Published on May 7, 2012 by Amy
Known to his people as Set-Tainte, meaning “White Bear Person,” Satanta was a great Kiowa warrior who would later become the principal chief in the Kiowa Wars of the 1860s-1870s and was known as “The Orator of the Plains.”
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He was born about 1820, during the height of the power of the Plains Tribes, probably along the Canadian River in the traditional winter camp grounds of his people.
After developing a reputation as an outstanding warrior, he was was made a sub-chief of his tribe under Chief Dohasan while still in his twenties. In appearance, he was described as tall, having a fine physique, erect bearing, and a piercing glance.
He fought with Chief Dohasan at the First Battle of Adobe Walls in 1864, and earned enduing fame for his use of an army bugle to confuse the troops in battle.
His speaking abilities gained him the title of “Orator of the Plains,” and as such, he negotiated several treaties with the American government including the Little Arkansas Treaty in 1865 and the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867, which required the Kiowa to be placed on a reservation.
The treaty assured the Kiowa people rule over the lands set aside for them, but white settlers continued to pour across their territory and as a result the Kiowa continued to raid settlements and harass immigrants.
The unstable situation got worse when Chief Dohasan died in 1866 and without his strong leadership, competition between several sub-chiefs including Satanta, Guipago, and Tene-angopte, resulted in more raids across the southern plains from Kansas to Texas, during the fall of 1866 and into 1867. During one of these raids in the Texas Panhandle, the Kiowa killed a man named James Box and captured his wife and four children, whom they sold to the army at Fort Dodge, Kansas.
By this time, Satanta’s fame as a warrior and a leader was growing but he was unable to defuse a confrontation between the Kiowa and the US Cavalry near Fort Zarah, Kansas in 1867. After a young Kiowa warrior was killed at the civilian camp near the army fort, and the Kiowa gathered to avenge his death and the cavalry retaliated by attacking the Kiowaencampment, in which several children were killed during the brief skirmish.
The Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 failed to resolve the sources of conflict and by early 1868 the Kiowa and other plains tribes were actively attacking white settlers.
Fearing that these attacks were leading to an Indian uprising, General Philip H. Sheridan was sent in to restore order in the “winter campaign” of 1868-69. Sheridan’s strategy of destroying Kiowahomes and horses dampened the Kiowa’s will to resist, especially after Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer destroyed the southern Cheyenne village on the Washita River on November 23, 1868. Upon hearing of Custer’swillingness to kill women and children, Satanta and Guipago decided to surrender. Flying a flag of truce, the two chiefs approached Custer on December 17th, but were immediately arrested and held for nearly three months while Custer sought permission to hang them. Finally, in February, 1869 Tene-angopte negotiated their freedom by promising that the Kiowa would return to the reservation and cease all attacks on white settlers.
However, by 1871, Satanta and his followers were obviously not satisfied with the reservation and began to make a number of attacks on wagon trains in Texas. On May 18, 1871, Satanta, along with Big Tree and Satank, he led the Warren Wagon Train Raid in Texas, in which seven teamsters lost their lives.
After making public boasts of the deed to the agent at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he, Satank and Big Tree were arrested by military authority and sent to Texas for trial. Satank was killed while resisting a guard and Satanta was warned that he might be hanged for his crimes. To this, Satanta responded: ” I am a great chief among my people. If you kill me, it will be like a spark on the prairie. It will make a big fire – a terrible fire!” Satanta and Big Tree were tried in Texas and sentenced to death; but Texas Governor Edmund Davis, overruled the court and the punishment was changed to life imprisonment. While in prison, a visitor described him as “a tall, finely formed man, princely in carriage, on whom even the prison garb seemed elegant.” Just two years later, Satanta was released in 1873, conditional upon the good behavior of their people.
The following year, Satanta and his warriors were back on the warpath, attacking buffalo hunters and engaging in the what is known as the Second Battle of Adobe Walls which occurred on June 27, 1874.
In October, 1874, Satanta was captured and once again placed in the Texas Penitentiary. Unwilling to spend the rest of his life in prison, Satanta killed himself on October 11, 1878, by throwing himself from a high window of the prison hospital.