Washungah (also spelled Washunga and Wah Shun Gah) was born in the Kaw River Valley probably near what is today Manhattan, in the Kansa villages, circa 1837. His name may have meant “cut face,” for a injury he had received, or “bird.” He may have had as many as 20 wives.
The Kaws were moved from the Manhattan area to Council Grove in 1847. Washungah’s band lived southeast of the community.
In 1873 Washungah led around 516 Kaws from Council Grove, Kansas, to land set aside for the Kaws in Oklahoma Teritory. The treaty surrendered the Kansas reservation for 100,000 acres in what is now Kay County, Oklahoma.
In 1883 the Kaws formed a tribal government similar to the Osage. This government allowed the Kaws to take advantage of leasing gazing on their land. Kebothliku was the first principal chief elected under this new form of government. In 1885 Washungah was elected principal chief or chief council. He was the last full-blooded Kaw chief. The tribal headquarters in Kaw City, Oklahoma, was later named for him.
The Kaw lands were 10 miles from the Santa Fe railway line. In 1893 the Cherokee Strip was opened for white settlement. The trains brought people seeking to settle on the land, and as a result, demand for the land in the area increased. Congress passed the Dawes Act that authorized allotment of Indian land to members of the tries. The Cherokee or “Jerome” Commission negotiated with the tribes. Ten years passed before the Kaws supported the allotment. Around 1900 Washungah traveled to Washington, D.C., to plead on behalf of his people.
In 1902 Washungah was one of seven Kaw leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C. He carried an agreement on behalf of his people for allotment of the land and division of tribal funds. U.S. Congressman Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Nation from Kansas, had encouraged the agreement which would dissolve the tribal government and reservation and divide among members.
Washungah died in 1908, it is believed he froze to death. He had no blood relatives. His heirs were Lucy Tayiah and Emmett Tayiah, brother and sister who were members of the Kaws, whose parents had died when they were young. Washungah adopted them.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: August 2013
Date Modified: May 2015
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