Sunday, January 20, 2013


By Lyn Horner

Three Kiowa Men

A large portion of my current WIP, Dearest Druid, takes place on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) ca. 1876. A lot of my research for this project focused on the Kiowa Indians, a small part of which I’ll share with you here. I hope y’all find their story as interesting as I do.

Kiowa myth tells of a creator being who summoned their ancestors into the world from a hollow cottonwood log. They emerged one by one until a pregnant woman got stuck in the log, preventing any others from getting out. Fanciful perhaps, but this may be the Kiowa way of explaining why their numbers were so few compared to the Comanches and other tribes.

Another myth relates how a divine boy, child of the sun and an earthly mother, gave himself to the tribe as eucaristic offerings. As late as 1896, this tribal medicine was kept in Ten Grandmother bundles. Kiowa children grew up listening to these legends and many others, told by the old men and women of the tribe.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Kiowa Indians were one of the preeminent horse tribes of the southern Great Plains. Together with their Comanche and Kiowa-Apache allies, they held off white settlers and the frontier Army for decades. However, they were not always among the world’s greatest mounted warriors. Once, they were hunter-gatherers living in the northern Rockies, who had never laid eyes on a horse. Long before that, they may have dwelled in the desert southwest.

The Kiowas speak a language called Tanoan or Kiowa-Tanoan. Tanoan is also spoken by many of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, proving the two peoples were linked in the distant past. Yet, Kiowas trace their earliest known location to the headwaters of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in western Montana. In the late 1890s, tribal elders still remembered northern tribes such as the Blackfeet, Arapaho Gros Ventres and Shoshonis. How the Kiowas came to be in the far north remains a mystery. One theory is that they split off from their Pueblo roots and migrated northward to colder climes, only to reverse direction and return south eventually.

While living in the northern mountains, the Kiowas depended on dogs to pull travois and possibly sleds. They mainly hunted small game. According to legend, the tribe split over a dispute, one faction heading northwest (where to, no one knows) while the others moved southeastward across the Yellowstone. This group, destined to become the Kiowa tribe of recorded history, met and grew friendly with the Crow Indians, settling east of them in the Black Hills. The Crows apparently taught the Kiowas about life on the plains and intermarried with them, passing on cultural traditions.

Around 1765, the Kiowa obtained the “Tai-me,” a powerful fetish incorporated in the annual Sun Dance ceremony. They acquired horses, hunted buffalo and lived in hide tipis like other plains tribes. They carried personal medicine bundles and belonged to societies within the tribe. Elite among the men’s groups was the Koitsenko soldier society. Young boys started out as “Rabbits.” Girls and women also had their own special groups. Among them were the Old Women society and the exclusive Bear society, with only ten or eleven members.

The Kiowas were forced from the Black Hills by the Dakota Sioux as that tribe pushed westward. South of the Kiowa lived the Comanches, who were in turn forced southward. They had acquired horses early on and ranged deep into Mexico on their raids. As early as the 1730s, the Kiowa had also become superb horsemen and were raiding Spanish settlements.

The two tribes warred against each other for years, but around 1790 they made peace and became allies. From then on, they and the Kiowa-Apaches, a small band closely connected to the Kiowas, hunted and raided together. The Comanches ruled the Staked Plains and a large portion of Texas, a vast domain known as Comancheria, while the Kiowas roved southward along the Arkansas River.

This fierce confederation drove out other, weaker tribes and raided Spanish, Mexican and American settlements virtually unchallenged until the mid-1800s. They were after horses, goods they could use or trade, scalps and captives – also tradable at forts and towns along the frontier. Their cruelty toward those they captured or killed was notorious.

Texas militia and later the Texas Rangers fought to protect far-flung settlements, but it would take concerted efforts by the Army and tactics that were often as brutal as the Indians’ to finally defeat the Kiowa, Comanche and their allies. The death blow came on September 28, 1874, when troops of the 4th Cavalry, under the command of Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, attacked a string of Indian villages in Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas panhandle. There was little loss of human life and the Indians escaped up the walls of the canyon, but Col. Mackenzie ordered his men to shoot most of the 1,400 captured Indian ponies. They also destroyed the Indians’ tipis and winter provisions.

Left afoot on the open prairie, without food and shelter, the tribes soon surrendered. They were confined on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation and guarded by the soldiers at Fort Sill, located in the shadow of the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Indian Territory. The Kiowa mainly settled near Rainy Mountain, which has since been made famous by N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain. Today, most Kiowas in Oklahoma still live in the same general vicinity.

If you want to learn more about these proud people, here are some great sources:
The Kiowa by Mildred P. Mayhall
Bad Medicine and Good, Tales of the Kiowas by Wilbur Sturtevant Nye
Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill by Wilbur Sturtevant Nye
Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier by Ernest Wallace

My Books:
Darlin’ Druid (Texas Druids, vol. I)
Dashing Druid (Texas Druids, vol. II)
Water Witch (prequel novella to Texas Druids trilogy)
Six Cats In My Kitchen (memoir about cats, family & life with a disability)



  1. Lynn, this is a great post. I didn't know much about the Kiowa except what I discovered about their forays into the area in which I live. They kidnapped and/or traded kidnapped children and women with the Comanche raiders. Two brothers and their girl cousin from the near me were taken and 1 1/2 years later traded back by a white man who bought from and sold things to the Indians. I used the incident, fictionalized, in HIGH STAKES BRIDE. Also, my cousin gave me earrings made by a Kiowa woman near where she lives in OK.

  2. Thanks, Caroline. I knew very little about the Kiowa, either, until I started researching them. They were bloody raiders, it's true, but they were also devoted to their families and spiritual in their own way.

    I recently read "Satanta's Woman" by Cynthia Haseloff. It's a work of fiction but it offers deep insight into the Kiowa way of life. I highly recommend it.

  3. Lyn--like Caroline, I know of the Kiowas through the Comanche, which raided the northern part of Texas and west to the plains--I was born in that area. I agree the Kiowas did not totally master the horse--that credit belongs to their counterparts, the Comanche, The Lords of the Plains. Together, they were the fiercest and most feared of all tribes. Of the Comanche, in particular--it was said they would fight anyone--even their own kind, and even the Kiowas.
    I like that in your research you found that the Kiowas also had a spiritual side, and took care of their families. That makes them human,and although we hate the torture and killings and kidnappings the Kiowas did, we must understand life from their viewpoint. I daresay, in many situations, they were no more evil than the white man in many ways.
    I wrote a novella about a young Comanche warrior who took his grandparents, a young male cousin, and a female and baby away from Col. Mackenzie's raid in the Canyon and they fled to the Rio Grande River near Big Bend, but it sits in my files. An editor told me the Comanche were too fierce to be considered as a hero. True....that's what I was told.
    But he'd my hero for how he treated his family.
    Very interesting--your topic is very good. And the painting is beautiful.

  4. Celia, you're so right. We need to keep in mind how our white ancestors treated Native Americans. There were terrible brutalities on both sides.

    Your story about the Comanches sounds intriguing. I hope you decide to publish it yourself. Editors don't always know best.

  5. I really enjoyed this article about the Kiowa. I found it so interesting that they used dogs much like the Eskimos.
    A wonderful blog, Lynn.

  6. Thanks Sarah. I found that part of Kiowa history surprising. There's so much we don't know about our native peoples.

  7. Very interesting, Lyn. Most of my research has been of the Sioux whom I have a very high regard for. I really have never learned about the Kiowa before. Very sad life they've led.

  8. Hi Paisley. Yes, the Kiowa went through some very hard times in early reservation days. However, they are a vibrant people today who are striving to keep their culture alive while following the white man's road.

  9. Wow that was really interesting stuff. I enjoyed it.



  10. Wow that was really interesting stuff. I enjoyed it.



  11. Sorry... there seems to be an echo in here!

  12. Very Interesting post Lynn. Of all the Indian tribes I think the least about the Kiowa so I really enjoyed this. Thanks,

  13. Lynn, I enjoy learning about other tribes because I've done so much research about the Nez Perce. Aren't their myths and legends fascinating!

  14. MTM, thanks for hopping the pond to visit. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about the Kiowas. No worries about an occasional echo.:)

    Hi Sharla, I'm always happy to share my research. So glad you found this post interesting.

    Paty, I agree, the mythology of each tribe is unique and fascinating. Thanks for dropping by.


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