The Kowa

The Kiowa speak a language which linguists classify as a part of the Tanoan language family and is related to the Pueblos of Taos, Jemez, Isleta, and San Ildefonso in New Mexico. Yet the oral traditions of several tribes place the homeland of the Kiowa not in New Mexico, but much farther north in what is now Montana. It was here that they made the transition from elk and deer hunting to buffalo hunting. It was on the plains of Montana that they acquired the horse and many elements of Northern Plains culture, including the Sun Dance. In was in the north that the Kiowa made close and lasting friendships with the Sarsi, the Crow, and the Arikara. It was here that they first encountered the Plains Apache (also known as the Kiowa-Apache).  

Kiowa oral tradition tells of a time when they lived far to the north, beyond the territory of the Crow and the Lakota in the Northern Plains. It was a country that was very cold most of the year. This was a time when they used dogs to carry their burdens as they did not know of the horse. One of their warriors went far to the south where he was captured by the Comanche. The Comanche treated him well and gave him a horse so that he might return home with honor. Upon returning home, he told the tribe of a land stocked with game where the summer lasted nearly all of the year. The council decided to follow the man back to the country he had seen and the following spring they began their migration south. They traveled south until they were attacked by the Comanche.

The Kiowa maintained a tribal history or chronology which was painted on hides and later on paper. The chronology was arranged in a continuous spiral starting in the lower right and ending near the center. Winter was symbolized by a black bar and summer by a drawing of the Sun Dance lodge. In this way, the Kiowa kept a fairly accurate account of their history.

Among the Kiowa, there were three kinds of horses: (1) those which were used as pack animals, (2) those which were ridden by the family, and (3) those which were used for hunting, war, and racing. The average Kiowa household included about five adults.  The ideal size for the horse herd was approximately ten pack animals, five riding animals and two to five buffalo horses.

The Kiowa would form fairly large winter camps which were located along streams where there was firewood and shelter from the winter storms. In early spring, when food supplies were low, the camp would break up into several smaller bands which would scatter in search of game. Later in the summer, the bands would come back together for the buffalo hunt.

Kiowa men wore buffalo robes to cover the upper part of the body. The tanned side of these robes was often painted in a sunburst design. Women’s dresses would be decorated with a simple beaded band across the shoulders.

Among the Kiowa, the basic social unit was composed of a group of brothers, their wives and children. These kinship groups were then loosely organized into a variable number of bands under the leadership of a chief or headman who was spoken of as “father”. Bands ranged in size from about 20 individuals to over 60, with the typical band having about 35 people.

People were attracted to a Kiowa band because of the generosity of the chief. Chiefs who were not generous and who failed to maintain internal peace soon found themselves without a band. The primary functions of the chief involved the directing of the band’s hunting activities and the maintenance of internal peace. The chief usually decided when and where to move.

The Kiowa tribe existed as a sense of common identity and in reality the tribe came together only once a year (sometimes less) for the Sun Dance. In Kiowa tradition there were seven autonomous tribal divisions, each composed of several bands: Biters, Elks, Kiowa proper, Big Shields, Thieves, Pulling Up, and Black Boys. During the annual encampment these divisions occupied set places in the camp circle. Each of these divisions had a head chief who was selected on the basis of ability (the position was not inherited) and there was a nominal chief for the entire tribe.

Warfare was an important part of Kiowa culture, particularly during the nineteenth century. This importance was expressed through ceremonial song and dance. There were two kinds of raids: (1) horse raids, and (2) revenge raids. The typical size of a horse raiding party was 6-10 warriors while the revenge raiding parties were much larger. The smaller horse raiding parties might stay out for a long time – some were gone for a year or two – while the revenge parties soon returned to the band to help with hunting and other activities.

The Kiowa recognized about twelve different deeds of valor during war. When a man had performed four of these deeds he was acknowledged as a warrior.

Among the Kiowa there were several warrior societies:

Horses’ Headdresses: this was the lowest in rank and tended to have younger members.

Black Legs: membership in this society required the achievement of war honors.

Skunkberry People: this is the oldest of the men’s societies and during the twentieth century it became known as the Gourd Dance Society. The society demanded brave conduct from its members in warfare.

Principal Dogs: this was the most exclusive of the men’s societies and membership was open only to the highest ranking war chiefs. Members had to have obtained at least four war honors.

Each of these societies had two leaders and two whipbearers. Each of these societies also had its own songs, dance, insignia, and duties. Membership in the Koisenko was reserved for the bravest warriors and there were 10-40 members. The Koisenko led the most dangerous charges and were not allowed to retreat in battle.

These societies functioned primarily during the four weeks of the Sun Dance encampment. During this time they would sponsor feasts and entertainment and initiate new members. The primary functions of the Kiowa men’s societies were social and economic. In hosting feasts and giving gifts to honored guests they would redistribute wealth.

The Kiowa also had a number of shield societies in which supernatural power was shared. Of the shield societies, the oldest was the Taime Shields which represented the power of the Taime. During the Sun Dance, the Taime shields would be hung in the Sun Dance Lodge.

The Kiowa Eagle Shields had prestige similar to the Taime Shields. Eagle power was associated with war and therefore those who owned Eagle shields were courageous in battle.

The Kiowa Buffalo Shields society cured wounds and broken bones. Members of this society often went with war parties as doctors. The Buffalo Shields society is younger than the Eagle Shields society and while it was founded by a woman, no woman could be a member. The leaders of the society were descendents of the founder. Originally there were 12 Buffalo Shields.

The members of the Kiowa Old Shield Society had the ability to see the future and to talk with the spirits of the dead about finding lost articles. The society was founded by Mamanti (Sky Walker) following the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867.  

The Kiowa also had a women’s society, the Calf Old Women, which was equal in rank to the Skunkberry People. Since the society had war power, men would present its members with gifts before leaving on a war party.

Another Kiowa women’s society was the Bear Old Women which was a secret society that controlled bear power. This is one of the oldest Kiowa societies.  

Kiowa Religion

 photo Kiowamen_zpsefbd5828.jpg

While the Kiowa today have a reservation in Oklahoma, their own oral tradition as well as that of other tribes tells of their migrations from Montana to the Southern Plains. Kiowa religion is based on a sacred power (dwdw), a force that permeated the universe and could be found in spirits, objects, places, or natural phenomena. This spiritual power permeates the universe, including the sun, the moon, and the stars. On earth, this power permeates the mountains, rivers, streams, plants, and animals. This spiritual power is neither good nor bad, but it can help or harm depending on the user.  

There is a hierarchy of spiritual power: the spiritual power of predators is more powerful than that of their prey; the spiritual powers from above, such as the sun, are stronger than the earthly animals.

For humans, the spiritual power could be obtained through the vision quest. Through the successful completion of the vision quest, the seeker obtains a guardian or tutelary spirit. This special spirit gives instructions on how to paint the face, as well as imparting special songs, and guidance for making special amulets. Traditionally it was considered unlikely that a man could be successful in life without a guardian spirit.

The vision quest, usually done only by men, involved going to an isolated place and fasting wearing only a breechcloth and moccasins. A buffalo robe might be draped over the shoulders with the hair side out. The seeker would carry a black stone pipe with a long stem. For four days the seeker would fast, smoke, and pray, attempting to obtain a vision.

Among the Kiowa, successful vision seekers traditionally obtained spiritual power related to either curing or war. These two realms of spiritual power were generally mutually exclusive: one became either a great warrior or a great curer. For those who became curers, life was more difficult as there were both responsibilities and restrictions which came with the spiritual power. Typically, restrictions might include the need to avoid certain animal foods-bears, moles, or fish-or animal parts-brains or marrow.

Kiowa men who received war power often made war shields that symbolized the power they had received through their vision. These shields, along with the associated spiritual power, could be given to a son or sold to a friend.

Among the Kiowa, the ten sacred medicine bundles – the Ten Grandmothers – were very important. One of the functions of the medicine bundle priests was to adjudicate disputes. The bundles also had the power to cure the sick. Anyone in the tribe could make gifts to a bundle and to pray for it. Success in war was traditionally the most common supplication.

The eleventh tribal bundle among the Kiowa is the Taime or Sun Dance bundle which became the focal point of the Sun Dance. This medicine bundle is placed at the western side of the Sun Dance lodge where it symbolizes the spiritual powers of the sun and mediates between the people and these spiritual powers.

According to one story, the Kiowa obtained two Taime medicine bundles, one male and one female, about 1770 from an Arapaho man who had received them as a gift from the Crow. When the Arapaho man married a Kiowa woman the two bundles come into possession of the Kiowa people.

The Sun Dance was the only time in which the entire Kiowa tribe camped together. This ceremony unified the tribe socially and spiritually. Traditionally, the Kiowa Sun Dance was held between mid-June and mid-July and was not an annual dance: it was held only when someone pledged it. The keeper of the Sun Dance bundle selected the location for the dance and was the nominal head of the tribe during this ceremony.

The Kiowa Gourd Dance (Tdiepeigah) began as a spiritual gift from the red wolf to a Kiowa warrior who was separated from his war party. The dance honors the battles of the Kiowa warriors during their migration from the Northern Plains to the Southern Plains.  

Ancient America: The Southern Plains Villagers

Southern Plains Villagers is a culture that occupied the Southern Plains from 800 CE to 1500 CE. These Indian people had agricultural economy which they supplemented by hunting and gathering wild plants. With regard to hunting, the bison was an important animal and was also important in the religious life of the people. Overall, the Southern Plains Villagers had a rich and varied subsistence base.  

The Southern Plains Village sites were relatively small, ranging from a half an acre to as large as four acres. They were usually located on major streams or tributaries. These were sites where the fertile sand-loam soils were well-suited to their corn-based agriculture.

Several small communities would often be clustered fairly close together which suggests a rural community composed of several family groups. In some instances, a larger site would serve as the central community for a number of smaller sites which would be located up and down the river valley.

Southern Plains Village houses tended to be square or rectangular made with central support posts. Upright logs placed in postholes were used to form the walls. The walls of the houses were plastered. The houses were roofed with grass thatch. Houses averaged 23 feet long by 14 feet wide.

The Southern Plains Villagers made flaked stone tools from both locally available materials and from materials which had been traded through some distance. They are using arrowheads which archaeologists classify as Fresno, Washita, Ellis, and Edgewood types.

The Plains villagers used a variety of ground stone tools, including grinding stones. They also used different types of abrading stones. The sandstone abraders which they used were similar to graded sandpaper. They would be used in making bone tools. Coarse abraders would be used for the initial or rough out work. Then the toolmaker would switch to the medium abraders for intermediate steps.  Finally they would use the fine grade for finishing work or re-sharpening.

Using stone tools for grinding corn and plant seeds meant that there was a large amount of grit in the food. This resulted in tooth wear.

The Southern Plains Village people also made pottery. Some of the pottery was made using a limestone temper while some was made using a shell temper. In general, the pots were made for everyday use and tend to have little or no decoration. In addition to pots and bowls, they also made pipes and figurines from clay. The clay figurines were used in fertility ceremonies and the clay pipes were used in tobacco smoking ceremonies.

Custer Pottery

Shown above is an example of Custer Phase Pottery (800 to 1250 CE) from Oklahoma.

Washita Pottery

Shown above is an example of Washita River Pottery (1250 to 1450 CE) from Oklahoma. Both of the photos above are from the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey files.

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/D/…

The Plains Village people used cache pits for storage. These were dug into the ground to a depth of about 4 feet and they were slightly more than 3 feet in diameter.

During the Turkey Creek Phase (1250 to 1450) in Oklahoma, there were trading networks which connected the Southern Plains Villages to the Pueblo villages in the west and the Caddoan groups to the east and northeast.

About 1500 CE, the Southern Villagers appear to have abandoned their heartland and become more dispersed. In some areas of the Southern Plains, the number of sites decreases and there is a substantial increase in the size of the remaining villages. It is possible that climatic conditions forced the people to move eastward where water supplies were more reliable. Some of the Southern Villagers were the ancestors of the historic Wichita. Intrusive groups, such as the Kiowa, began to appear at this time.  

The Red River War

After 1871, the United States’ policies regarding American Indian nations was no longer based on negotiating treaties, but on concentrating Indians onto reservations where they could be “civilized” by forcing them to become English-speaking Christian farmers. In his annual report to Congress in 1872, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis A. Walker wrote:

“There is no question of national dignity, be it remembered, involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether in a given situation one shall fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest and safest.”

On the Southern Plains, American policy regarding the so-called “nomadic” tribes, was to destroy the buffalo herds on which they had traditionally depended for subsistence. Once the buffalo had vanished, these tribes would be forced to remain on the reservations or starve. On the other hand, they also starved on the reservations when the supplies which had been promised them as payment for their land failed to arrive.

With regard to the Comanche and Kiowa in Oklahoma, Indian Commissioner Francis A. Walker reported:

“The United States have (sic) given them a noble reservation, and have provided amply for all their wants.”

The Comanche, however, felt that the United States had not “given” them a reservation: they felt that the United States had only recognized their claim to a small portion of their traditional territory.

To pressure the Indians to stay on the reservations, the United States waged an active war against the buffalo. By 1873, non-Indian buffalo hunters (known as “runners”) were crossing into Comanche territory to hunt and the army did nothing to stop them. Instead, the army took a proactive role by providing protection for the runners and by supplying them with both equipment and ammunition.

In 1874, the Comanche held a Sun Dance. This is not a traditional Comanche ceremony, but was borrowed from the Cheyenne. This Sun Dance coincided with the emergence of a new medicine man:  Eschiti (Coyote Droppings; also spelled Esa-tai). Unlike most Comanche medicine men, he did not wear a buffalo skull cap or ceremonial mask. He was attired only in breechclout and moccasins. He wore a wide sash of red cloth around his waist. A red-tipped hawk feather was in his hair and from each ear hung a snake rattle.

Eschiti had been given strong powers in a vision quest. In his vision, Eschiti ascended to the home of the Great Spirit, a place which is far above the Christian Heaven. It was reported that Eschiti was capable of vomiting up all the cartridges which might be needed for any gun; that he could raise the dead; that he was bulletproof and could make others bulletproof; that he could control the weather. His messianic message to the people was that he had been sent by the Great Spirit to deliver them from oppression.

In 1874, in the panhandle of Texas, buffalo hunters armed with high powered telescopic rifles capable of killing buffalo at 600 yards, set up camp at the abandoned trading post of Adobe Walls. The camp was attacked by an intertribal war party of about 300 made up of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors. War party leaders included Tabananaka, Wild Horse, Mowaway, Black Beard, and a rising new leader, Quanah. The Indians were confident that Eschiti’s power would render the hunters’ guns useless.

Adobe Walls

Eschiti had warned the warriors not to kill a skunk on their way to Adobe Walls. His medicine had foreseen that the hunters would be asleep when attacked; they would not use their big guns, and his anti-bullet protection would never be put to the test.

Just as the war party prepared to attack the sleeping buffalo hunters, there was a loud crack which awakened them. The hunters, fearing that the ridge pole had snapped, were suddenly awake and scrambling around.

The hunters settled down for the siege, and with plenty of ammunition and good marksmanship, they repelled the war party. Eschiti blamed the failure of his medicine on the actions of a Cheynne member of the war party who had killed a skunk. Since skunk meat was a favorite of many of the southern plains Indians, killing a skunk was not unusual. Hungry members of a large war party would eat whatever strayed into their path.

One of those who was wounded in the battle was Quanah Parker. After his horse was shot out from under him, he crawled to a buffalo carcass for protection and was shot in the side. He then crawled to a thicket where he remained until another warrior rescued him.

This was the second battle of Adobe Walls-the first battle of Adobe Walls had taken place in 1864 when American troops under Colonel Kit Carson fought against Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The second battle of Adobe Walls marked the beginning of an Indian war known as the Red River War or the Buffalo War.

Army troops were called in to capture the war party, but their movement was hampered by drought and by temperatures well over 100 degrees. Eschiti took credit for arranging the weather. The troops, however, were relentless and managed to destroy lodges and capture horses.

In the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, an American force of 700 was attacked by 75 Cheyenne warriors. The Indians were driven back to a steep wall of the canyon where the full force of about 500 warriors made their stand. The army had superior firepower, including Gatling guns and artillery. The Army troops at this time were armed with .45-caliber single-shot Springfield rifles. Many of the Indians had repeating rifles, such as the 16-shot, lever-action Henry and the .50-caliber Spencer. While the Spencers could fire more rounds in less time than the Springfields, the single-shot army rifles could reach farther across the plains to keep the enemy at bay. It may well have been the better weapon for its time and place.

The Indian warriors under the command of Iron Shirt (Cheyenne), Poor Buffalo (Comanche), and Lone Wolf (Kiowa) were scattered by the superior firepower of the Americans. There were few Indian casualties (it is estimated that only 25 Indians were killed), but the Americans killed more than 1,000 horses and destroyed the Indians’ winter food supply.

This was the last major conflict fought by the Indians of the Southern Plains. It was a last desperate and hopeless resistance to the new order which the United States was to impose upon them.    

Breaking Treaties

A treaty is an agreement between two or more sovereign nations. Under the U.S. Constitution, Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations-or as dependent domestic nations, in the words of the Supreme Court-and thus the United States negotiated treaties with the tribes in order to obtain title to Indian land and open Indian lands to non-Indian settlement.

Following the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of a Peace Commission composed of three generals and four civilians to negotiate a series of treaties with the Indian nations. The Peace Commission sought to have the Indian nations settle on reservations away from the railroads and American settlements. These reservations were to be large enough to allow the Indians to continue to support themselves with hunting, but as they became more proficient as farmers, the size of the reservations was to be reduced. The government was also to provide the Indians with missionary instruction in Christianity. As a Christian nation, the United States felt that it had an obligation to convert Indians to Christianity and to prohibit aboriginal pagan religions.  

The Treaty:

In 1867, 4,000 Indians representing the Comanche, the Kiowa, the Kiowa-Apache, the Southern Cheyenne, and the Arapaho met with the United States Peace Commission at Medicine Lodge Creek, Kansas. Three treaties were negotiated with the tribes. The Americans wanted the tribes to agree to a reservation in Indian Territory and to surrender their own land claims.

Gifts for the Indians were stacked in dazzling piles. These included bushel baskets of glass beads, trinkets, knives, and surplus items from the Civil War. The surplus items included uniforms, blankets, and bugles. The Indians were allowed to look at the gifts but they could not touch them. The American strategy regarding gifts was simple: no treaty, no gifts.

Speaking for the Kiowa were Satank, Stumbling Bear, and Satanta. Ten Bears and Little Horn spoke for the Comanche, and Wolf’s Sleeve and Brave Man represented the Kiowa-Apache.  

Kiowa leader Satanta told the Commission that he did not want to give any land away. He told them:

“I love the land, the buffalo and will not part with it. I don’t want any of the medicine lodges (churches) within the country.”

Satanta also told them:

“A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers, but when I go up to the river, I see a camp of soldiers, and they are cutting my wood down or killing my buffalo. I don’t like that, and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting with sorrow.”

Newspaper reporter Henry Stanley, who was observing the council for the Daily Missouri Democrat, reported:

“Satanta’s speech produced a rather blank look upon the faces of the peace commissioners.”

Ten Bears told the Commission:

“There is one thing which is not good in your speeches; that is, building us medicine houses.”

Communication at the council was a bit of a problem as not all of the translators are fluent in the native languages and part of the communication had to be done through sign language. In some instances, the translation went from English to Comanche via a translator who mumbled and then from Comanche to Kiowa with the resulting loss of a great deal of meaning. The Indian leaders probably understood little with regard to the nuances and legal ramifications of the treaty, but there were gifts, food, and pageantry.

Following the treaty signing, gifts were distributed to the Indians. Included in the gifts were some pistols of unknown manufacture. Each of these pistols exploded the first time they were fired. The shoddy pistols were, perhaps, a warning of things to come.

According to the treaties, annuities were to be paid to the tribes for 30 years. Annuity payments were to consist of one suit of woolen clothing for every male person and flannel, cloth, or calico for every female. An additional $25,000 in goods was to be spent as the Indian Service deemed necessary.

Under Article 12, further cessions of land could be made only with the consent of three-fourths of the male adult Indians.

The Jerome Commission:

In 1892, a commission headed by David H. Jerome (thus known as the Jerome Commission) obtained signed agreements with several Oklahoma tribes to obtain 15 million acres of land in an area known as the Cherokee Outlet. While the majority of the Indians opposed the land cessions, the Americans simply ignored their concerns and used a combination of lies, bribes, threats, and forgeries to obtain the agreements.

In the meeting with the Kiowa, Jerome explained that the United States wanted nothing from the Indians except to give them something more valuable than land: money. With regard to the actual amount of money, the commissioners avoided giving any details. Under the Jerome Commission agreement, the Kiowa would actually receive about $25 per person to sell the land, as compared with $33 for leasing the land.

To obtain the correct number of Kiowa signatures for the agreement, the government ordered Kiowa Indian soldiers to put their mark to the paper. Other signatures were simply forged. When confronted about this, Jerome simply reminded the Kiowa:

“Congress has full control of you, it can do as it is a mind to with you.”

He then threatened the Kiowa leaders with jail and dismissed them.

The agreement with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apaches was certified to have sufficient signatures to make it valid under the Medicine Lodge Treaty. However, even with the forged signatures, the document is between 21 and 91 signatures short of the number needed.

As Congress discussed the ratification of the new agreements, Indian leaders travelled to Washington, D.C. to protest the agreements and to lobby against ratification. They continually pointed out that the agreement had been made by means of fraud and coercion. Congress, however, ignored the Indian pleas and ratified the agreements.

The Supreme Court:

In Lone Wolf versus Hitchcock the Supreme Court ruled in 1903 that Congress has the authority to break Indian treaties. While the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge provided that no part of the Kiowa-Comanche Reservation could be ceded without the approval of three-fourths of the adult males, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has the power to abrogate the provisions of the treaty. According to the Court:

“The power exists to abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty, though presumably such power will be exercised only when circumstances arise which will not only justify the government in disregarding the stipulations of the treaty, but may demand, in the interest of the country and the Indians themselves, that it should do so.”

In this ruling, the Court removed tribal consent as a factor in the efforts of the United States to acquire more Indian lands.

In the case, the Indians argued that the agreement to sell their land had been obtained by fraud and that it did not have the requisite number of signatures as required by their treaty with the United States. The Court rejected these arguments in favor of near absolute federal power with regard to Indian affairs. Federal power, according to the Court, should be tempered by

“considerations of justice as would control a Christian people in their treatment of an ignorant and dependent race.”

For politicians in the western states, the Court’s ruling sent a clear message that they could use whatever means they wanted to dispossess the Indians of their land.

The Kiowa

( – promoted by navajo)

The Southern Plains is an area of rolling prairie grasslands with timbered areas along stream valleys. It lies south of the Arkansas River valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. The Southern Plains were occupied by hunting and gathering tribes such as the Comanche, Kiowa, and Lipan Apache, and by agricultural tribes such as the Caddo.  

Kiowa Migrations:

Kiowa oral tradition tells of a time when they lived far to the north, beyond the territory of the Crow and the Lakota in the Northern Plains. It was a country that was very cold most of the year. This was a time when they used dogs to carry their burdens as they did not know of the horse. In was in the north that the Kiowa made close and lasting friendships with the Sarsi, the Crow, and the Arikara. It was here that they first encountered the Plains Apache (also known as the Kiowa-Apache).

In the 1600s, the Kiowa were living in the Yellowstone River area of the Northern Plains with the Crow. Their oral tradition describes the geysers in Yellowstone National Park as being a part of their original land. From the Crow they borrowed the taime or Sun Dance medicine.

The Kiowa then migrated to the Black Hills area of South Dakota where they were later expelled by the Lakota and Cheyenne. Finally, they migrated into the Southern Plains area. The presence of shield-bearing warriors in the rock art of central Montana and the Black Hills provides some evidence of this migration.

According to the oral tradition, one of the Kiowa warriors went far to the south where he was captured by the Comanche. The Comanche treated him well and gave him a horse so that he might return home with honor. Upon returning home, he told of the tribe of a land stocked with game where the summer lasted nearly all of the year. The council decided to follow the man back to the country he had seen and the following spring they began their migration south. They traveled south until they were attacked by the Comanche.

Kiowa oral tradition also tells of two rival chiefs who got into an argument and thus the tribe split up: one group moved east to settle with the Crow while the second group remained in the mountains. A long time later, the “Cold People” reunited with the Kiowa.

The Kiowa Gourd Dance (Tdiepeigah) honors the battles of the Kiowa warriors during their migration from the Northern Plains to the Southern Plains. This Kiowa ceremony began as a spiritual gift from the red wolf to a Kiowa warrior who was separated from his war party.

With regard to language, Kiowa is a part of the Tanoan family whose other branches are spoken in the Pueblos of Taos, Jemez, Isleta, and San Ildefonso in New Mexico. This suggests the possibility that the Kiowa may once have been sedentary horticulturalists who entered the Plains from the southwest.  Small bands of Tewa-speakers may have migrated to the Northern Plains long before European contact. It was here that they made the transition from elk and deer hunting to buffalo hunting. In the Northern Plains these bands underwent social and political reorganization which ultimately resulted in the formation of Kiowa nation.

Traditional Kiowa Culture:

Like other Southern Plains tribes, the Kiowa had an annual round which centered in part on buffalo hunting. The Kiowa would form fairly large winter camps which were located along streams where there was firewood and shelter from the winter storms. In early spring, when food supplies were low, the camp would break up into several smaller bands which would scatter in search of game. Later in the summer, the bands would come back together for the buffalo hunt.

After the acquisition of the horse, the tribes of the southern plains began using the tipi. Since the horse is considerably larger than the dog, this meant that longer tipi poles could be carried. Among the Osage the tipi was constructed on a framework of 13 poles which were about 18 feet long. This allowed for a lodge about 15 feet in diameter. The frame was covered with buffalo hides which had been sewn to fit the frame. Two women could set up a tipi in about 15 minutes.

Among the Kiowa, there were three kinds of horses: (1) those which were used as pack animals, (2) those which were ridden by the family, and (3) those which were used for hunting, war, and racing. A typical household composed of five adults needed approximately ten pack animals, five riding animals and two to five buffalo horses.

Kiowa men would wear buffalo robes to cover the upper part of the body. The tanned side of these robes was often painted in a sunburst design. Women’s dresses would be decorated with a simple beaded band across the shoulders.

As with other Southern Plains tribes, it was considered normal to be married and ideally all adults were married. If a man’s wife died, her family would provide him with one of her sisters as a wife. The “sister” could be a “cousin” according to the European way of describing relatives. Similarly, when a man died, his brother would be obliged to marry the widow and provide for her children.

Children were named shortly after birth by a grandparent or some other relative. Names usually referred to some incident or to a great deed by an ancestor. Later in life, new names could be adopted as the result of a vision or because of warfare or hunting.

Among the Kiowa, the basic social unit was composed of a group of brothers, their wives and children. These kinship groups were then loosely organized into a variable number of bands under the leadership of a chief or headman who was spoken of as “father”. Bands ranged in size from about 20 individuals to over 60, with the typical band having about 35 people.

People were attracted to a Kiowa band because of the generosity of the chief. Wealthy leaders attracted sons-in-law, poor relatives, and individuals who had no kin. Chiefs who were not generous and who failed to maintain internal peace soon found themselves without a band. The primary functions of the chief involved the directing of the band’s hunting activities and the maintenance of internal peace. The chief usually decided when and where to move.

The Kiowa tribe existed as a sense of common identity and in reality the tribe came together only once a year (sometimes less) for the Sun Dance. In Kiowa tradition there were seven autonomous tribal divisions, each composed of several bands: Biters, Elks, Kiowa proper, Big Shields, Thieves, Pulling Up, and Black Boys. During the annual encampment these divisions occupied set places in the camp circle. Each of these divisions had a head chief who was selected on the basis of ability (the position was not inherited) and there was a nominal chief for the entire tribe.

Warfare was an important part of Kiowa culture, particularly during the nineteenth century. Among the Kiowa, there were two kinds of raids: (1) horse raids, and (2) revenge raids. The typical size of a horse raiding party was 6-10 warriors while the revenge raiding parties were much larger. The smaller horse raiding parties might stay out for a long time – some were gone for a year or two – while the revenge parties soon returned to the band to help with hunting and other activities.

The Kiowa recognized about twelve different deeds of valor during war. When a man had performed four of these deeds he was acknowledged as a warrior.

Spirituality:

Kiowa religion is based on a sacred power (dwdw), a force that permeated the universe and could be found in spirits, objects, places, or natural phenomena. This spiritual power is neither good nor bad, but it can help or harm depending on the user. Among the Kiowa, however, there was a hierarchy of spiritual power or dwdw: predators are more powerful than their prey; spiritual powers from above, such as the sun, are stronger than the earthly animals.

Only a handful of men who had successfully supplicated the spiritual forces during vision quests acquire dwdw. It was, however, possible to purchase dwdw by becoming an apprentice to men of power, but power obtained through the vision quest was always stronger. In purchasing dwdw, the individual had to undergo the vision quest under the tutelage of a man of power.

Among the Kiowa, the ten sacred medicine bundles – the Ten Grandmothers – were very important. One of the functions of the medicine bundle priests was to adjudicate disputes. Sacrifices, vows, and petitions were traditionally made before these ten bundles during crucial periods of a man’s life. A man might ask the bundles for success in war. The bundles also had the power to cure the sick. Anyone in the tribe could make gifts to a bundle and to pray for it.

The eleventh tribal bundle among the Kiowa is the Taime or Sun Dance bundle which became the focal point of the Sun Dance. This bundle would be placed at the western side of the Sun Dance lodge where it symbolized the sun, and mediated between the people and sun power.

The keeper of the Taime would select the location for the Sun Dance and was the nominal head of the tribe during this ceremony. The Kiowa Sun Dance centered on the sun as the creator and the regenerator of life through the Taime.  

Indian Nations of the Southern Plains

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photo credit: Aaron Huey

The Southern Plains is the area of the Great Plains that lies south of the Arkansas River valley. It is an area of rolling prairie grasslands with some timbered areas in the stream valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. By the time the European, and later American, explorers and settlers began moving into the area, it had a long history of occupation by Indian nations such as the Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache and Lipan Apache.  

Caddo:

The term “Caddo” originates from one particular tribe, the Kadohadacho who occupied the area around the Great Bend of the Red River in Texas. The term is also applied to a number of other tribes in the region who have a similar language and culture. Today, the Caddo Nation consists of the descendants of approximately 25 once-independent tribes that inhabited the area.

At the time of the first contact with the French and Spanish explorers, the Caddo were associated in three or four loose confederations. The largest of these was the Hasinai, which the Spanish called Texas, who occupied a territory which includes the present-day Texas counties of Nacogdoches, Rusk, Cherokee, and Houston. The Kadohadacho, also called the Caddo proper, were located at the bend of the Red River in southwestern Arkansas and northeastern Texas. The Natchitoches occupied an area near the present-day Louisiana city which bears their name. The least known of these early confederacies is the Yatasi which soon after initial European contact divided into two groups which affiliated with other Caddoan confederacies.

The Caddo were farmers who raised corn, about six kinds of beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, gourds, and melons (including watermelons). Their fields were tilled with wooden or bone-tipped hoes. The Caddo planted two kinds of corn. One would mature in about six weeks and the other in about three months. The fast maturing corn would be planted at the end of April, about the time when the rains cease. This corn would grow to less than 3 feet in height, but would be covered with many small ears. Following the harvest of this corn, they would clear the fields and plant what they called the “big seed” (the longer-maturing corn).

After the Caddo acquired the horse in the seventeenth century, buffalo hunting increased in its importance.

Comanche:

Linguistically, the Comanche are closely related to the Shoshone who are from the Great Basin culture area. According to Crow oral tradition, the Comanche once lived in the Snake River area of Idaho. Comanche oral tradition says that they once lived in the Rocky Mountain area north of the headwaters of the Arkansas River. The Comanche split off from the Shoshone because of a dispute over the distribution of a bear killed by a Comanche hunter. At the time, the two groups were in the Fountain Creek area north of the present-day city of Pueblo, Colorado. As a result of this split, the Comanche migrated south while the Shoshone gradually migrated to the north and west. By 1700 the Comanche had moved into the Southern Plains.

Linguistic data suggests that the Comanche began to move onto the plains about 1500 AD. At this time, there was a period of increased precipitation, which led to a parallel increase in the buffalo population. Consequently, there was also an increase in the size, number, and duration of the Indian nations who could exploit the herds.

The Comanche had a form of pictorial writing. Using a thin piece of birch bark which can be folded, the Comanche would write notes to tell others where they were going and what they were doing.

Kiowa:

The Kiowa speak a language which linguists classify as a part of the Tanoan language family and is thus related to the Pueblos of Taos, Jemez, Isleta, and San Ildefonso in New Mexico. Yet the oral traditions of several tribes place the homeland of the Kiowa not in New Mexico, but much farther north in what is now Montana. It was here that they made the transition from elk and deer hunting to buffalo hunting. It was on the plains of Montana that they acquired the horse and many elements of Northern Plains culture, including the Sun Dance. It was in the north that the Kiowa made close and lasting friendships with the Sarsi, the Crow, and the Arikara. It was here that they first encountered the Plains Apache (also known as the Kiowa-Apache).

Kiowa oral tradition tells of a time when they lived far to the north, beyond the territory of the Crow and the Lakota in the Northern Plains. It was a country that was very cold most of the year. This was a time when they used dogs to carry their burdens as they did not know of the horse. One of their warriors went far to the south where he was captured by the Comanche. The Comanche treated him well and gave him a horse so that he might return home with honor. Upon returning home, he told of the tribe of a land stocked with game where the summer lasted nearly all of the year. The council decided to follow the man back to the country he had seen and the following spring they began their migration south. They traveled south until they were attacked by the Comanche.

The Kiowa maintained a tribal history or chronology which was painted on hides and later on paper. The chronology was arranged in a continuous spiral starting in the lower right and ending near the center. Winter was symbolized by a black bar and summer by a drawing of the Sun Dance lodge.

Kiowa-Apache:

The homeland for the Kiowa-Apache and the Plains Apache was on the Northern Plains of Alberta, Canada, where they were most likely associated with the Sarsi on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. On the Northern Plains, probably in the Yellowstone River area of Montana, they became associated with the Kiowa and became culturally similar to the Kiowa except for language.  The Kiowa-Apache then accompanied the Kiowa on their migration to the Black Hills and then south on the Southern Plains.

Lipan Apache:

The Apache are an Athapaskan-speaking group who once lived on the Northern Plains in Alberta and migrated into the Southern Plains of Texas. Linguistically, the Lipan Apache separated from the Kiowa-Apache more than 400 years ago, and they separated from the Jicarilla Apache about 227 years ago. The Lipan Apache were firmly entrenched in South Texas by the second half of the seventeenth century.

Tonkawa:

While the Tonkawa are often considered to be a Texas group, in the early 1600s they were actually living in northern Oklahoma near the confluence of the Medicine Lodge and Salt Fork Rivers. They then migrated south to the area around Dallas and Texas, then farther south to the Austin and San Antonio areas. Finally, in the reservation era, they accepted a reservation in northern Oklahoma near their 1600s homeland.  

Vision Quest Among the Southern Plains Tribes

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The Southern Plains American Indian Culture Area lies south of the Arkansas River valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. This is the area which was the homeland for Indian nations such as the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Lipan Apache.

As with tribes in other areas, dreams are an important part of the spirituality of the Southern Plains. For the Comanche, visions can provide the individual with power (puha) when they are sought under certain stringent conditions. On the other hand, visions might also come unsought. Visions were traditionally sought for mourning, for going to war, for curing disease, and for success in hunting.  

Comanche:

At about the time of puberty, Comanche boys would seek their first vision with the aid of a medicine man. Each boy was to have four things: a buffalo robe, a bone pipe, some tobacco, and material for producing fire. On the way to the vision quest site – often a hill, or a warrior’s grave, or some other special place – the boy would stop to smoke the pipe four times. During the four-day quest the boy would fast. During this time, he was to be quietly humble before the sources of spiritual power. The Comanche saw no call for the seeker to demean himself in lamentation and self-pity. Those seeking a vision do so with some understanding of the kind of spiritual power they are seeking.

The culmination of the Comanche vision quest occurs when a guardian spirit reveals itself to the seeker. This guardian spirit teaches the seeker a number of things, including several songs. In this way the person seeking the vision receives puha (medicine power).

Among the Comanche, the power obtained through a vision could be shared with others and thus a number of medicine societies were formed.

Kiowa:

Among the Kiowa, the guardian spirit obtained through the vision quest gives instructions on how to paint the face, as well as special songs, and guidance for making special amulets. It was considered unlikely that a man could be successful in life without a guardian spirit.

Among the Kiowa, successful vision seekers obtained spiritual power related to either curing or war. These two realms of spiritual power were generally mutually exclusive: one became either a great warrior or a great curer. For the person who received spiritual power related to curing, life was more difficult because of the responsibilities and restrictions accompanying his power. For those with curing power, life typically involved a stringent set of prohibitions placed on his doctoring medicine, such as avoiding certain animal foods-bears, moles, or fish-or animal parts-brains or marrow.

Kiowa men who received war power often made war shields that symbolized the power they had received through their vision. These shields, along with the associated spiritual power, could be given to a son or sold to a friend.

Among the Kiowa, it was possible for a man to purchase spiritual power. He would then undergo a vision quest under the guidance of a man whose medicine was painted on a circular war shield. The person seeking the vision would traditionally go out clad only in a breechcloth and moccasins. He would drape a buffalo robe around his shoulders. Carrying with him a pipe and a tobacco pouch, the initiate would then take the shield up into the Wichita Mountains. With the shield under his head, he would then fast to learn about the spiritual power of the shield keeper. For four days the initiate would fast, smoke, and pray in an attempt to obtain a vision.

Conclusion:

Throughout North American Native Americans traditionally sought to obtain person spiritual power directly from spiritual entities. The process of obtaining this spiritual power varied from tribe to tribe. While I’ve looked at just the Comanche and the Kiowa in the Southern Plains Area, it must be remembered that many other tribes-including the Caddo, the Karankawa, the Plains Apache, the Jumano, and many others-also considered this their homeland.