Native Americans

February 2005


In the last issue of Tales Out of School we began highlighting the historic sites of Kansas as designated by the Kansas State Historical Society. One of the primary goals of the Kansas State Historical Society is to ensure that the heritage and culture of Kansas are preserved and shared with generations to come both in the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka and at the sixteen historic sites throughout the state. These sites provide Kansas students an excellent opportunity to learn about Kansas history in person. In this issue of Tales, we will provide an overview of the sites that relate to Native Americans.

When considering Native Americans in Kansas, it is important to remember that identifying “Kansas Indians” is an ambiguous task. The arbitrary borders of Kansas mean nothing in the Native American perception of geography. It is the grasslands, streams and rivers, bluffs and rolling prairie, animals and plants, earth and rock, torturing heat and biting cold, the omnipresent wind and sky that defined Kansas to its first people. There are two primary classifications of Kansas Native American tribes–those who came to Kansas either by their own will or because of pressure from other tribes (historic tribes) and those who were forced to remove to Kansas by the U. S. government (emigrant tribes).

The tribes generally considered belonging to the first group are: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Plains Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Wichita, Pawnee, Kansa, and Osage. Those in the second are: Otoe & Missouri, Iowa, Quapaw, Chippewa, Sauk & Fox, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Wyandot, Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee, and Cherokee. When white settlement began with the founding of Kansas Territory in 1854, Native Americans were pushed on again, most often to Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

Historic Kansas Sites–Native Americans

Kaw Mission–Located on the Santa Fe Trail in Council Grove, the Kaw Mission is a building constructed of native stone, two stories high, with eight rooms, and designed to accommodate fifty students as regular boarders, in addition to teachers, missionaries, and farmers. Classes at the mission began in May 1851 under the direction of Thomas Sears Huffaker, a twenty-four- year-old teacher who had served in the same capacity at the Shawnee Manual Labor School near present-day Kansas City. The school was closed in 1854 because of the excessive cost–fifty dollars a year–of maintaining each student. During this period the school averaged about thirty pupils a year. Instruction was given in spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The Kaw Indians never responded well to the efforts of the missionaries and sent to the school only boys who were orphans or dependents of the tribe. Girls were not allowed to attend. Members of the tribe considered the ways of the white man degrading to the Indian character.

A treaty with the Kaw Indians in 1859 further diminished the Kaw Reservation to an area nine by fourteen miles. These lands were relinquished in the 1870s, and the tribe moved to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma.

Thomas Huffaker bought the building and grounds in 1865, and he owned them for fourteen years. Thereafter, the property was owned by several individuals until 1926 when Carl I. Huffaker, a son of Thomas, bought the part on which the mission building stands. In 1951 the Kansas legislature authorized the purchase of the mission property from Mr. Huffaker, and the Kansas State Historical Society, as trustee for the state, now operates it as a museum. Today’s visitors will see an eight-minute orientation video "The Original Kansans," Kanza Indian photo gallery, Santa Fe Trail exhibits, and early-day Council Grove artifacts.

For specific information about visiting the site, visit the web page for the Kansas State Historical Society at

Shawnee Indian Mission–Shawnee Indians were one of the tribes moved to present-day Kansas in the 1820s and 1830s. They received a large tract of land (about 1.6 million acres) west of Missouri. In 1830 Reverend Thomas Johnson, a Methodist minister, was appointed missionary to the Shawnees and his brother William, missionary to the Kansa tribe. Thomas Johnson established the first Shawnee Methodist Mission in present-day Turner, Wyandotte County, Kansas. The school operated at that location until 1839, when Johnson proposed to the missionary society that a central school be built to serve many tribes. A site was chosen where a branch of the Santa Fe Trail passed through the Shawnee lands. The school opened at the present Johnson County location in October 1839. Indian children of many tribes were sent to this school to learn basic academics, manual arts, and agriculture. Some of the tribes represented were the Kaw (Kansa), Munsee, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Otoe, Osage, Cherokee, Peoria, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wea, Gros Ventres, Omaha, and Wyandot. At the height of its activity, the mission was an establishment of more than two thousand acres with sixteen buildings, including the three large brick structures, which still stand, and an enrollment of nearly two hundred Indian boys and girls from the ages of five to 23. The manual training portion of the school ceased in 1854. In 1858 Reverend Thomas Johnson turned the school over to his oldest son, Alexander, who ran the mission until it closed in 1862. The State of Kansas acquired the site in 1927. Since that time it has been administered by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Visitors to the site will see a 19th century timber frame cabin replica, manual labor tools used by children, teachers' living quarters, classrooms, and dormitories. The rehabilitation process on the site continues. The East building will not have exhibits until summer 2005. For specific information about visiting the site, visit the web page for the Kansas State Historical Society at

Pawnee Indian Village Museum–Located eight miles north of U.S. 36 near Republic, Kansas, the Pawnee Indian Village Museum houses artifacts that tell the story of the powerful Pawnee Nation. Although the origin of the Pawnee tribe is a mystery, the Pawnee believe their ancestors came from the American Southwest. Evidence suggests that they have been on the Central Plains for at least 500 years. The Pawnee included four separate, independent bands and they were the dominant power on the Central Plains. Their territory included large areas of present-day Kansas and Nebraska. In the early 1800s Pawnees numbered between 10,000 and 30,000. The Kitkehahki (pronounced KIT-ka-ha-key), or Republican, band settled here along the Republican River about 1820. The village with more than 1,000 people contained at least 30 or 40 earth lodges. Thousands of dogs and hundreds of horses lived here with the Pawnee. The village was fortified for protection from nearby enemies including the Kaw and the Osage. When the supply of natural resources dwindled and the land was no longer productive, the village was abandoned and the band moved north, closer to other Pawnee tribes. The village later burned to the ground.

In 1901 about half of the original village site was deeded to the State of Kansas for preservation. In the 1940s and 1960s archeologists excavated the site. In 1967 the museum building enclosed one of the largest lodges. Besides the remains of the lodge visitors will see a Pawnee sacred bundle, hear the voice of a Pawnee elder describing the culture, and hike the Kitkehahki Nature Trail.

For specific information about visiting the site, visit the web page for the Kansas State Historical Society at

Native American Heritage Museum–Located two miles east of Highland, Kansas, the Native American Heritage Museum houses interactive exhibits that showcase the arts and history of the emigrant tribes in northeastern Kansas. The Presbyterian Mission was established in November 1837 by Samuel M. Irvin and his wife. The first mission building was a one-story log structure covered with clapboards. It was a little distance from the Indian settlement and separated from it by a stream. In 1844 the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions authorized construction of a permanent building which was completed in 1846. Lessons were taught in English and the Iowa language. Studies included spelling, arithmetic, and geography, but emphasis was placed on the industrial and domestic arts and farming.

Between 1830 and 1860 the mission profited from trade with the emigrant and freighting traffic on the Oregon-California Trail. However, exposure to this traffic also brought with it disease. Some fifteen Iowa Indians died of cholera at the mission in June 1849. In 1850 cases of smallpox were followed by another onslaught of cholera. Fearing additional disease epidemics, the Indians shunned contact with white emigrants and the missionaries. This further hampered the mission's efforts.

A new treaty, negotiated at the time of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, caused a further reduction in the amount of Indian lands and made attendance at the school difficult.

Consequently, the mission closed in 1863. From 1863 to 1866 the mission functioned as the Indian Orphanage Institute. After the institute closed in 1866, the mission sat empty until 1868 when the west portion of the building was razed, leaving about 40 percent of the original structure. The razed portion was to be used in the construction of a building at Highland University. This institution of higher learning was an outgrowth of the mission and was chartered in 1858, making it one of the oldest colleges in Kansas. The university facilities are now occupied by Highland Community College.

In 1937 the Northeast Kansas Historical Society organized to preserve the remaining portion of the mission building, which had been used as a residence until about 1905. It became the property of the state in 1941. Since 1963 the Kansas State Historical Society has administered this property as a state historic site.

For specific information about visiting the site, visit the web page for the Kansas State Historical Society at

* Information for this newsletter came from the web site for the Kansas State Historical Society ( and from Tales Out of School, November 1993 and May 1994.