The Wichita Indians are a Native American tribe located in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas in the United States. Other associated tribes include the Waco, Keechi, and Tawakonie tribes. The Wichita were known for their large dome-shaped grass dwellings. A number of U.S. cities and natural landmarks are named after the Wichita. The tribe is recognized by the U.S. federal government and is headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Archeologists believe the Wichita culture descended from the Washita River culture more than 800 years ago. The Washita River culture was spread across the valleys of central and western Oklahoma. These people hunted game and gathered plants for food, medicine, and rituals. Between 1350 and 1450 A.D., some began congregating in larger villages with fortified grass houses. Others moved northward into Arkansas.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition in 1541 marked the first time Europeans made contact with the Wichita Indians. By this time, many Wichita communities cultivated corn and traded extensively with other indigenous groups in the southwestern U.S. In the winter, many Wichita left their villages behind to follow the American bison in seasonal hunts. The population of the Wichita Indians at the time of European contact has been estimated at 200,000.
Like many indigenous groups in the Americas, contact with Europeans introduced infectious diseases for which the natives had no immunity. Wichita Indian populations exposed to European contact are thought to have dropped dramatically from sicknesses such as smallpox. Interaction with Europeans also introduced new technology and domesticated species to the Wichita. They were reported to have acquired guns and horses by 1719.
Settlers from the U.S., Mexico, and the Texas Republic who encountered Wichita Indians largely forced them out of their lands. The population of Wichita and associated tribes was estimated to be no more than 1,400 persons in 1820. In 1855 a reservation was established for Wichita Indians along the Brazos River. In 1863, many Wichita Indians were forced to flee north by troops of the Confederate States of America. Since contact with Europeans, there has also been a significant effort to convert Wichita Indians to Christianity.
Historically, Wichita Indians spoke the Wichita language. All members of the tribe now speak English and, as of 2008, only one person spoke fluent Wichita. The language is considered a moribund language with a significant risk of language extinction. Despite efforts to continue the practices of Wichita culture, many tribe members have chosen to fully integrate into American society.