The Quapaw Indians originally occupied the mouth of the Arkansas river, mostly on the west bank, when discovered by the French. They and related tribes like the Osage and Kansas originally lived further east before following the Ohio River to the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. In fact, the Illinois tribe called the Ohio River the river of the Akansea tribe.
The tribe historically had four to five villages for most of its history, with each sub-tribe having its own village. In 1803, a U.S. survey found three villages of Quapaw.
Much of the tribe today lives around Quapaw, Oklahoma. They also had an area called the Quapaw strip in Kansas that was part of its original 1833 reservation.
Today, the Quapaw are one of the few tribes with a historic reservation beyond the boundaries of a single state. It is the tribal land in Kansas on which they received a ruling in 2014 by the National Indian Gaming Commission that granted them the right to expand its casino there. The original casino opened in 2008.
They consider themselves to be the original people of Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi. In 2013, the tribe bought 160 acres near Little Rock airport. The land was previously part of the Thibault plantation.
Their name for themselves, Ugakhpa, meant “downstream people”. They called the Omaha tribe the upstream people. The surrounding tribes like the Illinois called them the Akansea. Acansa was also the name of one of their towns. This became Akenssas or Arkansas in the mouths of the French, and thus the name of the Arkansas River and state of Arkansas.
The Quapaw were farmers, raising corn, beans and squash. They lived in settled villages with square houses with thatch roofs. They used cradle boards for their children. The tribe was divided into two moieties, Earth and Sky, with 21 clans. Each clan had members in all of the Quapaw villages.
Contact with the French led to a long term mission by the Jesuits, resulting in many Quapaw becoming Catholic. The last chief before their relocation to Oklahoma was Catholic.
The tribe today has its own government, complete website. There is an annual Quapaw powwow. The tribe owns a casino in southeast Kansas.
They spoke a language, Dhegiha, that was a dialect of the Osage and Kansa languages. It was part of the Siouan language family. Very little of the language was documented except for some word lists and vocabularies.
Each band of Quapaw had a chief and tribal council. Today, the entire tribe has an elected council.
The Quapaw Indians are probably descended from the Pacaha or Casqui.
The Quapaw tribe was first noted by De Soto in 1541 in what is now Phillips County. Their town with a palisade had several thousand people. They were then passed over by European explorers for a century until French commander Louis Jolliet made his voyage of discovery on the Mississippi River. He stayed in their village for several days.
La Salle visited their five villages in 1682. One of the villages at that point was on the east bank of the Mississippi river.
In 1683, Tonti, a French Commander, built a fort that became Arkansas Post. In 1697, a smallpox epidemic killed a majority of the tribe. The tribe’s numbers dropped to around a thousand.
In 1729, the Quapaw aided the French in a war against the Natchez. They periodically warred with the Chickasaw and several tribes to their south.
In 1818, the Quapaw made a treaty with the United States. They gave up all claims past the Red River and to lands east of the Mississippi except for a few areas in southeast Arkansas.
In 1834, the Quapaw tribe was relocated to the northeastern part of Oklahoma.