The Quapaw people are a tribe of Native Americans who historically resided on the west side of the Mississippi River.
A tribe now nearly extinct, but formerly one of the most important of the lower Mississippi region, occupying several villages about the mouth of the Arkansas, chiefly on the west (Arkansas) side, with one or two at various periods on the east (Mississippi) side of the Mississippi, and claiming the whole of the Arkansas River region up to the border of the territory held by the Osage in the north-western part of the state. They are of Siouan linguistic stock, speaking the same language, spoken also with dialectic variants, by the Osage and Kansa (Kaw) in the south and by the Omaha and Ponca in Nebraska. Their name properly Ugakhpa, signifies "down-stream people", as distinguished from Umahan or Omaha "up-stream people". To the Illinois and other Algonquian tribes they were known as Akansea, whence their French name of Akensas and Akansas. According to concurrent tradition of the cognate tribes the Quapaw and their kinsmen originally lived far east, possibly beyond the Alleghenies, and, pushing gradually westward, descended the Ohio River -- hence called by the Illinois the "river of the Akansea" -- to its junction with the Mississippi, whence the Quapaw, then including the Osage and Kansa, descended to the mouth of the Arkansas, while the Omaha, with the Ponca, went up the Missouri.
The Quapaw, under the name of Capaha or Pacaha, were first encountered in 1541 by de Soto, who found their chief town, strongly palisaded and nearly surrounded by a ditch, between the Mississippi and a lake on the Arkansas (west) side, apparently in the present Phillips County, where archæologic remains and local conditions bear out the description. The first encounter, as usual, was hostile, but peace was finally arranged. The town is described as having a population of several thousand, by which we may perhaps understand the whole tribe.
They seem to have remained unvisited by white men for more than 130 years thereafter, until in 1673, when the Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, accompanying the French commander Louis Jolliet, made his famous voyage down the Mississippi, to the villages of the "Akansea" who gave him warm welcome and listened with attention to his exhortations, during the few days that he remained until his return. In 1682 La Salle passed by their villages, then five in number, of which one was on the east bank of the Mississippi. The Recollect, Zenobius Membré, accompanying La Salle, planted a cross and attempted to give them some idea of the Christian's God, while the commander negotiated a peace with the tribe and took formal possession of the territory for France. Then, as always, the Quapaw were uniformly kind and friendly toward the French. In spite of frequent shiftings the Quapaw villages in this early period were generally four in number, corresponding in name and population to four sub-tribes still existing, viz. Ugahpahti, Uzutiuhi, Tiwadimañ, and Tañwañzhita, or, under their French forms, kappa, Ossoteoue, Touriman, and Tonginga.
In 1683 the French commander, Tonti, built a post on the Arkansas, near its mouth at the later Arkansas Post, and thus began the regular occupation of the Quapaw country. He arranged also for a resident Jesuit missionary, but apparently without result. About 1697 a smallpox visitation greatly reduced the tribe, killing the greater part of the women and children of two villages. In 1727 the Jesuits, from their house in New Orleans, again took up the work, and Father Du Poisson was sent to the Quapaw, with whom he remained two years. On the morning of 27 November, 1729, while on his way to New Orleans on behalf of his mission, he was preparing to say Mass at the Natchez post on request of the garrison, when the signal for slaughter was given and he was struck down in front of the altar, the first victim in the great Natchez massacre. In the ensuing war, which ended in the practical extermination of the Natchez, the Quapaw rendered efficient service to the French against the hostile tribes. A successor (Father Cavette) was appointed to the Arkansas mission, but details are unknown. It was vacant in 1750, but was again served in 1764 by Father S. L. Meurin, the last of the Jesuits up to the time of the expulsion of the order. Fathers Pierre Gibault (1792-94), Paul de St. Pierre (c. 1795-98), and Maxwell undoubtedly attended the Indians.
Shortly after the transfer of the territory to the United States in 1803 the Quapaw were officially reported as living in three villages on the south side of Arkansas River about twelve miles above Arkansas Post. In 1818 they made their first treaty with the government, ceding all claims from Red River to beyond the Arkansas and east of the Mississippi, with the exception of a considerable tract between the Arkansas and the Saline, in the south-eastern part of the state. In 1824 they ceded this also, excepting eighty acres occupied by the chief Saracen (Sarrasin) below Pine Bluff, expecting to incorporate with the Caddo of Louisiana, but in this they were disappointed, and after being reduced to the point of starvation by successive floods in the Caddo country about Red River, most of them wandered back to their old homes. In 1834, under another treaty, they were removed to their present location in the north-east corner of Oklahoma. Sarrasin, their last chief before the removal, was a Catholic and friend of the Lazarist missionaries (Congregation of the Missions) who arrived in 1818 and ministered alike to white and Indians. He died about 1830 and is buried adjoining St. Joseph's Church, Pine Bluff, where a memorial window preserves his name. The pioneer Lazarist missionary among the Quapaw was Rev. John M. Odin, afterward Archbishop of New Orleans. In 1824 the Jesuits of Maryland, under Father Charles Van Quickenborne, took up work among the native and immigrant tribes of the present Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1846 the Mission of St. Francis was established among the Osage, on Neosho River, by Fathers John Shoenmakers and John Bax, who extended their ministration also to the Quapaw for some years. The Quapaw together with the associated remnant tribes, the Miami, Seneca, Wyandot and Ottawa, are now served from the Mission of "Saint Mary of the Quapaws", at Quapaw, Okla., in charge of a secular priest and several Sisters of Divine Providence, about two-thirds of the surviving Quapaw being reported as Catholic. From perhaps 5000 souls when first known they have dwindled by epidemics, wars, removals, and consequent demoralization to approximately 3200 in 1687, 1600 in 1750, 476 in 1843, and 307 in 1910, including all mixed bloods.
Besides the four established divisions already noted, the Quapaw have the clan system, with a number of gentes. Polygamy was practised, but was not common. Like the kindred Osage they were of ceremonial temperament, with a rich mythology and elaborate rituals. They were agricultural, and their architecture and general culture when first known were far in advance of that of the northern tribes. Their towns were palisaded and their "town houses", or public structures, sometimes of timbers dovetailed together, and roofed with bark, were frequently erected upon large artificial mounds to guard against the frequent inundations. Their ordinary houses were rectangular, and long enough to accommodate several families each. They dug large ditches, constructed fish weirs, an d excelled in the pottery art and in the painting of skins for bed covers and other purposes. The dead were buried in the ground, sometimes in mounds or in the clay floors of their houses, being frequently strapped to a stake in a sitting position and then carefully covered with earth. They were uniformly friendly to the whites, while at constant war with the Chickasaw and other southern tribes, and are described by the earlier explorers as differing from the northern Indians in being better built, polite, liberal, and of cheerful humour. Their modern descendants are now fairly prosperous farmers, retaining little of their former habit or belief. Of the Quapaw dialect proper, little has been recorded beyond some brief vocabularies and word lists, but of the so-called Dhegiha language, including the dialects of the Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw, extended study and publication have been made, particularly by Rev. J.O. Dorsey under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology (see Pilling, "Siouan Bibliography").