Since the late 1600s until1803 the Kaws had
continuous contact with European traders. The Europeans–French,
Spanish, and English–wanted the furs and skins the Kaws could provide and the
Kaws wanted the guns, powder, bullets,
cloth, knives, and utensils the Europeans could provide.
The Europeans shipped the
animal skins to Europe where they were processed into
fashionable hats and robes that were much in demand. The Kaws also were involved in a slave trade. The
Kaws would capture
Pawnee, Wichita, and Padoucah Indians and trade these
unfortunate people to the French.
Much of the early trade was conducted with the French. In 1724 a
representative of the French government, Etienne de Veniard
Bourgmont, visited a Kaw village on the west bank of the
Missouri River in what is today Doniphan County. By 1744 the
French had established a Fort Cavagnial near another large Kaw village just north of present Fort Leavenworth. For decades the
French government sought to regulate the trade with the Kaws and other tribes, but these efforts met with little success.
Factionalism within the tribes, cutthroat business practices,
national and tribal rivalries, and uncertain markets caused
considerable chaos in the European-Kaw fur trade.
After 1763, when the British defeated the
French in the French and Indian War, the Kaw country was under
the control of the Spanish. The Spanish government had even less
success than had the French in bringing order to trade relations
with the Indians west of the Mississippi River. Also the Spanish
competed with the British for the Kaw fur trade, which created
ongoing instability for the tribe.
Despite the fact that the French
government lost possession of the Kaw domain, many of the fur
traders who operated among the Kaws were French. The French
were willing to inter-marry with the Kaws. Some French traders
regarded marrying the daughter of a prominent Kaw chief a
prerequisite to effectively carrying out trade relations with
the tribe. The result was that a number of Kaw "mixed-bloods" bearing French names began to appear in
the tribe. Overtime this mixed-blood group was the source of
factionalism among the Kaws.
European occupation of Kaw land ended
with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. From that point on the
United States claimed the Kaw lands. Over the
next few decades the Kaws would learn that the Americans would
not be satisfied with just trading for their furs and skins;
eventually these white people would want and take the Kaws’