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Tobias Archeological Site

A community of thousands of people lived in central Kansas between1400 and 1700 AD. They farmed and raised families on the rolling prairie. Their villages were located amid fertile plains, well suited to farming. Here they dug cache pits to store food supplies and grew maize, beans, and squash and gathered walnuts, hickory nuts, and grapes. The materials they left behind now give us clues about their lives.

We now know that these early people were ancestors of the Wichita. They lived in beehive-shaped grass lodges between 25 and 40 feet in diameter. Low mounds mark the oval-shaped footprints of 19 of these dwellings at the Tobias Archeological Site.

Because the dwellings were made of lightweight materials, little survives among the remains. Postholes indicate where structural poles were set. The poles were pulled together and lashed at the top.

Inside the grass lodges were open spaces that could accommodate large family groups. Special lodges were arbors for sleeping during hot summer months, for drying corn, or for sweat lodge rituals.

Their pottery was utilitarian only a few designs on the handles and lips. Limestone pieces were used for grinding and processing grains. Other everyday items included projectile points, stone and digging tools, and picks and awls of bone.

There is evidence that they traded with others far away. Items found were distinctive red, grey, and white chert from the panhandle of Texas; white chert from the Ozarks area; and items from the Southwest including pottery, obsidian, and pieces of turquoise.

With the movement of other native peoples onto the plains, the Wichita abandoned their villages and migrated to the south. In 1719 many were living in what is now Oklahoma. In the latter part of the 18th century many Wichita were living in what is Texas near the Red and Brazos rivers. They sought refuge during the Civil War in Kansas and were later assigned reservation land in Oklahoma.

In 1940 archeologist Waldo Wedel studied the area for the Smithsonian Institution. Wedel documented the “council circle,” a plaza at the center of village, which led to the idea that the site was oriented toward the solstice sunrise.

The Tobias site, named for landowner Cyrus Tobias, along with the adjacent C. F. and Paul Thompson site, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The site, acquired by the state of Kansas in 1980 and administered by the Kansas Historical Society, is not open to the public so that it can continue to be preserved for future generations to learn more about these Wichita ancestors.

Entry: Tobias Archeological Site

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: April 2013

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