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The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas
by Rebecca Brush
| Sources | Map |
Back to the Texas Indians
We are not really sure when the Kickapoo first
arrived in Texas. We know that after the war of 1812, where the Americans
fought the British, two Kickapoo bands settled in Missouri. In 1833, most
of them moved to Kansas and the rest of them came to Texas. You think it
would be easy to find out just when they came to Texas? It wasnt.
Two anthropologists named Ritzenthaler and Peterson wanted to find out
so they did research on this. They discovered that the Kickapoo were granted
land by the King of Spain in 1775. The land they were granted was in the
northern part of the Spanish Territory of Mexico. This part of Mexico later
Moving around was not new to the Kickapoo. The
Kickapoo were forced to move many times by the government. Eventually,
some of them settled in Oklahoma on a reservation. Others obtained land
from the President of Mexico and lived there. After many years of hardship
from droughts hurting their crops and poor hunting, the Mexican Kickapoo
were forced to work as migrant workers in the United States.
They finally applied for US citizenship and
were federally recognized as the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in
1983. By this time many of you were already born. The Kickapoo were given
land just south of Eagle Pass, Texas. At first they had no houses and the
land needed to be prepared for them.
new home was ready, they lived in cardboard replicas of there traditional
wickiups (click here for a picture of the wickiups
) ( click here for a big picture of a wickiup )
NEW, pictures of us building a wickiup!! under
the bridge in Eagle Pass. Often people drove by and pitied them for their
living conditions. They thought the Kickapoo lived in funny looking houses
because they were poor. The Kickapoo were poor and were not able to find
the work they wanted and needed. But, that is not why their houses were
funny looking. They lived in those kind of houses because they were trying
to cling to their cultural heritage. Those houses were traditional Kickapoo
style houses, something many people did not understand.
The newer houses that were built on the reservation
do not look like normal Kickapoo houses. They look like the houses that
you and I live in. In Mexico, just across the border from the reservation,
they still have traditional style Kickapoo houses. Because of this, the
Kickapoo still spend a lot of time on their traditional land in Mexico.
It is in Mexico that they are able to maintain their traditional way of
life. They perform all their important ceremonies there and their houses
are set up according to tribal custom. The Kickapoo have come a long way
in order to maintain their own customs and beliefs. Kinda like the pilgrims
You see, in the early 1600s, the Kickapoo were
living in their original homeland way up north in the Michigan area. Europeans
came to the area in lower Michigan where the Kickapoo were living and they
wanted the Kickapoo to trade with them. The Kickapoo did not want to have
dealings with these new people and so they moved to avoid them. They moved
to the Green Bay area of Wisconsin. From the time of their first contact
with Europeans, the Kickapoo have moved to avoid the white mans ways. They
did not want to have their children raised as white men. How would your
parents feel if someone from another land came into to your home and told
you that they wanted your children to learn their ways instead of the ways
of your parents? Do you think your parents would be happy about this? Look at the map to see how often and to how many different
places the Kickapoo moved so they could maintain their own cultural identity.
The Kickapoo Indians belong to the Algonquian
language group which seems to have originated in the Great Lakes region.
Can you find the Great Lakes on a map? When the first European people came
to the new world, they found that many of these linguistically related
tribes, or tribes related to one another by language, had migrated into
other parts of North America. That means that you can find Algonquian speakers
from Maine to the Great Plains.
Algonquian people are classified by anthropologist
in a group called Woodland Indians. This means they inhabited a richly
forested area and collected all the material necessary for their daily
lives from the forest environment they lived in. A forest is also called
woodlands. This is why the Indians who lived in these forests are called
Woodland Indians. There are many more tribes of Woodland Indians other
than the Kickapoo.
They were not a nomadic people and thus, did
not move around much once they were settled in an area. The Kickapoo built
wooden, bark covered structures for houses. These houses are called wickiups
or wigwams. They raised crops, gathered fruits and nuts when in season,
fished the rivers and hunted deer, bear and small game. Wood, gathered
from the forests provided material for many of the tools and implements.
For example, flint points, attached to wooden handles, served many purposes
in day-to-day living and elaborately carved wooden war clubs were used
Remember I told you earlier that the Kickapoo
are Woodland Indians? Well, can you imagine how much different the land
and climate in Texas is from their original homeland near the Great Lakes?
You would think that their way of life had changed greatly because of the
difference in environment. Surprisingly, they have maintained a very strong
cultural heritage. For example, the houses they live in are made from woven
mats of cattails and look very much like the houses they used in the northern
midwest United States which were made from birch bark. And, just like in
the old days up north, it is the women who own and oversee all the construction
of the houses.
The crops they raise are basically the same
also. They still grow squash, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, corn and sweet
potatoes. In Mexico, the Kickapoo enjoy two growing seasons instead of
one. They plant winter wheat and oats in the fall. This is a small but
good change that has come from the difference in environment. The men still
hunt deer, bear, squirrel and other small game. Much of this meat is made
into jerky. The food is stored in baskets in their houses.
Speaking of baskets, you might wonder why a
sedentary people are using basketry instead of pottery. In the northern
climates where they used to live, the Kickapoo used many types of woods,
barks and fibers, animal skins and bones, stone and clay to make their
necessary tools. They made containers from tree bark to store food and
carry water. When they moved south, the Kickapoo also made use of their
natural surroundings and began to weave their containers out of reeds instead
of making them from bark. Many anthropologists believe that the art of
basketry came about because of a lack of certain types of bark in Texas
and Mexico. Other containers, such as bowls, are made from soft stones.
Animal skins are also made into containers. The Kickapoo have a very fine
way of preparing the animal hides for use. I know, cause I have seen them.
The hides turn out soft and are a rich golden color. They use animal brains
to tan the hides and then they smoke them over a fire for a few days. The
smoking is what gives the skin its rich color.
Deerskin was used for clothing until the arrival
of the white man. Moccasins, also made from deerskin, are still worn by
many Kickapoo today. You can even buy moccasins made by the Kickapoo women
in shops near where they live. Since the Kickapoo have been exposed to
European dress, it is common for them to take advantage of the pre-made
fabrics instead of tanning hides for clothes. The men wear shirts made
of calico material that are adorned with ruffles and ribbons with khakis
pants or Levis. Sometimes they even wear more traditional clothing such
as buckskin leggings and breechcloths. The men decorate their clothing
with silver brooches or exquisitely crafted beadwork which is applied by
the women. Traditional clothing for women consisted of finely tanned garments.
Today, however, they wear skirts and blouses made out of bright print fabrics.
Many of the children and young adults dress just like you and me. The chief
and other men of importance wear a feather in their hat.
Kickapoo women in traditional dresses
You may think that chiefs are only men. This
is not true among the Kickapoo. In 1901 there were two Kickapoo chiefs.
One was a man and the other a woman. The duties of a Kickapoo chief vary
according to the needs of the tribe. They perform religious ceremonies,
police the people, judge them on minor offenses, solve land and water quarrels
and even act as a marriage counselor sometimes. The chief has advisors
just like our president does. His advisors are called the Council of Elders.
The Council of Elders meets with the chief to discuss all tribal matters.
Today, many Kickapoo children are sitting in
the classroom just like you are. Some of their parents work in offices
and factories just like your parents do. When they go home from school,
they are taught how to be good Kickapoo and perform properly in ceremonies.
Kinda like we are taught how to act during certain social functions like
weddings and such.
So now you have met the Kickapoo Traditional
Tribe of Texas. What do you think about having a group of Woodland Indians
in your state. They have adapted very well dont you think?