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Kansas Historical Quarterly - No-ko-aht's Talk

A Kickapoo Chief's Account of a Tribal Journey
From Kansas to Mexico and Return in the Sixties

Edited by George A. Root

February 1932 (Vol. 1, No. 2), pages 153 to 159
Transcribed by lhn; HTML editing by Tod Roberts
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.

IN 1867 Franklin G. Adams, [1] the agent for the Kickapoo Indians, received a visit from Chief No-ko-aht, who, a few years before, had led a band of about 120 Kickapoos on a visit to relatives in Old Mexico. No-ko-aht, with less than a dozen of his followers, had just returned from their pilgrimage to the reservation in Kansas. The "talk" which took place during this call was at the agency, at Kennekuk, Atchison county, on May 31, 1867, and forms the basis of this article. This interview was taken down in shorthand by Mr. Adams in a book of Kickapoo memoranda, now in the manuscript collection of the State Historical Society.

The Kickapoos were first found by white men in the country bordering Lake Michigan on the west. The earliest mention of the tribe is of their near destruction at the hands of the Puans (Winnebagos) [2] between 1640 and 1660. After the lapse of nearly a hundred years, and much warfare, the tribe took up new homes on the Sangamon and Wabash [3] rivers, in present Illinois and Indiana. By 1820 most of the Kickapoos had moved to a new home on the Osage and the Pomme de Terre [4] rivers, in southwest Missouri. This location had long been the hunting ground of the Osages, and they objected to their new neighbors settling down there, protesting they would spread all over their grounds and kill the game. [5] In 1824,

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therefore, a number of these Kickapoos left and started south, finally presenting themselves to the alcalde in the city of Austin, in the then republic of Mexico. They stated that they wished to acquire land and make a home for themselves with the Mexican people. They were granted a tract lying to the north of where the San Antonio road crosses the San Angelo river, and acted as a buffer between the Mexicans and the wild Indian tribes of the plains.

In the years following a part of these Kickapoos crossed the Rio Grande and settled in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. The balance of those who had gone south lived on the tract allotted them until 1842, when by common consent they were given another tract, forty miles square. Here they lived until the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, when at the advice of Gen. Sam Houston, they moved north into Indian Territory, settling in the vicinity of present Shawnee, Okla. In 1862 these Kickapoos decided to return to Texas and make their home in the wilds of that state, their objective being the Concho river, in Tom Green county.

This band finally arrived at the ranch of William Tankersley, about two miles from Knickerbocker. Tankersley was known to them, and at his invitation they camped on his ranch. The next day a large company of Confederate cavalry appeared at Tankersley's, inquiring for the Kickapoos. The officer in charge said that the Kickapoos had a large number of fine horses which would be of more value to the Confederacy than their friendship. He ordered a charge on the Indians. The Kickapoos were not expecting an assault, but nevertheless offered a most stubborn resistance, and as a result the cavalry lost sixteen men mortally wounded. The Confederates withdrew for reinforcements, not even stopping to bury their dead. The Kickapoos broke camp at once and started for Mexico, thinking Texas had declared war on them, and the trail of carnage and destruction they left in their wake is a matter of Texas history. They forded the Rio Grande and entered Mexico at the north end of the Sierra del Carmen range, following down this range into the state of Coahuila, finally taking up their home at Nacimiento. Here they were welcomed by both state and federal authorities, not only because they were a protection to the native population of the country, but in remembrance of the protection that these same Indians had been when Texas was a part of Mexico. President Benito Juarez made a service grant to them and a treaty by which the Kickapoos rendered valuable aid in exterminating the Lipans and in driving the Comanches beyond the Mexican border. [6]

ROOT: NO-KO-AHT'S TALK 155

The Kickapoos who had remained in Missouri moved during 1832 and 1833 to the reservation provided for them on the Missouri river, in present Kansas. [7] In 1864 about one-half of those remaining on the reservation, becoming dissatisfied with their treatment at the hands of the government, [8] started south under No-ko-aht, and joined their relatives in Old Mexico. Not finding conditions to their liking, No-ko-aht and a few followers returned to Kansas. [9] The statement which follows gives the reasons for the pilgrimage of No-ko-aht and his band, and an account of the trip going and coming:

TALK WITH NO-KO-AHT.
May 31, 1867.

The following talk was had with No-ko-aht at the agency: "When we left here we went and joined with two parties of Kickapoos, making then three parties. Two other parties were already gone. We followed. That was the same fall [1864] that we left. We overtook the other parties in the spring. There were about 700 of us in the three parties. My party numbered [number not stated]. In the winter we had a fight with the Texans. It was very cold. I joined the two parties of Kickapoos just on the Kansas river line. We started to go south in the same fall. We traveled slowly along over and hunting buffalo on the plains. We joined the other two parties-not till after the fight. The other two parties had no trouble. Those two parties numbered about 1,000. We overtook the two parties just as we got out of Mexico. There were about twenty persons living in Mexico. They had lived there for about twenty years. The seven men were soldiers in the Mexican army and had been for a long time. The men stay in a little town called San Juan, close by a lake, about 40 miles from the Rio Grande, and about 40 miles northwest of Santa Rosa. We arrived in Mexico in the spring of '65, early, about time to plant corn in that country.

"When the Kickapoos first went to Mexico, about twenty years ago, the president of Mexico offered them a sack of money, but they came away before they received the money. The president of Mexico had ordered them to go on an expedition against the Comanches. They had made one expedition and had turned their spoils over to the Mexicans, but refused to go again and the president refused to give the sack of money unless the Kickapoos would

156 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

do it, and then the Kickapoos came away. Then in 1864 the president sent a message to the Kickapoos to request them to come and get their sack of money. The Kickapoos went. When we got there the Mexicans wanted our young men to enlist. They wanted fifty young men to each party, 200 men, and came down to twenty. The Kickapoos refused. The Mexicans became displeased and ordered us into the mountains. There nothing can be raised. They should live by hunting. It was a false message that came to us. It was brought by Tas-ca-tap-ia, one of the seven. We went where we were ordered. That was the same spring of 1865. There were some white families and some black. They had farms, and appeared to have been there for some time. They were planning on the Mexican government taking their produce and stock which they raised for rent or taxes. There were six families of whites and eight or ten families of blacks. The whites left and the blacks remained for a short time. They raised cattle, sheep, and horses a good deal, and corn, pumpkins, and sugar [cane] and made sugar [?] and raised sweet potatoes. It was in a little valley at the foot of the mountain where the Sobrinas river comes out. The white families left in the spring of 1866. They didn't say where they should go to. They would come to the Rio Grande and work till they should get some money and would then come to the North. They didn't belong to the South. They went into Mexico for the war next, and all returned after it closed. The farms were pretty old and must have been bought of Mexicans. The Indians took the farms after the whites left. The white men offered to trade their farms for the Kickapoo lands in Kansas.

"Our first trouble in going out was the killing of one of our number by one of the wild tribes-Kiowa, on the Red river, pretty well west. He was cut off while out hunting. After that we went on till we got to where we saw some tracks of soldiers. We camped and sent a messenger to hunt them up. We failed to find the soldiers, and leaving a white flag went on. A number of days after we reached another track by a stream and we camped seven days. One day I was out setting traps when I met one of our leading men who told me we were to move back next day. Next morning I was out hunting horses, and I went across a mountain, and as I was going home I was fired upon by soldiers. I saw as I was on the mountain, a good many horses, and thought they were ours, but think they were soldiers. All our young men were scattered that morning hunting horses, and one or two were killed while out.

ROOT: NO-KO-AHT'S TALK 157

Then the soldiers came upon our camp. There was a stream between the two camps.

The first killed was Aski. The Indians continued firing yet. Then a woman was killed. This was before we fired. The fight was but a few minutes. A good many were killed on both sides. When we drove them to one side another force came in behind us. Then we whipped the second party back and the third one attacked us and we fired on them once. We killed a good many of the first party, a few of the second and none of the third. When we were first attacked we divided, part pursuing the first Texan party and the others fighting the rest. The second and third Texan forces went [?] to the mountains and we couldn't do anything with them. We followed the first force quite a distance. The two parties at the mountain went and drove up all our stock. After it was all over we went up to the mountain and saw a good deal of blood. After the Texans drove off our stock we pursued for awhile, when we returned. We saw bodies of two or three Kickapoos who had been killed before the fight. They had taken two of our boys prisoners before the fight, and they took them along with them. Afterwards they got away. We had fifteen killed altogether: Aski, Kap-io-ma, Ki-sha-pi, Pen-i-a-la, Kisha-qui, George Washington, Ko-ki-pi-ah, , Me-sho-kum-i, Pa-mo-tha-ah, Ah-chi-mo, Me-hahq, Nan-ma-qua-tah, Ka-ke-to, and a boy.

"All our stock was taken away nearly; some families had none. We were obliged to leave most of our things. Aski tried to shake hands and make peace with the Texans, but they shot him.

We found some papers among the Texans which showed that they had followed us ten days. "After we had got into Mexico and had gone to the mountains the Texans later came and asked the Kickapoos to deliver the girl prisoner.

"We think we killed about forty Texans. They left their dead on the field of battle. They came back and buried them. There was a Texas family living not far away. The Kiowas had been into a settlement and took a girl prisoner. The Kiowas pointed to our trail so that the Texans thought we had stolen their child.

"The killed were seven of my party.

"From there we had a hard time. Some had to walk. We had sent for water-it was a dry region.

"During the year that we remained in Mexico we subsisted by hunting. We sold beaver, deer and bear skins. We sold our ponies

158 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

[?] for $10 apiece for subsistence. We raised a very little corn. About 40 started home last spring; 33 Kickapoos, the rest Delawares. Over one-half of all started once, and when we got out a short distance, our horses were so poor and we were out of ammunition, and most went back. After we had come on ten days, two young men overtook us and wished us to wait ten days till they could go back for their things. We waited, but they didn't come. Before we started two of the chiefs wanted us to go around through the Comanche country.

"In coming home we had no trouble except in one place. We came upon three parties of plains Indians, one of whom shook hands with us, but the others refused. In a few days twelve of our horses were stolen. The friendly chief advised us to go on, which we did. After that ten more were stolen. We went back to hunt our horses and Indians brought us twenty horses. These Indians had a good many cattle which they had stolen. There had been a fight near there recently.

"I think these Kickapoos will come back this year to the Indian country. Some of them may come here. Some will have to stay because they have no ponies. They may get into trouble by stealing. They steal nearly everything in that country. The best man gets it. The chiefs can't control the young men. It's all war-the conversation down there. There were a good many traders from the French.

(No-ko-aht has nothing, but argued that the government ought to do for these Indians. The most of them want to return and live under our government.) [10]

"You asked me the other day how I felt. I told you I didn't feel well in my mind. There had been a great change here since I left. I want to know how all our arrangements with the government stand. At the time the treaty of '63 was making I always told the agent the treaty should not be left till a certain time. Finally I [illegible] about making a treaty. I thought I would go south and see the country. I saw that I couldn't live among the white people, for every year my stock was being stolen. I thought I had better leave. I tell you why I got scared. I insisted that the agent gave notice to all the white people around to steal our stock so that we would be obliged to go because we were poor. The agent told us that if we didn't make the treaty we would be taken prisoners and

ROOT: NO-KO-AHT'S TALK 159

removed. That is why I left. The treaty was forced upon us. The agent told us the government owned the land, and the Indians only had a lease for a certain number of years. It is a fact that much complaint has been made about trouble between the Indians and the settlers. All this [was made] by the white people. In old times all Indians were called together when the treaty was made, and if all the old men and the young men were willing the treaty was made, and there was no trouble. So the [illegible] to choose a chief. The trouble arises because the agent chooses chiefs. When you told me about the treaty lately made, I thought the tribe was all broken up. It was the understanding of the Kickapoo tribe in 1854 that the Kickapoos should remain here as long as the world stood. In twenty years we were to meet so we should obtain that $100,000. Now you understand me how I feel towards treaties. I ask you how these Pottawatomies come in." [11]

1. Franklin George Adams was born in Rodman, N. Y., May 13, 1824. He came to Kansas in 1855 from Cincinnati, returning there, where he was married to Harriet Elizabeth Clark on September 29. He returned to Kansas in 1856, settling at Leavenworth, taking an active part in the free-state struggles He engaged in the banking business in Leavenworth in 1857, and that fall moved to Atchison, becoming part owner of the Squatter Sovereign, changing its politics to free-state. He was elected first probate judge of Atchison county in 1858. In 1861 he was appointed register of the land office at Lecompton, removing the office to Topeka and serving till 1864. He was first secretary of the State Agricultural Society, and edited the Kansas Farmer. In 1862 he was part owner of the Kansas State Record, of Topeka. He removed to Atchison in the spring of 1864, and established the Atchison Daily Free Press. He was appointed agent of the Kickapoo Indians in the spring of 1865, serving until 1869. In the fall of 1870 he moved to Waterville and edited the Waterville Telegram from January, 1871, to August, 1872. In the winter of 1872-'73 he published The Homestead Guide, a volume of 312 pages. In 1875 he removed to Topeka, and in 1876 was chosen secretary of the newly organized State Historical Society, serving in that capacity up to the time of his death on December 2, 1899. A more extended biography will be found in Kansas Historical Collections, v. 6, pp. 171-175.
2. Basqueville de la Potherie's Histoire de L'Amerique Septentrionelle, published at Paris in 1722 and again in 1755, in Wisconsin Historical Collections, v. 17, p. 7.
3. Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, part 1, pp. 684, 685.
4. Treaties Between the United States of America and the Several Tribes of Indians, from 1778 to 1837, p. 283.
5. Houck, Louis, A History of Missouri, v. 1, p. 196.
6. 60th Cong.,1st Sess., Senate Document No. 215, Pt. 3, pp. 1885, 1886.
7. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 12, p. 66.
8. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Report 1865, p. 3 7 3.
9. Ibid., 1867, p. 295.
10. Comment by F. G. Adams.
11. No-ko-aht's reference was to those Pottawatomies who had been living with the Kickapoos since about 1819-'20 and had intermarried. In 1851, by a treaty or national compact, they had been adopted into the Kickapoo tribe. The rights of nationality purchased from the Kickapoos cost the Pottawatomie nation nothing. In 1865 these Pottawatomies were for the first time permitted to enjoy the privileges of the tribe. By order of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs this year they received allotments of lands under the late treaty and were fully incorporated with the tribe. This was in conformity with the agreement of 1851.