Today, the Wichita Nation resides in central Oklahoma, an area that was also their
historical homeland. In their own language, they call themselves "the raccoon-eyed
people" or Kitikiti'sh, referring to the tattoos on their faces. European accounts
identified them as the Ousitas, Panis or the Quiverans (in the false belief that a
Wichita village would be the mythical, golden city of Quivera). Americans sometimes
erronously chronicled them as Pawnees, who were a separate but friendly tribe from
Kansas/Nebraska.

Home in the transition zone
The Wichita people lived in the Cross Timbers, a unique landscape consisting of
wooded areas of post oak, elm, hickory, bois d'arce, and cottonwoods punctuated by
wide, open prairies that stretched from Kansas into Texas. The Cross Timbers is a
transition zone, where dense forests of pine, cedar, and cypress in the east give way
to the plains of the west. The Wichita culture mirrored this transition well. They were
a semi-nomadic people, who hunted bison with the
Comanches in the winter months
but set up permanent villages in the Spring and Summer to plant and harvest crops
like the
Caddos, their cousins. They spoke a Caddoan language but their religious
practices influenced the Comanches, with whom they also traded and lived in relative
peace. Their lifeways reflected their location between today's Kansas and Texas,
sandwiched among the agricultural kingdoms of the east and the Plains tribes of the
west.

Like the Caddos, the Wichitas were once centralized through a network of large
cities, where their leaders and holy people resided. These cities were built around
earthen mound pyramids which may have acted as calendars as well as burial
chambers for leaders. One of their largest cities has been recently discovered under a
golf course near Wichita, Kansas. Just before European contact, their power de-
centralized and instead, the Wichitas dispersed. Small villages of large, multi-family
clans became the tribal centers. Their houses looked like Caddo homes: thatched
grasses in a conical shape, with a fire pit in the center and with thatched arbors on
the periphery. The Kaichais, Taovayans, Tehuacanas, Wacos, Wichitas, and
Tawakonis made up this loose confederation. Unlike the Caddos, they did not bury
their dead in mounds inside their villages, but instead practiced outdoor burials that
proffered corpses to the elements. But, like the Caddos, they were matrilineal.
Women and men both shared in tasks to build and maintain their villages, and both
shared in religious rituals that centered on various dances.

On the move
Originally concentrated along the Arkansas River, the Wichitas moved southward to
the Red River by the early 18th century due to warfare with the
Osages. Here, they
recreated their early settlements along the river with large villages that acted as
trading posts for the Caddos, Comanches, French, and Anglo Americans. One of the
largest of these villages was peopled by the Taovyans and spanned the Red River
between today's Jefferson County, Oklahoma and Montague County, Texas. The
Spanish tended to avoid the Wichita fearfully as "los Nortenos" as attempts at
mission building were met with warfare. This apprehension was well justified after
the Taovayans and Comanches staged a violent, joint attack on the San Saba Mission
(Menard County, Texas) in 1759. The Spanish government sent over 600 troops to
avenge the deaths of 19 people at the mission, but the Spanish and native soldiers
were quickly repelled at the Taovayan village. The battle area became known to later
American settlers as
Spanish Fort.

After the Spanish took control of the Louisiana Territory in 1763, their overtures
became friendlier. They sent a French envoy, Athanase de Mezieres, to the Red River
to extend trade and seek peace. Because he was French, the Wichitas reacted well.
While de Mezieres accomplished the mission, he also asserted Spanish dominion
over the Red River, and named the Taovayan villages San Teodoro and San Bernardo.
Artifact theft
The Spanish contact inadvertently brought another form of warfare - smallpox. The
Wichitas began to suffer the effects of the sustained contact with foreigners, and
this was exacerbated by the theft of their Medicine Stone. Near the Taovayan
villages lay a large meteorite, which Henry Glass, an American trader, misidentified
as platinum. He and a few other men stole the stone in 1806 in an expedition
funded by John Sibley, the Indian agent out of
Natchitoches. Both the Wichitas and
the Comanches revered this stone as medicine. In their belief, medicine was an
object that could restore health, vanquish enemies, cast spells, and more. The
medicine must be paid for, mostly by an offering/sacrifice, and often was delivered
from the object to the requesting person via a medicine man or medicine woman.
The medicine stone was so powerful that chunks were taken from it by talisman
seekers. The theft of this massive, 1600 lbs meteorite must have devastated the
tribe immensely. By 1810, the Wichitas entered a self-described "dark time." They
abandoned their villages and consolidated their clans. American descriptions of the
encounters with the Wichitas often characterized them as "degraded," meaning that
many had taken to drinking and begging.

Brutality towards the Wichitas
The early American period was brutal for the Wichitas. While the Taovayans re-
established a village at the base of the Wichita Mountains in Indian Territory near
their allies, the Kiowas and the Comanches, and maintained a number of their
traditional ways, the Wacos and Tawakonis who lived south of the Red River did
not fare well. Simply put, Anglo Texans hated Indians - there's no other word that
could aptly convey the meanness perpetrated by white men on the frontier against
the Wichitas and the Caddos. To Anglos, there was no
President Sam Houston extended an olive branch in 1844 at the Treaty of Bird's Fort
and at the Treaty of
Preston (under Holland Coffee, Indian Agent), which convinced
the tribes of the Wichitas and Caddos to remove west of the Trinity River. After
Texas became a U.S. state, the federal government, under
Randolph B. Marcy's
direction, established the Brazos Indian Reservation in Young County to protect the
Caddos and Wichitas from Anglo, Comanche, and possible Osage raids. The
reservation tribes started farms and accompanied soldiers on scouting expeditions.
However, Anglo hostility and paranoia continued; additionally, the Anglo men
believed that the military was more interested in protecting the tribes than securing
the frontier. In 1859, John Baylor led an ambush against the reservation which
killed few on both sides, but was enough for the federal government to disband the
reservation. Robert S. Neighbors, acting as Indian agent, led the men and women to
a new reservation around newly-built Fort Cobb in Indian Territory. They settled
along the Washita River with the Taovayans and the Caddos. On his return to
Fort
Belknap
near the now defunct reservation, a man named Edward Cornett
assassinated Neighbors.

The people that comprised the great Wichita tribe were relatively peaceful and
cooperative. But repeatedly throughout their history, they were hounded out of
their homelands by both hostile natives and Anglos. They still live in their
traditional homelands and have organized as a nation, but their territory has been
greatly reduced. Even their language has expired - the last known
Wichita speaker
died in 2016.
The Wichitas are a people whose culture is fast becoming a relic.
Caddos         Wichitas         Comanches         Kiowas
Shawnees        Osages        Tonkawas
   Choctaws        Chickasaws        End of the Trail
The Wichita Nation
A typical Wichita home, photographed by Edward Curtis
around 1927 near Anadarko, Oklahoma (LOC).
Dancing is a very
important aspect of
Wichita culture.
Here is a
demonstration
dance at Fort Sill in
1927. Photograph is
by Edward Curtis,
LOC.
While accompanying the
Dodge-Leavenworth
expedition of 1844,
George Catlin, the famous
Pennsylvania artist who
documented the Plains
tribes in oils and
sketches, drew the
Wichita village he
encountered west of the
Wichita Mountains. This
sketch is contained in the
second volume of his
book about his time with
the expedition
.
In the past, women crafted and used the
daily artifacts of their cultures; this is
why the European industrialized era hit
the native women particularly hard. John
Soule took this photograph of a Wichita
mother and her baby in a traditional
board carrier in 1899 (LOC).
Another fantastic artifact image:
Edward Curtis photographed a
Wichita woman using a traditional
mortar and pestle to ground corn.
Corn was a staple in all native diets. In
the Red River valley, a ground and
boiled corn dish, flavored with hickory
nuts, was a favorite (LOC).