Kansa Harvest

Original Text


“A KANSA HARVEST. The main village of the Kansas Indians was located at a spot two miles east of Manhattan, Kansas on the north Bank of the river. This scene shows a small group in front of one of their lodges, built of poles covered with brush and then with earth. It is time for the fall harvest and the squaws are bringing in the fruits of their long summers work. The men of the tribe did little or no farming since their time was needed for hunting and for protecting their village from plunder by other tribes. On hunting or warring trips the people lived in the cone shaped tent, or teepee, usually associated with Indians. The American Indian was outstanding among people of the world as a developer of plants. His gifts to the agricultural world include maize, pumpkin, beans, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and many other foods.”

“A KANSA LODGE. Before the coming of the white settler the valley of the Kaw was owned by and controlled by a small but powerful tribe of Indians called the Kanza, the Kaw, or the Kausa. Villages of these ancient people who gave our state its name were located along the Kansas and Missouri rivers within the present state lines. They were related to the Omahas in the north and to the Osages on the South and spoke the same languages as these tribes. Although they were not a warlike people, the Kansas were respected fighters and were able to protect their lands until they were removed by the white people to a reservation near Council Grove. The Kansa were later taken to Oklahoma where their few survivors now live.”

A Modern View

At the time of contact, the Kansa, or Kaw, lived in what is now central Kansas. They were a semisedentary people who both farmed and hunted. Although they used bison skins lodges during hunting expeditions, they also constructed earthen lodges. They built these round-shaped homes using timbered framework, which they covered with branches, grass, and earth. As many as 40 members of an extended family lived in each lodge.

As noted in the original text, the Kansa practiced a gendered division of labor. This division was not hierarchical, but rather complementary: men and women both played vital roles in Kansa society. Women raised crops such as corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers; they also built and owned the lodges. Men, meanwhile, hunted bison, deer, and other game. Men also took responsibility for diplomacy and warfare, which became increasingly important in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as the expansion of horse culture on the Plains brought the Kansa into conflict with rival tribes.

During this period, the Kansa also faced increasing pressure from Euro-Americans. After the U.S. Army established Fort Leavenworth in 1827, thousands of soldiers, surveyors, and settlers poured into the region. The United States pressed the Kansa to sign a treaty in 1846, which forced them onto a reservation near Council Grove, Kansas. As mentioned in the original text, the U.S. finally removed the Kansa from Kansas altogether in 1873.

The reservation years in Indian Territory were particularly traumatic for the Kansa: nearly half their number died in the first seven years alone. The survivors subsisted by leasing much of their land to White ranchers. Eventually, in 1902, the federal government allotted their remaining lands and abolished their tribal government.

For the next half century, the Kansa struggled to maintain their political cohesion while facing dire economic circumstances, as hinted at in the original text. Finally, in 1959, the Kansa were able to reorganize and gain federal recognition as the Kaw Nation.

Today, the Kaw Nation includes more than 3,000 enrolled citizens. In 2000, the tribe purchased lands on their pre-1873 reservation in Kansas and established the Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park.