The Kickapoo Indians

The Kickapoo Indians The Kickapoo Indians are Algonkian-speaking Indians, related to the Sauk and Fox, who lived at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, probably in present Columbia County, Wis., U.S., when first reported by Europeans in the late 17th century. The Kickapoo were known as formidable warriors whose raids took them over a wide territory, ranging as far as Georgia and Alabama to the southeast; Texas and Mexico to the southwest; and New York and Pennsylvania to the east. Early in the 18th century part of the tribe settled near the Milwaukee River and, after the destruction of the Illinois Indians c. 1765, moved south to Peoria. One band extended as far as the Sangamon River and became known as the Prairie band; another pushed east to the Wabash and was called the Vermilion band. In 1809 and 1819, under the pressure of advancing white settlers, the Kickapoo ceded their lands in Illinois to the United States, moving to Missouri and then to Kansas.

About 1852 a large group went to Texas, and from there to Mexico, where another party joined them in 1863. Some returned to Indian Territory in 1873 and later years. The remainder was granted a reservation in eastern Chihuahua State, in northern Mexico; other Kickapoo reside in Oklahoma and Kansas. Only a few Kickapoo village names have survived Etnataek, Kickapougowi, and Kithlipecanuk. The Kickapoo lived in fixed villages, moving between summer and winter residences; they raised corn (maize), beans, and squash and hunted buffalo on the plains.

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Their society was divided into several exogamous, named clans based on descent through the paternal line. By the 19th century, as a result of scattering in small villages to prevent attack, central tribal authority had broken down, and chiefs of the various bands had become autonomous. From the beginning of European contact, the Kickapoo resisted acculturation in economic, political, and religious matters, retaining as many of their old ways as possible. Before contact with Europeans, the Kickapoo lived in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan in the area between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Beginning in the 1640s, the Algonquin tribes in this region came under attack from the east, first by the Ottawa and Iroquian-speaking Neutrals, and then the Iroquois. By 1658 the Kickapoo had been forced west into southwest Wisconsin. About 1700 they began to move south into northern Illinois and by 1770 had established themselves in central Illinois (near Peoria) extending southeast into the Wabash Valley on the western border of Indiana.

After wars with the Americans and settlement of the Ohio Valley, they signed treaties during 1819 ceding their remaining land east of the Mississippi River and relocated to southern Missouri (1819-24). Initially, most moved to the lands assigned them, but many remained in central Illinois and refused to leave until they were forcibly removed by the military in 1834. Fewer than half actually stayed on their Missouri reserve. Several bands wandered south and west until the Kickapoo were spread across Oklahoma and Texas all the way to the Mexican border (and beyond). In 1832 the Missouri Kickapoo exchanged their reserve for lands in northeast Kansas. After the move, factions developed, and in 1852, a large group left and moved to Chihuahua in northern Mexico.

Apparently, there were Kickapoo already living there by this time. Others joined these Mexican Kickapoo between 1857 and 1863. Few remained in Kansas. Between 1873 and 1878, approximately half of the Mexican Kickapoo returned to the United States and were sent to Oklahoma. Currently, there are three federally recognized Kickapoo tribes: the Kickapoo of Kansas the Kickapoo of Oklahoma and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas.

By 1660 almost all Great Lakes Algonquin were living as refugees in mixed villages in Wisconsin. Intermarriage and mixed populations made accurate counts impossible. The French estimated there were 2,000 Kickapoo in 1684 but by 1759 had increased this to 3,000. Later counts were equally suspect. By 1817 the Kickapoo had absorbed the Mascouten, and the American estimate was 2,000. This seems to have been the last time that the Kickapoo stood still long enough to be counted. A federal Indian agent during 1825 gave 2,200, but he admitted only 600 of them were actually on the Missouri reserve.

200 were still in Illinois, and at least 1,400 others were scattered somewhere between Missouri and Mexico. In 1852 there were 600 living in Kansas, but 300 left for Mexico soon afterwards followed 100 more in 1862. About 800 Kickapoo returned from Mexico (1873-78) and were sent to Oklahoma. Oklahoma and Mexican Kickapoo have routinely traveled back-and-forth ever since, so the 1910 census listed 211 in Kansas, 135 in Oklahoma, and an estimated 400 in Mexico. Current figures give over 2,500 Kickapoo in the United States divided between the 500 in Kansas and approximately 2,000 in Oklahoma. In addition, there are 700 members of Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas who live in both Texas and Mexico.

The name comes from the Algonquin word Kiwegapawa he stands about or he moves about. Other names were: Auyax (Tonkawa), Hecahpo (Otoe), Higabu (Omaha-Ponca), Ikadu (Osage), Kicapoux (French), Ontarahronon (Yuntarayerunu) (Huron), Quicapou (French), Outitchakouk (French), Shakekahquah (Wichita), Shigapo (Shikapu) (Kiowa-Apache), Sikapu (Comanche), and Tekapu (Huron). The Kickapoos native language is Algonquin. That is a Southern Great Lakes (Wakashan) dialect closely related to Fox, Sauk, Mascouten, and Shawnee. In a tradition shared by both tribes, Kickapoo and Shawnee believe they were once part of the same tribe which divided following an argument over a bear paw.

The Kickapoo language is virtually identical to Shawnee, and culturally the two were very similar except for some southern cultural traits that the Shawnee had absorbed during the years they had lived in the southeastern United States. Typical of other Great Lakes Algonquin, both lived in fixed villages of mid-sized long houses during summer. After the harvest and a communal buffalo hunt in the fall, the Kickapoo separated to winter hunting camps. The Kickapoo were skilled farmers and used hunting and gathering to supplement their basic diet of corn, squash and beans. Many Indian agents in the 1800s were startled just how well the Kickapoo could farm, but modern Americans would probably be just as surprised to learn how important buffalo hunting was to Kickapoo in Illinois during the 1700s. Before most of the other tribes in the area, the Kickapoo were using horses to hunt buffalo on the prairies of northern Illinois – a skill that allowed their rapid adaptation to the lifestyle of the Great Plains after removal.

Like the Shawnee, the Kickapoo were organized into patrilineal clans with descent traced through the father, but the brothers and sisters of the mother had special responsibilities in raising the children. The Kickapoo name is familiar, but most people have trouble remembering where they have heard it. For most Americans, the name sounds humorous, especially for those old enough to remember Al Capp’s Little Abner and Kickapoo joy juice. There was, however, nothing funny about the Kickapoo who were a very serious and traditional native people. Until 1819, they lived in Illinois and Wisconsin and played an important role in the history of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, but during the 1870s, they were suddenly in northern Mexico and fighting American cavalry in Texas.

Other groups were scattered across the Great Plains from Kansas to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. This is not surprising to those familiar with them. The most distinctive characteristic of the Kickapoo was their stubborn resistance to acculturization, and it is difficult to think of any other tribe, which has gone to such lengths to avoid this. Years after the eastern tribes with famous names had given up the fight; the Kickapoo were still in the midst of the struggle to preserve Native America. From the beginning, the Kickapoo distrusted Europeans. French traders rarely were allowed to visit their villages, and the Kickapoo refused to even listen to the Jesuits.

In later years, British and Americans fared no better. Following the American conquest of the Ohio Valley, the tribal authority of the Kickapoo disintegrated. Relocated first to Missouri and then Kansas, small bands of Kickapoo scattered across the plains warning other tribes that the white man was coming. In Kansas, white settlement closed in on them once again during the 1850s, and rather than surrender or adapt, most chose to escape by moving to northern Mexico. Although many of the Mexican Kickapoo returned to the United States during the 1870s, relatively few have converted to Christianity. The traditional Drum (or Dream) religion has the most adherents, followed by Kanakuk and the Native American Church.

Of all the Kickapoo, the Mexican branch has remained the most traditional and generally has been reluctant to allow visits by outsiders. The American Kickapoo are similar in this regard. Most still speak the Kickapoo language, and they have one of the highest percentages of full bloods of any tribe in the United States. Before they met their first European, the Kickapoo felt the changes he had brought. It started during the 1640s when the Beaver Wars moved into the Great Lakes. Seeking new hunting territory for fur to trade to the French, Tionontati, Ottawa and Neutrals warriors attacked the Kickapoo and their neighbors. A full-scale invasion by the Iroquois followed during the 1650s, which forced the Kickapoo to abandon their homeland and retreat west around the south end of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin.

The Kickapoo was not the only tribe displaced. Thousands of Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Mascouten, and Miami also arrived from the east at the same time, overwhelming the resident Winnebago and Menominee and occupying their lands. However, the powerful Dakota (Sioux) were not so accommodating, and fighting erupted across western Wisconsin. Corn did not grow well in northern Wisconsin, and the refugees were forced to rely more heavily on hunting than before. This quickly exhausted the available resources leaving the refugees fighting among themselves over what little there was. The new arrival had also brought some of the new European epidemics with them, and as if there was not enough misery, Iroquois war parties roamed through the area striking without warning.

During the next ten years, the French went west and rebuilt their fur trade. By mediating the disputes between the refugee tribes in Wisconsin, they were able bring some order to the region and establish the relationships for a future alliance to defend the area from the Iroquois. Meanwhile, the attention of the Iroquois had been focused on their war with the Susquehannock in Pennsylvania. It took them until 1675 to defeat the Susquehannock, but by 1680 they were looking west again and found that Illinois hunters were invading the lands they had conquered during the 1650s. Their protests resulted in the murder of a Seneca sachem during a meeting with the Illinois. The second phase of the Beaver Wars began that year, when the Seneca retaliated and attacked the Illinois Confederation. The second attack was made the following year, but in 1684 the Iroquois failed in their attempt to take Fort St.

Louis on the upper Illinois River. By the 1690s the Iroquois were retreating back across the Great Lakes towards New York. At the same time, the Iroquois homeland was under attack from the east by French soldiers and native allies from Quebec. War between Britain and France ended in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick, which had placed the Iroquois League under British protection. Fearing the British would intervene, the French tried to stop their allies’ war with the Iroquois, but this was not easy. Not only did the Algonquin sense the Iroquois were near collapse, but they were also suspicious that the French would desert them and make a separate peace with the Iroquois.

It took four years for the French to get them to agree to the peace signed in 1701. They also became targets, since the Fox, Sauk, Mascouten, Miami, and Kickapoo were no longer willing to tolerate French trade with their enemies. Traders were robbed and murdered, and even the highly respected Perrot found himself tied to a Mascouten torture stake about to be burned alive. However, his friends among the Kick …