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Wichita

Wichita

ETHNONYMS: Pawnee Piques, Pawnee Picts

The Wichita are a Southern Plains American Indian group located aboriginally in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma in an area encompassing the Arkansas, Cimarron, and Canadian rivers. "Wichita" is evidently derived from the Choctaw word Wia chitch, meaning "big arbor" in reference to the Wichita's large grass lodges, which resembled haystacks. The Wichita name for themselves was "Kitikiti'sh" or "Kirikirish," meaning "Paramount Men." The name "Pawnee Piques" was given by the French in reference to the Wichita practice of heavily tatooing their faces and upper bodies. The Wichita today number about one thousand and are affiliated with the Caddo and Delaware in Caddo County, Oklahoma, where many live on allotted land. They are largely assimilated into European-American society.

First contact was with Coronado in 1541 who was pushing east from New Mexico in search of the "Land of Quivira." By the end of the seventeenth century the Wichita had acquired the horse and shortly thereafter began a hundred-year pattern of migrations south under pressure from the Osage, Comanche, and the French. By 1800 these conflicts plus additional ones with the Apache and disease had decimated the Wichita. In 1820 sustained contact with Whites began, leading to further relocations and eventual settlement in southern Oklahoma.

The traditional economy was based on horticulture (maize, squash, beans, tobacco) in the spring and summer and nomadic bison hunting in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer the Wichita lived in villages composed of large, grass-covered longhouses. In the winter months, when they hunted bison on the plains, they lived in tipis. At the time of contact in 1541 the Wichita may have numbered as many as fifty thousand and were composed of at least six subtribes, all of whom spoke dialects of Wichita, a Caddoan Language. The traditional religion centered on Kinnikasus, the creator of the universe, lesser male and female deities, and animistic beliefs in the supernatural forces present in many objects. In 1891 the Wichita adopted the Ghost Dance, though it essentially lost importance within a year, and in 1902 they adopted Peyotism, leading to a split between those who were aligned with Christianity and those who chose the Native American church. The Wichita are not legally incorporated as a tribe, though they do have a system of tribal governance based on a tribal chairman, other officers, and a council.


Bibliography

Dorsey, George A. (1904). The Mythology of the Wichita. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication no. 21. Washington, D.C.

Newcomb, William W., Jr. (1976). The People Called Wichita. Phoenix, Ariz.: Indian Tribal Series.

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Wichita (indigenous people of North America)

Wichita (wĬch´Ĭtô), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Caddoan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They formerly occupied central Kansas and ranged into Oklahoma and Texas. The Wichita were the people of Quivira, which Francisco Coronado visited in 1541. Juan de Padilla, left by the expedition to undertake the Christianization of the Native Americans, was the earliest missionary among the Plains Indians. Padilla, however, was killed by Native Americans three years later. In 1662 the Wichita were defeated by Diego Dionisio de Peñalosa. By 1765, forced southward by hostile northern and eastern tribes, they had a village on the north fork of the Red River in Oklahoma. Following a severe smallpox epidemic, they abandoned the village, moving to the present site of Fort Sill; later they moved again, and in the Civil War they fled for a time to Kansas; the site became Wichita, Kans. In 1872 they ceded all their lands to the United States. Later they were settled on a reservation, now dissolved, in W Oklahoma. In 1990 there were over 1,200 Wichita in the United States. Culturally the Wichita were similar to their Plains relatives the Pawnee. The French called the Wichita Panis piqués, or Pawnee Picts, because they practiced tattooing. Distinctive to the Wichita was the conical grass house, which resembled a haystack. They practiced a dance for agricultural fertility, and in the late 19th cent. they adopted the Ghost Dance.

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Wichita

Wichita

Wichita: Introduction
Wichita: Geography and Climate
Wichita: History
Wichita: Population Profile
Wichita: Municipal Government
Wichita: Economy
Wichita: Education and Research
Wichita: Health Care
Wichita: Recreation
Wichita: Convention Facilities
Wichita: Transportation
Wichita: Communications

The City in Brief

Founded: 1868 (incorporated, 1871)

Head Official: Mayor Carlos Mayans (since 2003)

City Population

1980: 279,838

1990: 304,017

2000: 344,284

2003 estimate: 354,617

Percent change, 19902000: 13.2%

U.S. rank in 1980: 51st

U.S. rank in 1990: 51st (State rank: 1st)

U.S. rank in 2000: 59th (State rank: 1st)

Metropolitan Area Population

1980: 442,000

1990: 485,270

2000: 545,220

Percent change, 19902000: 12.4%

U.S. rank in 1980: 75th

U.S. rank in 1990: Not reported

U.S. rank in 2000: 77th

Area: 138.93 square miles (2000)

Elevation: 1,300 feet above sea level

Average Annual Temperature: 56.4° F

Average Annual Precipitation: 14.48 inches of rain, 15.9 inches of snow

Major Economic Sectors: Services, manufacturing, trade

Unemployment Rate: 6.3% (February 2005)

Per Capita Income: $20,647 (1999)

2002 FBI Crime Index Total: 24,104

Major Colleges and Universities: Wichita State University; Friends University; Newman University; University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita

Daily Newspaper: Wichita Eagle

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Wichita

Wichita City at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, s central Kansas. Established in 1864 as a trading post, Wichita developed with the arrivals of the Chisholm Trail and the railroad (1872). A cattle town and later a wheat centre, its commercial growth was spurred by the discovery of oil (1915) and by the development of its aircraft industry (1920). It is by far the largest city in Kansas. Industries: aviation, railroad workshops, oil refining, grain processing, meat-packing. Pop. (2000) 344,284.

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Wichita

Wichita •cantor • lector • caveat emptor •centaur, mentor, stentor •Wichita • Choctaw • coldstore • Utah •drugstore • megastore • Minotaur •superstore

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Wichita

Wichita

Name

The name Wichita (pronounced WITCH-i-taw ) comes from a Choctaw word and means “big arbor” or “big platform,” referring to the grass arbors the Wichita built. The Spanish called them Jumano, meaning “drummer” for the Wichita custom of summoning the tribe to council with a drum. The Siouan tribes called them the Black Pawnee because of their skin color and because they are related to the Pawnee. They call themselves Kitikitish or Tawehash .

Location

In 1541 the Wichita were living in western Oklahoma, but were pushed south to the Red River area on the Oklahoma-Texas border. Today most Wichita live in Oklahoma, on or near the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes Reservation.

Population

In 1780 there were about 3,200 Wichita. In 1910 they numbered about 318. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 1,241 people identified themselves as Wichita. By 2000 that number had risen slightly to 1,445, and 2,047 people claimed to be at least part Wichita.

Language family

Caddoan.

Origins and group affiliations

The Wichita were part of the Caddo people who lived in the Oklahoma region for 3,500 years before they encountered Europeans in 1541. They broke off from the Caddo sometime before this contact to find better farmland. They traveled north from Caddo territory to establish their tribe on the Arkansas River in present-day Kansas. The Pawnee, an offshoot of the Wichita, continued farther north to the North and South Platte rivers.

A group of Caddoan speakers formed a confederacy, or a group of allied tribes. Nine of the tribes who formed the confederacy have been identified, but the only ones still in existence are the Wichita and a few Waco people. The Wichita were most strongly allied with the Waco and Kichai and were enemies with the Apache and the Osage. In the early twenty-first century they share a reservation with the Caddo and Delaware.

The Wichita were a small, peaceful tribe who farmed for centuries in the fertile river valleys of Kansas. Although they acquired horses in the 1700s they continued to be known as farmers and did not fully adopt the Plains buffalo-hunting culture as other tribes did. They were famous for their unusual dwellings. The Wichita are probably best known today for lending their name to a city in Kansas and to several counties, some hills, and rivers in Texas and Oklahoma.

History

Before European contact

Archaeologists believe the Wichita descended from the Washita River culture, which dates back more than eight hundred years. These people lived in small villages in the valleys of central and western Oklahoma. They built homes of mud plaster, planted gardens, and hunted game. Their tools were made from stone, bone, antler, and wood.

Sometime between 1350 and 1450 they constructed the large, cone-shaped houses that the Wichita are known for today. Some of these homes were fortified. The people traded not only with neighboring tribes, but also with more distant ones. Turquoise pendants, shell beads, and glazed pottery came from the Pueblo tribes (see entries) of New Mexico, while engraved pottery and bois d’arc (special wood for making bows) came from the Caddo (see entry) in Texas. Prior to the European arrival part of the tribe moved north to the Great Bend of the Arkansas, a place the Spanish later called Quivira.

Important Dates

1541: The Wichita encounter Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.

1719: The Wichita begin trading with French.

1758: The Wichita repel Spanish attack.

1835: A peace treaty is signed by warring Native tribes. The Wichita move to Indian Territory.

1858: U.S. troops kill many Wichita and destroy their property in the Battle of the Wichita Village.

1863: Confederate troops force Wichita to flee to Kansas during the American Civil War.

1872: The Wichita move to Oklahoma reservation with Caddo and other tribes.

1890: The Wichita win a case for lands wrongfully taken by the United States.

1901: Wichita land is divided under the allotment policy.

1961: The Wichita, Keechi, Waco, Tawakoni, and Taovaya tribes organize as the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Spanish gold seekers arrive

Early explorers in the New World returned to Spain with tales of the Seven Golden Cities of Cíbola. In 1541 Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (c. 1510–1554) set off to find this gold in the then-unknown wilderness north of Mexico, leading a group of hundreds of Spaniards, slaves, and Native Americans, as well as cattle, sheep, and pigs. Instead of golden cities he found the pueblos of the Zuñi (see entry).

Coronado’s hopes flared when a Native American slave told him of rich lands to the north, in “The Kingdom of Quivira.” This was the territory of the Wichita tribe. Instead of riches, Coronado found 25 poor Native American villages. He noted that the people ate raw meat like their enemy, the Apache (see entry). Coronado admired their grass houses, though, and considered them more advanced than their neighbors because they grew corn instead of living by raiding. (Coronado’s slave later confessed he had invented the story about Quivira gold; he was executed.)

Coronado left Wichita territory without finding the riches he sought, but his companion, the missionary Juan de Padilla (1500–1542), remained with the tribe and converted them to Catholicism. Three years later Padilla began work with another tribe. The Wichita grew jealous and killed him. No more Europeans entered Wichita territory for a long while after that.

Trading and warring begin

In 1719 the Wichita were living along the Canadian River in present-day Oklahoma when French explorer Bernard de La Harpe (1683–1765) began to trade with them. La Harpe estimated the population to be six thousand people at his first meeting with them. He also wrote that the Wichita had many prisoners of war from a recent conflict with another tribe, and they were preparing to eat them. (Some tribes believed that if you ate the body of a dead warrior, you ingested the warrior’s strength.)

The French called the Wichita (and other Caddo) traders Taovayas , or coureurs de bois, meaning “runners of the woods.” Wichita Taovayas acted as go-betweens for the French, trading crops and French tools to the tribes of the West for buffalo robes and furs. The Wichita themselves began to use metal hoes and buckets as well as guns that the French supplied.

In the 1700s the French and Spanish battled for control of the lands in the American Southeast. Their fighting placed the tribes of the region in a complicated position. The tribes kept changing sides as they traded with both the French and Spanish. Meanwhile hostile tribes continually forced the Wichita to move farther south.

In 1747 the French persuaded the Wichita to become allies with the Comanche in a war against the Apache and the Osage (see entry). Even with the help of the Comanche, however, the Wichita could not withstand the Apache. The Wichita retreated farther south and settled at the present-day border of Oklahoma and Texas in the upper Red River Valley.

War continued, with the Apache, Osage, and the Spanish on one side, and the French, Wichita, Caddo, and Comanche (see entry) on the other side. In 1758 the Wichita were punished for their support of the French side—the Spanish attacked the main Wichita community. Supplied with weapons by the French and flying the French flag, however, the Wichita and their allies repelled the Spanish forces. In 1762 the defeated French gave up their lands in the Southeast to Spain. But the Wichita continued to fight the Spanish, carrying out raids against the Spanish settlement of San Antonio, Texas. In 1765 the Wichita captured a Spaniard and held him prisoner. Conflicts continued. In 1772 and again in 1778 the Spanish government attempted to formalize peace with the Wichita, but they were not successful.

Battling continues

The Spanish took over trade in the region, and the Wichita Taovayas no longer controlled the trade with other tribes in the West. In 1803 the United States acquired Wichita land as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. Americans moved there in droves. Like the Caddo, the Wichita were enthusiastic about the American presence at first because the Americans paid more for furs.

Conflicts among the Native tribes, however, continued. The Wichita joined forces with the Caddo and Choctaw (see entry) in the continuing struggle against the Osage. Native populations soon declined from the constant warfare and from white-introduced diseases such as smallpox.

In 1834 U.S. Army Colonel Henry Dodge (1782–1867) intervened in the conflicts and arranged a peace among the Wichita, their allied tribes, and the Osage. The following year,\ the Wichita, the Comanche, the Caddo, and the Choctaw signed their first peace treaty with the U.S. government.

Peace between the Wichita and the United States ended in 1858 with the Battle of the Wichita Village. The Comanche had been carrying out raids against American settlers in Texas at the time. One day, when a peaceful group of Comanche went to visit the Wichita, all were suddenly attacked by U.S. troops. Many were killed, including Wichita women, and the village was completely destroyed. The Wichita lost all their horses, crops, and homes. The Comanche thought the Wichita had been betrayed them, so they later took their revenge by raiding and stealing Wichita horses.

Suffering hardship

Confederate troops forced the Wichita to flee to Kansas during the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery). The site where they settled became the future city of Wichita, Kansas. The tribe suffered greatly during the Civil War years, and many died from starvation and disease. Only 822 people returned to Indian Territory in 1867. In 1872 the Wichita agreed to move to a reservation north of the Washita River in Oklahoma, along with the Caddo and other tribes. The U.S. Congress never officially accepted the agreement, though, so the Wichita never received title to their land.

Peace was nearly shattered one year later after the Osage killed Wichita Chief Isadowa during a buffalo hunt that almost erupted into war. Chief Ches-tedi-lessah succeeded Isadowa, and Tawakoni Jim followed as the next chief.

Struggle for rights

In 1894, 152 chiefs of the Wichita and related tribes signed away their rights to any lands in Indian Territory. The Wichita felt as though they had been forced to sign the agreement, and they protested. They took their case to the U.S. Court of Claims, who found in favor of the Wichita. As a result, 965 Wichita received plots of land called allotments, and the remaining Wichita lands were opened to white settlers in 1901.

In the early twenty-first century the tribe jointly owns about 2,400 acres with the Caddo and Delaware (see entry). Because the tribe is so small, the people have struggled to maintain their culture.

Kichai and Waco Tribes

Several tribes were originally part of the Wichita confederacy and have since been incorporated into the group, which organized in 1961 as the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Among the groups who shared language and many customs are the Kichai and Waco.

The Kichai called themselves Kitsash, meaning “going in wet sand.” The name Kichai translates from the Wichita language as “red shield.” The French called them the “roving nation” because of their nomadic lifestyle.

In 1778 there were two Kichai settlements on the Trinity River in what is modern-day Texas with a total population of about five hundred people. By 1849 this number had dropped to about 300, and by 1950 it had slipped to only 150, 47 of whom were full-blooded.

The Kichai were expert hunters and guides who killed deer, buffalo, antelope, and other plains animals for tools, clothing, and meat.

The name “Waco” may come from the Wichita word for Mexico, wéhiko. The Waco once lived near the Arkansas River in what is now Oklahoma. In modern times they are probably best remembered for giving their name to a town in Texas. In 1824 the Waco numbered about four hundred. In the years after that the total population of the tribe was hard to determine because of their close contact with several neighboring tribes. By 1894 there were thirty-seven Waco, and about sixty in the 1950s.

Like the Wichita, the Waco mainly grew corn, but also hunted buffalo. One of their major rituals was a rain bundle ceremony, which assured the strength of the buffalo herds. They used several other rites to obtain magic from the natural world, such as the “Surround-the-Fire” ceremony, in which four men sat around the fire and took turns singing and smoking the sacred pipe. Though many tribal customs are no longer practiced, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Waco tribal heritage. This new trend has resulted in a project to record songs and traditional stories so that they might be passed on to future generations.

Religion

The Wichita believe that the tribe’s history is circular. Just as the seasons change and day turns to night, so life revolves from one thing to the next. Golden days of plenty turn to darkness, and the Earth is barren. Still the cycle continues, and the world and the people are renewed through the new creation.

Kinnikasus was the great creator of all or Spirit Over All among the Wichita. His name means “Man Never Known on Earth” or “Not Known To Man.” The tribe worshiped many other spirits, including those contained in the Sun, called “Man Reflecting Light”; the Moon, called “Bright Shining Woman”; the Water, called “Woman Forever In The Water”; and many gods, such as Morning Star and the Earth Mother. They also believed in spirits that inhabited objects.

The Wichita believed that animals and other guardian spirits could give tribal members power and knowledge. They believed in an afterlife, a spirit world located in the sky, where those who had died would lead a life of happiness free of the miseries of earthly life

Religious leaders called shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun ) conducted ceremonies and healed those who were ill. Like Caddo shaman, the Wichita shaman perform special rituals that brought him spiritual power to cure the sick or wounded.

In modern times many Wichita are Baptists. Some are practicing members of the Native American Church, formed in Oklahoma in 1918 by John Wilson (c. 1840–1901). This religion combines elements of Christianity with traditional Native beliefs and practices.

Language

Of the many languages in the Caddoan language family, three major languages have survived to the twenty-first century: the Caddo, the Pawnee (see entry), and the Wichita. All the tribes in the Wichita group except the Kichai spoke the same Caddoan language as the Wichita, which is similar to Pawnee. There are few speakers of the Wichita language left, but some those speakers have assisted in the Wichita Documentation project, a program to keep the language alive by recording it on audio tapes.

Wichita Words

  • chi’as … “one”
  • wits … “two”
  • taw ….“three”
  • takwits … “four”
  • iskwi’its … “five”
  • we’its … “man”
  • kahika … “woman”
  • kitsiya … “dog”
  • sakita … “sun”
  • waw ….“moon”
  • gits … “water”
  • wira?a … “bear”
  • wi:yo:h … “cat”
  • k?ita:ks … “coyote”
  • iha:ski:thaw … “monkey”
  • ic?i:s … “spider”
  • ko:s> … “eagle”

Government

The Wichita were part of a larger confederacy of people who spoke the same language and shared many customs and traditions. Each group had its own chief and subchief. Warriors elected the chiefs, whose main job was to handle relations with other groups. The subchief was called “The One Who Locates”; he was responsible for scouting out suitable sites for villages in case a move was necessary.

Chiefs had distinguished themselves in some way, either by bravery, generosity, or through another outstanding trait. They could only make decisions after consulting with everyone in the village.

Once they were on a reservation federal Indian agents controlled the Wichita. U.S. policies changed in the twentieth century, and tribes were allowed to form new governments. The Wichita did so in 1961. The tribe is governed by the Wichita Tribal Council, which empowers the elected executive committee made up of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and three members. Tribal offices are near Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Economy

The Wichita economy was based on agriculture, mostly corn, which they grew and traded to other tribes. The tribe depended less on hunting buffalo and trading buffalo robes than other Great Plains tribes did.

In the early twenty-first century most tribal income is derived from leasing farmland, buildings, and mining rights to non-Native Americans through WCD Enterprises, a business the Wichita own with the Caddo and Delaware tribes. WCD Enterprises also oversees the tribe’s land acquisition program and their industrial park. Andarko Industries, a tribally owned technology business, designs and constructs computer network systems. Some tribe members work in the tribal government, at the Riverside Indian School, and at the Anadarko Indian Health Center. The Wichita are also working with a Nevada company to build a casino near Hinton, Oklahoma.

Daily life

Families

Wichita daughters lived with their mothers after they were married. Most families consisted of the parents, their young unmarried children, and their married daughters along with the daughters’ husbands and children. The Wichita had a complicated family organization in which some aunts and uncles were regarded as extra fathers and mothers, and some cousins were regarded as brothers and sisters. A woman’s many sisters helped her with her household tasks, while a man’s many brothers often accompanied him on hunting or warring expeditions.

Education

Children learned through the example of their parents and relatives. Mothers had the primary responsibility for teaching both boys and girls until they were about ten years old. Punishment was rare, but if a mother felt she could not handle her child’s misbehavior she might turn the job over to a relative, who was free to choose any type of punishment. Once she had asked for such assistance, the mother gave up any right to interfere. Usually only one such request for outside punishment was necessary, and the child behaved from then on.

When a boy reached age ten his father took over his education and taught him to hunt and raid. In modern times most Wichita children attend public schools in Oklahoma. Some attend a boarding school on the Riverside Reserve.

Coyote and Never Grows Bigger

Many tales told by the elders were intended to teach children a lesson. In this one Coyote learns not to underestimate someone smaller than he is.

One time Coyote met a very small snake called Never Grows Bigger.

“What a ridiculous thing you are,” said Coyote. “Who would ever want to be as small as you are? Why are you this small anyway? You ought to be big like me. You can’t do anything if you’re that small. There must be something wrong with you.”

The snake didn’t say anything.

“Let me see your teeth,” said Coyote.

The snake opened his mouth. Then Coyote opened his mouth and pointed at his teeth. “See? Look at these teeth of mine. What would happen if we bit each other? Your teeth are too small to hurt anyone, but I could bite you in half. Let’s bite each other and you’ll see what I mean.”

So they bit each other and then Coyote said, “Let’s move back a little and call out to each other.” Coyote knew that he could tell by the way the snake called out how quickly he was dying. The snake gave a cry and then Coyote called out. Each time the snake called his voice was weaker. Coyote went off a little ways, lay down, and got ready to take a nap. Coyote was still calling out but he could hardly hear the snake. “It’s no good to be that small,” Coyote thought. “Now he knows.”

Soon Coyote noticed that the place where the snake had bitten him was beginning to swell up. The swelling got bad very quickly and Coyote got very weak. He could hardly call out now and he was beginning to feel very dizzy and ill.

By this time the snake’s wound had begun to heal. His voice got stronger. Coyote’s calls grew weaker and weaker until finally there was no sound out of him anymore. Never Grows Bigger went over to where Coyote was laying down and saw he was dead. “This animal never learns,” said Never Grows Bigger. He went away and left Coyote out there on the prairie all blown up like a buffalo bladder from that bite.

Penn, W. S. ed. The Telling of the World: Native American Stories and Art. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1996.

Buildings

The Wichita were famous for their sturdy and unusual grass houses. They built them in villages overlooking rivers, and some villages contained as many as one thousand. The houses were 15 to 30 feet (4.5 to 9 meters) in diameter, were shaped like cones, and were peaked at the top to symbolize the gods of the four quarters of the world. To make these complicated structures, the Wichita covered forked cedar poles with dry grass and carried out a ceremony during the building process. By the 1930s, however, most Wichita were living in frame houses.

Inside were eight to ten sleeping platforms surrounded by buffalo hide curtains, a central fire that vented through a hole in the roof, and a hollowed-out tree trunk for grinding corn.

Near the grass houses the Wichita built arbors, which were open-sided grass structures set on raised platforms. They used these arbors for resting in the heat of the summer. They built other arbors to store food, and laid meat and corn on the roofs to dry. Smaller thatched huts set on platforms held the village’s unmarried girls, who were carefully guarded.

Food

The Wichita relied on farm products more than meat, even after horses made hunting more efficient. When they did hunt they sought out buffalo, deer, antelope, bear, and other wild game. They grew corn, beans, melons, tobacco, pumpkins, squash, gourds, and plums. They also gathered fruits and nuts. Although they lived near rivers the Wichita did not eat fish.

After the harvest had been gathered in the fall women roasted and dried corn and pumpkin. They ground some of the corn into cornmeal and wove some of the dried pumpkin strips into mats that they traded with the Comanche and Kiowa (see entry) for buffalo meat. They wrapped their dried food in buffalo-hide bags and stored it in underground pits. These caches provided food throughout the winter and during times when food was scarce.

Clothing and adornment

French traders used the name Pani Piqué for the Wichita, which means “Tattooed Pawnee,” or “punctured” or “pricked” because their faces and bodies were tattooed with sharp instruments. Both men and women wore intricate tattoos consisting of dotted and solid lines and circles on their faces and bodies. Both men and women had tattoos around their eyes, with either a horizontal line branching from the outside corner of each eye (men) or a line from the bridge of the nose to the upper lip and a chin line tattoo from ear to ear (women). Because of this style, they were often referred to as the “raccoon-eyed people.” Women also had tattoos on their necks, arms, and breasts.

Some decorated the backs of their hands with claw-like designs. Boys earned these tattoos after killing their first birds. Other marks were earned as war honors. Men also hung ornaments from four piercings in their ears.

The Wichita were unlike other Plains Indians in that they were shorter, stockier, and had darker skin. In summer they wore scanty clothing, perhaps only loincloths (flaps of material that hung from the waist and covered the front and back) and moccasins. In colder weather the men added leggings, robes, and shirts. Women wore skirts of buckskin or buffalo hide, usually decorated with ornaments.

Customs

Life passage rituals

The Wichita had a rich ceremonial life. They had secret societies for both men and women. Each society had its own special ceremonies and dances, such as the singing of songs before a war party set out and when it returned. They observed rituals for childbirth, puberty, marriage, death, and home building.

Marriage, birth, and naming

Marriages were often arranged by relatives, though sometimes marriages were made by mutual consent of the couple. The groom and his family gave gifts to the bride’s family and held a feast, but there was no formal ceremony. The couple moved in with the girls’s parents, and the man did chores and hunted for his new family. Married couples usually had only one spouse.

Names were chosen for the baby before it was born. These names were usually based on dreams. During childbirth the mother stayed in a tepee away from the lodge. A husbands could not see his wife for four days after their baby was born.

Social ceremonies

The Wichita were fond of dances and held them to mark many occasions. For instance, the entire tribe observed the Deer Dance three times a year—first to celebrate the coming of spring vegetation, then to mark the growth of the plants, and finally to commemorate the harvest of corn. The dance included ritual vomiting and a ceremonial foot race. It was designed to purge the tribe of evil influences and to encourage health, long life, and prosperity.

A more recent tradition is the annual summer visitation between the Pawnee and Wichita. The tribes take turns hosting the two-week event, which consists of a ceremonial gift exchange, stories, and songs along with an opportunity to renew ties and friendships.

War rituals

War was the way a man gained importance in the tribe. Wichita warriors who wished to lead a war party had to convince others to follow them. Although war parties tended to be small, a warrior who was known for his ability—who had counted more coup (pronounced COO )—was likely to have more followers than one who was unproven. A coup, touching an enemy’s body without causing injury, was a feat of bravery. After warriors returned from a successful raid there was much singing, dancing, and feasting. Back home war leaders resumed their usual position of esteemed warrior; they were no longer in charge, but were equal to all other warriors.

Death and burial

The Wichita buried their dead in shallow graves with the things they would need in the afterlife. Men were buried with weapons and tools; women were buried with domestic tools. When a loved one died, mourners cut their hair and gave away some of their possessions.

Current tribal issues

In 1872 the Wichita reservation contained 743,000 acres of land. Soon, however, government policies reduced the tribe’s landholdings to tec acres. Individual members, including those of the Caddo and Delaware tribes, owned a total of 2,400 acres. The Wichita have been actively acquiring land. Although most of the land is individually owned, they had increased their holdings to 55,199 acres in 2004.

At the start of the twenty-first century the tribe’s main concerns were water quality and illegal dumping. To deal with these environmental issues, the Wichita have been pursuing funding to assist in the cleanups.

Dolan, Edward. The American Indian Wars. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2003.

Fowler, Loretta. The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Great Plains. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

La Vere, David. The Texas Indians. Austin: Texas A&M University Press, 2004.

Miles, Ray. “Wichita.” Native America in the Twentieth Century, An Encyclopedia. Ed. Mary B. Davis. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny. New York: Clarion Books, 2006.

Smith, F. Todd. From Dominance to Disappearance: The Indians of Texas and the Near Southwest, 1786–1859. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Brush, Rebecca. “The Wichita Indians.” Texas Indians. (accessed on September 9, 2007).

Official Site of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. (accessed on September 9, 2007).

“Wichita> Program for the Documentation of Endangered Languages.” University of Colorado at Boulder. (accessed on September 9, 2007).

“Wichita Indian Language (Witchita).” Native Languages of the Americas: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on September 9, 2007).

Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska

Laurie Edwards

Brian Wescott (Athabaskan/Yup’ik)

Laurie Edwards

Amanda Beresford McCarthy

Laurie Edwards

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