The lands surrounding Kaw Lake played an important role in the regions history and for many years were a source of controversy between the Federal Government and the Osage Indian Nation which claimed title to the lands. Finally, in 1863, one of the many tentative treaties to surrender their claim to the lands was ratified and in 1870 the Osage Nation relinquished control and was forced onto lands they held in what was known as the Cherokee Outlet. This land consisted of 500,000 acres in what is now Osage County, Oklahoma.
In the fall of 1871, a Congressional Commission and a delegation of Kaw Indians selected the northeast portion of the former Osage holdings as a future home for the Kaw Indians. Chief Washungah, or Washunga, both spellings are correct, led 516 Kaw Indians from Council Grove, Kansas, to the 100,000 acres set aside for the Kaw Reservation.
The old settlement of Washungah, named for Chief Washungah, is located on project lands. It was the site for the Kaw Agency, Kaw Cemetery, and a trading post. Included among its buildings were a boarding school dormitory, infirmary, the superintendent's home and the school which later became the Kaw Council House. When construction on Kaw Lake began, the council house has been moved to higher ground, and reconstructed, stone by stone, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kaw Cemetery was also relocated to a higher elevation and is now located near the city of Newkirk, Oklahoma.
Another historical site located on project lands is the Deer Creek archaeological site located in the vicinity of Traders Bend Park area. This site, which is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is believed to represent an early French trading post and Indian village. The French first entered the area in 1719 and shortly thereafter trade with the Indians was established.
Other points of historical interest located near the project are the famed "Pioneer Woman" statue and museum, and the Marland Mansion, both of which are located in Ponca City. Also located seven miles southwest of Ponca City is the site of the once sprawling famous 101 Ranch "White House". This was once one of the worlds largest ranches and was often visited by Presidents and Kings and the rich and famous from all points of the world.
In 1902 "Old Kaw City", now inundated by the waters of Kaw Lake, was founded as a farming community in the fertile oxbow bend of the Arkansas River. It later became a booming oil town when oil was discovered nearby. Today, a new Kaw City is located on higher ground near the lake.
Chief Francis Pipestem (1907-1971), Chief of the Otoe-Missouria Indian Tribe, offered the dedication prayer for the groundbreaking ceremonies for Kaw Lake on Saturday, May 21, 1966.