Saturday, November 7, 2009

People of the South Wind - the Kansa

The state of Kansas takes its name from the Kansa people, the People of the South Wind. The Kansas River, is also known as the Kaw - also a pronunciation of the name of the original owners of the Flint Hills. William Least Heat Moon lists 140 different spellings of the Kansa name in his book "PrairyErth". Kansas, Kansa, Konza, Kaw all refer to the People of the South Wind.

"The (Konza) band before us were all finely formed men; for with the exception of the Osage Indians of the Arkansaw, they are considered the most noble of the tribes which yet roam within the neighborhood of the settlements."

"The Konzas had a proud, noble air, and their white blankets as they hung in loose and graceful folds around them, had the effect of classic drapery." John Treat Irving, traveler (1833)

"In the evening the principal Kanzas chief paid us a visit in our tent. He is a young man about twenty five years of age, straight as a poplar and with a noble countenance and bearing. ...Our chief is a very lively, laughing, and rather playful personage ...perhaps he may put on his dignity, like a glove, when it suits him." John Kirk Townsend, touring physician and naturalist (1834)

"The Kansa were quite tall and very well shaped. Their physiognomy...was quite virile. Their abrupt, guttural language was remarkable for its long and sharp accentuation of inflection.

To their strength, shrewdness, and courage, they added good common sense. Among their chiefs were some men of true distinction. The best-known of them... was White Plume." Nicolas Point, traveler and Jesuit missionary (1840)

"I believe my people will soon be impoverished. This I do not want to see. This is the darkest period in our history. The whites have made attempts to buy my lands, but I have never yet asserted that I wished to sell my lands." Chief Ahlegawaho (1871)

"...The government forcing several land-cession treaties onto the Kansa over the years when they were still on their ancestral grounds up along the Kaw River. First, Congress made them cede twenty million acres - that's the size of South Carolina - in return for two million acres and annuities from the sale of their lands. Then, in a later treaty, the government took that reservation away and handed them roughly a quarter of a million acres here along the Neosho, and then reduced that to the Diminished Reserve before finally forcing them into Oklahoma, where the Kansa had to buy land from the Osage." Joe Hickey, anthropologist (1991)

"We have not seen the dusky forms of the noble red man of the Kaw persuasion about our streets in the last two or three days. Doubtless those sweet-scented ones that were encamped near here have gone back to their reservation. When we consider how efficient they were in "gobbling up" the putrescent animal and vegetable matter about the city, we almost regret their departure." (Topeka) Daily Kansas State Record (June, 1868)

all quotes from the book "PrairyErth" by William Least Heat Moon copyright 1991

The Kansa ancestral lands include the property where I now live. I sometimes think the melancholy that wells up in my heart, the ache that arises from the thrumming of those high lonesome winds, is the memory of those who lived here first. Maybe the Kansa are recalling the beauty and abundance of the Flint Hills before Indian and land alike had fallen to starvation and disease and the greed, Christianity and government of the white man. Perhaps they are reminding me to love this land while I have the chance.

As I was writing this tonight, a white streak of light appeared right out of the east window. Before that happened, I was thinking of going out into the night to say prayers in memory of the Kansa. Now I am afraid of ghosts. Patti is likely laughing at me, wherever in this universe she is, but I am still not brave enough to face ghosts the way she was. I will wait until daylight.

Reading current reader comments posted to daily on-line articles published in the Topeka Capital Journal, I see that the mean, ignorant spirit of the goodly citizens of Topeka has not changed at all since 1868.

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