Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Delaware, Eastern

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


White explorers and settlers named the confederation of Algonquian-speaking American Indians that occupied the Delaware River Valley and adjacent areas of the northeastern United States. The Delaware call themselves the Lenape, or "The People." Other Woodland tribes called them "the Grandfathers," out of respect for their political role as mediators and peacemakers and in the belief that they were the parent tribe of other Algonquian peoples.

The earliest recorded contact with Europeans took place in 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into New York harbor. In 1683 William Penn bought land from the Delaware and signed a peace treaty establishing the province of Pennsylvania. Fifty years later, in 1737 Pennsylvania officials swindled the Delaware out of most of their remaining homeland with the notorious Walking Purchase. The displaced, dispersed Delaware signed the first Indian treaty with the newly formed United States government on September 17, 1778. Their migration forced in response to white encroachment and numerous treaties, for the next few decades the Delaware drifted west from their original homeland, settling briefly in western Pennsylvania, and later in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas.

Delaware life changed as they moved west. Hunting, trapping, and agriculture remained central activities, but fishing became nearly nonexistent. The people developed the practice of domesticating animals. Men became guides, scouts, and interpreters for the U.S. Army and participated in nineteenth-century American exploration expeditions such as that of John C. Frémont to the Pacific Coast and Randolph B. Marcy through Oklahoma.

The main body of dispersed bands, living in Kansas at the time, bought land in northeast Oklahoma from the Cherokee in an 1867 treaty. These Delaware, which the federal government termed Registered Delaware because they lived in Indian Territory, became partial members of the Cherokee tribe and had limited autonomy. In 1979 the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated the separate tribal status of the Delaware and Shawnee living among the Cherokee in eastern Oklahoma. The Registered Delaware petitioned the U.S. government to become an independent, federally recognized tribe. Eventually, on September 23, 1996, the Registered Delaware became the "Delaware Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma" when the Bureau of Indian Affairs reinstated their independent tribal status. That ruling was subsequently challenged by the Cherokee Nation and overturned by a federal appeals court in November 2004.

Membership in the Eastern Delaware is predicated upon one's ability to trace ancestry to Indian Territory and the 1906 Delaware Roll. Approximately ten thousand tribal members live in Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Delaware counties. Tribal headquarters is located in Bartlesville. The tribe's cultural preservation committee focuses on language retention, music, and dance. Economic activities include a tribal gift shop.

Helen M. Stiefmiller


Ives Goddard, "Delaware," in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978).

Hubert C. Kraft, ed., A Delaware Indian Symposium, Anthropological Series Number 4 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1974).

Rennard Strickland, The Indians of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indians: A History (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1972).

C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indian Westward Migration (Wallingford, Pa.: Middle Atlantic Press, 1978).

Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).

Browse By Topic

American Indians


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Helen M. Stiefmiller, “Delaware, Eastern,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=DE011.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.