Ancestors of the Wichita and their allies, the Tawakoni and Waco, have resided on the southern plains since precontact times. The Southern Plains Village archaeological tradition was well established by A.D. 800, and the villages of these early horticulturalists and hunters were located from south central Kansas to northern Texas throughout the historic period. During the eighteenth century the Kichai, once a member of the Caddoan Confederacy, joined the allied tribes who were assigned to a reservation in Indian Territory in 1859. The Wichita remained in their ancestral homeland. Contemporary Wichita, Tawakoni, Waco, and Kichai are organized as the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, a federally recognized tribe with headquarters at Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Wichita villages were among those contacted by Coronado's 1541 expedition to find the fabled Quivira, thought to be in present Kansas. In 1601 Juan de Oñate's expedition from New Mexico through north-central Oklahoma provided accounts of large complexes of grass lodge villages, a dual bison-hunting and horticulture economy, and ample fields of maize, beans, and gourds. The ancestors of the Wichita and their allies had acquired guns and horses by 1719 when Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe and Claude Du Tisné established trading posts in the villages along the Arkansas River in present Oklahoma. Lured by French trade goods and harried by enemy Osages, the Wichita moved south to the Red River, where they occupied fortified villages and, through their alliance with the Comanche, served as middlemen in the trade between the French and the Spanish in New Mexico.
Control of the Wichita homeland passed from France to the United States in 1803, and in 1830 Indian Territory was established as a colonization zone for tribes removed from the southeastern United States. Although the Wichita claimed village sites and hunting grounds in the region, the federal government recognized the authority of the Osage and Quapaw to cede land south of the Arkansas River for the settlement of the Five Tribes. In order to establish peace among the immigrant tribes and the tribes who ranged the southern plains, the United States entered into a treaty with "the Comanche and the Wichetaw Indians and their associated Bands" in 1835.
The Wichita remained north of the Red River throughout much of the nineteenth century, despite frequent forays south to the Mexican border and visitations to Tawakoni and Waco, who had been assigned in 1855 to the Brazos River Reservation in Texas. With the objective of settling southern plains tribes in Indian Territory, the federal government leased lands, between the 98th and 100th Meridians and the Canadian River and Red River, from the Choctaw and the Chickasaw. When the Wichita were assigned to a reservation in 1859 in the Leased District, they were joined by some of the Delaware, Caddo, Tawakoni, Waco, and two Comanche bands that had been exiled from Texas reserves.
The Wichita settled in the Washita Valley and established fields, gardens, and villages. When the Civil War began, representatives of the Wichita signed a pact, later repudiated by the tribe, with the Confederacy. Many residents of the reservation took refuge in Kansas and returned, following the war, to their homes in Indian Territory in 1867. As they made the long journey south, portions of the 1859 reserve claimed by the Wichita were assigned under the Treaty of Medicine Lodge to the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache and to the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
The Wichita protested the purchase, cession, and assignment of lands to which they had prior claim. In 1872 the federal government recognized the Washita and Canadian Rivers and the 98th Meridian and 98˚40´ as reservation boundaries. The boundaries remained unresolved, however, since the agreement was never ratified by Congress, and the Wichita and their allies claimed their representatives had no authority to make an agreement.
The first agent assigned to the Wichita and Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservations was Lawrie Tatum, who was a Quaker. A separate subagency for the Wichita and Affiliated Bands was established in 1869, and in 1880 the agencies were consolidated in Anadarko. During the reservation era the Wichita tribe numbered under three hundred and was the largest of the affiliated tribes. The Wichita population had declined dramatically since contact, due primarily to epidemics of European diseases. Early historic accounts describe the Wichita and their allies as numbering from fifteen thousand to thirty-three thousand and as occupying villages of two thousand or more.
Agents' reports and correspondence suggests that during the early years of the reservation the traditional economy and political organization of the tribes was essentially maintained. In late fall and early winter they left their villages for the buffalo hunt and returned in early spring to plant and tend crops. The women continued to perform horticultural tasks, planting gardens and cultivating the communal fields plowed by the agency. They found markets for surplus produce at the agency, Fort Sill, and through trading partnerships developed with Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache women. The men hunted, and the women processed buffalo meat, hides, and robes for household use and for trade. By 1880 the buffalo had disappeared, and the Wichita no longer had robes to trade. Plagued by drought and insufficient seed and farm implements, they became more dependent on agency issue of cattle, limited wage labor opportunities, and the freighting of supplies.
Although discouraged by the agency, the Wichita had maintained highly valued pony herds, and after 1880 families began to acquire cattle and hogs. Men also began to cultivate tracts of land, and the people then established a more disbursed extended family settlement pattern, marking the breakup of village life. The Wichita continued to maintain the ideal of their traditional matrilineal descent system and the practice of matrilocal residence, which emphasized the solidarity of maternal kin. Thus, the extended family household was often composed of women of a lineage, their husbands, their minor children, and their unmarried sons and brothers.
As they had in centuries past, the Wichita adapted older cultural patterns to their changing world. What later became known as Riverside Indian School was opened at the Wichita agency in 1871, and by the turn of the century missions and missionary schools were well established on the reservation. Many Wichita adopted Christianity while maintaining elements of their traditional cosmology. Ceremonies associated with warfare and the hunt declined, while others associated with the celebration of Wichita life ways persisted. Although reservation policies discouraged customary marriage and divorce, the activities of medicine men, and dances and ceremonies, including the ghost dance practiced in 1891–92, continued into the early twentieth century.
During the reservation years the Wichita Proper, the Tawakoni, the Waco, and the Kichai were designated as the Wichita and Affiliated Bands. The tribes, however, maintained their separate identities, and the agency distinguished among them for purposes of distributing rations and annuities and compiling census records. Each was also represented by a chief and by headmen in council proceedings and in negotiations related to the leasing, allotment, and cession of reservation land. The Wichita Proper were organized under two chiefs, and the tribe maintained original sovereign powers of self-government with jurisdiction over tribal members and internal affairs. The settlement of disputes followed customary law, and the agency recognized both the precedence of tribal customary law and the legitimate authority of tribal leaders to govern and to enter into agreements on behalf of the tribe.
One of the objectives of the 1887 General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) was the dissolution of the tribal land base and of tribal organization. The legislation included provisions for the allotment of 160 acres to individual Indians and the opening of unallotted or "surplus" reservation land to white settlement. The tribes of the Wichita Reservation hired legal counsel to establish title to the reservation defined by the unratified 1872 agreement and to pursue their claims to lands reserved to them in 1859, which included land west to the 100th Meridian. The Chickasaws and Choctaws also claimed title to surplus lands in the former Leased District, and the pending suit and Wichita resistance to allotment delayed the opening of the reservation until 1901.
In 1891 the Wichita and Affiliated Bands, the Caddos, and the Delawares negotiated an allotment and land cession agreement with the Jerome (Cherokee) Commission. The commission rejected the tribes' proposals that they continue to hold a portion of the reservation in common and that they receive increased allotments, because their land was more suited to grazing than to farming, and 160 acres was not sufficient for self-support. The tribes refused the offer of fifty cents an acre for surplus lands, and the final agreement provided that Congress would determine the amount of payment.
The agreement was ratified in 1895, but not until 1901 did the Supreme Court deny the claim of the Chickasaw and Choctaw and award title to disputed lands to the tribes of the Wichita Reservation. Within months, reservation lands were surveyed and allotted. The reservation was overrun by "sooners," who anticipated the opening of the reservation by the land run and were eager to identify the choicest quarter sections. On July 4, 1901, Pres. William McKinley issued a proclamation opening both the Wichita and the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservations by lottery, and homeseekers began the process of registering for the drawing. Nine hundred fifty-seven allotments, totaling 152,714 acres, had been made on the Wichita Reservation and 586,468 acres declared "surplus" land. Anglo-Americans claimed homesteads or settled as tenants on Wichita allotments, and the former Wichita Reservation was annexed to Oklahoma Territory, which prepared for statehood.
In the twentieth century Wichita life has been shaped by tribe membership, United States citizenship, and their residence in rural western Oklahoma. In 2002 the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes had an enrolled membership of 2,150, and more than half lived in Oklahoma and were concentrated in the Anadarko area. An elected seven-member Wichita Executive Committee governs and administers federal and tribal programs that include economic development, environmental preservation, education, housing and health services, and language and culture preservation programs. The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, who call themselves Kitikiti'sh or "eminent ones," have continued to pursue land claims, including Texas land claims for which they have been reimbursed.
Robert E. Bell, Edward B. Jelks, and W. W. Newcomb, Jr., eds., Wichita Indian Archaeology and Ethnology (New York: Garland Publishing, 1974).
Berlin B. Chapman, "Dissolution of the Wichita Reservation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 22 (Part I, Summer 1944; Part II, Fall 1944).
Berlin B. Chapman, "Establishment of the Wichita Reservation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 11 (December 1933).
George A. Dorsey, The Mythology of the Wichita (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).
Richard R. Drass, "The Southern Plains Villagers," in Archaeology on the Great Plains, ed. W. Raymond Wood (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998).
Stan Hoig, "War for Survival: The Wichita Indians During the Civil War," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 62 (Fall 1984).
Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1796 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975).
Carolyn Garrett Pool, "The Process of Dependency: An Ethnohistorical Study of the Political Economy of the Wichita Reservation, 1867–1901" (Ph.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1987).
K. Schmitt and I. A. Schmitt, Wichita Kinship, Past and Present (Norman: University Book Exchange, University of Oklahoma, 1952).
F. Todd Smith, The Wichita Indians, Traders of Texas and the Southern Plain, 1540–1845 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000).
Lawrie Tatum, Our Red Brothers and the Peace Policy of President Ulysses S. Grant (1899; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carolyn Garrett Pool, “Wichita,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WI001.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.