Keechy Tribe

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The Keechy Tribe was a Native American Southern Plains tribe that lived in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Also known as the Kichai, they were most closely related to the Pawnee.

Recognition Status: Unrecognized

The Keechy are no longer recognized as a distinct tribe. Today the remnants of the Keechy tribe are enrolled in the the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, to which they are related, as well as the Delaware Nation. These tribes live mostly in Southwestern Oklahoma, particularly in Caddo County, to which they were forcibly relocated by the United States Government in the 19th century.

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Their name for themselves was K’itaish.

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Kichai, Keechi,  Keeche  or Kitsai

Region: Great Plains Tribes

State(s) Today: Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas

Caddo, Wichita, and Delaware lands were broken up into individual allotments in the beginning of the 20th century. The Keechy people’s allotted lands were mainly in Caddo County, Oklahoma.

Traditional Territory:

Archeologist believe people lived around the Spiro Mounds for at least 8,000 years. The history of the Spiro Mounds area is typically divided into archaeological phases:

  • Evans Phase (900–1050 CE)
  • Harlan Phase (1050–1250 CE)
  • Norman Phase (1250–1350 CE)
  • Spiro phase (1350–1450 CE)

Residential construction at Spiro decreased dramatically around 1250, and people settled in nearby villages, such as the Choates-Holt Site to the north. Spiro remained a ceremonial and mortuary center through 1450. The mound area was abandoned about 1450, although nearby communities persisted until 1600. The cultures following in the wake of Spiro were less complex and hierarchical.

Most authorities agree that the people of Spiro were Caddoan speaking, but their descendants in historic times are difficult to identify. Archaeologists speculate that the Caddo Confederacy, Wichita, Kichai, or non-Caddoan Tunica could be their descendants. However, the cultures of all these peoples, when encountered by the Spanish and French in the 16th and 17th centuries, were substantially different from that of Spiro.

Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (Wichita, Keechi, Waco and Tawakonie) are recognized by the US Federal government and archaeologists as the cultural descendants of the builders of the Spiro Mounds.

At the time of Hernando de Soto’s visit in the 1540s, the Caddo controlled a large territory. It included what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and Northwest Louisiana. Archaeologists have thought that the Caddo and related peoples had been living in the region for centuries and that they had their own local variant of Mississippian culture.

Recent excavations have revealed within that region more cultural diversity than scholars had expected. The sites along the Arkansas River, in particular, seem to have their own distinctive characteristics. Scholars still classify the Mississippian sites found in the entire Caddo area, including Spiro Mounds, as “Caddoan Mississippian.

French explorers encountered the Keechy on the Red River in Louisiana in 1701. By the 1830s and 1840s, they lived in Southern and Southwestern Oklahoma with the Wichita and in the Muscogee Creek Nation.

The Keechy were part of the complex, shifting political alliances of the South Plains. By 1772, they primarily settled east of the Trinity River, near present-day Palestine, Texas.

Confederacy: Caddoan Confederacy 

Composed of many tribes, the Caddo were organized into three confederacies, the Hasinai, Kadohadacho, and Natchitoches, which were all linked by similar languages. The Keechy intermarried with peoples from the Kadohadacho Confederacy.

Treaties:

Treaty With The Comanche, Aionai, Anadarko, Caddo, Etc., 1846

Population at Contact:

Population Today:

Forty-seven fullblood Kichai lived in Oklahoma in 1950. There were only four at the end of the 20th century. 

Language Classification:

The Kichai language is a member of the Caddoan language family, along with Arikara, Pawnee, and Wichita.

Number of fluent Speakers:

Nasuteas (Kichai Woman), WichitaNasuteas (Kichai Woman), a Kichai that was part of the
Wichita tribe, 1898. Photo by Frank Rinehart (1861-1928)
Public domain photo via Wikimedia.
The language is now extinct. Kai Kai, a Kichai woman from Anadarko, Oklahoma, was the last known fluent speaker of the Kichai language. She collaborated with Dr. Alexander Lesser to record and document the language.

Related Tribes:

The Kichai were most closely related to the Pawnee. They were also related to the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes,  as well as the Delaware Nation, Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan (now known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Bertold Reservation), Tawakoni, and Waco.

Traditional Allies:

In 1712, they fought the Hainai along the Trinity River; however, they were allied with other member tribes of the Caddoan Confederacy and intermarried with the Kadohadacho during this time.

Traditional Enemies:

 Early Europeans identified them as enemies of the Caddo.

Tribe History:

Spiro Mounds

Spiro Mounds  is a major Northern Caddoan Mississippian archaeological site located in Eastern Oklahoma. The 80-acres site lies near the Arkansas River in Fort Coffee, seven miles north of the town of Spiro. Between the 9th and 15th centuries, the local people created a powerful religious and political center, culturally linked to the Mississippian Ideological Interaction Sphere (MIIS).

Spiro was a major western outpost of Mississippian culture. Spiro Mounds is under the protection of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the 1930s during the Great Depression treasure hunters bought the rights to tunnel into Craig Mound—the second-largest mound on the site—to mine it for artifacts. They exposed a hollow burial chamber inside the mound, a unique feature containing some of the most extraordinary pre-Columbian artifacts ever found in the United States, including some of fragile, perishable materials: textiles and feathers uniquely preserved in the chamber.

The treasure hunters sold the artifacts they recovered to art collectors, some as far away as Europe. Some of these artifacts were later returned to regional museums and the Caddo Nation, though other artifacts have never been accounted for. This site has been significant for North American archaeology since the 1930s, especially due to its many preserved textiles and wealth of shell carving.

The Caddoan Mississippian region contained many towns in addition to Spiro, including the Battle Mound Site. Scholars have determined that Battle Mound, lying along the Great Bend of the Red River in Southwest Arkansas, was a larger site than Spiro. Little excavation has been done there to date. The Caddoan Mississippian towns had a more irregular layout of earthen mounds and associated villages than did towns in the Middle Mississippian heartland to the east. They also lacked the wooden palisade fortifications often found in the major Middle Mississippian towns. Living on the western edge of the Mississippian world, the Caddoan may have faced fewer military threats from their neighbors. Their societies may also have had a somewhat lower level of social stratification.

Social stratification is a society’s categorization of people into socioeconomic strata, based upon their occupation and income, wealth and social status, or derived power (social and political). As such, stratification is the relative social position of persons within a social group, category, geographic region, or social unit. Generally, the greater the social complexity of a society, the more social strata exist, by way of social differentiation.

Battle of Stone Houses

On November 10, 1837, the Texas Rangers fought the Keechy Tribe in the Battle of Stone Houses. The Kichai were victorious, despite losing their leader in the first attack.

In the News:

Further Reading:

The Wichita Indians and allied tribes Waco, Towakoni, and Kichai