|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.
The tribe owns a casino, a smoke shop, travel plaza, historical center, Dairy Freeze and Cross Timbers Restaurant, located in Anadarko. Their annual economic impact in 2010 was $4.5 million.
After the man and woman were made they dreamed that things were made for them, and when they woke they had the things of which they had dreamed... The woman was given an ear of corn... It was to be the food of the people that should exist in the future, to be used generation after generation. - Tawakoni Jim in The Mythology of the Wichita, 1904
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. Early Wichita people were hunters and gatherers who gradually adopted agriculture. Farming villages began to appear about 900 CE on terraces above the Washita and South Canadian Rivers in Oklahoma. These 10th century communities cultivated maize, beans, squash, marsh elder (Iva annua), and tobacco. They also hunted deer, rabbits, turkey, and, increasingly, bison, and caught fish and collected mussels in the rivers. These villagers lived in rectangular, thatched-roof houses. Archaeologists describe the Washita River Phase from 1250 to 1450, when local populations grew and villages of up to 20 houses were spaced every two or so miles along the rivers. These farmers may have had contact with the Panhandle culture villages in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, Farming villages along the Canadian River. 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 Wichita 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. Archaeologist Waldo Wedel suggested in 1967 that 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 or religious leaders of Great Bend aspect peoples. Other archaeologists leave open the possibility that the council circle earthen works served a defensive role.
In the late 15th century, most of these Washita River villages were abandoned for reasons that not known today.
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 AD. 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, suggests contact with early Spanish explorers.
Great Bend aspect peoples' subsistence economy included 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. Remains of animal bones in Great Aspect sites include bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, and dog, one of the few domesticated animals in the precontact Plains.
Several village sites contain the remains of unusual structures called "council circles." Council circles occur near the center of these sites. Archaeological excavations suggest they consist of a central patio surrounded by four semi-subterranean structures. The function of the council circles is unclear. Waldo Wedel 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 Taovayas (Tawehash), Tawakonis, Wacos (who appear to have been the Yscani/Iscanis of earlier times), and Guichitas or Wichita Proper; minor bands are listed as well: Akwits / Akwesh, Asidahetsh / Asidahesh (a former northern Pawnee splinter group, which joined the Wichita), Itaz, Kishkat, and Korishkitsu (the two latter names perhaps a Wichita name for the Kichai). They were related by language and culture to the Pawnee, with whom they enjoyed close relations. The Taovaya were the most important in the 18th century. The French called the Wichita peoples Panis Piqués (i.e. Pawnee Picts) or Panis Noirs (i.e. Black Pawnees), because they practiced tattooing; sometimes the ?Panis Piqués / Panis Noirs? are included into the listing of Wichita sub-tribes, but it seems that there were no known separate sub-tribe which can be identified by this name. One Pawnee splinter grouping known as Panismahas moved from what is now Nebraska to the Texas-Arkansas border regions where they lived with the Taovayas.
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 Kitikiti'sh / Kirikirish ("raccoon-eyed people") 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. The kindred Pawnee called them Kírikuuruks / Kírikuruks ("bear-eyed people") and the Arikara ?irikuúnux (a reference to the Wichitas' tattoos). The Kiowa knew them as Thoe-Khoot ("tattoo faces").
Wichita ceremonial life closely followed the seasonal round of economic activities. The deer dance, a ceremony performed by the medicine men, was held when the first grass appeared, when corn ripened, and when corn was harvested. The calumet ceremony, involving the presentation of a feathered pipestem to a prominent individual, was believed to be of lasting benefit to the tribe. Other ceremonies were performed to ensure good harvests, the successful return of war parties, or the abundance of buffalo.
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 at Petersburg, 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. 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 Petersburg 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 twin villages on Red River, 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.