The Wichita Tribe
The Wichita belong to a small tribe of only about 320 and reside on a reservation in southern Oklahoma. The Wichita call themselves Kitikitish, meaning literally, 'raccoon eyelids', but understood to signify 'tattooed eyelids', from a former custom among the men of tattooing lines upon the eyelids. The women tattoo lines upon the chin, and some of the older ones have their breasts covered with tattooed designs. From this custom the Wichita derived their French name of Panis Piques. The common name of the tribe has been variously explained, but may be connected with wits or wets, their own word for 'man'.
The Wichita have lived in the United States for more than three centuries, ranging from central Texas to the Arkansas river. There is evidence that at one time a part of them lived farther eastward in Arkansas and Louisiana. They are identical with the people of the ancient Quivira, with whom Coronado, in 1541, found "corn and houses of straw".
Driven out of Texas by the whites, the Wichita collected on the present reservation in 1850, but were soon again scatted by the outbreak of the civil war. They fled north to the site of the present city of Wichita, Kansas until the war was over, when they returned to their homes on the reservation. They have never been at war with the whites.
The Wichita are an agricultural people, and even before the coming of the white man raised large quantities of corn, which they ground into meal upon stone metates or in wooden mortars, or boiled in pottery of their own making. Their surplus supplies were deposited in cistern-like caches lined with bark.
Physically the Wichita are dark and generally of medium size, with flowing hair inclined to waviness. They were accompanied by their chief, (see right photo) known to the whites as Tawakoni Jim, a man of commanding presence and fluent eloquence, and in former years a scout in the service of the government.
Their permanent houses are dome-shape structures of grass thatch laid over a framework of poles, with earth banked up around the base. In making up the Wichita delegation for Omaha, a typical grass house was bought from the owner on the reservation, with the understanding that it should be taken down and the materials transported in Indian wagons to the railroad, thirty miles away, shipped to Omaha, to be again set up on the grounds of the Indian congress. The contract was faithfully carried out. The grass house was taken down, transported by wagon and rail, and again set up in the original materials at Omaha, the rebuilding requiring the labor of several women about one week.
The inside support of the house was a square framework of stout logs, about eight inches in diameter, planted upright in the ground, supporting cross-pieces of the same size laid in crotches at the top. Over these cross-pieces were bent long, flexible, half-round timbers having their bases planted in the circular trench which formed the circumference of the structure, while their tapering ends were brought together at the top and bound firmly with elm bark to form rafters.
Smaller flexible poles of perhaps an inch in diameter were then bound across these at regular intervals from the ground to the top. Over this framework the long grass was laid in shingle fashion in regular rounds, beginning at the bottom, each round being held in place by light rods fastened with elm bark to the supporting framework and cleverly concealed under the next round of grass.
Near the top, but at the side instead of in the center was a smoke-hole. Doorways were left at opposite sides to allow the breeze a free sweep, and detached doors were made of grass over a framework of rods. Around the inside were high bed platforms, and in the center was a fire-hole with a support from which to hang the pot. There was also a grass-thatched arbor built in the same fashion, with a sweat-lodge of willow rods. A painted Indian drum, which they brought with them, hung on the outside, the mortar and the metate near the doorway, and the bunches of corn and dried pumpkin, with the Indian owners themselves, made the Wichita camp altogether perhaps the most attractive feature of the congress.
At the close of the exposition the grass house, with the mortars and metates, was purchased for the National Museum, and the materials transmitted to Washington to be again set up in the National Park, where future visitors may have opportunity to study the structure of the 'straw houses' of old Quivira.
The Wichita delegation numbered thirty-eight, of whom fifteen lived in the grass house, while the remainder occupied several canvas tipis adjoining. The party had been carefully selected, and included several noted runners distinguished in the ceremonial footraces of the tribe, two Kichai women, still retaining their peculiar language, and one of them with the old-style tattooing upon her face and body, and a mother with an infant in a cradle of willow rods.
To see more images from the Indian Congress, visit the Indian Congress Photo Gallery. This collection includes over 500 photographs of
Native Americans, including portraits of individuals, group
photos of families and photographs of various activities.
The library also has the original "Secretary's Report" from the TransMississippi Exposition. This document includes a section on the The Indian Congress by Mr. W. V. Cox, Secretary of the Government Exhibit Board. It also contains the Report of Captain Mercer, manager of the Indian Congress.
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