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History & Statehood » Native Tribes

Seven different Native American tribes originally inhabited the plains of present-day Kansas. Other tribes, referred to collectively as Emigrant Indians, came later from the eastern United States and Great Lakes area.


In the northwest corner of the state lived the Arapaho Indians. The Arapahos were considered a "peaceful people" only because they did not fight the invading white settlers. Instead of defending their land against the Americans, they agreed to make treaties, which ultimately resulted in their expulsion from their homeland.


In the north central portion of the state, the Pawnee Indians resided. Pawnee warriors shaved their heads except for the scalp-lock. This was a feature unique to the Pawnee tribe. The scalp-lock was similar to a mohawk, but often cut short and stiffened with buffalo fat so that the hair stood erect. It was sometimes painted red and styled to curve back like a bull buffalo's horn. In fact, the name Pawnee comes from the word pa-rik-i, meaning a horn.


In the northeastern area of the state lived the Kansa Indians, also called the Kaw People. It is from this native tribe that the state received its namesake. The word Kansa means "south wind people." These Indians lived in round lodges made of wood and packed earth. Unlike most Indians, teepees were only used by Kansa warriors when on hunting trips.


In the small northeast corner of the state (in the modern Doniphan County area), the Oto-Missouri tribe resided. Before a devastating outbreak of smallpox, the Oto tribe numbered over 1,000 along the Platte River. However, after the epidemic ravaged them, the Otos joined their related tribe, the Missouris, and totaled only 250 people. Eventually, this combined tribe was forced out of Kansas as well.


The southwest corner of the state was Comanche territory. Driven down from their homeland of southern Wyoming by their enemies, the Sioux, the Comanches roamed as far as Chihuahua, Mexico. Although they were typically on friendly terms with the Americans, the Comanches warred with the Mexican Spaniards for over 200 years.


Occupying all of the central and southern Kansas land, the Kiowa Indians were notorious for being the fiercest of the tribes. They killed more whites in proportion to their size than any other tribe. Some warriors wore a long red sash and pinned it to the ground with an arrow to signify that they would not run but fight to the death.


In the southeast corner of the state lived the Osage Indians. The name Osage is the French distortion of the tribe's original name—the Wazhazhe. The Osages were comprised of three main groups: the Great Osage, the Little Osage and the Arkansas Band.

Pawnee Chiefs images
Studio portrait of two Pawnee chiefs taken in St. Louis, Missouri, approximately 1850s.
Photo by John H. Fitzgibbon courtesy of the British Museum

Emigrant Indians

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 during Andrew Jackson's presidency forced into Kansas a new group of tribes known as the Emigrant Indians. These tribes consisted of the Cherokee, Chippewa, Delaware, Illini, Iowa, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, Seneca, Shawnee and Wyandotte.