KanColl: The Kansas  
Historical Quarterlies

Differences in Wichita Indian Camp Sites
as Revealed by Stone Artifacts

by Arch O'Bryant

May, 1947 (Vol. 14 No. 2), pages 143 to 159.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.

     DISCUSSION of Wichita Indian artifacts is not so difficult a procedure as commonly supposed. There are plenty of examples. The writer estimates that he has viewed at least 100.000 artifacts gathered from the former camp sites of these people. Some magnificent collections are owned in Kansas, a number by farmers residing on the sites. Some fields are still strewn with tens of thousands of pieces and chips from artifacts that no collector has troubled to pick up. These broken pieces tell the story of the artifact almost as truly as if they were whole. No effort will be made in this paper to discuss the origin of the Wichita Indians, the limits of their habitation, their customs, history or fate. These subjects have been covered in many writings, but it is well to state that archaeologists still hold Kansas as virtually unexplored from the standpoint of camp site examination.

     While the writer has visited many sites in south central Kansas in the past 25 years, this discussion will confine itself chiefly to the prehistoric and protohistoric sites of Rice, Pratt and Marion counties along with those sites known as the Zyba site in Sumner county, the Cowley county sites north of Arkansas City and the Paint creek site in McPherson county. Some mention will be made of questionable sites-the Harper county sites-dangerous to discuss because it is not certain they belong to the Wichita Indians. In general reference to Wichita Indian sites, the Harper county sites are excluded.

     All Wichita Indian artifacts have many things in common. Typical is the triangular arrowhead, known variously as the war point, the poison point and, erroneously by a few, as the bird point. These points are almost paper thin in rarer specimens. In practically all instances they are thinner than the small points of any other tribe. The Wichita Indian point ranges from less than half an inch to two inches in length. A few rare specimens are three inches long. Usually both surfaces of the point are worked but it is not unusual to find a point with one or both surfaces flat with only the edges worked. The triangular point is so typical of the Wichita Indian

ARCH O'BRYANT, a native of Marion, is city editor of the Wichita Evening Eagle.



that the conventional arrowhead of other tribes with tangs, notched base and greater size is almost unknown. The ordinary Indian arrowhead, in fact, is so rare on Wichita sites that those found are usually associated with trade or capture so far as students of Wichita Indians are concerned. On rare instances, however, such an arrowhead, like those found for example on an Osage Indian site, seems to suggest Wichita Indian manufacture. One or more sides may be flat, the material may tally with other material on the ground and the chipping may be similar to Wichita Indian chipping. It may be fair to assume, then, that occasionally a. big arrowhead was turned out.

     Another typical artifact of the Wichita tribe is the tiny planconvex scraper, an artifact that is finished beautifully. The bottom side of such scrapers is flat and usually smooth as glass. It appears that the Indian manufacturer split his stone so as to get the flat surface, placed this surface upon some flat smooth object and rounded off the top by chipping. Such scrapers are almond shaped in most instances, are rounded at one end and pointed at the other. There are variations. Most of these scrapers are one to two inches long. Some perfectly made scrapers but one-half inch long are found and one has been located that is more than six inches in length.

     The third typical artifact of the Wichita Indian sites is the lance. The lance is practically always beveled with flat surfaces. Usually the lance expands symmetrically from point to base. The base may be similar to that of the conventional spear but usually the lance terminates in either a rounded base, often too large in proportion to the width of the blade, or the base may be pointed. Notches in such lances are usually small with shallow indentation.

     Knives usually are beveled and some specimens boast a drill appendage on one end. Relic hunters frequently refer to the Quiviran knife. It is true that the four-sided knife appears on Wichita Indian sites but it is associated with this question: Is it the true four-sided knife found along the western ramparts of the Flint hills in Butler, Chase and Marion counties? The diamond-shaped, four-sided knives of Butler county often are well-made affairs of imported stone, typical specimens being about three inches long, an inch in width and one-fourth inch thick. It is the writer's opinion that more research is necessary before these Butler county knives can be definitely associated with the Wichita Indians. To the trained eye, there seems to be a difference between a four-sided Wichita Indian knife and those of Butler county. The Butler


county specimen is so constructed that some collectors refer to it as a drill. Another typical artifact of the Wichita Indian is the maul. Some of these mauls are among the best found in the nation. In Moorehead's book on stone implements, now selling for as much as $35, some of these mauls are pictured prominently. [1] They are as symmetrical as the modern sledge-hammer head. Ends often are perfectly flat and a few specimens form perfect cylinders while others feature a slight tapering toward the ends. They are all well grooved.

     The Wichita Indian usually imported stone for his finer mauls. It appears to be a sandstone, hard but not so hard as one might expect for a battering implement and this material comes in either red or blue. Some geologists say the material was carried south by glaciers and never is found south of Nebraska. Mauls of a crude type of hematite are found and the river pebble furnished material for everyday mauls.

     Most Wichita Indian artifacts are standardized. Only in drills did the craftsman allow his imagination to run rife. He made about every type of drill that can be found at any spot where the American Indian camped. But even in drills the flat-sided art sometimes crops out. One side of the delicate point may be flat or the base may feature one flat surface, a surface made when the original blow fractured the stone.

     In view of such standardization, it might be asked how the artifacts from one Wichita Indian site differed from another. Except in material used, it may be said that not too much variation did appear.

     Wichita Indians of Rice and Pratt counties used the most colorful materials. [2] Both of these peoples liked a colorful stone described by collectors as agate. This material runs heavily to purples, reds, rich browns or creams shot through with colors. Some relics bear three or more colors.

     Pratt county sites give up many brown artifacts due to the availability of brown chert, this chert also being a standby on Rice county sites. The chert often is so light in color that it may be described as yellow rather than brown. Marion county sites give up many artifacts of blue, blue them


from the Flint hills being at hand. Some may prefer to call this chert grey instead of blue. The Marion county sites also feature white and pink, and more rarely the striped pinkish Hardy flint or chert. This latter material is said to come from the prehistoric quarries near Hardy, Okla. The "agates" of Pratt and Rice counties are rare in Marion county. The brown and yellow chert artifacts of Rice county are found in Marion county but less frequently than on the western sites. When a Marion county Wichita Indian wanted a colorful scraper he found a river pebble of bright hues. He used far more pink stone than any of his neighbors. This pink stone is also found along the Missouri river on Doniphan county sites. Some think the material originated in Arkansas. The white chert, often greasy to the touch, is said to be a Missouri product. Large nodules of this material still can be found on the sites of Marion county.

     The sites near Arkansas City and Zyba run heavily to the so-called Hardy chert of pinkish hue but also produce plenty of blues and whites. Here again the so-called agate, sugar quartz and brown chert of Pratt and Rice counties are less frequently found.

     If a box of Pratt or Rice county scrapers is lined up beside a box filled with Marion or Cowley county scrapers, the brilliance of the western artifacts will stand out over those of the eastern counties like a sore thumb. One puzzles over the source of the agate of Rice and Pratt counties. Fairly large chunks of the raw material are found on the sites.

     Although obsidian is found on all sites, obsidian artifacts are rare. One farmer near Pratt estimates that his field gives up one obsidian point to 50 of other material. The writer is of the opinion that only one out of more than 200 points found in Rice county will be obsidian. Small chunks of unworked obsidian are not rare in Rice and Pratt county, however. All these chunks were carried to the sites by the Indians, as obsidian does not occur in the natural state there. Even the Zyba site on the Ninnescah river still gives up obsidian although this site probably has been picked more heavily than any other in Kansas. Collectors have a habit of picking up obsidian bits whether or not any evidence of chipping is present.

     Obsidian is very rare in Marion county. Once the writer picked up a number of polished pebbles that obviously had been polished through long usage in a rattle or medicine bag. Months later he held one of the darker of these stones to the light only to discover the material was obsidian, a material very difficult to polish smooth.


     Did the Wichita Indian have the art of polishing obsidian, an art some say was exclusive to the Maya or Inca? Or did years in a rattle place the polish on the obsidian? Only one or two other specimens of obsidian, to this writer's knowledge, have been found in Marion county. Obsidian is not plentiful in Cowley or Butler counties.

     Presumably the source of obsidian was the Rocky mountains. The supply probably was obtained through trade. Pratt and Rice counties, it may be assumed, give up the most obsidian because the tribes living there were first to contact the traders to the west. It is possible that the Wichitas did the trading miles to the west of their homes and in turn traded small quantities of precious obsidian to their brothers to the east in Marion and Butler counties. Or again, Marion county sites may have been abandoned before the Wichitas did much trading for obsidian. There is little evidence that Marion county Indians settled the Rice county sites. It is interesting to theorize upon this possibility but nobody knows for certain. Again, did the Wichita Indian enter Kansas at present Arkansas City, one faction moving north along the Walnut river to settle at present Augusta and later in Marion county, while the other faction followed the Arkansas, a group taking the route west to Pratt when the Ninnescah was reached and another taking the Little Arkansas to Rice and McPherson counties? Investigation may trace the route of these people.

     Pueblo pottery is found on all camp sites with the possible exception of those near Marion and Augusta. Some collectors say they have found Pueblo pottery on all sites. Certainly, more Pueblo shards are found in Rice and Pratt counties and at the Zyba site than on other sites. The Arkansas City sites yield specimens but not too frequently.

     All sites give up plenty of catlinite, a material from Pipestone, Minn. Turquoise has been located in Pratt and Rice counties. Here again is found support for the theory that the western people enjoyed the bulk of the trade with the peoples from the mountains. These people with turquoise to trade probably were Pueblos. More blue chert tomahawks, cultivating implements, hammerstones and knives are picked up in Marion, Butler and Cowley counties than to the west. This is only natural, as the source of material is on the ground. Vast supplies of blue chert were lugged to Marion county camp sites probably for future use. As a result Marion county sites are littered with blue chart, some of it totally unworked.


     Many collections from Rice county hold few blue chert implements of size although blue scrapers and points are plentiful enough. Blue chert is to the eastern sites what brown chert is to the west.

     More ornamental potsherds are found in Rice county than to the east. This may be due to Pueblo influence, probably not.

     As to workmanship, Pratt and Rice counties did not have better stone chippers than Marion or Cowley counties. Pratt and Rice county chippers, however, were more likely to place side notches on their points than the arrow makers in Marion county. Probably not more than one among 50 triangular points in Marion county bear side notches. Side-notched points may run as high as one in ten in Rice county. Side-notched points are frequently found at Zyba and Arkansas City but probably not in so great a percentage as in Rice county. There are fewer side-notchers found on Paint creek, in this writer's opinion, than just to the west in Rice county. A notch in the base is rare but not unknown. Such base-notched points are always notched on the sides. Zyba has given up points with two notches on each side and a base notch for a total of five on one point. One point from the sand hills at Maize bears seven notches but may be regarded as a freak. A Zyba point has been found bearing but one notch, low down on one side toward the tip of the point.

     While serrated points are found they are not found frequently enough for a comparison to be drawn; all sites produce specimens. Once in Marion county, and again in Rice county, the writer found points with side notches no more than one-eighth of an inch from the tip. Such points are found in Arizona ruins but are rare on Wichita Indian sites. The workmanship and material suggests Kansas origin. Does the trail of the Wichitans reach into the Southwest? The most commonly accepted theory is that the Wichitas split from the Caddo people of East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Limestone manos are found in Marion county. A sandstone that on first glance appears to be limestone also was used. To the west, sandstone manos were used almost exclusively. Some red sandstone manos have been found in Cowley county, but limestone, vast quantities being on the spot, was used in most cases.

     All sites yield about the same type of shaft polishers, knives, drills, metates, bone implements, lances, pipes and mauls.

     From the foregoing, it may be seen that trade and availability of material led to the chief differences to be found in the artifacts of the various Wichita sites in Kansas. The western part of the area is more likely to produce notched points than the eastern.


     The writer knows of no European articles ever being found on a Marion county site. Writers refer to such objects appearing in excavations in Rice county. With the exception of pipestone (catlinite) little stone polishing took place. While the chipped chert, flint or hematite tomahawk is found, the polished ax is so rare that many collectors have never found evidence of one. The boatstone, bannerstone, plummet, birdstone and polished celt of the East are lacking.

     Bits of buffalo-shoulder bone spades are found on all sites. While some chart blades have been found in Marion county which might pass as spades, it is more likely that they were used as knives or cultivating tools. The flint spade of the moundbuilders is not present. There is a decided scarcity of beads.

     The most puzzling site of definite Wichita culture is to be found near Maize. Here shifting sandhills give up artifacts. The hills are shot through with buffalo bone and bits of flint, specimens often being buried to the depth of 20 feet. Apparently the Indians camped directly on these hills. The old bed of the Arkansas, now known as the Big Slough, is adjacent. Why sandhills with poor footing should be chosen for a camp site cannot be determined. Usually the Wichitas liked to make camp on firm ground.

     The city of Wichita lies over a prehistoric Wichita Indian site. Owing to the inroads of modern civilization no study of artifacts from this site can be made. One guesses the artifacts would compare with those at Zyba, 20 miles to the south, or Maize, 14 miles to the northwest. Material and workmanship from Maize and Zyba are similar.

     The writer would like to call attention to the Harper county sites where there is much evidence pointing to Wichita Indian occupation and about as much evidence pointing the other way. Triangular points are found that might well be of Wichita Indian make. But the sites give up a remarkable number of five-notched points, two notches on each side and one in the base. Now and then a regulation-sized arrowhead is found of a type far different from any found on a Wichita site. Although this writer has viewed thousands of artifacts from the sites, he has never seen a lance or spear. No fragments of spears are found. The four-sided knife is common. One collector picked up five of these knives in one day. They differ from the Butler county type, being more like those from western Kansas sites. Effigy pottery is found. A perfect effigy of a turtle was uncovered. Certainly this turtle was not the work of a Wichita In-


dian. It points to Arkansas. Bones, highly decorated by carving, are dug from the sites. Many scrapers are of the same type as those found on Wichita Indian sites but they are usually inferior in workmanship. Manos are different. Pottery pipes, similar in design to those found in the East and South, are dug up. Collectors living in the vicinity of these sites point to Osage occupancy. Then why the lack of spears? It is a question for time and the trained archaeologist to decide.


1. Moorehead, Warren K., Prehistoric Implements (1900), pp. 65, 66.
2. EDITOR'S NOTE: In a letter which accompanied this article, Mr. O'Bryant reports he once discussed his theories with Dr. Waldo R. Wedel, a former Kansan now an archaeologist with the United States National Museum. "Wedel," O'Bryant says, is "a very cautious man, land] did not wholeheartedly admit the Indians of Rice, Marion and Cowley counties were Wichitas."

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