|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas)|
|English, Caddo, Wichita|
|Native American Church, Christianity,
traditional tribal religion
|Related ethnic groups|
|Arikara, Caddo, Hidatsa, Kichai,
Mandan, Pawnee, Tawakoni, Waco
The Wichita people are a confederation of Midwestern Native Americans. Historically they spoke the Wichita language, a Caddoan language. They are indigenous to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Today the four Wichita tribes — the Waco, Taovaya, Tawakoni, and the Wichita proper — are federally recognized with the Kichai people as the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (Wichita, Keechi, Waco and Tawakoni).
The Wichita tribe is headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Their tribal jurisdictional area is in Caddo County, Oklahoma. The Wichitas are a self-governance tribe, who operate their own housing authority and issue tribal vehicle tags.
The current tribal administration is as follows.
- President: Terri Parton
- Vice-President: Jesse E. Jones
- Secretary: Myles Stephenson Jr.
- Treasurer: S. Robert White Jr.
The tribe owns a casino, a smoke shop, and Cross Timbers Restaurant, located in Anadarko. Their annual economic impact in 2010 was $4.5 million.
Archaeologists believe that the ancestors of the Wichita have lived in the eastern Great Plains from the Red River north to Nebraska for at least 2,000 years. These early Wichita people were hunters and gatherers who slowly adopted agriculture. About 900 CE on terraces above the Washita and South Canadian Rivers in Oklahoma farming villages began to appear. They grew corn, beans, squash, marsh elder (Iva annua), and tobacco and hunted deer, rabbits, turkey, and, increasingly, bison, and caught fish and collected mussels in the rivers. These villagers lived in rectangular thatched houses. They became numerous, their villages of up to 20 houses spaced every two or so miles along the rivers. Farming villages were also found in the Texas Panhandle along the Canadian River although in a precarious environment they depended more on bison hunting than agriculture. The Panhandle villagers showed signs of adopting cultural characteristics of the Pueblo peoples of the Rio Grande Valley.
Structures called "council circles" were excavated in prehistoric sites of the Wichita tribe. Archaeological excavations have suggested they consist of a central patio surrounded by four semi-subterranean structures. The function of the council circles is unclear. Waldo Wedel (1967) has suggested they may be ceremonial structures, possibly associated with solstice observations. Recent analysis suggests that many non-local artifacts occur exclusively or primarily within council circles, implying the structures were occupied by political and/or ritual leaders of the Great Bend aspect peoples. Other archaeologists leave open the possibility that the council circle earthen works served a defensive role.
Before 1500 CE, most of the Plains village sites seem to have been abandoned. This may have been because of drought or encroachments on their lands by the newly arrived Apache Indians migrating from the north. Some of the villagers may have migrated north to Kansas where they would become the Quivira found by Coronado in 1541.
Great Bend settlements
Numerous archaeological sites in central Kansas near the Great Bend of the Arkansas River share common traits and are collectively known as the "Great Bend aspect." Radiocarbon dates from these sites range from 1450 to 1700 CE. Great Bend aspect sites are generally accepted as ancestral to the Wichita peoples described by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and other early European explorers. The discovery of limited quantities of European artifacts, such as chain mail and iron axe heads at several Great Bend sites, appears to support a connection with early Spanish exploration.
Archaeological evidence suggests Great Bend aspect peoples practiced a subsistence economy, including a mixture of agriculture, hunting, gathering, and fishing. Villages were located on the upper terraces of rivers, and crops appear to have been grown on the floodplains below. Primary crops were maize, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Gathered foods included walnut, hickory, plum, hackberry, and grape. Faunal remains (bones) recovered during archaeological excavations have included bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, and dog.
Several village sites are distinctive as they contain the remains of unusual structures called "council circles." Council circles occur near the center of these sites. Archaeological excavations have suggested they consist of a central patio surrounded by four semi-subterranean structures. The function of the council circles is unclear. Waldo Wedel has suggested they may be ceremonial structures, possibly associated with solstice observations. Recent analysis suggests that many non-local artifacts occur exclusively or primarily within council circles, implying the structures were occupied by political and/or ritual leaders of the Great Bend aspect peoples. Other archaeologists leave open the possibility that the council circle earthworks served a defensive role.
The Wichita spoke a Caddoan language. They formed a loose confederation of related peoples on the Southern Plains, including such bands or sub-tribes as Panis Piques, Taovayas, Guichitas, Tawakonis, Iscani, and Wacos. They were related by language and culture to the Pawnee, with whom they enjoyed close relations.
The Wichita lived in fixed villages notable for their large, domed-shaped, grass-covered dwellings, sometimes up to 30 feet in diameter. The Wichita were successful hunters and farmers, skillful traders and negotiators. They ranged from San Antonio, Texas in the south to as far north as Great Bend, Kansas. A semi-sedentary people, they occupied northern Texas in the early 18th century. They traded with other Southern Plains Indians on both sides of the Red River and as far south as Waco. For much of the year, the Wichita lived in huts made of forked cedar poles covered by dry grasses. In the winter, they followed American bison in a seasonal hunt and left their villages behind. All parts of the buffalo were used for clothing, food and cooking fat, winter shelter, leather supplies, and medicine. They returned in the spring to their villages for another season of cultivating crops.
The Wichita were known to tattoo their faces and bodies with solid and dotted lines and circles. They called themselves "raccoon-eyed people" (Wichita Kitikiti'sh) because of the tattooed marks around their eyes. They wore clothes made of tanned hides, which the women prepared and sewed. They often decorated their dresses in elk teeth.
In 1541 Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado journeyed east from the Rio Grande Valley in search of a rich land called Quivira. In Texas, probably in the Blanco River Canyon near Lubbock he met a people he called Teyas who might have been related to the Wichita and the earlier Plains villagers. The Teyas, if in fact they were Wichita, were probably the ancestors of the Iscani and Waco, although they might also have been the Kichai, who spoke a different language but later joined the Wichita tribe. Turning north, he found Quivira and the people later known as the Wichita near the town of Lyons, Kansas. He was disappointed in his search for gold as the Quivirans appear to have been prosperous farmers and good hunters but had no gold or silver. There were about 25 villages of up to 200 houses each in Quivira. Coronado said: “They were large people of very good build”, and he was impressed with the land, which was “fat and black.” It was also noted: "They eat meat raw like the Querechos [the Apache] and Teyas. They are enemies of one another...These people of Quivira have the advantage over the others in their houses and in growing of maize".
The Quivirans apparently called their land Tancoa (which bears a resemblance to the later sub-tribe called Tawakoni) and a neighboring province on the Smoky Hill River was called Tabas (which bears a resemblance to the sub-tribe of Taovayas).
Sixty years after Coronado’s expedition the founder of New Mexico Juan de Oñate visited a large village of Wichita. Oñate journeyed east from New Mexico, crossing the Great Plains and encountering two large settlements of people he called Escanjaques (possibly Wichita) and Rayados, most certainly Wichita. The Rayado village was probably on the Walnut River near Arkansas City, Kansas. Oñate described the village of containing “more than twelve hundred houses” which would indicate a population of about 12,000. His description of the village was similar to that of Coronado's description of Quivira. The homesteads were dispersed; the houses round, thatched with grass and surrounded by large granaries to store the corn, beans, and squash they grew in their fields. Oñate’s Rayados were certainly Wichita, probably the sub-tribe later known as the Guichitas.
What the Coronado and Oñate expeditions showed was that the Wichita people of the 16th century were numerous and widespread. They were not, however, a single tribe at this time but rather a group of several related tribes speaking a common language. The dispersed nature of their villages probably indicated that they were not seriously threatened by attack by enemies, although that would change as they would soon be squeezed between the Apache on the West and the powerful Osage on the East. European diseases would also probably be responsible for a large decline in the Wichita population in the 17th century.
In 1719, French explorers visited two groups of Wichita. Bernard de la Harpe found a large village near present day Tulsa, Oklahoma and Claude Charles Du Tisne found two villages near Neodesha, Kansas. Coronado’s Quivira was abandoned early in the 18th century, probably due to Apache attacks. The Rayados of Oñate were probably still living in about the same Walnut River location. Archaeologists have located a Wichita village at the Deer Creek Site dating from the 1750s on the Arkansas River east of Newkirk, Oklahoma. By 1757, however, it appears that all the Wichita had migrated south to the Red River.
The most prominent of the Wichita sub-tribes were the Taovayas. In the 1720s they had moved south from Kansas to the Red River establishing a large village on the north side of the River in Jefferson County, Oklahoma and on the south side at Spanish Fort, Texas. They adopted many traits of the nomadic Plains Indians and were noted for raiding, trading, and (reputedly) cannibalism. They had a close alliance with the French, and in 1746 a French brokered alliance with the Comanche revived the fortunes of the Wichita. The village at Spanish Fort was “a lively emporium where Comanches brought Apache slaves, horses and mules to trade for French packs of powder, balls, knives, and textiles and for Taovaya-grown maize, melons, pumpkins, squash, and tobacco.”
The Wichita and their Comanche allies were known to the Spanish as the Norteños (Northerners). In 1759, in response to the destruction by the Norteños of the San Saba Mission the Spanish undertook an expedition to punish the Indians. Their 500 man army attacked the villages at Spanish Fork, but was routed by the Wichita and Comanche in the Battle of the Twin Villages.. The Spanish suffered 19 dead and 14 wounded, leaving two cannons on the battlefield, although they claimed to have killed more than 100 Indians.
The alliance between the Wichita, especially the Taovayas, and the Comanche began to break up in the 1770s as the Wichita sought a better relationship with the Spanish. Taovaya power in Texas declined sharply after an epidemic, probably smallpox, in 1777-1778 killed about one-third of the tribe. After the Americans took over their territory as a result of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the independence of Texas in 1836, all the related tribes were increasingly lumped together and dubbed “Wichita.” That designation also included the Kichai of northern Texas, who spoke a different although a related language.
The principal village of the Wichita in the 1830s was near the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma although the Tawakoni and Wacos still lived in Texas and were moved onto a reservation on the upper Brazos River. They were forced out of Texas to a reservation in Oklahoma in 1859. During the Civil War, the Wichita allied with the Union side. They moved to Kansas, where they established a village at the site of present-day Wichita, Kansas. In 1867 they were relocated to a reservation in Oklahoma in the area where most of them continue to reside. On June 4, 1891, the affiliated tribes signed an agreement with the Cherokee Commission for individual allotments.
The Wichita had a large population in the time of Coronado and Oñate. One scholar estimates their numbers at 200,000. Certainly they numbered in the tens of thousands. They appeared to be much reduced by the time of the first French contacts with them in 1719, probably due in large part to epidemics of infectious disease to which they had no immunity. In 1790, it was estimated there were about 3,200 total Wichita. By 1868, the population was recorded as being 572 total Wichita. By the time of the census of 1937, there were only 100 Wichita officially left.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wichita.|
- Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, official website
- Wichita, article in the Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
- The last word on 'Wichita'. One person left who speaks 'Wichita': Interview with Doris McLemore, "the last fluent speaker of Wichitan language". Video by Al Jazeera
- Wichita art and photographs, National Museum of the American Indian