Quapaw Indian Tribe of Oklahoma

Published on October 26, 2010 by John

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Quapaws moccasins 1900

Quapaws moccasins, ca. 1900,
Oklahoma History Center

Quapaw, pronounced KWAW-paw, comes from the Siouan word ugakhpa, meaning “downstream people”. This translation helps place the tribe geographically: The Quapaw lived most of their history along the west side of the lower Mississippi, south of other Siouan-speaking Indians.

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The Quapaw also were called the Arkansas (also spelled Arkansa or Arkansea) by ALGONQUIANS and the French. It is from this latter version of their name that the name of the river and state is taken. The ansas part of the word is Siouan for “people of the south wind”, as found in the tribal name Kansa (see KAW). The ark part is taken from the French word arc for “bow” The territory of the Quapaw (and OSAGE) is famous for the wood of a kind of mulberry tree, called Osage orange, prized for making bows. The name of the Ozark Mountains is an Americanization of the French phrase aux arcs, meaning “at the place of bows”. The Quapaw are thought to have once lived in the Ohio Valley with their Siouan kinsmen, the Kaw, OMAHA, Osage, and PONCA. But they eventually migrated westward, descending the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River, territory now in southeastern Arkansas. Their kinspeople settled to the north of them. The Quapaw lived in palisaded villages of bark-covered, rectangular houses with domed roofs; they also covered their houses with woven mats, hides, and grass. The Quapaw were highly skilled farmers. They built mounds to hold both temples and graves and they made exquisite pottery.

Sometimes Indians living along the Mississippi and possessing cultural elements of tribes from both the woodlands to the east and the Great Plains to the west are referred to as PRAIRIE INDIANS, after the tall grass prairies of the region. The Quapaw usually are classified as part of the Great Plains Culture Area, however. The horse, brought to North America by the Spanish, reached them in the early 1700s. From that time on, the Quapaw lived much like other PLAINS INDIANS, hunting herds of buffalo on horseback. They lived just across the Mississippi River from tribes considered part of the Southeast Culture Area, such as the CHICKASAW and TUNICA, with whom they traded and exchanged ideas (see SOUTHEAST INDIANS). The Quapaw had early contacts with French explorers, including Jacques Marquette in 1673, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1682, and Henri Tonti in 1686. They became allies of the French, who, in the 1700s, traveled the Mississippi between Quebec and Louisiana in order to trade.

The Quapaw, despite trade contacts with the French, avoided taking up arms in most of the clashes among the three European powers in North America—France, England, and Spain—over the Mississippi region. Yet starting in the mid-1700s, intertribal conflict over the fur trade plus the hardship resulting from contact with non-Indians from disease and alcohol, led Quapaw families to leave the Mississippi valley and move closer to the Arkansas River on the south side. In 1818 and 1824, with the great influx of American settlers from the east, the Quapaw were pressured into signing away all their lands. In 1824, they agreed to live in Texas on the south side of the Red River among the Caddo. But because the Red River overflowed, destroying their crops, and because there was much illness among them, the Quapaw were unhappy in their new homeland and drifted back to the Arkansas River region.In 1833, when non-Indian settlers complained about their presence in Arkansas, the federal government forced the Quapaw to relocate within the Indian Territory among the Osage. Then in 1867, soon after the northern part of the Indian Territory became the state of Kansas, the tribe again had to sign away their land in southeastern Kansas. They were allowed to keep only a small portion in what is now the northeastern portion of Oklahoma, where they still hold lands in trust.

Fortunately, the tribe has been able to make the most of its limited land holdings. In 1905, lead and zinc deposits were discovered on Quapaw parcels, which, despite early attempts by mining interests to defraud individuals with allotted pieces, have provided decent incomes for tribal members. The pollution of Quapaw lands by the mining companies, however, is now one of the challenges facing the tribe. The tribe sponsors an annual intertribal powwow near Miami, Oklahoma.


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