In the Beginning: 1540-1750

“After the man and woman were made they dreamed that things were made for them, and when they woke they had the things of which they had dreamed…The woman was given an ear of corn…It was to be the food of the people that should exist in the future, to be used generation after generation.”-Tawakoni Jim in the Mythology of the Wichita, 1904

The culture, history and ancestors of the Kirikir?i:s–the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes–can be traced back to the Central and Southern Plains since prehistoric times. Our people include the Wichita Proper, Waco, Taovaya, Tawakoni and Kichai.

Wichita legends tell us that the history of our people forms a cycle. With the world’s creation, the gifts of corn and the bow and arrow were bestowed upon the people by the spirits of the first man and woman, Morning Star and the Moon. The cycle is complete with the days of darkness, when the earth becomes barren. Just as disaster seems, imminent, the cycle begins again, and the world is renewed through the new creation.

Archaeologists believe that the heritage of the Wichita may be traced back to the Plains Village period of prehistory which began about 1200 years ago. The Plains Village cultures of the central and southern Plains, possibly related to the Wichita, inhabited a vast territory encompassing most of the present day states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and most of the northern half of Texas, including the panhandle. In central and western Oklahoma, one of these ancestral Wichita cultures, is known as the Washita River phase. Living along fertile valleys, these people resided in small villages of rectangular, mud-plastered houses. Nearby were small gardens where women tilled and weed corn, beans, and squash with hoes of buffalo leg and shoulder bones. Buffalo, elk, deer, and small game were hunted. Wild plants were collected for foods, medicines, and rituals. Tools were made from readily available stone, wood bone, and antler. Between A.D. 1350 and 1450, some Washita River people began to build larger villages with circular grass houses, some of which were fortified. Others apparently moved northward to the Great Bend of the Arkansas, a land known to later Spanish explorers as Quivira.

When first encountered by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541, the Quiviran ancestors of the Wichita were following a way of life that continued into the nineteenth century. Near their large grass house villages, women tilled their gardens while the men hunted buffalo and other game. Trade was extensive and included commodities such as glazed paint pottery, obsidian, turquoise pendants, shell beads from the Pueblo villages of New Mexico, as well as bois d’arc and engraved pottery from Caddo settlements of northeastern Texas.

With the Spanish settlement of New Mexico and the arrival of French hunters and traders in the Mississippi Valley, the lives of the Wichita were profoundly affected. By acquiring horses from the Spanish colonies, the Wichita could follow herds of buffalo over a much wider range and hunt them more efficiently. From the French towns in Louisiana, metal hoes, guns and buckets reached the Wichita. In some cases, these goods were used by the Wichita in their own daily tasks. However, others were used to maintain or establish trading ties with such recently arrived Southern Plains people as the Comanche.

Next: People of the Grass House