The Inhabitants of Etzanoa
The Great Central and Southern Plains of the United States was home to hundreds of thousands of native peoples prior to discovery of the continent by Christopher Columbus. They lived in groups often based on family relationships, common languages, common legends of creation, and legends of how the world works around them.
Most groups were hunter-gatherers who roamed from place to place following great herds of bison and other wild game. They also took advantage of wild fruits, berries and nuts that they came across. Wild plants were also collected for medicines and rituals. There were no horses or metal tools in the prehistory times, prior to 1500 AD.
Many groups of natives fought one another for possession of the best lands to hunt, fish, collect wild plants and find a continuous supply of clean drinking water. A place containing many springs was highly valued. Access to rivers was important for transporting trade goods from one native group to another.
During prehistoric times, some groups of natives became more settled by building more permanent dwellings and by planting fields of crops around their homes. Many archaeologists believe that one of these groups traces back to the Washita River culture of central and western Oklahoma in 1350 AD. Some of the group moved north to the Great Bend of the Arkansas River and to another Kansas area called the “Great Settlement”.
It has been long accepted by anthropologists and archaeologists that these agricultural natives in Kansas were the ancestors of the Wichita Nation.
By about 1450 AD some of these people living along fertile rivers and valleys began to build larger villages. They built large circular houses out of tall prairie grasses and wooden poles. Their houses were large enough to hold 10 to 12 persons of a related family.
Next to groups of beehive shaped huts were vegetable gardens tended by women who tilled and weeded crops of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. Tools for the garden were made from stone, bone, wood and antlers. The women made pottery out of clay.
Hunting for bison, deer, elk, turkey and other small game was generally done by men and boys. They would have worked stone for arrow points, knives, spear heads, blades and stone weapons. Because of the abundance of food they were able to grow and store, they would have to defend their property and villages from enemy natives who wished to take what they were able to produce. Stealing food stores and taking slaves was a common activity of many of the plains natives. The ancestors of the Wichita were often targets of other native groups because their settlements were stationary.
During the spring and summer, the natives planted and tended gardens. In the fall, the crops were harvested and dried under open grass thatched huts. The dried corn was ground into meal to use and some was stored for future use when food became scarce. Some of the corn was stored in buffalo-hide bags and placed into underground cache pits. Corn meal was used to make bread, added to soups or used as a side dish. Pumpkins were cut into strips and dried and woven into mats that could be folded and stored. In some instances, the dried crops and mats were used as trade goods with other natives in exchange for dried bison meat.
During the winter months the entire community would pack up and follow the bison herds. They used tipis made of skins as their dwellings while traveling. The men would hunt and kill bison. The women would skin the bison to make winter clothing and blankets and process the bison meat and fats for meal preparation and preservation. Every part of the bison was used by the natives.
The first of the European explorers to enter the lands of the Great Plains was the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1541. Like most conquistadors, he was seeking gold, silver and precious stones like those found in the Aztec Empire by Cortez. He did not find the great riches he was looking for, but he did find an agricultural group of natives that allowed the Spanish explorers to stay with them for about 25 days.
The Spaniards tried to get information about the locations of richer villages. Coronado found these agricultural natives at the Great Bend of the Arkansas River in south central Kansas.. He estimated about 25 villages were in that land area that he called “Quivira”. Coronado’s explorations were considered to be a failure because no great riches were found.
The next explorer, Juan de Oñate, was known as the last conquistador. He became the founder and first governor of New Mexico. In 1601 after his colony was established in New Mexico, he took more than 70 Spanish soldiers and priests and an unknown number of Indian soldiers and servants on an expedition to the north and east. They traveled with about 700 horses and mules and some wooden carts across the plains to search for “Cibola”, one of the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold”.
Oñate also sought the mysterious “Great Settlement” described to the Spaniards by a native guide who had been there. The Oñate explorers called the natives of the Great Settlement by the name “Rayados”, which is the Spanish word for “striped”. The name referred to their custom of painting or tattooing their faces around the eyes, like raccoons, and their bodies with solid and dotted lines and circles. The Spaniards described these natives as scantily clad, with men wearing only breechcloths and women wearing short skirts during the hot summer months.
Oñate’s expedition spent only three days traveling through the Great Settlement and documenting observations of what they found. The Spaniards initially took a chief and several other natives as hostages. That action scared the inhabitants away from the town. When the Spaniards realized how big the town was, about 20,000 people, they grew afraid that the natives were gathering to attack them, so they turned around and left the settlement to return to New Mexico.
Oñate’s native guide reported that the natives of the Great Settlement called their town “Etzanoa”. Since the location of the Great Settlement was confirmed in 2015, many people call this ancient native group, “Etzanoans”, ancestors of the Wichita Tribe.
For more information on the history of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, please go to: http://www.wichitatribe.com/ history/in-the-beginning-1540- 1750.aspx