Opinion: Tribe has historical ties to land

August 14, 2013


Many years ago the eminent anthropologist Frank Speck wrote that the last Lenape (Delaware) “Big House,” their traditional spiritual center, was located somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Pine Farm in North Lawrence. The adjacent land, where the Lawrence Airport now sits, was cleared for the tribe’s primary maize field by Chief Sarcoxie’s and Chief Fall Leaf’s bands of Delaware soon after their arrival in 1830.

That “Delaware Commons” was continuously farmed until these endlessly harassed native people were forced to relocate shortly after the Civil War. In that bloody conflict virtually every able-bodied Delaware man enlisted with the Union Army.

As the Journal-World reported on Aug. 11, and an editorial reiterated on Aug. 12, the Delaware were forced by the federal authorities to “move to an Oklahoma reservation.” These veterans returned home only to learn that their tribe was being removed to land our government confiscated from the Cherokees as punishment for joining the Confederate side.

Adding insult to injury, the authorities then declared that the Delaware were to be hereafter considered “Cherokees.” The clear intent was to end the tribe’s existence by folding them into the much larger and deeply resentful Cherokee Nation, their mortal enemies in the recent war.

Chief Fall Leaf’s band resisted removal the longest. In a letter every Kansas school child should read, the old chief pleaded with authorities to stop starving his people by withholding treaty-guaranteed provisions in order to force these helpless holdouts to abandon their homes and relocate to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

Gov. Charles Robinson was centrally involved in plotting with the Delaware agent, John Pratt, to get the tribe removed from Kansas. The rich “Delaware Commons” Indian cornfield soon became the heart of Robinson’s “best farm in the territory.”

The governor and cofounder of Lawrence received the famed property as a bribe. The rights to that highly coveted farmland were obtained fraudulently. Leavenworth railroad developers bypassed tribal leaders in favor of a Delaware woman who had no authority to sell the land. Then the land went to Robinson for selling out his hometown’s deep commercial interests in obtaining a south of the Kansas River route for the transcontinental railroad.

Your readers deserve to know that the Delaware did not arbitrarily select that property merely because it has close proximity to the Kansas Turnpike. They have purchased a land that is an important part of their history in Kansas. There is a lot of speculation that the Delaware “Return to Kansas” movement is about a casino. The tribe’s return is driven by many decades of discrimination and restrictions limiting their ability to prosper independently. Tribal sovereignty is paramount.

Mention of Delaware land purchase inquiries in Leavenworth and Wyandotte Counties, as well as Ohio, reinforce the narrative that this long-abused tribe is merely shopping around for casino land. Both counties were integral parts of the original Delaware treaty land. The Delaware initially chose the site of Fort Leavenworth for their principal village until Lt. Leavenworth, finding Weston, Mo., too swampy for his fort site, disobeyed orders and violated treaty promises by confiscating that location for a military camp intended to guarantee that these Indians would never again be harassed or invaded by squatters or dishonest traders.

The Wyandotte tribe, which had been their neighbors in Ohio, arrived after all the best land had been taken. The Delaware sold these desperate Ohio refugees some of their land, which was promptly coveted by non-Indians who developed Kansas City, Kan.

It took close to a century for the Delaware to regain federal recognition. This resilient tribe’s members, who all Algonquian peoples call the “Grandfathers,” are finally coming home to Kansas, the land they were promised they could live on undisturbed forever if they would only put their mark on our government’s paper.

— Mike Caron earned his master’s degree from Kansas University and did additional graduate work in historical geography and anthropology at Louisiana State University and KU. He has researched Nation Americans in this area for more than 40 years.


down_the_river 4 years, 9 months ago

Very interesting piece. Do you have a link to Fall Leaf's letter that you mention?

Mike Ford 4 years, 9 months ago

In 1854 the Delaware Tribe sold the Munsee or Christian Indians four sections of land at $2.50 an acre. This land was lost to pretty much the same land speculators and railroad interests that Mr. Caron mentioned by 1858. This land is where Danny Zeck Ford is and St. Mary's College and the Soldiers Cemetery is. The street off of K-5 is called Muncie Street for this reason. In 1859, the Munsee or Christian Indians entered into a treaty with the Black River and Swan Creek Chippewa Tribe to live on a two mile wide by six mile long reservation between Ottawa, Homewood, and Pomona, KS. Throughout the 1860's the State of Kansas pushed tribes to take US citizenship to stay in Kansas or go to Indian Territory as Indians. Most of the Munsee's neighbors went to Indian Territory (Ottawa, Sac and Fox, Peoria, and Myamia) but these Munsee held on until Article Six of the Dawes Act was used to push citizenship and termination on them in 1900. Gillelemend was a signer of the 1778 Delaware Treaty but later went in with the Christian Indians of the Moravian Faith. He took the name Kilbuck. In 1782, many of the Munsee ancestors were murdered at the Ohio mission town known as Gnadenhutten. This tragedy drove the Munsee to Fort Detroit, then Fairfield, Ontario, then Wisconsin, then the Muncie Station, KS, area, and then Leavenworth, by the mid 1840's. The Lenape were in eastern Ohio near the modern towns of Coshocton and Newcomerstown, Ohio. Newcomerstown was named for the Lenape leader Netwatwees. I grew up at Plainfield, Ohio, between these two Ohio towns from 1971 to 1973.

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