Munsees celebrate Native American History Month

Greg Mast
Munsee descendent Grace Almeda Caleb Bittenbender, the wife of Harry Bittenbender, and their son, Rufus Joe Bittenbender, lived in Ottawa. This photo was taken in 1916.

The Munsee Tribe of Kansas has a rich history in Franklin County.

The tribal family is fighting to seek federal recognition as a tribe. November is a time for reflection for the tribe as it is Native American History Month.

Connie Hildebrandt, a Munsee and Chippewa descendant and also an Ottawa native, is leading the continued effort to regain federal recognition for the Kansas Munsee.

She began her work in August 2018, with the help of Mike Ford, a Choctaw descendant and Native American historian, by putting notices on Facebook and looking for Munsee descendants.

The past two years, Hildebrandt organized a strong effort on behalf of the descendants to seek federal recognition.

The Kansas Munsee, officially known as “The Munsee Tribe in Kansas,” conduct their own tribal meetings and have committee meetings monthly via Zoom/Google, Hildebrant said.

The tribe is working to preserve its history and language, to preserve its cemetery and land in the Chippewa Hills, and to educate its members and the public about the rich and often tragic history of the tribe, which is evidenced on the Tribe’s website at

“The recognition effort will take time, effort and money, so the tribe continues to have fundraisers and seek help from experts,” Hildebrant said. “The Munsee are proud to celebrate their history in Franklin County and beyond.”

The tribe settled in the Chippewa Hills in the 1860s after being forced off land in Leavenworth.

Starting in 1680, the Christian Munsee people were pushed west from the New York area slowly to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada, and finally to Kansas in the 1800s.

During this time, the Munsee Tribe lived on a 2,500-plus acre reservation near Leavenworth. It was not a peaceful time because families had illegally settled on this promised reservation land and eventually the reservation land was sold in 1858 for $43,000.

It was considered by many an illegal sale because it did not go through Congress. Once the Munsee Tribe lost this reservation land, some tribe members went to live on the Chippewa reservation near Ottawa.

It was also during this time many Native Americans were pushed out of Kansas to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

The U.S. Senate pressured the tribes to end their tribal status and become citizens. An early 1864 treaty, giving the Chippewa and Munsee citizenship, was never ratified by the Senate.

In 1866, a federal ruling declared the Kansas tribes must either become citizens immediately or leave the state. In June 1868, after many of the tribes had relocated, federal officials signed a new agreement with these two tribes. The Chippewa and Munsee stayed in Kansas.

The treaty stipulated that individual Indians would receive patents (titles) to their land allotments and could sell at any time without consulting the tribe and move from Kansas.

The Senate delayed the signing of the treaty. The Chippewa and Munsee remained in Kansas, many were sent to Native American boarding schools, as part of a forced assimilation to white society. In 1900, Congress dissolved the Kansas Munsee tribe’s government with a payment of $491 per person.

Despite the government’s attempts at dissolution of the tribe, members continued to operate as a family and community, Hildebrant said.

Through the 1970s, certain members continued to receive government assistance, including health services and educational services.

The assistance was needed as the members of the tribe had lost their land and had suffered for the many strong prejudices against Native Americans at that time, which limited opportunities for education and work, Hildebrant said.

The tribe remained true its ancestors, heritage, language, and culture. Members continued to serve the country in the national forces — a tradition throughout the history of the tribe.

In the 1970s, tribal member Clio Caleb Church organized the tribe toward a recognition effort.

“She spent the last 35 years of her life working to organize the information and political support needed to achieve this challenging goal,” Hildebrant said.

Church died in 2014 before her goal was achieved.

Hildebrant and other Munsee descendants took up her dream, but work still remains.

“There are still many Munsee Indians in the area,” Hildebrant said. “As we approach November, Native American History Month, the Munsee are proud to celebrate their history in Franklin County and beyond.”

Agnes Veix, dressed in her headress, is a Munsee ancestor. The Munsee Tribe of Kansas celebrates its history during Native American History Month.