Sunday, August 20, 2017

Kiowa Mythology & Mysterious Origins

Dearest Irish (Texas Devlins, Book 4) takes place mainly on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) ca. 1876. A lot of my research for this book focused on the Kiowa Indians, a small part of which I’ll share with you today.

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. Sounds painful! 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.

Three Kiowa Men ca, 1898; wikipedia, creative commons 2.0
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. Confused yet? Me too!

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 Crow apparently taught the Kiowa 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.
Chief Setangya (Sitting Bear), Called Satank, wearing sash with Koitsenko badge
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 Kiowa 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.

Palo Duro Canyon, photo from

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.

There is so much more I’d like to tell you about the Kiowas’ life on the reservation – it wasn’t pleasant – their crafts, especially the beautiful bead work they’re known for, and their adaptation to the white world. However, I think I’ve gone on long enough. If you’d like to learn more about these proud people, here are a few of my favorite sources:

The Kiowa by Mildred P. Mayhall

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page:
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 


  1. Thank you for the very interesting post, and for the further reading suggestions.

  2. My pleasure, Gini. Thank you so much for stopping by.

  3. Thanks for the education on the Kiowas. The only real bit of information I actually knew about them was that they were like the Comanche in using the horse. And they fought other tribes. Hmmm. Maybe we could learn something there.
    And the myth on how their ancestors came to be--from a fallen log?
    Great photos, too.
    The Kiowa and the Comanche were routed from Palo Duro Canyon by Col. Ranald McKenzie. I grew up playing in McKenzie Park in near Yellow House Canyon. As an adult, I learned the role he played in the war.
    The myths about how women came to be was interesting.
    Your research is great.

    1. Thanks, Celia. I love researching but reading about conditions on the reservation was heartbreaking. Also true of McKenzie's slaughter of the Kiowa ponies. I understand why he gave that order, to force the Indians into surrendering, but it still sickens me.

  4. Lyn, As a child I also picnicked in McKenzie State Park on a fork of Yellowhouse Canyon through Lubbock, Texas. Ranald McKenzie was also known as "Black Hand". In my opinion, Kiowas were the fiercest tribe to encounter. This was a well-written post.

  5. Many thanks, Caroline. McKenzie was brutal and hated by the tribes, but he did get the job done. Did you know he lost part of one hand in a battle during the Civil War? Following his service in Texas, he was sent home due to mental problems. He died a broken man.

  6. What a thorough post, Lyn. I was completely in the dark about the Kiowa until this article. I was fascinated by the things you mentioned that are still a mystery. I'm still wondering where the northbound Kiowa went. It's almost as if they moved into the mists of legend. Are they still there hiding from society? Is there a village of Kiowa still living in the old ways somewhere? I was riveted.
    But I think the most fascinating thing of all was the parallel between the "Devine Boy" and Jesus Christ. I wondered when I read it how that came to be.
    You've outdone yourself with this article, Lyn. I am sorry I was so late getting here.

  7. Sarah, I'm just glad you made it here and that you found the Kiowa's history as fascinating and mysterious as I do. I would love to believe the northern segment of the tribe remains hidden in some remote valley, living in the old ways. Some years ago there was a movie about a group of Cheyenne dog soldiers who did just that. Too bad it was only fiction. :)

  8. I just came across this article regarding the Kiowa Tribe. Satank also known as Sitting Bear, pictured above was my Aunts Great Great Grandfather. She was raised at Saddle Mountain though rather than Rainy Mountain. I love listening to her stories and I thank you for mentioning her people.


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