NOVEMBER 8, 2000
by Ron Parks
In 2001 the Kaw Mission State Historic Site and area residents will celebrate the 150th birthday of the historic Kaw Mission. This is the third in a monthly series of articles describing themes, events, and personalities associated with the Kaw Mission 150 years ago.
THE KAWS 150 YEARS AGO
"The Kanzas Indians deserve equal credit, having, since my last annual report, in the same commendable manner, removed themselves from their old country on the Kanzas river, to their new, and to them, better location, on the head waters of the Neosho; where they are now well settled, and are already asking for schools and other means of improving their condition and circumstances . . . ."
--W. Medill, Commissioner of Indian Affairs
November 30, 1848
By November 1850 the Kanzas had been living in their new home near Council Grove for a little over two years. The tribe, numbering about sixteen hundred, had settled in three villages downstream from Council Grove. Each village had a chief, and all of three chiefs–Peg-gah-hosh-she, Ish-ta-leh-sha, and Ka-he-ga-wa-che-hah--were brothers.
Peg-gah-hosh-she’s village was located in the Little John Creek Valley about three-and-one-half miles southeast of Council Grove. The forty or so lodges were situated in a secluded, picturesque valley flanked on the east by a limestone ridge and on the west by the timber of Little John Creek. In February, 2000, Peg-gah-hosh-she’s village site and adjoining land were purchased by the Kaw Nation.
The village of Ish-tah-le-sa, known as Speckled Eye, lies on the west side of the Neosho River near present Dunlap. An early-day student of the Kanzas, George P. Morehouse, described Ish-tah-le-sa:
"He was a man of strong and positive personality and was sober and alert. He was the famous orator of the old triumvirate, and was always put forward on important occasions when government officials visited the tribe because of his ability to make a great speech. . . . He was tall, spare of flesh and very dignified, with a prominent Roman nose between very high cheekbones."
Ish-tah-le-sah’s older brother, Kah-he-ga-wa-che-hah, was chief of a village located about three miles downstream from Ish-tah-le-sa’s village. Here five to six hundred Kanzas lived in about one hundred lodges clustered on the west bank of the Neosho near its confluence with Kahola Creek. Kah-he-ga-wa-che-hah’s American name was Hard Chief, which was said to reflect his severe manner of ruling.
Not long after settling in the Neosho Valley, the Kanzas provoked the wrath of the United States Army by stealing horses and mules from the government wagon trains moving through Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail. These caravans were supplying the army in the southwest during the Mexican War.
Accusing Kah-he-ga-wa-che-hah of not disciplining his thievish warriors, the Army seized the old Kanza chief, took him to Fort Leavenworth, and held him in prison there for a month. According to Frederick Chouteau, a long-term Kanza trader, when Kah-he-ga-wa-che-hah returned to his village " . . . He said he would kill any Indian who would steal any more horses. He had been sleeping between logs long enough. He was very sore, and he would not do that for any man who would steal horses."
A reflection of cultural misunderstanding, horse-thieving was a continuous source of conflict between Americans and the Kanzas. Though considered a major crime by the Americans, horse stealing had long been an honorable means for young Kanza warriors to gain status and wealth. Often horses were used as presents to obtain favors from chiefs and prospective fathers-in-law.
Ne-ca-que-ba-na (The One Who Runs Down Men) at different times ran down and killed eighteen Pawnees with a knife. Each time he returned to the Kanza villages with a drove of horses he captured. Once he distributed one hundred fifty horses to the three Kanza chiefs. In 1850 a Kanza warrior murdered Ne-ca-que-ba-na in his sleep.
Young Kanza men saw themselves as warriors so violence was a recurring fact of their existence. However, most of the time the Kanza people lived peacefully, albeit meagerly, in the Neosho River Valley.
The men hunted game and the women gardened and performed endless domestic tasks. They dwelled in either tepees made of buffalo hides or bark-and-mat lodges. Poverty and alcoholism were pervasive, and the Kanzas were periodically stalked by disease and starvation.
Government intervention on behalf of the Kanzas was negligible. In fact, from 1848 to 1855 the Kaw Agency was never located within fifty miles of Council Grove. Kanza agents were mostly indifferent to their responsibilities or totally absent.
However, in November 1850 an instrument of United States Indian policy--the Kaw Mission--was under construction in Council Grove. Here within its burgeoning limestone walls an experiment would take place in preparing Kanza children for acculturation into American society.