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There is nothing definite to show that Coronado ever reached the confines of what is now Atchison county in 1541, as some historical writers have seen fit to state, but there is a probability that the Indian province of Harahey, which the natives thereof told him was just beyond Quivira, embraced our present county and most of the region of northeastern Kansas.

Mark F. Zimmerman, an intelligent and painstaking student of Kansas archaeology and Indian history, has given this matter much consideration and is confident that the Harahey chieftain, Tatarrax, immortalized in Coronado’s chronicles, ruled over this territory nearly four centuries ago. Until this fact is established, however, it remains that the Indian history of what is now Atchison county begins with the Kansa Indians in the early part of the eighteenth century. At the time of the Bourgmont expedition in 1724, and for some time before, this nation owned all of what is now northeastern Kansas, and maintained several villages along the Missouri River, the principal one being near the mouth of Independence creek, or at the present site of Doniphan. Here they had a large town. The writer made a careful examination and fully identified the site of this old town in 1904. The results of this exploration are given in a pamphlet entitled “An Old Kansas Indian Town on the Missouri,” published by the writer in 1914. Another important village of the Kansa was located at the mouth of what is now Salt creek, in Leavenworth county. Both of these historic villages were situated right near and at about the same distance from the present borders of Atchison county. There were several old Indian villages within the confines of Atchison county, as already stated in the preceding pages, but whether they belonged to the Kansa or to the Harahey (Pawnee) is yet a matter of conjecture.

One of these old Kansa towns, evidently the one at Salt creek, was the site of an important French post. Bougainville on French Posts in 1757, says: “Kanses. In ascending this stream (the Missouri river) we meet the village of the Kanses. We have there a garrison with a commandant, appointed as in the case with Pimiteoui and Fort Chartres, by New Orleans. This post produces one hundred bundles of furs.” Lewis and Clark, in 1804, noted the ruins of this old post and Kansa village. They were just outside of the southern borders of Atchison county, near the present site of Kickapoo.

The Independence creek town, or what is generally referred to by the early French as “Grand Village des Canzes,” seems to have been a Jesuit Missionary station as early as 1727, according to Hon. George P. Morehouse, the historian of the Kansa Indians, who recently found in some old French-Canadian records of the province of Ontario an interesting fact not before recognized in Kansas history, that the name “Kansas” was a well-known geographical term to designate a place on the Missouri river, within the present borders of our State, where the French government and its official church, nearly 200 years ago, had an important missionary center. Mr. Morehouse says: “It is significant as to the standing of this Mission station of the Jesuits at Kanzas, away out in the heart of the continent, that in this document it was classed along with their other important Indian Missions, such as the Iroquois, Abenaquis, and Tadoussac, and that the same amount per missionary was expended. It was ‘Kansas,’ a mission charge on the rolls of the Jesuit Fathers, for which annual appropriations of money were made as early as 1727. Here some of the saintly, self-sacrificing missionary pioneers of the Cross must have come from distant Quebec and Montreal, or from the faraway cloisters of sunny France. What zeal and sacrifice for others! Is it any wonder that the Kansa Indians always spoke reverently of the ‘black robes,’ who were the first to labor for their welfare in that long period in the wilderness.”

Just when the Kansa Indians established themselves at the “Grand Village” at Doniphan, or at “Fort Village” at Kickapoo, is not known. The first recorded mention of a Kansa village along this section of the Missouri river is by Bourgmont in 1724. Onate met the Kansa on a hunting expedition on the prairies of Kansas in 1601 but does not state where their villages were located. The “Grand Village” was an old one, however, at the time of Bourgmont’s visit. Bourgmont does not mention the “Fort Village” at Salt creek, as he surely would had it been in existence at that time, and it is believed that it was established later, as it was in existence in 1757, as stated by Bougainville.

As is a well-known historical fact the Spanish attempted to invade and colonize the Missouri valley early in the eighteenth century. The French had come into possession of this region in 1682, and M. de Bourgmont was commissioned military commander on the Missouri in 1720, the French government becoming alarmed at the attempted Spanish invasion. Establishing friendly relations with the Indians of this region in order to have their assistance in repelling any further Spanish advance was the object of the Bourgmont expedition to the Kansa and Padouca Indians in 1724. Bourgmont’s party, consisting of himself, M. Bellerive, Sieur Renaudiere, two soldiers, and five other Frenchmen, besides 177 Missouri and Osage Indians in charge of their own chiefs, marched overland from Fort Orleans, on the lower Missouri, and arrived at the “Grand Village des Cansez” on July 7, 1724. Here they held a celebration of two weeks, consisting of pow-wows, councils, trading horses or merchandise, and making presents to the Indians, several boatloads of the latter, in charge of Lieutenant Saint Ange, having arrived by river route. On July 24 they “put themselves in battle array on the village height, the drum began to beat, and they marched away” on their journey to the Padoucas. The incidents of their march across what is now Atchison county, and other facts pertaining to this expedition will be found in the chapter on early explorations in this volume.

According to a tradition handed down from prehistoric times the Kansa, Osage, Omaha, Ponca, and Kwapa were originally one people and lived along the Wabash and Ohio rivers. In their migrations, they arrived at the mouth of the Ohio where there was a separation. Those who went down the Mississippi became known as the Kwapa, or “downstream people,” while those going up were called Omaha, or “upstream people.” At the mouth of the Missouri another division took place, the Omaha and Ponka proceeding far up that stream. The Osage located on the stream which bears their name, and the Kansa at the mouth of what is now the Kansas river. Later they moved on up the Missouri and established several villages, the most northern of which was at Independence Creek. At about the close of the Revolutionary war, they were driven away from the Missouri by the Iowa and Sauk tribes, and they took up a permanent residence on the Kansas river, where Major Long’s expedition visited them in 1810. They continued to make predatory visits to the Missouri, however. They committed many depredations on traders and explorers passing up the river and even fired on the United States troops encamped at Cow Island. It was to prevent the recurrence of such outrages that Major O’Fallon arranged a council with the Kansa Nation. This council was held on Cow Island on August 24, 1819, under an arbor built for the occasion. Major O’Fallon made a speech in which he set forth the cause of complaint which the Kansa had given by their repeated insults and depredations, giving them notice of the approach of a military force sufficient to chastise their insolence, and advising them to seize the present opportunity of averting the vengeance they deserved, by proper concessions, and by their future good behavior to conciliate those whose friendship they would have so much occasion to desire. The replies of the chiefs were simple and short, expressive of their conviction of the justice of the complaints against them, and of their acquiescence in the terms of the reconciliation proposed by the agent.

There were present at this council 161 Kansa Indians, including chiefs and warriors, and thirteen Osages. It was afterwards learned that the delegation would have been larger but for a quarrel that arose among the chiefs after they had started, in regard to precedence in rank, in consequence of which ten or twelve returned to the village on the Kansas river. Among those at the council were Na-he-da-ba, or Long Neck, one of the principal chiefs of the Kansas; Ka-he-ga-wa-to-ning-ga, or Little Chief, second in rank; Shen-ga-ne-ga, an ex-principal chief; Wa-ha-che-ra, or Big Knife, a war chief, and Wam-pa-wa-ra, or White Plume, afterwards a noted chief. Major O’Fallon had with him the officers of the garrison of Cow Island, or Cantonment Martin, and a few of those connected with Major Long’s exploring party. “The ceremonies,” says one account, “were enlivened by a military display, such as the firing of cannon, hoisting of flags, and an exhibition of rockets and shells, the latter evidently making a deeper impression on the Indians than the eloquence of Major O’Fallon.” A description of Major Long’s steamboat, built to impress the Indians on this occasion, will be found in the following chapter on early explorations.

From the Kansa Indians, our State derived its name. For more than 300 years they dwelt upon our soil. At their very advent in this region, what is now Atchison county became a part of their heritage and for generations, it was a part of their imperial home.

By the treaty of Castor Hill, Mo., on October 24, 1832, the Kickapoo Indians were assigned to a reservation in northeastern Kansas, which included most of what is now Atchison county. They settled on their new lands shortly after the treaty was made. Their principal settlement at that time was at the present site of Kickapoo, in Leavenworth county, where a Methodist mission was established among them by Rev. Jerome C. Berryman, in 1833. There is said to have been a mission station among the Kickapoos where Oak Mills, in Atchison county, now stands, at an early day, but nothing definite is known regarding its history, except that we have it from early settlers that an Indian known as Jim Corn seemed to be the head man of the band of Kickapoos that lived there, and that the white pioneers frequently attended services in the old mission house which stood in the hollow a short distance southwest of the present site of Oak Mills.

During the time that the Kickapoos owned and occupied what is now Atchison county, they were ruled over by two very distinguished chieftains—Keannakuk, the Prophet, and Masheena, or the Elk Horns. Both of these Indians were noted in Illinois long before they migrated westward and were prominently mentioned by Washington Irving, George Catlin, Charles Augustus Murray, and other distinguished travelers and authors. Catlin painted their pictures in 1831, and these are included in the famous Catlin gallery in Washington. Keannakuk was both a noted chief and prophet of the tribe. He was a professed preacher of an order which he claimed to have originated at a very early day and his influence was very great among his people. He died at Kickapoo in 1852 and was buried there. Masheena was a really noted Indian. He led a band of Kickapoos at the battle of Tippecanoe. He died and was buried in Atchison county, near the old town of Kennekuk, in 1857. He was born in Illinois about 1770.

Important seats of Kickapoo occupancy in Atchison county in the early days were Kapioma, Muscotah and Kennekuk. Kapioma was named for a chief of that name who lived there. The present township of Kapioma gets its name from this source. Father John Baptiste Duerinck, a Jesuit, was a missionary among the Kickapoos at Kapioma in 1855–57. Muscotah was for a long time the seat of the Kickapoo agency. It is a Kickapoo name meaning “Beautiful Prairie,” or “Prairie of Fire.” Kennekuk was named for John Kennekuk, a Kickapoo chief, and son of Keannakuk, the Prophet.

By the treaty of 1854, the Kickapoo reservation was diminished and the tribe was assigned to lands along the Grasshopper or Delaware river. Still, later it was again diminished and they were given their present territory within the confines of Brown county.

The Kickapoos are a tribe of the central Algonquian group, forming a division with the Sauk and Foxes, with whom they have a close ethnic and linguistic connection. The first definite appearance of this tribe in history was about 1667–70 when they were found by Allouez near the portage between Fox and Wisconsin rivers, in Wisconsin. About 1765 they moved down into the Illinois country, and later to Missouri and Kansas.