Her family farm once belonged to the Kaw Indians. She decided to pay them back.

Back in 1879, Henrich Gronemann was a German Lutheran who homesteaded on the far southeast corner of McPherson County, near the borders of Harvey and Marion County.

His 320-acres of prairie was filled with creeks and rolling hills that previously had been the hunting grounds of the Kaw, or Kanza, Indians.

Now, 140 years and five generations later, his great-great granddaughter has done something unthinkable.

She and her siblings sold the family farm.

Then, she donated $10,000 – a portion of her earnings from the proceeds to the Kanza Heritage Society – to help preserve the heritage of the Kaw Nation, whose land the Gronemann family farmed.

It is a first in the tribe’s history.

“This was not always our land,” said Florence Schloneger, a 71-year-old retired Mennonite minister in North Newton. “I got my part . . . and, I wanted to acknowledge it wasn’t always our land.”

So, when her portion of the farm’s proceeds was received, she wrote a letter to the Kanza Heritage Society accompanying her check.

“This gift is a small acknowledgment that what our family homesteaded and owned was not unoccupied land – it is acknowledgment that no land can truly be owned and that the pride in our farm passed down through our family came at a great cost to your people,” Schloneger began her letter. “As my eyes have been opened, I have experienced great sorrow. Not only were your hunting grounds appropriated, but your rich culture and language was nearly lost through assimilation. My hope is that this small gift can help build and restore the strength of Kanza traditions for coming generations. Many blessings.”

This marks the first time in the state’s history that any kind of reparation – an amends by a private person – has been made to the Kaw Nation, though in this case indirectly. The Kanza Heritage Society is a private non-profit organization that helps support the efforts of the Kaw Nation to preserve heritage sites and cultural activities.

“I’m humbled and a little stunned,” said Pauline Sharp, a Kaw tribal member and board member of the Kanza Heritage Society. “This is a big deal.”

The Kaw legacy

At one time, the Kaw claimed a territory that covered roughly two-fifths of modern Kansas and parts of Nebraska and Missouri.

Then, an 1825 peace treaty with the federal government reduced the Kanza lands from 20 million acres to 2 million acres just west of Topeka. Another treaty in 1846 then reduced the Kanza land from 2 million acres to 256,000 near Council Grove, where the Kaw Mission is the town’s oldest stone structure.

The Kaw lived in three villages southeast of Council Grove from 1848 until their forced removal to Oklahoma in 1873.

With the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, the land once owned by the Kaw became available for settlement. In 1879, Henrich Gronemann homesteaded the land.

A year ago, Schloneger’s mother died and it became apparent the remnants of the five-generation farm would be sold. The sale of the land, Schloneger said, was akin to losing another family member.

“There is a lot of grief in family land that is sold. It is a part our identity,” Schloneger said.

In the grieving process, she wrote a series of 26 poems about the occupants of the land. In one poem, titled “1873,” she speaks about the cultural ownership:

“A dignitary came from Washington, announced, “Our latest treaty is no more, because we need your land. We’ve come to swap for tracks you’ve never seen before. Chief Allegawaho stood up and looked around. “Great Father,” he protested, “You must think us turkeys to be chased up streams and down, until we’re pushed into the sea and sink.”

At dawn, the women trudged to loved one’s graves, turned backs against the rising sun and wailed – unthinkable to leave their dead, their braves. Now all their sacred grounds were up for sale. They walked to Oklahoma – forced from home. My Great-Greats bought a farm. Could they have known?”

Schloneger says the land, in many ways, is also the story of America.

“Our country was built on the need to have land,” she said. “There wasn’t a way to give the land back. And what it did to people, such as the Kaw, is heartbreaking. Their hunting grounds were lost and so much of their culture was taken. (The donation), It seemed right to me. It is really just an acknowledgment that they lived on the land.”

The Kaw perspective

Jim Pepper Henry, board president of the Kaw Heritage Society, said Schloneger’s donation is a first for the tribe.

“It is not an insignificant donation,” he said. “I think a lot of people are beginning to understand the history that a lot of the lands that their families acquired over the years were swindled, taken away or coerced from the Kaw people, even forcibly taken.

“Our intent is that this could set an example for others who want to help with the preservation of Kansas history, especially with the Kaw Nation. I see other people stepping forward and maybe wanting to help with the proceeds or with some of the wealth they have acquired to the detriment of the Kaw people.”

During the time from 1848 until the turn of the 20th century, the Kaw nearly slipped away. In 1873, when the tribe was forced from Kansas, it had fewer than 500 members. By 1902, fewer than 200 were on the tribal rolls. Today, the Kaw Nation has nearly 3,500 members and is located in Kaw City, Okla. near Ponca City, about 70 miles southeast of Wichita.

On Feb. 28, 2000, the Kaw Nation purchased 146.8 acres of land along the Little John Creek near Council Grove and named it the Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park, after the tribe’s chief. It was the first time the Kaw owned land in Kansas since its forced removal. Pepper Henry, along with some of the Kaw elder men, created what is now known as the Kanza Heritage Society to preserve the Kaw’s Warrior Dance.

Sharp, who also serves on the society’s board, said the group hopes to offer grants to the Kaw Nation to do work at Allegawaho Park or other Kansas sites to preserve the heritage for the Kanza people.

Sharp said she was particularly touched by Schloneger’s donation.

“This is a historic event for the Kanza People,” Sharp said. “. . . It has been a long, treacherous journey over several generations to reach the point where we are today . . . I am grateful for the friends and allies we have had along the way.”

How to donate

Donations can be sent to the Kanza Heritage Society, in care of Pauline Sharp, 515 S. Main, No. 312, Wichita, Ks. 67202.

Her email is psharp50@gmail.com. The society’s phone number is 316-550-0944.