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Udden Chain Mail

Chain mail in Museum exhibit case Johan August Udden was an instructor of natural science at Bethany College in Lindsborg. He also was an amateur archeologist, and from 1881 to 1888 he investigated the ruins of an ancient American Indian village southwest of Lindsborg. He left fascinating accounts of his discoveries, describing the bone and stone tools these people used, as well as descriptions of their pottery cooking vessels and the butchered bones of the animals that they ate.

His most unusual find was a two-inch-square piece of rusted iron, which he identified as a section of chain mail armor. Made of interlocking small rings of iron, this armor formed a net-like fabric for protection from arrows, spears, and knives. Chain mail was brought to the New World by early Spanish explorers and Udden recognized its significance. He also was familiar with the Spanish accounts of the 1541 expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to the land of Quivira, and he was the first to suggest that this particular village site might have been one of the Quiviran villages visited by the Spaniards. This singular find provided the first definite physical evidence relating to the early presence of Spaniards in what is now Kansas. Archeologists and historians identify the Quivirans as part of the Wichita tribe, and the visits by Coronado and later Spaniards are the first historic accounts of this successful hunting and farming group who lived here 450 years ago. Today the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes have an enrolled membership of more than 1,900 people, and their headquarters is in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

The chain mail find disappeared under mysterious circumstances even before Udden published his account in 1900. For many years, archeologists thought that this very important specimen was forever lost. It reappeared in 1974 in an antique store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was promptly obtained by the Kansas Historical Society. The chain mail has since been studied by experts of 16th century armor who verified its authenticity and said that it was most likely horse chain mail. This unique and important relic of the history of Kansas is now on exhibit at the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Udden Chain Mail


Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: April 2013

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