Who are the Quapaw Indians?

J.L. Drede
J.L. Drede
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Quapaw Indians are a tribe of American Indians that historically lived lived along the Mississippi in the part of the United States that eventually became Arkansas. The tribe still exists today, but like many Indian nations, its numbers decreased substantially during the colonization of America by Europe. The term Quapaw means "down stream people," describing where the Quapaw made its home for hundreds of years. The rival Illini Indian tribe identified the Quapaw as Akansea, which is also what European settlers called the tribe at first. The state name Arkansas is derived from this name.

The tribe believe that before making its home along the Mississippi in the south its members originally lived in the Ohio Valley along the Ohio River. Records of the tribe's habitation of the southern Mississippi date back hundreds of years. The tribe's first interaction with Europeans came in the 1673, when French explorers discovered them while searching for a trading route through the Americas to the Pacific Ocean.

The French developed a hospitable relationship with the Quapaw tribe, who became allies with the French so they could get access to what they saw as powerful weapons and tools. During the French-Indian War, France would use Indian tribes like the Quapaw to fight British soldiers. When the French lost the war they withdrew completely from the Mississippi area, giving the area up for Spanish rule. Instead of allying with the Spanish though, the Quapaw Indians entered an alliance with the British. This alliance also led to peace with the Qickasaw tribe, a rival Native American tribe that the Quapaw Indians battled with for years before.

Neither the French-Indian War nor battles with rival tribes decimated the Quapaw numbers. Instead, as with the case of most American Indian tribes, numbers fell due to diseases brought over by the Europeans. The Quapaw had no natural immunity to diseases such as smallpox and it led to the tribe being decimated. When the Quapaw Indians were first contacted by the French in the 1600s it was estimated that the tribe's population was greater than 5,000. Within 100 years they were down approximately 700, due largely in part to a brutal smallpox epidemic that claimed thousands in 1699. In 1909, the tribe was numbered at just 305.

By that point the Quapaw Indians had relocated to Oklahoma. The Quawpaw Indians are recognized as an official tribe of Oklahoma, with a reservation and official government body set up in the state.

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Discussion Comments


@TreeMan - You may be on to something there, I have never heard of a mascot being named after the Cherokee Indians and they are arguably the most well known Indian tribe in the United States.

As far as the Quapaw goes, they do not have to have a college mascot to have people know who they are. They could be a tribe that is only regionally known in the Arkansas area and my question would be whether or not they are studied by students in school or if the state celebrates their culture. I know they may be a very small tribe, but after all the state is named after them.


I do not know of any mascots named after the Quapaw, but the Illini were named after a collection of Indian tribes in the Illinois area.

It could be that the Quapaw were not well known enough in the area once it was settled for them to instill their mark on the area, but then again the state was named after them.

Anymore as far as Indian mascots go people seem to get very offended when a University uses an Indian mascot. I remember the University of Illinois having to get rid of their mascot because the Illini Indian's ancestors changed their minds and went back on something they said forcing the University to lose the mascot. The Quapaw could be the same way and not want a University to have a mascot named after their tribe.


@titans62 - When looking at Indian nations you have to look at them in the terms of geography back then and not necessarily nowadays as the way boundary lines are drawn.

Although the Illini tribe was primarily in the area of Illinois today and the Quapaw tribe was around Arkansas they were not entirely in the states present boundaries. They also could have moved around a little bit.

I will say though that I have never heard of the Quapaws and was shocked to hear that the state of Arkansas is named after them. I am not at all surprised about Illinois being named after the Illini, because it was a large Indian tribe and had a long significant history. I am just surprised that such a tribe does not have more history written about them considering a state was named after them.


I have heard of the Illini Indian tribe, but I have never heard if the Quapaw tribe. The only reason I have heard of the Illini Indian tribe is because of the University of Illinois fighting Illini mascot as well as me assuming that the state of Illinois was named after the Illini. I would have never guessed that the Quapaw Indian tribe was where the state of Arkansas got their name.

I am also surprised that both tribes went to war considering that Arkansas is a little far from Illinois. It is not terribly far from Illinois but thinking that they would have to walk all that way leads me to believe that it would have been a long way just to fight somebody.

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