Information on the Kickapoo Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804
The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Kickapoo people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective. At the time of Lewis and Clark, the Kickapoo, originally a Great Lakes tribe closely related to the Sac and Fox tribes, had moved from their homelands in what is today Wisconsin, into Illinois. The Kickapoo were invaders in this country, defeating and displacing the Illini in 1769. When Lewis and Clark encountered them, they held sway over most of what is today central Illinois. By 1819, harassed by Anglo settlers, the Kickapoo signed away most of their lands in Illinois. Two bands held on in Illinois until the Black Hawk War of 1832, when they were forced to move to Missouri. Some pushed on into northern Kansas, where they continue to live today on a reservation. Other bands moved to Texas and into Mexico. The Mexican Kickapoos staged an uprising during the Civil War, and raided border towns in Texas. They were attacked in Mexico in 1873 by the U.S. 4th Cavalry, who took women and children as hostages back to Oklahoma. In later negotiations, many Kickapoo agreed to move to a reservation in Oklahoma to be with loved ones who were being held hostage. Others stayed in Mexico. Today, the Kickapoo live in Kansas, Oklahoma and Mexico.
The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.
Chairperson, Kickapoo of Kansas Tribal Council
Route 1, Box 157
Horton, Kansas 66349
Chairperson, Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas
P.O. Noc 972
Eagle Pass, Texas 78853
Chairperson, Kickapoo of Oklahoma Business Committee
P.O. Box 70
McLoud, Oklahoma 74851
Thursday 22d [March 1804]
Set the workmen to work about the boat, sent a man to examine if the [Kickapoo] Indians had recrossed home. Beautiful weather, river Missouri rises.
Friday 23rd [March 1804]
The man returned with a letter from Mr. [Souier] the Comdr. of Passage Desous [Portage des Sioux], informing me that the Kickapoos has gone home. Good weather, the [river?] continued to rise 10 inches today & 8 last night.
Sunday 29th of April 1804
Mr. Hay still packing up goods. Some Kickapoo chiefs come down. Wolpard's boat arrived from St. Charles. River still falls.
Saturday May 5th
2 pirogues of Kickapoos returned from St. Louis. I gave [them] 4½ gallons [of] whisky & some tobacco.
[Clark - at St. Charles, Missouri]
May the 17th Thursday 1804
Several Kickapoo Indians visited me today.
[undated, but written in the Spring of 1804]
The Kickapoo calls a certain water plant with a large Circular floating leaf found in the ponds and marshes in the neighborhood of Kaskaskia & Cahokia Po-kish-a-co-mah. Of the root of this plant the Indians prepare an agreeable dish. The root when taken in its green state is from 8 to 14 inches in circumference, is dried by being exposed to the sun and aired or at other times with a slow fire or smoke of the chimneys, it shrinks much in drying. The root of this plant grows in a horizontal direction near the surface of the rich loam or mud which forms the bottoms of their ponds or morasses. . . The surface of the cone when dried by the sun and air after being exposed to the frost is perforated with two circular ranges of globular holes from twenty to 30 in number around one which forms the center placed at the distance of from an eighth to ¼ of an inch asunder. Each of those cells contains an oval nut of a light brown color much resembling a small white oak acorn, smooth, extremely hard, and containing a white kernel of an agreeable flavor. These the natives frequently eat, either in this state or roasted; they frequently eat them also in their succulent state. The bear feed on the leaves of this plant in the spring and summer. In the autumn and winter the swan, geese, brant, ducks and other aquatic fowls feed on the root. The cone is brown, pity and extremely light, and when separated from the stalks floats on the surface of the water with its base down. The Indians procure it and prepare it for food in the following manner. They enter the ponds where it grows, barefooted in autumn, and feel for it among the mud, which being soft and the root large and near the surface they readily find it. They easily draw it up, it having no fibrous or collateral roots to attach it firmly to the mud. They wash and scrape a thin bleak rind off it and cut it crosswise into pieces of an inch in length. When it is prepared for the pot it is of a fine white color, boils to a pulp and makes an agreeable soup in which way it is usually dressed by the natives when they wish to preserve it for any length of time. They cut it in pieces in the manner before described, string it on bark or leather thongs of a convenient length and hang it to dry in the sun, or expose it to the smoke of their chimneys. When thus dried it will keep for several years. It is esteemed as nutritious as the pumpkin or squash and is not very dissimilar in taste. The Chippewa or Sateaus call this plant Wab-bis-sa-pin or swan-root. The French or Canadians know it by two names, the Pois de Shicoriat or Graine de Volais. The roots of this plant are from one foot to eighteen inches in length. The common wild potato also forms another article of food in savage life. This they boil until the skin leaves the pulp easily, which it will do in the course of a few minutes. The outer rind, which is of a dark brown color, is then scraped off. The pulp is of a white color. The potato thus prepared is exposed on a scaffold to the sun or a slow fire until it is thoroughly dried, or at other times strung upon thongs of leather or bark and hung in the roofs of their lodges, where by the influence of the fire and smoke it becomes thoroughly dried. They are then prepared for use, and will keep perfectly sound many years. These they boil with meat or pound and make an agreeable bread. This potato may be used in its green or undried state without danger, provided it be well roasted or boiled. It produces a vine which runs to a considerable length, usually entwining itself about the neighboring bushes and weeds. The vine is somewhat branched, and in its progress at the distance of 2½ inches it puts forth one leaf, stem at right angles with the vine, which is furnished with two pair of ovate leaves and terminated by one of a similar shape. These are of a pale green color, not indented on their edges, rather a rough appearance. The vine is small and green except near the ground, where it sometimes assumes a reddish hue. The fruit is connected by a small ligament at both ends extending for many yards in length and attaching together in some instances six, eight or more of these potatoes. Its root is perennial, the vine annual. There is also another root found in marshy lands or ponds, which is much used by the Kickapoos, Chippewas and any other nations as an article of food. It is called by the Chippewa Moc-cup-pz'n. This in its unprepared state is not only disagreeable to the taste but even dangerous to be taken even in a small quantity. In this state it acts as a powerful emetic. A small quantity will kill a hog, yet prepared by the Indians it makes not only an agreeable but a nutritious food. I have not seen the plant and can therefore only describe it from information. The leaf is said to be broad and to float on the water. The root is from 10 to 12 inches in length and about 2/3rds as much in thickness. It has a rough black skin, the pulp is white and of a mealy substance. When properly prepared, the preparation is this - having collected a parcel of these roots you cut and split a sufficient parcel of wood which is set on end as the colliers commence the base of their coal pits, the lengths of these sticks of wood being as nearly the same as you can conveniently cut them and about 4 feet in length, thus forming when put together an even surface. At top on this is thrown soft earth of from two to 3 inches in depth. The roots are laid on this and earth thrown over the whole, forming the collier's kiln. Complete fire is then communicated to the wood beneath and it is suffered to burn slowly for several days until the wood is exhausted or they conceive their roots are sufficiently cooked. They then take them out, scrape them & cut them into slices crosswise of half an inch thick, and laying them on a scaffold of small sticks build small fires under them and dry them until they become perfectly firm. Thus prepared they are fit for use and will keep for years if not exposed to wet. They are either boiled to a pulp in their soup or less boiled eaten with bear's oil or venison and bears flesh. They sometimes pound it and make a bread of it.
[This plant was Apios americana Medic., called Indian potato, ground nut or potato-bean. It grows on the banks of streams and floodplains].
[Clark -at St. Charles, Missouri]
Friday May the 18th 1804
Mr. [Lorimier] returned from the Kickapoo Town today. [He] delayed a short time & set out for St. Louis. I sent George Drewyer with Mr. Lorimier to St. Louis & wrote to Capt. Lewis.
May the 18th Friday 1804
Mr. Lorimier, who had been sent by Capt. Lewis to the Kickapoo Town on public business returned and after a short delay proceeded on to St. Louis. I Sent George Drewyer with a letter to Capt. Lewis.
May 22nd Tuesday 1804
A cloudy morning. Delayed one hour for 4 Frenchmen who got liberty to return to arrange some business they had forgotten in town. At 6 o'clock we proceeded on, passed several small farms on the bank, and a large creek on the larboard side called Bonhomme, a camp of Kickapoos [an Indian nation residing on the heads of the Kaskaskia & Illinois rivers & hunt occasionally on the Missouri] on the starboard side. Those Indians told me several days ago that they would come on & hunt and by the time I got to their camp they would have some provisions for us. We camped in a bend at the mouth of a small creek. Soon after we came to the Indians arrived with 4 deer as a present, for which we gave them two quarts of whiskey.
Tuesday May 22nd
This morning being fair, we set out early and proceeded on very well. We passed Bonhomme Creek, laying on the south side of the river. In the evening several Indians came to where we encamped, & behaved very friendly, and gave us some venison.
Wednesday May 23rd
Indians Kick: [Kickapoo] came to camp with meat. We received their presents of 3 deer & gave them whiskey.