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Emigrant Indians

Thousands of American Indian from various tribes were moved to the area that is now Kansas from the eastern United States and Great Lakes area. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 resulted in the settlement of more than 10,000 American Indians to what is now Kansas.  The Kickapoo, originally from Wisconsin, were removed to Kansas in 1832 from Missouri.  In 1836 the Iowas from north of the Great Lakes were assigned a reservation in Kansas.  In Kaw Indian Chiefs 1838 the Potawatomi began their move from northern Indiana.  Treaties with the Sac and Fox of the Mississippi Valley from 1842 to 1861 ceded Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska lands to the United States, leaving small reserves in Doniphan and Osage counties in Kansas.  The Miamis were moved by barge from Indiana in 1846.

Before Kansas was a territory, George Bluejacket anticipated the long journey to the prairie from his home in Ohio.  A member of the Shawnee tribe, Bluejacket,  lived more than 600 miles away. His band of the Shawnee had agreed to move west as part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  A mounted military escort would accompany the band on their two-year journey by foot.

Bluejacket kept a diary in his native language, which was later translated.  His entry in the fall of 1830 tells of the impending removal west.

“. . .have come to tell us all Indians must move right away to Girty’s town (St. Marys) to make more ready to go to new Indian land on big Ta-was-ke-ta (Prairies) near “Night lodge of Ke-sath-wa” (Setting place of the sun).

Our old people make much sorry (sorrow) for they not wish to leave old home . . .

When our white Father (Agent) have plenty much Me-she-ta (horses) then Indian start on long walk to new home.”

Bluejacket is one of several American Indian immigrants whose voices are preserved through letters, diaries, and other collections.

The Indian Removal Act brought more than 10,000 individuals from 20 tribes to what is now Kansas, including George Bluejacket.  Here the immigrants found life on the plains to be quite different from their homelands in the east.  They lived on specific tracts of land, adjacent to that of other tribes, and their children often were educated about white society at missions.  Many of these emigrants would be moved yet again after Kansas Territory opened to whites in 1854.  Their experiences are documented through correspondence with Indian agents.

Amelia Labedia letter in Kansas MemoryAmelia Labedia, member of the New York tribe, moved from New York to the area that became Kansas.  Living on tracts of land in Kansas Territory, Lebedia writes of conflicts with squatters who illegally attempted to settle the lands of the New York Indians in 1857.

“Now Sir be so kind as to tell me what is going to be done for us for we have sufered a great deal some are allmost starving the sqotter won’t let them do any work so that they can raise any thing to eat they take our fields from us and burn our houses and every thing that is bad I do believe they are the worst people in the world...”

Pierre Menard was an Indian agent charged with representing the Shawnee, Delaware, Peoria, Piankeshaw, and Kickapoo.  Writing in 1830, Menard estimates the cost of moving the tribes from Indiana to Kansas.

The merchandise to be given is uncertain; it depends entirely upon the season in which they move.  Although there is no obligation to clothe them; yet it is impossible to refuse clothing to many women and children, suffering in cold weather.

No-tin-no, a member of the Ottawa tribe, left his home in Ohio in 1839 and headed to what is today Kansas.  The Ottawa people, originally from the Great Lakes area, struggled to survive in the new land and to understand the competitive economic environment.  No-tin-no, along with four others, writes in 1843 to the commissioner of Indian Affairs, seeking clarification on the tribe’s treaty.

By 1867 most of these emigrant tribes had been removed from Kansas to make room for settlers from eastern states. Four American Indian tribes retained their reservations. Kansas is home today for the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Kickapoo, the Prairie Band Potawatomi, and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.

Entry: Emigrant Indians

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.