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Quapaw facts for kids

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Bandera quapaw.png
Flag of the Quapaw Nation
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Oklahoma)
English, Quapaw
Christianity (Roman Catholicism), traditional tribal religion, Big Moon and Little Moon Native American Church
Related ethnic groups
Dhegihan peoples: Osage, Omaha, Ponca, Kansa

The Quapaw ( KWAW-paw; or Arkansas and Ugahxpa) people are a tribe of Native Americans that coalesced in what is known as the Midwest and Ohio Valley of the present-day United States. The Dhegiha Siouan-speaking tribe historically migrated from the Ohio Valley area to the west side of the Mississippi River and resettled in what is now the state of Arkansas; their name for themselves (or autonym) refers to this migration and to traveling downriver.

The Quapaw are federally recognized as the Quapaw Nation. The US federal government removed them to Indian Territory in 1834, and their tribal base has been in present-day Ottawa County in northeastern Oklahoma. The number of members enrolled in the tribe was 3,240 in 2011.

Economic development

The tribe owns two smoke shops and motor fuel outlets, known as the Quapaw C-Store and Downstream Q-Store. They also own and operate the Eagle Creek Golf Course and resort, located in Loma Linda, Missouri.

Their primary economic drivers have been their gaming casinos, established under federal and state law. The first two are both located in Quapaw: the Quapaw Casino and the Downstream Casino Resort. These have generated most of the revenue for the tribe, which they have used to support welfare, health and education of their members. In 2012 the Quapaw Tribe's annual economic impact in the region was measured at more than $225,000,000.

In 2020 they completed a third casino, Saracen Casino Resort, located in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It was the first purpose-built casino in the state. Constructed at a cost of $350 million, it will employ over 1,100 full-time staff.

In the 20th century, the Quapaw leased some of their lands to European Americans, who developed them for industrial purposes. Before passage of environmental laws, toxic waste was deposited that has created long-term hazards. For instance, the Tar Creek Superfund site has been listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as requiring clean-up of environmental hazards.


The traditional Quapaw language is part of the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan language family. Although there are few remaining native speakers, Quapaw is well documented in fieldnotes and publications from many individuals, including George Izard in 1827, Lewis F. Hadley in 1882, 19th-century linguist James Owen Dorsey, Frank T. Siebert in 1940, and by linguist Robert Rankin, in the 1970s.

Classes in the Quapaw language are taught at the tribal museum. An online audio lexicon of the Quapaw language created by breaking apart old recordings of Elders is available.

Other efforts at language preservation and revitalization are being undertaken. The Quapaw participated in the first annual Dhegiha Gathering in 2011. The Osage language program hosted and organized the gathering, held at the Quapaw tribe's Downstream Casino. Language-learning techniques and other issues were discussed and taught in workshops at the conference among the five cognate tribes. The Annual Dhegiha Gathering was held in 2012 also at Downstream Casino.

Cultural heritage

The Quapaw host cultural events throughout the year, primarily held at the tribal museum. These include Indian dice games, traditional singing, and classes in traditional arts, such as finger weaving, shawl making, and flute making. In addition, Quapaw language classes are held there.

Fourth of July

The tribe's annual dance is during the weekend of the Fourth of July. This dance started shortly after the American Civil War, 2011 was the 139th anniversary of this dance. Common features of this powwow include gourd dance, war dance, stomp dance, and 49s. Other activities take place such as Indian football, handgame, traditional footraces, traditional dinners, turkey dance, and other dances such as Quapaw Dance, and dances from other area tribes.

This weekend is also when the tribe convenes the annual general council meeting, during which important decisions regarding the policies and resolutions of the Quapaw tribe are voted upon by tribal members over the age of eighteen.


The Quapaw tribe (known as Ugahxpa in their own language) are descended from a historical group of Dhegian-Siouan speaking people who lived in the lower Ohio River valley area. The modern descendants of this group also include the Omaha, Ponca, Osage and Kaw. The Quapaw are believed to have migrated from the Ohio River valley after 1200 CE. Scholars are divided in whether they think the Quapaw and other related groups left before or after the Beaver Wars. They arrived at their historical territory, the area of the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, at minimum by the mid-17th century.

The timing of the Quapaw migration into their ancestral territory in the historical period has been the subject of considerable debate by scholars of various fields and is referred to as the "Quapaw Paradox" by academics. Many professional archaeologists have introduced numerous migration scenarios and time frames with no scenario having conclusive evidence. Glottochronological studies suggest the Quapaw separated from the other Dhegiha ranging between AD 950 to as late as AD 1513.

The Quapaw were called Akansea or Akansa, meaning "land of the downriver people", by the Illinois and other Alonguian-speaking peoples to the northeast. French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet met the Illinois before the Quapaw and adopted this exonym for the more westerly people. English-speaking settlers who arrived later in the region adopted the name used by the French.

During years of colonial rule of New France, many of the French fur traders and voyageurs had an amicable relationship with the Quapaw, as with many other trading tribes. Many Quapaw women and French men married and had families together. Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was founded by Joseph Bonne, a man of Quapaw-French ancestry.

Écore Fabre (Fabre's Bluff) was started as a trading post by the Frenchman Fabre and was one of the first European settlements in south central Arkansas. While the area was ruled by the Spanish from 1763–1789, following French defeat in the Seven Years' War, they did not have as many colonists in the area. After increased American settlement following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Écore Fabre was renamed Camden.

English speakers tried to adapt French names to English phonetics: Chemin Couvert (French for "covered way or road") was gradually converted to "Smackover" by Anglo-Americans. They used this name for a local creek. Founded by the French, Le Petit Rocher was translated into English and renamed by Americans as Little Rock after the United States acquired the territory in the Purchase.

Numerous spelling variations have been recorded in accounts of tribal names, reflecting both loose spelling traditions, and the effects of transliteration of names into the variety of European languages used in the area. Some sources listed Ouachita as a Choctaw word, whereas others list it as a Quapaw word. Either way, the spelling reflects transliteration into French.

The following passages are taken from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, written early in the 20th century. It describes the Quapaw from the non-native perspective of that time. Some of the tribe has strong Cherokee kin relationships then and now.

"A tribe now nearly extinct, but formerly one of the most important of the lower Mississippi region, occupying several villages about the mouth of the Arkansas, chiefly on the west (Arkansas) side, with one or two at various periods on the east (Mississippi) side of the Mississippi, and claiming the whole of the Arkansas River region up to the border of the territory held by the Osage in the north-western part of the state. They are of Siouan linguistic stock, speaking the same language, spoken also with dialectic variants, by the Osage and Kansa (Kaw) in the south and by the Omaha and Ponca in Nebraska. Their name properly is Ugakhpa, which signifies "down-stream people", as distinguished from Umahan or Omaha, "up-stream people". To the Illinois and other Algonquian tribes, they were known as 'Akansea', whence their French name of Akensas and Akansas. According to concurrent tradition of the cognate tribes, the Quapaw and their kinsmen originally lived far east, possibly beyond the Alleghenies, and, pushing gradually westward, descended the Ohio River -- hence called by the Illinois the "river of the Akansea" – to its junction with the Mississippi, whence the Quapaw, then including the Osage and Kansa, descended to the mouth of the Arkansas, while the Omaha, with the Ponca, went up the Missouri."

DeSoto Map Leg 3 HRoe 2008
A map showing the de Soto expedition route through Mississippi, and Arkansas, up to the point de Soto dies. Based on the Charles M. Hudson map of 1997.

Early European contact

In 1541, when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led an expedition that came across the town of Pacaha (also recorded by Garcilaso as Capaha), between the Mississippi River and a lake on the Arkansas side, apparently in present-day Phillips County. His party describe the village as strongly palisaded and nearly surrounded by a ditch. Archaeological remains and local conditions bear out the description. If the migration out of the Ohio Valley preceded the entrada, these people may have been the proto-Quapaw. However, given the use of the Tunica language in Pacaha and the evidence for a late Quapaw migration to Arkansas, it is likely that the people whom de Soto met were Tunica.

The first certain encounters with Quapaw by Europeans occurred more than 130 years later. In 1673, the Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette accompanied the French commander Louis Jolliet in making his noted voyage down the Mississippi. He reportedly went to the villages of the Akansea, who gave him warm welcome and listened with attention to his sermons, while he stayed with them a few days. In 1682 La Salle passed by their villages, then five in number, of which one was on the east bank of the Mississippi. The Recollect father, Zenobius Membré, accompanying La Salle, planted a cross and attempted to give the American Indians some idea of the Christians' God.

The commander negotiated a peace with the tribe and formally "claimed" the territory for France. The Quapaw were uniformly kind and friendly toward the French. In spite of frequent shiftings, the Quapaw villages in this early period were generally reported as four in number. They corresponded in name and population to four sub-tribes still existing, viz. Ugahpahti, Uzutiuhi, Tiwadimañ, and Tañwañzhita, or, under their French transliterations: Kappa, Ossoteoue, Touriman, and Tonginga.

In 1686 the French commander Henri de Tonti built a post on the Arkansas River, near its mouth, that later was known as the Arkansas Post. This began European occupation of the Quapaw country. Tonti arranged also for a resident Jesuit missionary, but apparently without result. About 1697 a smallpox epidemic killed the greater part of the women and children of two villages. In 1727 the Jesuits, from their house in New Orleans, again took up the missionary work. In 1729 the Quapaw allied with the French against the Natchez, resulting in the practical extermination of the Natchez.

The French relocated the Arkansas Post upriver, trying to avoid flooding. After losing to the British in the Seven Years' War, France ceded its North American territories to Britain. This nation exchanged territory with Spain, which took over "control" of Arkansas and other former French territory west of the Mississippi River. It built new forts to protect its valued trading post with the Quapaw.

19th century

Shortly after the United States acquired the territory in 1803 by the Louisiana Purchase, it recorded the Quapaw as living in three villages on the south side of the Arkansas River about 12 miles (19 km) above Arkansas Post. In 1818, they made their first treaty with the US government, ceding all claims from the Red River to beyond the Arkansas and east of the Mississippi.

They kept a considerable tract between the Arkansas and the Saline, in the southeastern part of the state. Under continued US pressure, in 1824 they ceded this also, excepting 80 acres (320,000 m2) occupied by the chief Saracen (Sarrasin) below Pine Bluff. They expected to incorporate with the Caddo of Louisiana, but were refused permission. Successive floods in the Caddo country near the Red River pushed many toward starvation, and they wandered back to their old homes.

In 1834, under another treaty, the Quapaw were removed from the Mississippi valley areas to their present location in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, then Indian Territory.

Sarrasin (alternate spelling Saracen), their last chief before the removal, was a Roman Catholic and friend of the Lazarist missionaries (Congregation of the Missions), who had arrived in 1818. He died about 1830 and is buried adjoining St. Joseph's Church, Pine Bluff, where a memorial window preserves his name. The pioneer Lazarist missionary among the Quapaw was Rev. John M. Odin, who later served as the Archbishop of New Orleans.

In 1824 the Jesuits of Maryland, under Father Charles Van Quickenborne, took up work among the native and immigrant tribes of present-day Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1846 the Mission of St. Francis was established among the Osage, on Neosho River, by Fathers John Shoenmakers and John Bax, who extended their services to the Quapaw for some years. The Quapaw together with the associated remnant tribes, the Miami, Seneca, Wyandot and Ottawa, were served from the Mission of "Saint Mary of the Quapaws", at Quapaw, Oklahoma. Historians estimated their number at European encounter as 5000. The Catholic Encyclopedia noted the people had suffered from high fatalities due to epidemics, wars, removals, and social disruption. It documented their numbers as 3200 in 1687, 1600 in 1750, 476 in 1843, and 307 in 1910, including all mixed bloods.

Peter Clabber, Principal Chief of Quapaws - NARA - 251688
Peter Clabber, Principal Chief of Quapaws, 1905

Kinship, religion and culture

Besides the four established divisions already noted, the Quapaw have the clan system, with a number of gentes. Polygamy was practiced, but was not common. Like their relatives, the Osage, Quapaws had a complex religion. They were agricultural. Their towns were palisaded. Their town houses, or public structures, constructed with timbers dovetailed together and bark roofs, were commonly erected upon large manmade mounds to guard against the frequent flooding. Their ordinary houses were rectangular and long enough to accommodate several families.

The Quapaw dug large ditches, and constructed fish weirs to manage their food supply. They excelled in pottery and in the painting of hide for bed covers and other purposes. The dead were buried in the ground, sometimes in mounds or in the clay floors of their houses, being frequently strapped to a stake in a sitting position and then covered with earth. They were friendly to the Europeans, while warring with the Chickasaw and other Southeastern tribes over resources and trade.

20th century

Quapaw mocs 1900 okla
Quapaw moccasins, ca. 1900, Oklahoma History Center

In the early 20th century, an account noted that the Dhegiha language, a branch of Siouan including the "dialects" of the Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw, has received more extended study. Rev. J.O. Dorsey published material about it under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology, now part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Natural Steps, Arkansas

The Pinnacle Mountain Community Post wrote in 1991, "Concerning the first Natural Steps inhabitants, the University of Arkansas Museum, in 1932, excavated several Indian burials near the site. In the report, entitled "The Kinkead-Mainard Site, 3PU2: A Late Prehistoric Quapaw Phase Site Near Little Rock, Arkansas", Michael P. Hoffman writes, 'The site represents the only scientific excavation conducted by the University of Arkansas between the mouth of the Arkansas River and Oklahoma in which detailed information of the Mississippian period is known... An hypothesis which developed quite early in my contact with Kinkead-Mainard site materials was that the site was one of the Quapaw phase...'"

The Arkansas Gazette wrote on April 17, 1979 that, "There was an archeological dig (in 1932) from the University of Arkansas working near the Natural Steps (Natural Steps, Arkansas). They found bodies of three Indians who had been buried there. They were buried sitting up." Pottery and other artifacts were found during the dig in the 1930s.

On August 26, 1999, the National Park Service wrote: "In 1932, human remains representing a minimum of 19 individuals were recovered from the Kinkead-Mainard site (3PU2), Pulaski County, Arkansas during excavations conducted by the University Museum. No known individuals were identified. The 117 associated funerary objects include ceramic vessels, ceramic sherds, a clay ball, lithic debris, copper beads, a copper band, a copper nugget, pigment, animal bones, a tortoise carapace, an antler pendant, antler projectile points, bone awls, shell beads, a mussel shell, and leather fragments."

"Based on the associated funerary objects, and skeletal and dental morphology, these human remains have been identified as Native American or prehistoric red headed nephilim. Based on ceramic styles and construction, this site has been identified as a manifestation of the Menard Complex during the protohistoric period (1500–1700 CE). French historical documents from 1700 indicate that only the Quapaw tribe had villages in the area of the Kinkead-Mainard site. In 1818, the Quapaw ceded the central Arkansas River valley, including the Kinkead-Mainard site, to the United States. Based on historical information and continuity of occupation, these human remains have been affiliated with the Quapaw Tribe of Indians, Oklahoma."

Documentary film

The Quapaw tribal jurisdictional area includes the Tar Creek Superfund Site, which at one time was considered to be the worst environmental disaster in the country. The city of Picher has been closed and abandoned, and the environmental issues related to mining are explored in the documentary Tar Creek, made in 2009 by Matt Myers. Tar Creek tells the full story of the Tar Creek Superfund Site. It discusses the racism of environmental and governmental practices that led to the neglect and lack of regulation resulting in this hazardous site. The Quapaw and other residents of Ottawa County have suffered ill effects, including lead poisoning of a high percentage of children, from contamination of ground and water due to this site.

Notable Quapaw

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Quapaw para niños

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