Wichita Indians

By: Earl H. Elam

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1996

The Wichita band of Indians was one of several bands that composed the Wichita confederacy. The name Wichita is first found in the early seventeenth century in historical records of French traders, who used the word Ousitas to identify one band of Indians who lived near the Arkansas River in present Oklahoma. In the nineteenth century the name came to be used to refer to several confederated bands who recognized a common progenitor and had similar traditions and culture. The Wichita called themselves Kitikiti'sh, meaning "raccoon eyes," because the designs of tattoos around the men's eyes resembled the eyes of the raccoon. In central Kansas in 1541 the Coronado expedition visited Indians whom Coronado called Quiviras and who have been identified by archeological and historical studies as Wichitas. By 1719 these people had moved south to Oklahoma and were called Ousitas by the French trader Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe. From the 1750s to 1810 one band of the Wichita Indians was on the Red River north of the site of present Nocona, Texas. The Wichitas, during this period, were prominent middlemen in the trade between the Comanches on the plains and Louisiana merchants and were at the zenith of their power and prestige. Warriors of the band accompanied the Comanches in the attack on the Spanish Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission in 1758, and the Red River villages withstood a retaliatory strike by the Spanish in 1759. In 1772 Athanase de Mézières, commandant of the Spanish post at Natchitoches, Louisiana, visited a band of Quedsitas on the upper Brazos River; in 1784 Texas Governor Domingo Cabello y Robles reported Guachita depredations in the San Antonio area; and periodically, beginning in 1787, Guichitas or Huichitas regularly visited San Antonio. The America agent at Natchitoches in 1805 identified one of the Red River villages as the Wicheta.

The Wichita as a distinct band declined after the abandonment of the Wicheta village about 1810, although periodically thereafter until the 1850s villages of Wichita, sometimes called Towiach or Tawehash, were located on the Wichita and Brazos rivers. United States dragoons visited a Wichita village on the north fork of the Red River west of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma in 1834, and for years afterward the Wichita lived in the vicinity of the mountains, including the site where Fort Sill was later established and Rush Springs, where their village was destroyed in 1858 by a United States military force pursuing hostile Comanches who were camped nearby. Survivors joined remnants of other bands of the Wichita confederacy on the Washita River in 1859 and, when the Civil War broke out, fled with them to Kansas. After the Civil War they were relocated with their kinsmen, the Wacoes, Tawakonis, and Kichais, and other associated tribes on the Wichita Reservation near present Anadarko, Oklahoma. The reservation was opened to allotment in an agreement with the Wichitas and affiliated bands in 1891. In the 1990s the Wichita group still existed as a federally recognized governmental entity.

Significant and continuing influence of the name Wichita is found in North Texas in the name of a river, the name of a county, and the name of a prominent city, Wichita Falls. Wichita, Kansas, owes its name to the early presence of the tribe in that area. The Wichitas were dependent on both agriculture and hunting for subsistence. They lived in villages of dome-shaped grass houses, farmed extensive fields of corn, tobacco, and melons along the streams where they made their homes, and left their villages for annual hunts during which time they cached their stores of agricultural goods in the ground along the banks of streams. Slightly darker in color than other native people of Texas, the Wichitas were distinguished by their elaborate tattoos, the scalp-lock worn by the men, and the custom of the women to remain nude from the waist up. They had little ritualistic religion, but were impressed by the natural forces around them and gave expression to them in an elaborate mythology. Although warriors by tradition, the men, as well as women, tended to be friendly toward strangers, avoided confrontations unless provoked, and were noted for their hospitality. Their villages were landmarks on the southern plains, were well laid out, and were clearly distinguishable by their grass lodges and nearby fields.

Robert Bell, Edward B. Jelks, and W. W. Newcomb, Wichita Indians (New York: Garland, 1974). Earl H. Elam, The History of the Wichita Indian Confederacy to 1868 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1971). Frederick Webb Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1907, 1910; rpt., New York: Pageant, 1959). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). W. W. Newcomb, The People Called Wichita (Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series, 1976).
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Tribes (Major)
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Earl H. Elam, “Wichita Indians,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wichita-indians.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996