Before statehood, the Kanza Indian had a long and colorful history in our neighborhood.
Young Charlie Curtis’ mother died in Topeka when he was only 3 years old and for a while he lived with his grandmother in Oklahoma. When he was 8, his father took him back to Topeka to live so he could go to school in the wintertime.
One day his grandmother, grandfather, some uncles and cousins came by in their wagons to see him. His grandfather was Henry Pappan, a Frenchman. His grandmother, Julie, was half French and half Kanza. His uncles and cousins were full blood Kaw.
The family urged him to go with them back to Indian country in Oklahoma to live with them. Remembering earlier days while living with his grandmother in Oklahoma, young Charlie was eager to go with them, so he headed for the stable where he had a pony and rode away with the Indians.
That night the Indians camped by the roadside where they built a fire and cooked the evening meal. After supper they sat around the campfire and told stories about hunting, fishing and riding horses, which excited the boy.
After three days on the road to Oklahoma, Charlie’s wise old grandmother called him to her side and asked, “Charlie, why did you come with us?”
“I want to live with you and have fun,” Charlie answered. “I want to ride horses, fish and hunt. It would be more fun than going to school.”
But his grandmother shook her head and said, “Charlie, if you come and live with us you will have a good time, you can go fishing every day, ride horses, hunt, and drive cattle. But, when you are old you will not know what is in books. The time to go to school is when you are young. If you go to school you can learn as much as anyone.”
“I love you, Charlie, for the sake of your mother, who was my own little girl once upon a time. And, I would like to have you with me, but you cannot be with me and learn as much as you can if you go back to Topeka and finish school.”
With tears in his eyes, Charlie obediently put his things back in his sack and said to his grandmother, “I want to be with you also, but you are older and much wiser than I, and you know best. I will go back to Topeka and go to school.”
Back in Topeka, Charlie did finish school and never forgot his grandmother. Sometimes during the summer months he went to visit her in Oklahoma, where he rode horses and hunted with his cousins. In fact, he learned to ride so well that he earned his way as a jockey on the Topeka race tracks.
He read every book he could find and studied hard. Charlie became a lawyer, and one day the nice people of Kansas sent him to Washington, D.C., where he helped to make the country’s laws. But even then he did not forget his grandmother as long as she lived and went to visit her in Oklahoma often.
Charles Curtis was elected to Congress in 1892. He served 14 years in the House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate before being chosen by Herbert Hoover as his running mate on the Republican ticket. Curtis served as vice president from 1929 to 1933 under President Hoover. During his career, Curtis helped pass some legislation helpful to his people, including the Citizenship Act of 1924, giving the right of citizenship to all Native Americans.
Reference: “Early Days in Kansas,” by Bliss Isley.
ReachTed W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.