The Kansas/Kanza/Kaw Nation

Oklahoma Territory

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Last Pure-Blood Kaw Dies
 

When 82-year-old William Mehojah died April 23, 2000 at Omaha's Methodist Hospital, he took a part of American history with him.

Mehojah was the last pure-blooded member of the Kaw Nation, the American Indian tribe formerly known as the Kanza tribe, from which the state of Kansas took its name.

Mehojah was born in Washunga, Okla., in 1917. Like many other young members of the tribe, he left the area and attended school at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan. He also studied at Muskogee Junior College and Idaho State University.

In 1943, he married his wife, Fredericka, who is a Cherokee, then went overseas with the Army to serve in World War II. He left the army in 1945 and embarked on a 35-year career in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. During his time with the bureau, he worked with tribes in Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho and Arizona, where he retired in 1976.

In the early 1800s, Kaw lands included 20 million acres stretching across much of northern Kansas and into Nebraska and Missouri, but settlers' westward expansion reduced that area to 2 million acres by 1825. Then in 1873, the federal government moved the tribe to a 100,000-acre reservation in northern Oklahoma and the land was divided among tribal members, said JoAnn Obregon, a member of the Kaw executive council.

Epidemics of smallpox and other diseases already had killed many of the Kaw, reducing their numbers to fewer than 700 at the time of the move to Oklahoma, Obregon said. Today, about 600 people live on the reservation, with 2,451 on the tribal rolls. Many of those members have only a fraction of Kaw blood, some as little as 1/128th.

By 1997, William Mehojah was the only surviving pure-blood Kaw.

"The reality of being the last full-blood to me is sad and lonely," he said in an interview with the Kaw newsletter in 1997.

 - courtesy of the Omaha World Herald

 

In His Own Words

William A. Mehojah: My name is William A. Mehojah. I was born on August 6, 1917, born in Mashanga, Oklahoma. I'd like to pay a tribute to my mom who was an advocate for education. She herself was what we call an Indian blanket woman. She always wore her blanket for her dress. And one of the things she always told me, she said, "I want you to get an education." I tried to follow her advice in getting an education. I attended high school in Kaw City, Oklahoma, just a regular curriculum for high school students, and I graduated in 1937. Following high school I went to Pascal Institute. And so after graduating in 1939, I believe it was, I received a call from the superintendent at Pawnee to come and work at the Pawnee Agency. The Pawnee Agency is our home agency for the Kaw Tribe as well as the other four tribes in that area. At that time my salary was $1260 a year, which means $105 a month, and to me that was a lot of money. And my room and board at that time was $1 a day. I would like to talk about my thoughts about being the last full-blood. It's a reality of being the last full-blood to me is sad and lonely. And we think of time is a speeding thing, just like a bullet. Our time is an uncontrolled element. But there is no way that we can slow down time, alter time and I think in the end time will win out. And the time will come when there will be no full-bloods at all in our tribe. When I was growing up in Mashanga I had always respect the older full-bloods who were the elders of the tribe. And I still recall several of the Kaw members who would go down to the only store we had and they would sit on a bench on a porch and visit. Some of the older men that I recall are Silas Kahn, Rufus Test, Billy Jones, Claude Pepper. The stories and things that they talked about would be priceless for our libraries and our museums now and we marvel at our older people. They didn't have the education but they had wisdom. These elders were the historians of their times. They were the keepers of the Indian way of life and they were dedicated to the fact that this way must continue into the future.

 

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