When 82-year-old William Mehojah died April 23 at Omaha's Methodist Hospital, he took a part of American history with him.
Mehojah was the last pure-blooded member of the Kaw Nation, the American Indian tribe formerly known as the Kanza tribe, from which the state of Kansas took its name.
Mehojah was born in Washunga, Okla., in 1917. Like many other young members of the tribe, he left the area and attended school at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan. He also studied at Muskogee Junior College and Idaho State University.
In 1943, he married his wife, Fredericka, who is a Cherokee, then went overseas with the Army to serve in World War II. He left the army in 1945 and embarked on a 35-year career in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. During his time with the bureau, he worked with tribes in Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho and Arizona, where he retired in 1976.
In the early 1800s, Kaw lands included 20 million acres stretching across much of northern Kansas and into Nebraska and Missouri, but settlers' westward expansion reduced that area to 2 million acres by 1825. Then in 1873, the federal government moved the tribe to a 100,000-acre reservation in northern Oklahoma and the land was divided among tribal members, said JoAnn Obregon, a member of the Kaw executive council.
Epidemics of smallpox and other diseases already had killed many of the Kaw, reducing their numbers to fewer than 700 at the time of the move to Oklahoma, Obregon said. Today, about 600 people live on the reservation, with 2,451 on the tribal rolls. Many of those members have only a fraction of Kaw blood, some as little as 1/128th.
By 1997, William Mehojah was the only surviving pure-blooded Kaw.
"The reality of being the last full-blood to me is sad and lonely," he said in an interview with the Kaw newsletter in 1997.(from the Omaha World Herald)