Kickapoo Indian Tribe of Kansas

Published on October 23, 2010 by John

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Grupo Kikapú_en Coahuila Méxic

Kickapoo people building a Winter House
in the town of Nacimiento Coahuila,
México, 2008

The tribal name Kickapoo, pronounced KICK-a-poo, possibly is derived from Kiikaapoa, the meaning of which is unknown, or Kiwegapaw, meaning, “he moves about, standing now here, now there”. The latter interpretation is appropriate because throughout history the Kickapoo have lived in a number of different locations.

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The Kickapoo originally were a western Great Lakes people, closely related to the SAC and MESKWAKI (FOX), fellow ALGONQUIANS. When white missionaries and traders first made contact with them, all three tribes lived in what now is Wisconsin. The French Jesuit priest Claude Jean Allouez claimed that in the late 1600s, the Kickapoo lived between the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers. Yet all three tribes might have previously lived on the other side of Lake Michigan in present-day Michigan. But as is the case with most tribes, ancient locations and migration routes are uncertain.

Tribal legends, passed on through the spoken word, provide only a certain amount of information. Explorers’ written records sometimes are unreliable because early mapmaking techniques were inexact and because different explorers used different names for the same tribes.

In any case, the Kickapoo did not stay in Wisconsin. About a century after Allouez’s visit, they joined with many of the neighboring tribes—Sac, Meskwaki, CHIPPEWA (OJIBWAY), OTTAWA, and POTAWATOMI—to defeat the ILLINOIS to the south and divide their territory. This happened after the Kickapoo had joined Pontiac in his rebellion of 1763. During this period, most Kickapoo migrated to the Illinois River in present-day Illinois. The tribe eventually split in two. Some among them headed a little farther southward to the Sangamon River. This western group, the Prairie band, hunted buffalo. Other Kickapoo headed eastward toward the Vermilion branch of the Wabash River, now part of the border between Illinois and Indiana. The Vermilion band hunted the animals of the forest. Because of this split, Kickapoo can be referred to as either Prairie Algonquians or Woodland Algonquians

The Kickapoo lived in this part of the Old Northwest into the 1800s. When non-Indian settlers began arriving in increasing numbers, the Kickapoo made several stands against them, in Little Turtle’s War of 1790–94 and Tecumseh’s Rebellion of 1809–11, involving MIAMI, SHAWNEE, and other area tribes. However, these conflicts only delayed American expansion. By 1819, the Kickapoo were being harassed by settlers and land agents working for the federal government, and some of their chiefs signed away all their lands in Illinois.

Two Kickapoo leaders, Mecina and Kennekuk, and their followers held out longer than other bands. Mecina’s followers used sabotage, destroying and stealing white property, to resist forced relocation. Kennekuk (or Kanakuk)—also known as Kickapoo Prophet because he was a medicine man as well as a chief—used passive resistance to stall government officials for years. He came up with one excuse after another for not relocating:

There was no food; his people were sick; he had seen evil omens. But finally, after more troops had entered the region because of the Black Hawk War of 1832, involving the Sac and Meskwaki, the remaining Kickapoo departed for Missouri.

Missouri proved only a temporary home. The Kickapoo pushed westward across the Missouri River into Kansas, which at that time was the northern part of the Indian Territory. Some Kickapoo settled there permanently, and their descendants hold the rights to a reservation in the northeastern part of the state, incorporated as the Kickapoo Tribe of Indians.But other Kickapoo moved on in search of a new homeland. One group moved to the Indian Territory in 1873, where they were granted a reservation along the North Canadian River. Their descendants are known as the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. Other Kickapoo, starting in 1839 with more joining them over the years, lived in both Texas and across the Rio Grande in Mexico, becoming known as the Mexican Kickapoo. This branch of the tribe staged an uprising during and after the American Civil War. The outbreak came when different groups of Kickapoo migrants from Kansas, traveling through Texas on their way to join their southern relatives, were attacked—at Little Concho River in 1862 by a Confederate battalion and at Dove Creek in 1865 by the Texas Rangers. The Mexican Kickapoo retaliated with attacks on Texas border settlements. In 1873, the federal government sent in Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and his Fourth Cavalry, veteran Indian fighters from a campaign against the COMANCHE. Government troops illegally crossed the international border and destroyed the main Kickapoo village at Nacimiento on the Remolino River. They also led women and children hostages back to the Indian Territory. During negotiations, many of the Mexican Kickapoo agreed to resettle in the Indian Territory to be with their families, more of whom joined them from Kansas. Their descendants still live in what now is the state of Oklahoma, federally recognized as the Texas Band of Kickapoo. Other Texas/Mexican Kickapoo maintain a village near Eagle Pass, Texas, and at Nacimiento, Mexico, holding dual citizenship. The Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma and the Eagle Pass Kickapoo both operate casinos, which has helped
their economy.

Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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