ETHNONYMS: Pawnee Piques, Pawnee Picts
The Wichita are a Southern Plains American Indian group located aboriginally in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma in an area encompassing the Arkansas, Cimarron, and Canadian rivers. "Wichita" is evidently derived from the Choctaw word Wia chitch, meaning "big arbor" in reference to the Wichita's large grass lodges, which resembled haystacks. The Wichita name for themselves was "Kitikiti'sh" or "Kirikirish," meaning "Paramount Men." The name "Pawnee Piques" was given by the French in reference to the Wichita practice of heavily tatooing their faces and upper bodies. The Wichita today number about one thousand and are affiliated with the Caddo and Delaware in Caddo County, Oklahoma, where many live on allotted land. They are largely assimilated into European-American society.
First contact was with Coronado in 1541 who was pushing east from New Mexico in search of the "Land of Quivira." By the end of the seventeenth century the Wichita had acquired the horse and shortly thereafter began a hundred-year pattern of migrations south under pressure from the Osage, Comanche, and the French. By 1800 these conflicts plus additional ones with the Apache and disease had decimated the Wichita. In 1820 sustained contact with Whites began, leading to further relocations and eventual settlement in southern Oklahoma.
The traditional economy was based on horticulture (maize, squash, beans, tobacco) in the spring and summer and nomadic bison hunting in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer the Wichita lived in villages composed of large, grass-covered longhouses. In the winter months, when they hunted bison on the plains, they lived in tipis. At the time of contact in 1541 the Wichita may have numbered as many as fifty thousand and were composed of at least six subtribes, all of whom spoke dialects of Wichita, a Caddoan Language. The traditional religion centered on Kinnikasus, the creator of the universe, lesser male and female deities, and animistic beliefs in the supernatural forces present in many objects. In 1891 the Wichita adopted the Ghost Dance, though it essentially lost importance within a year, and in 1902 they adopted Peyotism, leading to a split between those who were aligned with Christianity and those who chose the Native American church. The Wichita are not legally incorporated as a tribe, though they do have a system of tribal governance based on a tribal chairman, other officers, and a council.
Dorsey, George A. (1904). The Mythology of the Wichita. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication no. 21. Washington, D.C.
Newcomb, William W., Jr. (1976). The People Called Wichita. Phoenix, Ariz.: Indian Tribal Series.