The two-mile-long Kanza Heritage Trail loops through the beautiful and historic 158-acre Kaw Heritage Park owned and managed by the Kaw Nation, a self-governing tribe of 2,591 members. Currently based in north central Oklahoma, the Kaw Nation is actively working to regain its cultural heritage, almost lost when the Tribe was forcibly removed from Kansas in 1873. By walking this Trail, you will engage a wonderful landscape steeped in natural beauty and the rich cultural history of the Kanza people who once lived here.
On the premises are the ruins of the Kaw Agency building and three of the stone houses built in 1861 for the Kaw. Present plans are to stabiize the ruins as insufficient materials remain to permit reconstruction. Utimate plans are to construct a large visitor center on the property to tell the story of the Kaw Nation.
1. Kanza Monument – The limestone tower you see near the beginning of the trail was erected by local citizens in 1925. The thirty-five-foot high spire was built as a tribute to the memory of the Kanza presence in the area. This commemorative act was prompted by the discovery of a warrior’s remains exposed y cut bank erosion in a nearby streambed. The warrior and his burial paraphernalia were re-interred in the base of the monument in August 1925 during an elaborate dedication ceremony attended by several members of the Kaw tribe. The Kaw Nation asks that you honor the deceased by maintaining a respectful distance from the monument.
2. Little John Creek Valley Overlook (2,929 feet) – The timber stretching north-south in the valley below marks the course of the Little John Creek. This valley offered the Kansas abundant timber, water, grass, and rich soil. During the Kanza occupation of the Council Grove Reservation from 1848 to 1873, they lived nearby in a village. The first village chief, Peg-Ah-Ho-Shee, died in the late 1860s. He was succeeded by Chief Wah-Ti-An-Gah. If you look carefully in the trees directly west you can see the limestone ruins of a hut built for the Kanzas in 1862 by the U.S. government.
3. Promontory (4,646 feet) – This highest point in the park affords a wonderful view of the surrounding Flint Hills landscape. You have entered one of the last vestiges of a vast tallgrass prairie that once covered much of the MidWest. As the white frontier expanded west thousands of “sodbuster” plows tilled the prairie grasses under. But here on the western edge of that vanished tallgrass expanse, prairie plants still flourish in regions of thin-soiled uplands known as the “Flint Hills.”
4. Prairie Restoration (5,464 feet) – The Kaw Nation is converting thirty-five acres of bottomland into prairie. In a few years native tall grasses such as big bluestem, switch grass, Indian grass, and indigenous wildflowers will flourish where now you see the milo stubble.
5. Grandfather Oak ( 5,976 feet) – This fabulous bur oak easily predates the Kanza occupation of this valley. The Kanza word for bur oaks is tta-ska-hu. Like the Kanzas, bur oaks are native to this area. Bur oaks are a long-lived species; some like this one have survived fro over two hundred years. The resiliency and strength of bur oaks are qualities reflective of the tenacity and purpose of the Kaw Nation in reclaiming a portion of the tribe’s former homeland in Kansas.
6. Wah-Sko-Mi-A’s Hut (6,494 feet) – These stone ruins are the remains of one of 138 huts the U.S. government built as dwellings for the Kanzas in 1862. The stones were quarried from the side of the hill you just descended. The mortar is made of, in part, the gravel from the streambed of Little Hon Creek. The measurements of the three huts in this park are 16 by 24 feet. The Kanzas chose not to live in these structures, using them as stables for their horses instead.
7. Fallen Cottonwood (7,018 feet) Today most of this immense cottonwood sprawls across the ground, nurturing the variegated fungi sprouting from its lifeless bulk. The cottonwood held spiritual significance to the Plains Indians. The slightest breeze will make the cottonwood leaves shake and clatter like raindrops. The seemingly constant rustling of leaves reminded them of the wind, which the Indians believed served as the path and voices of Higher Powers. The Kanzas are strongly associated with wind, as the original version of the tribal name, aca has been translated to mean People of the South Wind.
8. Kick-A-Poo’s Hut (7,707 feet) – Why did the Kanzas reject these huts? They preferred round dwellings, such as their tipis and bark-and-mat lodges, in which they had lived comfortably for generations. And in 1862 the government was assigning 40-acre allotments to each member of the tribe. The whites hoped that the Kanzas would spread out over the reservation, farming the land adjoining their new huts in the European way. The Kanzas preferred to remain in their three villages, where they could continue to practice their ancient communal traditions.
9. Little John Creek (8,007 feet) – The source of this creek is just a few miles north, Little John Creek is an intermittent stream, with water running through it in wet seasons and after significant rainfall. But even in dry times, you can find a few pools. The Little John joins the Big John Creek less than a mile southwest of this point. Big John Creek shortly flows into the Neosho River, which joins the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. People have mined the Little John Creek in the past for gravel; some of the mounds you have seen along the trail are the residue of thiese excavations.
10. Ke-La-Lah-Heo’s Hut (8,242 feet) – The huts had one room with a fireplace. After the Kanzas were forced to leave, the settlers lived in these structures. Later, after they had built their homes, the white people used the huts as outbuildings for their farms. The panels of corrugated metal in the vicinity of the huts are relics of the Euro-American period of occupation.
11. End of the Trail (10,380 feet) – As you leave the park, take a minute to visit the ruins of the “Agency Building” and speculate on the events which may have occurred there as the Kanzas interacted with the government officials. Records indicate that this building was originally intended to be the house of the Intepreter. It was at the Kaw Agency in June 1872, that the great Kanza chief, Al-le- ga-wa-ho made his eloquent protest against his people being forced once again to move from their beloved homeland.
This has been the path of the Kanzas who lived here, the farmers who plowed the fields, and the deer who created the woodland track. Research will continue to inform and shape our interpretation. We hope you will return to experience the park as it evolves.