The Kickapoo Indians are part of the Algonquin language group of Native Americans. Their home range, when the whites first knew of them, was in lower Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. They were part of the Shawnee tribe at one time but had split off at some point. Their language, still recognized as Shawnee, picked up idiosyncrasies from new neighbors, such as whistle language for short commands.
Long before they met white settlers, Kickapoo culture had been greatly affected. The Iroquois from the New York area began a system of raids to expand their hunting and trapping territory in order to trade furs to the French. Many smaller tribes were attacked at this time until a large, though sporadic migration was under way. About 1640, the Kickapoo Indians and their neighbors, the Fox, the Sauk and the Mascouten tribes, moved to southern Wisconsin.
These tribes had always been sedentary farmers. They lived in large communities during the summer months. For the winters, they would break up into smaller groups and move to hunting camps. Their crops did not do well in their new home, however, and subsistence hunting soon depleted the available resources of the area.
The Kickapoo Indians had acquired the horse by this time. Their next move, beginning around 1700, was to the plains of northern Illinois. Their use of the horse allowed them to hunt buffalo with great efficiency. Farming was better for them here, and their lot improved greatly for a time.
The Kickapoo Indians, more than most tribes, wanted nothing to do with whites and their ways. When the Kickapoo had items for trade, they used an intermediary tribe rather than deal directly with white traders. This fact did not stop them from allying with the whites in some of the many small wars that erupted in the area. They sided with the cause that best suited their needs.
After the Tecumseh Wars, they were assigned lands in Missouri. They soon exchanged this land for some in Kansas. After moving there, disagreements caused large numbers of the Kickapoo tribe to leave, heading south and west. In the early 21st century, the Kickapoo Tribe is split into three groups with separate reservations, one in Kansas, another in Oklahoma and a third in south Texas.
Along with the main tribal group, there have been many small bands that have left the tribe over the years. Many Kickapoo headed west to warn other tribes that the whites were coming. There also is a land grant, recorded in 1775, from the Mexican colonial government, ceding a large tract of land to the Kickapoo. This land was in what is now Texas, but a fourth Kickapoo Reservation exists in northern Mexico in the Santa Rosa Mountains in the state of Chihuahua.
Many Indian tribes have sought to recover their heritage and customs over the years. The Kickapoo Indians have never lost theirs. Their mistrust of the whites and the United States government has kept them from taking on our culture. Though they hold jobs and attend schools, they still maintain their distinct cultural traditions.