Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma

Published on October 26, 2010 by John

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Two hatchet kiowa


The name Kiowa, pronounced KI-uh-wuh, comes from the word Kaigwu, meaning “main people” in the Kiowa language. It once was thought that the Kiowa language had a distant connection with the Uto-Aztecan languages of the AKIMEL O’ODHAM (PIMA), BANNOCK, COMANCHE, PAIUTE, TOHONO O’ODHAM (PAPAGO), SHOSHONE, UTE, and Mexican tribes. Now it is theorized that the Kiowa language is closely related to the Tanoan dialects of the Rio Grande PUEBLO INDIANS.

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Despite this linguistic connection with Indians of the Southwest, the first known homeland of the Kiowa, during the 1600s, was far to the north in what is now western Montana. From there, in about 1700, the Kiowa migrated eastward across the Rocky Mountains to the Yellowstone River region in what is now eastern Montana. Soon afterward, the CROW gave the Kiowa permission to move to the Black Hills of what is now eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota.

While at this location, the Kiowa probably first acquired use of the horse through trade with the upper Missouri tribes, the ARIKARA, HIDATSA, and MANDAN. With increased mobility, the Kiowa became typical PLAINS INDIANS, following the huge buffalo herds and living in tipis. They also began to practice the Sun Dance, keep medicine bundles, and organize into secret societies, also typical of Plains tribes. One of the most renowned of all the warrior societies was the Koitsenko, the Principal Dogs (also called the Ten Bravest) of the Kiowa. This was an exclusive society, limited to 10 warriors who had proven their courage time and again. The leader of the Principal Dogs wore a long sash reaching from his shoulders to the ground. When the Kiowa were engaged in battle, he would dismount from his horse, fasten the sash to the earth with a spear, and fight from that spot or shout encouragement to the other warriors. Even if surrounded by enemy warriors or struck by enemy arrows, he could not leave the spot until another Principal Dog removed the spear.

Two unique cultural traits of the Kiowa, in addition to their language, suggest a possible ancient connection with Indians in Mexico. The Kiowa worshiped a stone image they called the taimay and drew tribal records in the form of a pictographic calendar. Both these customs are more typical of Mesoamerican peoples, such as the AZTEC, than of Plains Indians.

Toward the end of the 1700s, the Kiowa migrated again, because, it is thought, of pressure from the SIOUX (DAKOTA, LAKOTA, NAKOTA) and CHEYENNE. The Explorers Lewis and Clark reported in 1805 that the Kiowa lived along the North Platte River of what is now Nebraska. Yet soon afterward, they settled south of the Arkansas River in territory that is now southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma. The tribe eventually established its council fire on the Cimarron River. To the south of the Kiowa lived the Comanche, who at first proved hostile to the newcomers. In about 1790, however, the two tribes formed an alliance that has lasted until modern times. An APACHE band settled near the Kiowa and came to be closely associated with them, their leaders part of the Kiowa camp circle. They became known as the Kiowa-Apache.

Kiowa Wars

The Kiowa were among the most tenacious fighters among all the North American Indians. They launched raids for horses and other booty on many other Indian peoples—the CADDO, NAVAJO, Ute, and Apache bands other than the Kiowa-Apache. They also fought the ARAPAHO, Cheyenne, and OSAGE until reaching peace accords with these tribes in the 1830s. They also proved a much-feared menace to Spaniards, Mexicans, and Euroamericans traveling the Santa Fe Trail and the Butterfield Southern Route (Southern Overland Trail). They raided settlements far and wide, even into Mexico. The Kiowa wars of the 1800s closely parallel the Comanche wars. In most engagements, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache fought side by side. (Most of these conflicts are described in this book under the COMANCHE entry.) Yet certain Kiowa leaders should be mentioned here because they were among the most important individuals in the history of the American West. From the 1830s until the 1860s, Little Mountain was the principal Kiowa chief. It was his hand that recorded the tribal history with pictographs on buffalo hide. When the hide wore out, the entire chronicle was recreated on a new hide. And in later years, when the buffalo herds had been slaughtered, Little Mountain’s nephew used heavy manila paper to redraw 60 years of Kiowa history.

By the 1870s and the final phase of the Comanche Kiowa wars, the Kiowa had a number of influential chiefs. Sitting Bear (Satank) was the elderly leader of the Principal Dogs. White Bear (Satanta) led a faction of Kiowa who wanted war with the whites; he led many raids into Texas. Kicking Bird was the leader of the peace faction. When Little Mountain died in 1866, Lone Wolf was chosen as the principal chief; he was a compromise choice instead of White Bear or Kicking Bird. Yet Lone Wolf came to support White Bear and the militants. Big Tree was the youngest of the Kiowa war chiefs in the Kiowa wars of the 1860s and 1870s. Sky Walker (Mamanti) was a medicine man who was supposed to have prophetic powers.

Sitting Bear died in 1871. Held as a prisoner by whites, he preferred to die fighting for his freedom, with a knife against army carbines. Kicking Bird died mysteriously in 1875 right after the Red River War—probably from poison given to him by members of the militant faction, who resented his friendship with whites. Sky Walker died a prisoner at Fort Marion in Florida in 1875, supposedly right after learning about the death of Kicking Bird. Tribal legend has it that the medicine man willed himself to die because he had used his magical powers to kill a fellow Kiowa, Kicking Bird. White Bear died in 1878, while in a prison at Huntsville, Texas. Depressed at his fate, he jumped headfirst from the second-story balcony of a prison hospital. Lone Wolf had contracted malaria while imprisoned at Fort Marion in Florida and died in 1879, within a year after he was finally permitted to return to his homeland. Big Tree, the young warrior, outlasted the others. In 1875, he was released from the Fort Sill prison in the Indian Territory and in later years became a Sunday school teacher for the Rainy Mountain Baptist Church. Many of these Kiowa leaders, including White Bear and Kicking Bird, along with other famous Indian leaders, including the Comanche Quanah Parker and the Apache Geronimo, are buried in a graveyard at Fort Sill. Since there are so many Native American warriors there, this cemetery is known as the Indian Arlington, after Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where American soldiers are buried.

Contemporary Kiowa Modern-day Kiowa are still allied with the Comanche and the Apache of Oklahoma (descendants of both Kiowa Apache and Geronimo’s band). Most of the Kiowa lands, now protected as a federal trust area, are in Caddo County, Oklahoma, with tribal headquarters at Carnegie. The Kiowa Indian Council consists of all tribal members at least 18 years old. Many Kiowa have become professionals.

Other tribal members earn a living through farming, raising livestock, and leasing oil rights to their lands. The Kiowa have maintained traditional culture in the form of stories, songs, and dances. The Kiowa Gourd Dance, as performed by the warrior society known as the Kiowa Gourd Clan, can be seen at intertribal powwows. Kiowa artists have played an important part in the recent flowering of Native American art. In the late 1920s, the “Kiowa Five”—Spenser Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, and Monroe Tsatoke—became known internationally. T.C. Cannon picked up the tradition in the 1970s. Parker Boyiddle, Sherman Chaddleson, and Mirac Creepingbear painted 10 murals illustrating Kiowa history for the Kiowa Nation Culture Museum in Carnegie, Oklahoma, in the 1980s. Another Kiowa, N. Scott Momaday, a professor of comparative literature, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn.Among his other works are The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), The Ancient Child (1990), and In the Bear’s House (1999).

Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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