The History of Oklahoma in Pictures: Native Americans of Precolonial Oklahoma

Only three states in the nation have a higher percentage of Native Americans than the state of Oklahoma. By sheer numbers, however, Oklahoma is second only to California in its number of native inhabitants.

Although many of the Native Americans living in Oklahoma today are there because their ancestors were forcibly relocated to the region during the 19th century, the area that is today Oklahoma has been called home by various native tribes for many centuries. Take a closer look at the people who called Oklahoma home long before European settlers did.

Caddoan Mississippian Culture

In precolonial times, much of the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S. was inhabited by people whom modern archaeologists simply call the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippian culture is considered a subset of this group and was situated in what is today eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas and the northern corners of both Texas and Louisiana.

The distinct agrarian Caddoan culture emerged from the broader Mississippian culture around 1000 CE and peaked around 1400 CE. As with some other Mississippian peoples, the Caddoans built mounds for ceremonial and religious purposes. The Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma are one famous example of these mounds.

By 1400, even before Spanish conquistadors from the Southwestern US. discovered them, Caddoan culture was already beginning to decline. Around 1200, warfare between Native American tribes in other regions of the country led to a “billiard ball” effect in which tribes from further east found themselves pushed increasingly westward, eventually colliding with the Caddo people. The Osage, in particular, pushed the Caddo tribes out of many territories.

Wichita Plains Culture

The westernmost border of the Caddoan culture overlapped with the easternmost border of the Wichita Plains culture. The Wichita people, who inhabited central and western Oklahoma, were also farmers who supplemented their agricultural efforts with hunting game. A numerous people, they were loosely organized in villages of thatched homes along the Washita and South Canadian Rivers.

As late as the 16th century, Spanish explorers describe Wichita settlements as large as 12,000 people. That would not last much longer, however, as the Wichita met the Osage coming out of the east and the Apache coming out of the west. Squeezed between these two more powerful groups, and increasingly afflicted by diseases resulting from European contact, the Wichita culture declined in numbers and in power throughout the 17th century, although Wichita tribes still exist to this day.

The Apache and Kiowa

The Apache and Kiowa tribes are linguistically and ethnically distinct, but they shared similar cultural and geographical characteristics, which is why they are being grouped together here.

The Apache and the Kiowa, before meeting the Spanish, used dogs for pack animals. After encountering the Spanish, both tribes quickly incorporated horses into their way of life. Unlike the two other cultures mentioned above, the Apache and Kiowa were principally semi-nomadic buffalo hunters, who followed the herds and used surplus meat and hides to trade for maize and other goods with the agrarian Pueblo peoples.

Native Americans in Oklahoma Today

Oklahomans have a right to be proud of their rich Native American heritage; for almost a millennium, the region has been a veritable “melting pot” of indigenous American cultures. Hopefully, the future history of Oklahoma will remain a stronghold of Native American culture

Author Info:
Max Biden writes about Oklahoma for Home Security Ok and helps contribute to @Oklahome on twitter is also an extremely apathetic music critic.