The Native Tribes

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Several tribes of Indians lived in or ranged over parts of the present state of Oklahoma at the beginning of the historic period, when men of the white race first began to explore this part of the continent. These tribes included the Caddo, which ranged over the valley of the Red River, in the southeastern part of the state; the Wichita, which occupied the southwestern part of the state; the Quapaw, which ranged across the eastern border along the valley of the Arkansas; the Osage, ranging across the valleys of the Grand and Verdigris rivers in the northeastern part of the state; the Comanche, which roamed over the plans in the western part of the state, and the Ute, which occupied the extreme western part of the old No-Man's Land.

Of these tribes, the Caddo and Wichita people could rightly claim to be the oldest inhabitants of the state, as they were the descendants of the Earth-House people (see Prehistoric Inhabitants), though many of their habits and customs had undergone a change. They still lived in fixed villages but their houses were thatched with grass instead of being covered with earth. Like their forefathers, they also cultivated the soil, raising corn, beans, pumpkins and melons.

The people of the Osage and Quapaw tribes were much alike in disposition and habits, their forefathers having been members of the same tribe, originally, and they spoke the same language with but slight differences in dialect. They had fixed villages where they built bark covered houses and near which they cultivated small patches of corn. Much of their time, in the fall and winter, was spent away from these villages, hunting buffalo and other game. At such times they lived in lodges made of poles and covered with buffalo skins.

The people of the Comanche tribe lived entirely by hunting, their principal food being the flesh of the buffalo. They lived in lodges made of poles and covered with buffalo skins. These lodges could be easily taken down and moved from place to place. They did not attempt to cultivate the soil , though they gathered certain roots, fruits and herbs for food and they occasionally traded with the people of other tribes for corn. The people of the Ute tribe were somewhat similar to those of the Comanche tribe, to whom they were distantly related. Their habits were quite different, however, as they always stayed in the hilly or mountainous country.

The people of several other tribes began to range over parts of Oklahoma after the earlier exploration, including the Kiowas and certain bands of Delawares, Shawnees and Kickapoos. Of the six tribes which ranged over portions of Oklahoma when white men first began to explore this part of the country, all except one, the Ute, still live in the state.

Some of the Indian tribes lived at peace with several of the neighboring tribes. Between others there was always a feeling of enmity and they were seldom or never at peace with each other.

The people of each tribe were divided into bands, each of which was under the leadership of the chief. The authority of these chiefs was due more to personal influence than political power. Each band usually pitched its encampment or village at some distance from the others, though at times several bands encamped together.

The indian population which was scattered over Oklahoma before the tribes from east of the Mississippi river began to settle within its limits was never large. This population probably did not exceed 20,000 at any one time. Because of the roaming disposition of some of the tribes, who ranged over several adjoining states as well, the whole population at other times may not have been more than half that number.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.