The Quapaw people

Published on December 13, 2012 by Amy

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The Quapaw Indians
The Quapaw Indians

The Quapaw people are a tribe of Native Americans who historically resided on the west side of the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Arkansas. They are federally recognized as the Quapaw Tribe of Indians.

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The Quapaw Tribe of Indians are headquartered in Quapaw in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, where there is a 13,000-acre (53 km2) Quapaw tribal jurisdictional area, which includes the Tar Creek Superfund site. John L. Berrey is their tribal chairman, currently serving a two-year term. Of the 3,240 enrolled tribal members, 892 live in the state of Oklahoma. Membership to the tribe is based on lineal descent.

Economic development

The tribe owns a smoke shop and a motor fuel outlet. They also own and run a Fire Department that handles both fire and EMS calls, and a Tribal Police Department. They issue their own tribal vehicle tags and have their own housing authority. In 2007, their economic impact was $5,092,713. They have two casinos, the Quapaw Casino and the Downstream Casino Resort, both located in Quapaw.


The Quapaw language belongs to the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan language family. Although it is not commonly spoken, Quapaw is documented in fieldnotes from 19th-century linguist James Owen Dorsey, and, in the 1970s, by linguist Robert Rankin. Classes in the Quapaw language are taught at the tribal museum.

Other efforts at language preservation and revitalization are undertaken such as the Dhegiha Gathering in 2011. The Osage Language program hosted and organized the gathering which was located at the Quapaw tribe’s Downstream Casino. Language learning techniques and other important points of interest were discussed at the conference between the five cognate tribes.


The Quapaw tribe (known as Ugahxpa in their own language) are believed to have migrated from the Ohio River valley after 1200 CE as a result of wars with invading Iroquois from the north. They moved to their historical territory, the area of the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, by the mid-17th century. The state of Arkansas was named after the Quapaw, who were called Akansea or Akansa, meaning “land of the downriver people”, by other Native Americans. This exonym was adopted by the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet and others following. During years of colonial rule of New France, many of the French traders and voyageurs had an amicable relationship with the Quapaw, as with many other tribes. Many Quapaw women and French men married and had children together. Pine Bluff, Arkansas was founded by Joseph Bonne, a man of half-Quapaw and half-French ancestry.

French colonists were important in the history of South Arkansas, as it was first part of New France. Écore Fabre (Fabre’s Bluff) was started as a trading post by the Frenchman Fabre and was one of the first European settlements in South Central Arkansas. Later it was renamed Camden, after increased American settlement following the Louisiana Purchase. Chemin Couvert (French for “covered way or road”) was later mispronounced “Smackover” by Anglo-Americans. They used this name for a local creek. Founded by the French, Le Petit Rocher became Little Rock after it passed into United States control following the Louisiana Purchase.

There were numerous variations in accounts of tribal names. Some sources listed Ouachita as a Choctaw word, whereas others list it as a Quapaw word. Either way, the word spelling reflects transliteration into French.

The following passage is taken from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, written early in the 20th century. It describes the Quapaw from the non-native perspective of that time.

Early European contact

The Quapaw, under the name of Capaha or Pacaha, first encountered Europeans in 1541, when they met the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. He led an expedition that came across their chief town, between the Mississippi River and a lake on the Arkansas (west) side, apparently in present-day Phillips County. His party describe the village as strongly palisaded and nearly surrounded by a ditch. archaeological remains and local conditions bear out the description.

The first encounter was reported as hostile, but the parties arranged peace. The town was described as having a population of several thousand. They were free of interference by Europeans for more than 130 years. In 1673, the Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, accompanied the French commander Louis Jolliet in making his famous voyage down the Mississippi. He reportedly went to the villages of the Akansea, who gave him warm welcome and listened with attention to his sermons, while he stayed with them a few days. In 1682 La Salle passed by their villages, then five in number, of which one was on the east bank of the Mississippi. The Recollect father, Zenobius Membré, accompanying La Salle, planted a cross and attempted to give the American Indians some idea of the Christian’s God. The commander negotiated a peace with the tribe and took formal possession of the territory for France. Then, as always, the Quapaw were uniformly kind and friendly toward the French. In spite of frequent shiftings, the Quapaw villages in this early period were generally reported as four in number. They corresponded in name and population to four sub-tribes still existing, viz. Ugahpahti, Uzutiuhi, Tiwadimañ, and Tañwañzhita, or, under their French forms, Kappa, Ossoteoue, Touriman, and Tonginga.

In 1683 the French commander, Tonti, built a post on the Arkansas, near its mouth and the later Arkansas Post. This began European occupation of the Quapaw country. Tonti arranged also for a resident Jesuit missionary, but apparently without result. About 1697 a smallpox epidemic killed the greater part of the women and children of two villages. In 1727 the Jesuits, from their house in New Orleans, again took up the work. In 1729 the Quapaw allied with the French against the Natchez, resulting in the practical extermination of the Natchez.

19th century

Shortly after the transfer of the territory to the United States in [803, the Quapaw were officially reported as living in three villages on the south side of Arkansas River about twelve miles (19 km) above Arkansas Post. In 1818, they made their first treaty with the US government, ceding all claims from Red River to beyond the Arkansas and east of the Mississippi, with the exception of a considerable tract between the Arkansas and the Saline, in the south-eastern part of the state. In 1824 they ceded this also, excepting 80 acres (320,000 m2) occupied by the chief Saracen (Sarrasin) below Pine Bluff. They expected to incorporate with the Caddo of Louisiana, but were refused permission. Successive floods in the Caddo country about Red River pushed many toward starvation and they wandered back to their old homes. In 1834, under another treaty, they were removed to their present location in the north-east corner of Oklahoma. Sarrasin (alternate spelling Saracen), their last chief before the removal, was a Roman Catholic and friend of the Lazarist missionaries (Congregation of the Missions) who arrived in 1818. He died about 1830 and is buried adjoining St. Joseph’s Church, Pine Bluff, where a memorial window preserves his name. The pioneer Lazarist missionary among the Quapaw was Rev. John M. Odin, later the Archbishop of New Orleans.

In 1824 the Jesuits of Maryland, under Father Charles Van Quickenborne, took up work among the native and immigrant tribes of the present Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1846 the Mission of St. Francis was established among the Osage, on Neosho River, by Fathers John Shoenmakers and John Bax, who extended their services to the Quapaw for some years. The Quapaw together with the associated remnant tribes, the Miami, Seneca, Wyandot and Ottawa, are now served from the Mission of “Saint Mary of the Quapaws”, at Quapaw, Oklahoma. From perhaps 5000 souls when first known they have dwindled by epidemics, wars, removals, and consequent demoralization to approximately 3200 in 1687, 1600 in 1750, 476 in 1843, and 307 in 1910, including all mixed bloods.

Besides the four established divisions already noted, the Quapaw have the clan system, with a number of gentes. Polygamy was practiced, but was not common. Like their relatives, the Osage, Quapaws had a complex religion. They were agricultural. Their towns were palisaded. Their town houses, or public structures, constructed with timbers dovetailed together and bark roofs, were commonly erected upon large manmade mounds to guard against the frequent flooding. Their ordinary houses were rectangular and long enough to accommodate several families.

Qupaws dug large ditches, constructed fish weirs, and excelled in pottery and in the painting of hide for bed covers and other purposes. The dead were buried in the ground, sometimes in mounds or in the clay floors of their houses, being frequently strapped to a stake in a sitting position and then carefully covered with earth. They were uniformly friendly to the Europeans, while at constant war with the Chickasaw and other southern tribes. Early explorers described them as better built, polite, liberal, and of cheerful humor than the northern Indians.

20th century

By the early 20th century, their modern descendants were described as “fairly prosperous farmers, retaining little of their former habit or belief.” Of the Quapaw dialect proper, little was recorded beyond some brief vocabularies and word lists. The Dhegiha language, including the dialects of the Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw, received more extended study and publication of its elements, especially by Rev. J.O. Dorsey under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology.

Natural Steps, Arkansas

The Pinnacle Mountain Community Post wrote in 1991, “Concerning the first Natural Steps inhabitants, the University of Arkansas Museum, in 1932, excavated several Indian burials near the site. In the report, entitled “The Kinkead-Mainard Site, 3PU2: A Late Prehistoric Quapaw Phase Site Near Little Rock, Arkansas”, Michael P. Hoffman writes, ‘The site represents the only scientific excavation conducted by the University of Arkansas between the mouth of the Arkansas River and Oklahoma in which detailed information of the Mississippian period is known… An hypothesis which developed quite early in my contact with Kinkead-Mainard site materials was that the site was one of the Quapaw phase…’”

The Arkansas Gazette wrote on April 17, 1979 that, “There was an archeological dig (in 1932) from the University of Arkansas working near the Natural Steps (Natural Steps, Arkansas). They found bodies of three Indians who had been buried there. They were buried sitting up.” Pottery and other artifacts were found during the dig in the 1930s.

On August 26, 1999, the National Park Service wrote: “In 1932, human remains representing a minimum of 19 individuals were recovered from the Kinkead-Mainard site (3PU2), Pulaski County, Arkansas during excavations conducted by the University Museum. No known individuals were identified. The 117 associated funerary objects include ceramic vessels, ceramic sherds, a clay ball, lithic debris, copper beads, a copper band, a copper nugget, pigment, animal bones, a tortoise carapace, an antler pendant, antler projectile points, bone awls, shell beads, a mussel shell, and leather fragments.”

“Based on the associated funerary objects, and skeletal and dental morphology, these human remains have been identified as Native American. Based on ceramic styles and construction, this site has been identified as a manifestation of the Menard Complex during the protohistoric period (1500-1700 AD). French historical documents from 1700 indicate only the Quapaw tribe had villages in the area of the Kinkead-Mainard site. In 1818, the Quapaw ceded the central Arkansas River valley, including the Kinkead-Mainard site, to the United States. Based on historical information and continuity of occupation, these human remains have been affiliated with the Quapaw Tribe of Indians, Oklahoma.”

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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American Psychological Association (APA):

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Chicago Manual Style (CMS):

The Quapaw people Unabridged. Native American Encyclopedia (accessed: May 22, 2015).

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Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, "The Quapaw people" in Unabridged. Source location: Native American Encyclopedia Available: Accessed: May 22, 2015.

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