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White explorers and settlers named the confederation of Algonquian-speaking American Indians that occupied the Delaware River Valley and adjacent areas of the northeastern United States. The Delaware call themselves the Lenape, or "The People." Other Woodland tribes called them "the Grandfathers" out of respect for their political roll as mediators and peacemakers and in the belief that they were the parent tribe of other Algonquian peoples.

Delaware Indians Nora Longhat and Annie Halfmoon Sargent, 1910s

The earliest recorded contact with Europeans took place in 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into New York harbor. In 1683 William Penn bought land from the Delaware and signed a peace treaty establishing the province of Pennsylvania. Fifty years later, in 1737 Pennsylvania officials swindled the Delaware out of most of their remaining homeland with the notorious Walking Purchase. The displaced, dispersed Delaware signed the first Indian treaty with the newly formed United States government on September 17, 1778. Their migration forced in response to white encroachment and numerous treaties, for the next few decades the Delaware drifted west from their original homeland, settling briefly in western Pennsylvania, and later in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas.

Delaware life changed as they moved west. Hunting, trapping, and agriculture remained central activities, but fishing became nearly nonexistent. The people developed the practice of domesticating animals. Men became guides, scouts, and interpreters for the U.S. Army and participated in nineteenth-century American exploration expeditions such as that of John C. Frémont to the Pacific Coast and Randolph B. Marcy through Oklahoma.

The main body of dispersed bands, living in Kansas at the time, bought land in northeast Oklahoma from the Cherokee in an 1867 treaty. These Delaware, referred to by the federal government as the Registered Delaware because they lived in Indian Territory, became partial members of the Cherokee tribe and had limited autonomy. In 1979 the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated the separate tribal status of the Delaware and Shawnee living among the Cherokee in eastern Oklahoma. The Registered Delaware petitioned the U.S. government to become an independent, federally recognized tribe. Eventually, on September 23, 1996, the Registered Delaware became the "Delaware Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma" when the Bureau of Indian Affairs reinstated their independent tribal status. That ruling was subsequently challenged by the Cherokee Nation and overturned by a federal appeals court in November 2004.

Membership in the Eastern Delaware is predicated upon one's ability to trace ancestry to Indian Territory and the 1906 Delaware Roll. Approximately ten thousand tribal members live scattered in Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Delaware counties. Tribal headquarters is located in Bartlesville. The tribe's cultural preservation committee focuses on language retention, music, and dance. Economic activities include a tribal gift shop.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Hubert C. Kraft, ed., A Delaware Indian Symposium, Anthropological Series Number 4 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1974). Rennard Strickland, The Indians of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Ives Goddard, "Delaware," in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast , ed. Bruce G. Trigger, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978). C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indians: A History (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1972). C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indian Westward Migration (Wallingford, Pa.: The Middle Atlantic Press, 1978). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).

Helen M. Stiefmiller

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