiana Purchase. From then on, the Kaw were forced to trade at Fort Osage which was well over one hundred miles from the Blue Earth village. Fort Osage was also at least two hundred miles from the Kaws' principal hunting and trapping area.

As the numbers of bison diminished during the 1800s, the Kaws became increasingly dependent on their "annuities."  They were forced onto their first reservation in 1825.

These annual payments, called annuities, began when the first Kaw Reservation was established by the Treaty of 1825.


Prior to Missouri becoming a state in 1821, the Kaws gave up their land in western Missouri.

A treaty signed on September 25, 1818 by three principal chiefs and eight warriors effected this land transaction. In return for their land, the U.S. government promised the Kaws two thousand dollars worth of cloth, vermilion, guns, ammunition, kettles, hoes, axes, knives, flints, awls, and tobacco. These items were to be issued each September for an indefinite period. A blacksmith was also promised to keep their guns and implements in good repair. The bargain was sealed with a gift of goods valued at $460 as proof of the government’s good will and motives of benevolence.

Beginning in 1825, and continuing well into the mid-1840’s, the federal government forcibly removed nearly one hundred thousand Native Americans into "Indian Territory," land which later became Oklahoma and Kansas. Among the relocated tribes were the Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots, Kickapoos, Miamis, Sacs and Foxes, Ottawas, Peorias, and Potawatomies. Such action required that the Kaws sign treaties whereby vast acreage was ceded to the government in return for annuities and promises of educational, agricultural, and other forms of material assistance.

1825 The Kaws agreed to a reduction of their twenty million acre domain, which comprised roughly the northern half of future Kansas, to a two million acre reservation. The eastern boundary of this reservation was just west of future Topeka near the headwaters of the Saline and Solomon Rivers. For this huge cession the Kaws were awarded a $3,500 annuity for twenty years, a quantity of cattle, hogs, and domestic fowl, a government blacksmith and agricultural instructor, and schools to be funded from earlier Kaw land sales in the Kansas City area. And, as a special concession for Chief White Plume’s vigorous support of this treaty, 640-acre plots along the north side of the Kansas River just east of the new reservation were granted in fee-simple to all twenty three half-bloods of the Kaw tribe. The rest of the tribe received no such benevolence thereby greatly encouraging factionalism.

Article Eleven of the 1825 treaty said nothing about granting Euro-Americans the right to move through Kaw land on the overland trails. By 1825, the commercial value of the Santa Fe Trail had increased substantially, and there lurked the danger that the Kaws might obstruct this vital traffic.

In 1825, Sibley, Benjamin H. Reeves, and Thomas Mathers, members of the government survey team, met several Kaw Chiefs at the Sora Creek crossing of the Santa Fe Trail, just south of present-day McPherson. Here the Kaw chiefs and headmen agreed to allow the survey party to continue its work unmolested for $800 in cash or merchandise paid directly to tribal leaders. The trail was to be "forever free for the use of the citizens of the United States and of the Mexican Republic."

The old Kaw village near the mouth of the Big Blue River was partially abandoned about 1830; during that year, the tribe established three villages lower down on the Kansas River. The village of American Chief was on the creek of the same name (now Mission Creek) about two miles south of the Kansas River. This band, of about one hundred had twenty good sized lodges, in which they lived until the Kaws removed to Council Grove in 1848. 

About a mile from this village was Hard Chief’s village situated on a high bluff on the south bank of the Kansas River. This village had about 500 people and 85 lodges. It was about 1 and 1/2 miles west of the present-day Kansas History Center.

The third and largest village, that of Fool Chief, was on the north bank of Kansas River, on the western edge of present north Topeka.

The treaty language stipulated that a government agent, farmer, and blacksmith were to reside at or near the principal villages. Yet in the two decades after the treaty was ratified, this provision was loosely enforced or completely ignored. Never did the agent (or subagent) live closer than twenty miles from the main tribal villages. In some instances the distance was between fifty and seventy-five miles. Moreover, a chronic turnover in official personnel assigned to the Kaws, along with continual reorganization of the Department of Indian Affairs at the agency level, resulted in a confusing array of agents, subagents, assistant agents, special agents, commissioners, blacksmiths, and farmers. Often there was no one to look after the government’s obligations to the Kaws.

The next major land cession treaty was signed by Kaw chiefs in 1846. The Kaw sold their two million-acre reservation established in 1825 to the U.S. government for just over ten cents an acre. This money was to be dispensed to the Kaw tribe over a thirty-year-period at a rate of fifteen thousand dollars a year. The Kaws were to be relocated to a twenty-mile-square reserve located in preset southern Morris County and northern Lyon and Chase counties.

In the spring of 1848 the 1600 remaining Kaws moved, establishing three new villages in the area, which were located in the Neosho Valley approximately three, seven, and ten miles downstream from Council Grove.

Each village was led by two generations of chiefs during the 25 years the Kaw lived on the Neosho Valley Reservation. Initially the chief of the village closest to Council Grove was Peg-Gah-Hosh-She. He was succeeded by Wah-Ti-An-Gah. Ish-Tah-Lesh-Yeh was chief of the middle village, being succeeded by Ka-He-Ga-Wa-Ti-An-Gah. And the first chief of the village ten miles from Council Grove was Ka-He-Ha-Wa-che-Cha. His successor was Al-Le-Ga-Wa-Ho, who in 1867 became the head chief of the entire Kaw Tribe.

Traders and government agents soon followed the tribe to the new location. Seth M. Hays, the first permanent white settler at Council Grove, established his home and trading post in 1847 just west of the Neosho River on the north side of the Santa Fe Trail.

When Kansas became a territory in 1854 hundreds of land-hungry whites already had settled illegally on the Kaw Reservation. An 1859 treaty diminished the reservation to an area nine by fourteen miles. The Kaw agency was moved from Council Grove to a point about four miles southeast of the town. There, a new agency building and stone huts for the Kaws were constructed; the remnants of which can still be seen today. Educational efforts of the new agency were placed in the hands of the Quakers, but these efforts, like those of the Methodists, met with little success.

The living conditions of the Kaw on the Neosho Valley Reservation were not conducive to good health and happiness. The tribe was frequently ravaged by contagious diseases, especially smallpox, and the population declined from 1600 in 1848 to about 800 in 1860 to 600 in 1873. Meanwhile, the Kaw were under constant pressure from land speculators and squatters.

In 1872 the secretary of the interior of the U.S. government, Colombus Delano, came to Council Grove to "negotiate" a final treaty which would remove the Kaw from Kansas once and for all. Al-Le-Ga-Wa-Ho made an impassioned plea to Delano with the following words: "Great Father, you whites treat us Kon-zey like a flock of turkeys, you chase us to one stream, then you chase us to another stream, soon you will chase us over the mountains and into the ocean and we will have no place to live. We do not want to leave the Neosho Valley."

The Kaw chief’s appeal was ignored, and the 600 remaining Kaw were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma, then called "Indian Territory." Their numbers in Oklahoma continued a rapid decline; with only 217 members listed on the Tribal rolls in 1900.

Whiskey, Disease, Death

Life for the Kaws was anything but easy. Whiskey merchants on the Santa Fe Trail exploited the Kaw annuity fund through sharp trading practices, while the bison supply on the plains diminished dramatically. While in Kansas the Kaws made little progress in agriculture. Most Kaw parents refused to allow their children to attend distant government boarding schools and the periodic irruption of smallpox and cholera epidemics continued to decimate the Kaw population.

After the great flood of 1844, the Kaws were poorly housed, sick, and starving. Increasing numbers of Kaws resorted to raiding the Santa Fe Trail caravans or stealing from the settlements near the mouth of the Kansas River, where, according to one observer, unscrupulous white men operated "whiskey shops in their [the Kaws] place, using every stratagem in their power to get the Indians to drink."

Smallpox vaccine had been available for use among the Kaws for some time, but because of their nomadic habits and petulant quarreling between white traders and government health authorities, most members of the tribe were not vaccinated. In turn, chronic malnutrition made the Kaws especially susceptible to the ravages of other infectious diseases.

Kaw population chart:
Year  Number of Kaws
1848 1600
1855 1375
1860 803
1873 600
1900 217

A Violent Confrontation

In June 1859 a violent confrontation occurred between Kaws and area whites. This incident is portrayed dramatically in the Council Grove historical pageant, Voices of the Wind People, written by Ron Parks.

Two narrators having radically different points of view relate their versions of what happened. They are Seth Hays, an early-day resident of council Grove and famous Santa Fe Trail merchant, and Al-le-ga-wa-ho, head chief of the Kaws from 1867 until the early 1880s.

The following is the section of the Voices of the Wind People script dealing with this confrontation:

"But things was pretty tense between the Kaw and us folks in ‘59 cus of a squabble that took place right here at this very spot. It seems that the Kaw had stolen a couple of horses from a Mexican trader. Well now, when we folks got wind of it, we weren’t about to stand for no thieven’ Injuns a hurtin’ our Santa Fe Road traders. It was important to us to keep in the good graces of them folks, as it was to our commercial advantage and all. So we sent word out to the Kaw to bring in the stolen horses and turn over the warriors who’d done the deed.  Well, one morning in early June they brought’ em in all right...

One hundred mounted Kaw warriors in full battle regalia rode down Main Street from the west and pulled up in front of my store. Al-le-ga-wa-ho was their leader. You can imagine how terrified the townspeople were. A good many women and children scurried on up to the Kaw Mission for protection. I was a standin’ out in front of the store along with my clerks and a few of the local fellas, a facin’ the Injuns. Tom Huffaker was brought in to do the interpretin’ and ol’ ‘Wa-ho’ commenced to speak his mind."

"I told Hays that we now return the stolen horses, but we do not bring the warriors who took them. These warriors think that taking the horses of the Mexicans is no different from taking the horses of the Pawnee. They have done no wrong, but since the Kon-zay want to trouble with the whites, we have brought the horses to you. But do not ask for the warriors who took them."

"It sounded to me like ‘Wa-ho’ was puffin’ hisself up and was almost down right insultin’. Now I’d been tradin’ with the Kaw for over a decade, and I knew the only way to handle these rascals was to let’ em know that we meant biziness. When ‘Wa-ho’ said he wasn’t about to turn over his thieven’ braves, I thought it was time to let ‘em know we warn’t just a bluffin’. So I told my clerk to go get my pistols. I shot ‘em straight up in the air. Well now, all hell did break loose at this point."

"Hays did not listen. Instead he responded with contempt. Then he shot the guns. Understand, there were many warriors in the street. Those behind could not see, so when they heard the shots, they thought that the whites were shooting us, and so two braves each shot a white. Then we left, riding to the hills to the south. We now prepared to battle the whites, who we knew would be very angry.

"Well, danged if the Injuns didn’t shoot a couple of us, wounded a feller named Parks and a clerk a’ mine named Gilkey. Truth was, once I fired my pistols, and the commotion started, I ran into my store and barricaded the door. Course, I didn’t know poor Gilkey was still out front left practically alone to face the Redskins. Well, now folks got to thinkin’ that the Injuns were gonna up an’ massacre the whole lot of us.

So we sent messengers out to the countryside and before long the whole town started fillin’ up with armed men ready to wage all out war against the Kaw. We counciled; some wanted to attack right then and there and others to parley with the Injuns first. There were several hundred of us in town by afternoon, and some showed sign of lustin’ for Kaw blood.

Finally, we sent out a delegation to the Kaw sayin’ either they turned over the perpertratin braves or we’d exterminate the whole lot of ‘em."

"At first we rejected the whites’ demands to turn over the two braves. But we could see that the whites were growing stronger and better armed with each passing moment and that many of them would like to get us permanently out of their way by killing all of us. Hear me, the Kon-zay are no fools when estimating the ruthlessness of armed whites. So we bound over the two young braves, one was the son of a chief. This we did with great sorrow and regret, but we must save the lives of as many of our people as we could."

"We brought the two Injuns into town. Then a crowd gathered around ‘em and there war some moments of confusion and doubt as to what was to be done. Then someone called out "hang ‘em," so we did the stretchin’ right then and there on the north side of Main Street. Left them there til’ the next evening, when the bodies were cut down, loaded onto a wagon, hauled out to one of the villages, and dumped out onto the ground. And that was the end of the process of justice, frontier style.

"Now, hear me, when a Kon-zay dies, his soul returns to a spirit-village located where the Kon-zay lived before. And so, the spirits of our two young warriors returned to I’ve in the villages near the big river white men call the "Kaw." So it will be that one day, long after the white men have moved us from this beautiful Neosho Valley, as they will surely do, spirit hosts of Kon-zay dead will swarm in this valley, and white men, without realizing it, will never truly be alone here.

Final Years in Kansas 1861-1873

During the American Civil War at least seventy Kaw warriors served in the Union army as members of Company L, Ninth Kansas Cavalry. Following the war an increased influx of settlers into the region increased pressure on the Kaw to withdraw entirely from the state. The Kaw were able to hang on to the Neosho Valley Reservation longer than many other Kansas tribes because of infighting among white factions coveting the Kaws’ diminished reserve. At least four fairly distinct groups: local merchants - speculators, absentee land jobbers, squatter farmers, and railroad interests fought each other over which group would prevail in acquiring possession of the Kaw land.

In the meantime in August 1868, a conflict took place on the Kaw Reservation between the Cheyenne warriors and Kaw warriors. The Cheyennes had approached Council Grove from the west, seeking revenge for a bloody encounter with the Kaws the previous winter. The Cheyennes caused panic among Council Grove whites. Women and children fled to the Kaw Mission for protection.

The Cheyennes engaged the Kaws in a largely bloodless skirmish about four miles southeast of Council Grove. After a few hours of trading insults and staying out of each other’s firing range, the mounted Cheyennes withdrew with one minor casualty. White men had made a social occasion of the skirmish, watching the battle from nearby hilltops.

One of the witnesses of the "battle" was eight-year-old Charles Curtis. Charles had come to live with his maternal grandmother on the Council Grove Reservation in 1866. One-eighth Kaw, little Charlie returned to Topeka soon after the Cheyenne skirmish. He went on to a successful political career both on the state and national levels.

In 1929 he was elected to the vice-presidency of the United States on the Republican ticket headed by Herbert Hoover. He served as vice-president from 1929 to 1933, the only person of Indian descent ever to occupy either the office of vice-president or president in U.S. history.

In 1869 the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad (KATY) was constructed through the diminished Kaw Reserve. The reservation boundaries became increasingly porous as land-hungry whites squatted illegally on Kaw land in the early 1870's. These "settlers" cut down timber, broke the virgin prairie sod, turned their livestock loose to roam the reservation. The Indians protested, but to no avail.

In June 1872 U.S. Secretary of Interior, Columbus Delano came to Council Grove to tell the Kaws that they must submit to relocating to a new reservation in Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma). Most of the Kaw chiefs protested vigorously. Chief Al-le-ga-wa-ho said to Delano: "You whites treat us Kon-zey like a flock of turkeys; you chase us from one stream, then to another stream - soon you will chase us over the mountains and into the ocean."

But Delano insisted that the Kaw go. The following spring the government gave the Kaw permission to travel to Western Kansas for one last buffalo hunt. This hunt was successful; then in June 1873, the six hundred remaining Kaws made a seventeen-day journey south to the new reservation in Indian Territory.

"The matter was not left to a vote of the tribe. After hearing the speaker of the Indians in this council attended by possibly twenty or thirty of the leading men, Secretary Delano again spoke and this time gave no chance for argument. He told them emphatically, it was the policy of the President to remove the tribes in Kansas to the (then) Indian territory and that they must move. I heard no further protest after this speech - except the wailing of women at the graves of the dead, night and morning for months before the removal." Interpreter Addison Stubbs’ description of the 1872 meeting between Secretary of the Interior Delano and the Kaw chiefs.

The Kaw Exiled

The postponement of Kaw removal for nearly a decade was not so much the result of a commitment to improve the tribe's condition as it was the federal government's desire to resolve the old conflict between squatters and speculators and dispose of both the trust lands and the diminished reservation in a manner satisfactory to all concerned, excluding, to be sure, the Kaws.

Despite the hardships they had suffered here, the Kaw did not want to leave the Neosho River Valley. However, on June 4, 1873, their last forced migration began and was completed without incident 17 days later.  The 600 remaining Kaws were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma, then called "Indian Territory."  In a gesture of understanding, the government allowed them to go on a buffalo hunt that fall.  Ironically, it was successful, even though it was their last.

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