Delaware Tribe


The English name Delaware was based on the river named for Lord de la Warr. In early colonial times, this river valley was the tribal center of an area that included present New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware. The tribe call themselves Lena'pe or Leni-lena'pe, which is equivalent to "original people."


Belonging to the Algonquian linguistic family, they once were the largest of all Eastern Woodland tribes.


The Delaware tribe was first encountered by Europeans in 1620 living along the Delaware River in and around present-day Vernon, New Jersey, as well as in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. By 1682, they had concentrated settlements in Pennsylvania, where they signed the famous treaty with William Penn. And in 1778, the Delaware were the first Indian tribe to sign a treaty with the newly established United States. By the 1770s, the tribe occupied the country between the Ohio and White Rivers in Indiana. Later in 1789, a band of Delaware crossed the Mississippi to escape the Indian wars in Ohio and settled in Spanish Territory (now the state of Missouri).

Throughout the next 40 years, 13 treaties provided for the removal of the Delaware from Missouri to a reservation between the Kansas and Missouri state lines. Surrounded by intolerable conditions, the tribe requested to be moved. Indian Territory was suggested, and in 1812, they settled in Oklahoma. By 1820, two bands had found their way to Texas, and in 1859, a group living along the Brazos River in Texas moved north with the Caddo and Wichita tribes to the Washita River. There they were allotted lands on the Wichita-Caddo reservation near Anadarko, OK. Today, there are two groups of the Delaware in Oklahoma.


One part of the tribe, known as Registered Delaware, came from their Kansas reservation in 1867 and settled with the Cherokee along the Caney River. Their descendants live in Washington, Craig, Nowata and Delaware counties.

The other tribe, federally recognized as a separate legal entity, was associated with the Caddo and Wichita tribes in West Texas and in 1859 came to the Washita River in Indian Territory. This group called themselves "the lost tribe" or "Absentee Delaware Tribe" and are known today as the Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma.


Delaware Tribal Museum (Anadarko); and Philbrook Museum (Tulsa), for carved temple masks.