History of the Kansas Munsee (1830 to Present)

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 11, 2007

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The American West

In the 1830s, a faction of the tribe favored a move to the American West where other tribes were settling on reservations. During the intervening years, some Delaware tribes had moved to Indiana (for whom the town of Muncie, Indiana, is named), Missouri, and then to Kansas. Another group, the Stockbridge Mohican (named for their mission village in Massachusetts), had settled in Wisconsin a few years earlier. In 1837, some of the Munsee from Fairfield set off on a journey to Wisconsin in open Mackinaw boats across the Great Lakes to join their kinsman. The combined tribe became known as the Stockbridge-Munsee, where they remain today as the only recognized Munsee in the U.S., although they have since re-adopted their Mohican name.

Most of the Munsee eventually rejoined their tribe in Ontario (where today the Canadian government recognizes them as the Delaware Nation, Moravian of the Thames), but in 1839, a small group continued on to join other Delaware in Kansas. From that point on, the Kansas Munsee were a distinct band with their own identity. My Grandmother always made it clear that her family was Canadian Munsee, and not Stockbridge. In Kansas, they first settled in Wyandotte County and a few years later acquired land in Leavenworth County, still under the ministry of the Moravian church. Another group settled near Fort Scott in Bourbon County.

The Delaware Indians in Kansas actively participated in western expansion, working as scouts and buffalo hunters for wagon trains and the American Army. Some served as soldiers in California for the American Army during the Mexican War of 1846–1848. Nevertheless, by 1854, pressure from white settlers and unscrupulous land dealers prompted most of the Delaware, and indeed most of the other Kansas tribes as well, to sell their lands and join others in Indian Territory or in Canada.

Lost in Leavenworth

Despite the removal of their neighbors, the Munsee held on to their land in Leavenworth County. The Treaty with the Delawares of 1854, which provided for the sale of all Delaware land in Kansas, specifically exempted the lands held by the Christian Munsee.

Nevertheless, the virtual attack on their land was almost immediate. Located along the Missouri River near the gateway city of Leavenworth, the Munsee tract was especially desirable to the rapid influx of settlers and land speculators. Indian Commissioner George W. Manypenny was one of the few who defended the Indians’ rights to their land. There were squatters, of course, but the major force against him was the body of land speculators with strong political connections. Over the next few years, Kansas businessmen and politicians made claim and exchanged money in anticipation of purchasing the Munsee land at bargain prices, all dependent on the action — or inaction — of Congress.

Any sale of land, of course, had to show some sense of approval by the Munsee. The buyers were not above using bribery, intimidation, and other methods of coercion to get representatives of the tribe to express their consent. In the end, Andrew Jackson Isaacs, former Attorney General for the Territory of Kansas, succeeded in having his purchase approved by Congress in 1858, for the sum of $43,400, which was probably less than half of the real value at the time.

The Munsee land deal in Leavenworth County set a new precedent in Indian land acquisition. It was the first time that an individual, or private group, was able to purchase a significant tract of Indian land directly, without the intervention of the U.S. General Land Office.

Treaty with the Chippewa

The Kansas policies of the 1850s virtually eliminated native American holdings from the Territory. Only a few isolated groups remained. Among them, besides the Christian Munsee, were a small band of the Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa (Ojibwe). In 1859, some members of these two groups agreed to consolidate their communities in Franklin County, near the town of Ottawa. The Treaty of 1859, which refers to the Munsee as the “Christian Indians”, finalized the agreement that established a tiny reservation of 12 square miles along the Marais des Cygnes (Marshes of the Swans), to be held in severalty. Signing the treaty for the Munsee were Henry Donohoe, Ignatius Caleb, and John Williams. Donohoe and Williams had married into the tribe. Caleb was the sole blood signer of the treaty.

The two tribes lived in peace but not always in harmony. The Munsee were decidedly Christian, as they had been for some time, now attending the church and school built by the Moravian missionary, Joseph Romig, who arrived in 1862. The Chippewa, on the other hand, for the most part remained true to their Algonquin religion, as practiced by their Chief Esh-ton-o-quot, known as Francis McCoonse.

It was soon apparent that Romig expected the tribe to ultimately renounce their tribal legacy in favor of U.S. citizenship and land ownership. He believed that the Munsee, once they were land-owners, would cede the mission property, which amounted to forty acres, to his Moravian church. He convinced his church leaders to continue supporting his efforts until such time as the Chippewa-Munsee sold out. Eshtonoquot vigorously opposed Romig and any others who pursued the dissolution of his tribe.

The conflict continued throughout the 1860s with no resolution from Congress. At one point, Eshtonoquot’s leadership was usurped on the newly formed tribal council by his son, Edward McCoonse, who sided with the Christian Munsee on the question of citizenship. The council also included Louis Gokey, Henry Donohoe, and Ignatius Caleb. The real struggle for all of them, was not so much the idea of citizenship, but the fear of the loss of control of their land.

After the Civil War, the combined Chippewa and Munsee tribes, suffering the consequences of disease and infant mortality, continued to diminish in number. In January, 1868, Eshtonoquot died, leaving the Chippewa without their spiritual leader. Romig made no secret of the fact that Eshtonoqot’s death encouraged his resolve to influence the Munsee to accept citizenship. But he never succeeded.

That summer, the Munsees made a genuine effort to pursue the possibility of joining the Cherokee in Indian Territory, but it never happened. Romig left the mission a few years later in the care of his father-in-law, Levi Ricksecker.

Dissolution of the Tribe

Throughout their history the Munsee were conspicuously absent from treaty negotiations, primarily due to their small number and desire to remain an independent band. They were often satisfied to live under verbal agreements with their neighbors, whether it was their parent Delaware, or other tribes such as the Shawnee, Wyandot, or Chippewa. In the end, their lack of identity in early treaties probably aided in their demise as a recognized band.

For four decades, the Kansas Munsee shared a reservation with the Chippewa. These two small bands vigorously held onto their land long after all of their more powerful neighbors, including the Delaware, the Ottawa, and the Sac & Foxes, had vanished from Kansas. Finally, in 1900 the final disbursement of federal funds was paid. All benefits were subsequently dissolved, meaning that from that time forward, unlike the Delaware Tribe in Oklahoma, the government would no longer recognize them as an Indian tribe. Of the seventy Munsee on the final roll, 43 were known descendants of the Caleb family and 21 were known descendants of the Kilbuck family.

Many of the descendants still live in the Ottawa, Kansas, area, and an effort is underway to re-establish their native identity.


One Response to “History of the Kansas Munsee (1830 to Present)”

  1. Terry says:

    We are decendants of Burgoon. My great grandfather is Jacob Burgoon who moved to Minnesota from Kansas. We would like to be contacted if possible.
    Thank you,
    Terry Black

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