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Collections Blog

Object: Thatching needle

Oct 03, 2018

2016.4.21
Thatching Needle
Kickapoo
United States
1800-1967
Materials: Metal

Needles like this one are  used by women of the Kickapoo tribe to make woven mats using cattails and other plants. These mats are used to make Kickapoo wickiups, the traditional style of Kickapoo housing. These mats could be rolled up and transported from place to place, making them very convenient for travel, but they were also used at permanent settlements.

Before moving south to Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico, the Kickapoo were found in western Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan. While living in these northern areas the Kickapoo made their houses out of tree bark and cattails, but when fighting with European settlers and other tribes, such as the Osage, caused the Kickapoo to migrate south into Kansas, and finally Texas and Mexico, the materials they used for building changed to match the environment. Birch trees weren’t available in the southern plains, so Kickapoo used more cattail and native grasses in their houses. In the 19th century, the Kickapoo bands divided into two groups, the northern and southern Kickapoo. The northern Kickapoo went to reservations in states like Oklahoma, while the southern Kickapoo continued to migrate south, into Texas and Mexico.

While in Mexico, the Kickapoo developed a language that isn’t used by their sister tribes in America. The language is believed to have been created by the younger Kickapoos and was created for courtship rituals. Young Kickapoo men and women would use this whistling language to communicate without older members of the tribe being able to understand. This language was called onowecikepi, and is still in use today. [Ryan Farrell, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Gibson, Arrell Morgan. The Kickapoos: Lords of the Middle Border. Norman [Okla.]: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

Goggin, John M. “The Mexican Kickapoo Indians.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7, no. 3 (1951): 314-27.

Hurley, William M. “THE KICKAPOO WHISTLE SYSTEM: A SPEECH SURROGATE.” Plains Anthropologist 13, no. 41 (1968): 242-47.

Nielsen, George R. The Kickapoo People. Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series, 1975.

Ritzenthaler, Robert E., and Frederick A. Peterson. The Mexican Kickapoo Indians. 2013.

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