Archive for Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sacred Places

February 20, 2011


Indian rock

There is a sacred rock in Lawrence that geologists say was deposited by a glacier millions of years ago.

It was originally located along the banks of the Kaw River at the mouth of Shunganunga Creek. The Kaw people used the 10-foot-tall red rock for religious ceremonies.

It was also a sacred place for the Kaw to obtain stones for making pipes.

It was an ancient prayer rock, said Jim Pepper Henry, a Kaw tribal member.

The Kaw had 89 songs for this rock alone. The Kaw believe that along the Kansas River there were several spirit villages where the souls of warriors and all good dreamers went on their death.

On June 4, 1873, the Kaw Indians were forced to leave Kansas for a new reservation in Indian Territory. The tribal headquarters are in Kaw City, Okla., just over the Kansas border.

In 1929, the Kaw's sacred rock was moved to Robinson Park near Lawrence's City Hall.

A plaque was then placed on the massive rock honoring the town's European founders.


Intaglios are surface depressions of animal shapes, such as the 160-foot-long serpent near Lyons holding a ball in its mouth.

Another serpent is near Waconda Lake, and four in Sedgwick County depict a turtle, a duck and perhaps two caterpillars. All are symbolic. The intaglios are barely noticeable from the ground, and all are on private land.

According to archaeological studies done by R. Clark Mallam in the early 1980s, the serpent site in Rice County dates to the 15th and 16th centuries.

It is believed the intaglios may have been used in religious ceremonies depicting the winter and summer solstices. As days became shorter and nights longer, the sky would take on greater significance to the Plains tribes with the positions of the stars and planets.

Remnants of the intaglios can be seen on the Kansas landscape today.

As the prairie sod was broken and crops planted, many of the sites have disappeared.

Penokee Man

Some sacred sites on the prairie are significant not only to Kansas but to the Great Plains and North America.

The Penokee Stone Man in Graham County in northwest Kansas — a 60-foot rock outline of a man — is the only one of its kind in the state, similar to those found in the Dakotas that were destroyed by early pioneers who simply moved the rocks.

Centuries ago, 100 rocks were placed on the grassy prairie to form the shape of a man lying on the ground. The outline is best seen from the air.

He is known as Penokee Man — for the nearby town of Penokee — or Naape, in some tribal cultures.

According to Don Blakeslee, WSU archaeologist, "Naape was not the creator of the world, but he is a heroic figure who transformed the Earth to make it suitable for human beings. The Blackfoot in the north believe he was doing this when he got tired and laid on a hilltop. He spread out his arms and marked where he was with a series of boulders. The view when you are at the Penokee Man is that you can see 360 degrees on the horizon."

The tribes may have come together to perform renewal ceremonies by the stone man.


Petroglyphs are pictures or designs that were cut and carved into rock, often centuries ago.

They are the graffiti of early Kansans and often found on the sandstone bluffs and cliffs of central and north-central Kansas.

One of the state's premier Native American petroglyphs — Inscription Rock — used to be in Ellsworth County in central Kansas until it crumbled and was destroyed more than a decade ago.

Inscription Rock was first photographed by Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner in 1867.

His photo showed an Indian drawing of a chief or shaman lying in the foreground with teepees in the background. It is believed to be Pawnee.

One of the most famous petroglyph sites — depicting a warrior on a horse — is buried under Wilson Reservoir in Russell County.

Some sites have been destroyed through years of erosion from wind and water, others through vandalism.

Some sites remaining are often hard to find, even with landowners' permission.

Sacred circles

There are four council circles scattered in McPherson and Rice counties in central Kansas.

The council circles, dirt mounds built hundreds of years ago on grass ridges, are 150 feet in diameter.

Archaeologists believe each circle at one time had a series of four 25- to 30-foot kidney-shaped structures surrounding it, perhaps made of grass, branches, sod and dirt.

Three of the circles in Rice County are visible from one another — and are aligned for viewing of the winter and summer solstices.

They may have been built by Quivira/Wichita Indians and used during sacred ceremonies to promote the growing seasons.

The circles are also in direct alignment with a serpent intaglio in Rice County.


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