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Kiowa - Medicine Lodge Treaty

A drawing of the council at Medicine Lodge by J. Howland, originally printed in Harper?s Weekly November 16, 1867.

The Kiowa attended another peace council at the mouth of the Little Arkansas River in present-day Wichita, Kansas, in October 1865. Representatives from the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were present at the council. The tribes ceded all claims to the southern plains and agreed to reside on government land in Indian Territory in present-day western Oklahoma and Texas. The tribes also had to end all hostilities with pioneers and release all captives. Dohasan protested the terms of the treaty, but eventually all the leading chiefs signed the treaty.

Dohasan died in1866. Leadership of the Kiowa fell to Tene-angop’te (Kicking Bird), Gui-pago (Lone Wolf), and Satanta (White Bear). The tribe was politically divided by which leader to support. Tene-angop’te favored a policy of peaceful relations with the United States. Satanta and Gui-pago supported forceful resistance.

These photographs from the 1890s show a Kiowa camp near the Washita River near Anadarko. The Kiowa avoided settling near the agency at Fort Sill and lived as far north as they were permitted. A new agency was established at Anadarko by the federal government later to place an agent closer to the Kiowa.The Treaty of 1865 was a failure. Euro-Americans continued to settle on tribal lands without consequence from the United States, and the Kiowa continued to conduct raids on settlements in Texas. Another peace council with the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapaho met at Medicine Lodge Creek, located approximately 60 miles south of Fort Larned in Kansas during October 1867. The tribes agreed to share a reservation between the Canadian and Red Rivers in present-day southwestern Oklahoma. The tribes were also required to allow the construction of the railroad through the territory. The tribes were required to farm, and the United States was to supply farming equipment and trade goods. The Kiowa, Comanche, and Kiowa-Apache were ordered to live in a designated section between the Red River and its North Fork as the south and west boundary and the Washita River as the north boundary. As a last minute concession, the Kiowa and Comanche were permitted to hunt on their former lands in Kansas and Texas. Gui-pago was the only Kiowa leader that did not sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty.

Resistance and Bloodshed

After the Medicine Lodge Treaty, the Kiowa embarked on a hunt in the Texas panhandle, but the hunt was unsuccessful. The bison were nearly extinct, and the Kiowa could not feed their families back on the reservation. They requested provisions that were promised in the treaty from the Indian agent. Congress had not yet approved the treaty, thus no provisions were be granted. The Kiowa started to raid the Wichita and Caddo and later resumed their raids in Texas. Meanwhile the Cheyenne continued to attack Euro-American settlers in Kansas and eastern Colorado as revenge for the Sand Creek Massacre. The United States started to plan an assault on the southern plains tribes.

This illustration of Custer?s attack was made by James E. Taylor in 1969.

General Philip Sheridan planned a three-pronged assault on the tribal lands during the winter, when the tribes were most vulnerable. Major Andrew W. Evans led troops from the west out of Fort Bascom in New Mexico. Major Eugene A. Carr led troops from the northwest out of Fort Lyon in Colorado. Colonel George Armstrong Custer led troops from the north out of Fort Larned in Kansas. Custer’s troops hit the first camp on the Washita River on November 27, 1868. The tribes had no warning and were asleep when the attacking army opened fire.

Cheyenne under Black Kettle were the first attacked by Custer. One hundred and three Cheyenne, including Black Kettle and his wife, were killed, and 53 women and children were taken. Custer pushed toward the next camp, but his attack was held off by a group of warriors who had heard the attack on the first camp. Eventually the United States army retreated, but enough damage had been done. Sheridan’s campaign sent a clear message that if the tribes continued to resist, they would be exterminated. The United States demanded that the tribes settle near the military forts on the reservation. The tribes were hesitant to comply with the same directive that preceded the Sand Creek Massacre only four years prior.

Gui-pagoand Satanta were captured while traveling under a white flag with a message to Custer, stating that the Kiowa were not involved in the battle of Washita. The Kiowa fled when their leaders were detained. The United States threatened to execute the chiefs unless the Kiowa gathered at Fort Cobb. The tribe quickly complied, and the chiefs were not executed. The Kiowa were outraged that none of the rations they were promised were delivered by 1871.

Big Tree, Kiowa chief, pictured between 1869 and 1875 at Fort SillA party of Kiowa and Comanche attacked a wagon train in May 1871. One of the wagons that was allowed to pass before the party launched their attack was carrying General William Tecumseh Sherman, who wanted the offenders punished. Satanta claimed responsibility for the attack along with two other chiefs, Setangya and Big Tree. Sherman ordered that the three Kiowa chiefs be arrested and sent to Texas to stand trial. The three leaders were ceased, handcuffed, and transported by armed guards to Texas.

En route to stand trial, Setangya, who was a member of the Koitsenko warrior society, sang the traditional Koitsenko death song:

“Even if I survive, I will not live forever,

Only the Earth remains forever;

Even if I survive, I will not live forever,

Only the Sun remains forever.”

Setangyaescaped his handcuffs and stabbed one of the guards in the leg with a knofe he had concealed. He was shot and killed, and his body was abandoned on the road.

The other two chiefs were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hanging. Satanta warned that if both leaders were executed, the Kiowa would launch a violent retaliation in Texas. The governor of Texas, Edmund J. Davis, commuted the sentence to life in prison, and the two chiefs were forced to labor for the railroad. Gui-pago was left as the Kiowa leader. He refused to comply with any mandates from the United States and promised bloodshed in Texas until Satanta and Big Tree were finally released in the spring 1873.

Reluctant Surrender

The United States began a new policy toward tribes in 1869. This policy was referred to as the “Quaker Policy.” Quakers and other Christians were appointed as Indian agents, with the goal of Native Americans embracing Euro-American culture and Christianity. Indian agents created programs to teach Native Americans to speak, read, and write English, immerse them in Christianity, and force them to abandon hunting and begin farming. Lawrie Tatum, a Quaker, was the first Kiowa and Comanche agent. Tatum tried to force cultural change by withholding rations, but the Kiowa resisted his efforts and continued to hunt and raid in Texas. Tatum resigned and advocated the use of military force to civilize the Kiowa.

Satanta, Kiowa chief,  between 1865 and 1878After Satanta was released in 1873, he was forced to abandon his sacred medicine shield and lance and swear to never engage in war again. The lack of rations sparked unrest among the Kiowa, and Satanta could not dissuade the younger warriors from going on hunts and raids in Texas. A group of Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne carried out another raid in the Texas panhandle against Euro-American bison hunters in 1874. After the incident in Texas, Satanta was held responsible by the United States for the actions of his people and was incarcerated again in Texas. Satanta was demoralized by the thought of spending the remainder of his life in prison and committed suicide four years later.

The United States was frustrated that the southern plains tribes were resisting the goal of assimilation and increased militant responses to raids in Texas. Soldiers commanded by Ronald Mackenzie attacked a Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne camp in the Texas panhandle in September 1874. The troops killed only three tribe members but destroyed their ability to survive the approaching winter. The village was completely ruined. All of the food, clothing, supplies, and shelter were destroyed, and the horses were slaughtered. The tribe members were left with nothing and reluctantly returned to the Indian agency at Fort Sill. All of the tribes surrendered by April 1875, and the fighting on the southern plains finally ended.

Forced Assimilation

Kiowa chief, Frizzle Head pictured in the late 1870s. The photograph was taken after the Kiowa agreed to settle on the reservation. Frizzle Head?s clothing shows the transition from traditional bison skin clothing to cloth. He is also pictured wearing Euro-American style boots.The Kiowa begrudgingly settled on the reservation. Most settled on the northern half of the reservation to stay as far as possible from the agency at Fort Sill. The government built 10 houses for the chiefs, but the chiefs refused to abandon their tipis. Finally they agreed to live in houses in exchange for trade goods, but they quickly returned to their tipis. Only nine houses stood on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation by 1886.

The government tried to make the Kiowa farm, but the tribe rejected the idea. The land itself was poorly suited for farming anyway due soil quality and the arid nature of the region. The government supplied the tribe with cattle to make them ranch, but the tribe rejected that idea, too. The Kiowa continued to hunt, although the bison were near extinction on the southern plains. Texas Rangers murdered and scalped a Kiowa in 1879. This provoked a party of Kiowa to kill a Texan. Soon after the incident, Congress made it illegal for any Kiowa to leave the reservation, which served as the catalyst for an end to the Kiowa way of life.

The government increased the pressure on the Kiowa to assimilate. Food rations were lowered to levels that caused starvation. Euro-American farmers and ranchers pushed for Kiowa and Comanche reservation land to be opened for non-tribal settlement by the 1880s. Some rancher illegally used tribal land and others tried to lease the land. The Kiowa continually refused to lease any of their land, but some Comanche agreed to lease land to the Euro-American ranchers.

Kiowa children were forced to attend schools. Some children were captured and placed in boarding schools far from the reservation. The schools cut the children’s hair and banned the wearing of traditional clothing, the use of the Kiowa language, and any traditional religious practices. Children were not allowed to see their parents or any other tribal members. Boys were taught to farm, and girls were taught Euro-American domestic skills. These schools were centers designed to annihilate Kiowa culture and resembled internment camps. Many schools were surrounded by barbed wire to prevent escapes. Three Native American boys, who had been beaten and whipped by the schoolmaster, escaped in 1891 only to freeze to death in a blizzard. A measles outbreak occurred in 1892, killing more than 220 children. Afflicted children were sent back to their families, which quickly spread the illness across the reservation.

Dancing Memory

The Kiowa continually resisted assimilation. One of the most important components of retaining Kiowa identity was the Sun Dance. The tribe still held an annual Sun Dance to preserve its culture and to renew the bonds of the tribal members. On the reservation the Sun Dance evolved to become a performance of memory. As the bison disappeared, the Sun Dance was threatened. It was cancelled in 1882, 1884, and 1886, when the hunters could not bring back any bison. The last Sun Dance was held in 1887, using purchased bison. The new Indian agent, E. E. White, banned the Sun Dance ritual on the reservation in 1888.

The disappearance of the bison was the hardest fate for the tribe to accept. Kiowa culture revolved around the bison herds. Without the bison the Kiowa could hardly be Kiowa. In despair over the loss of the herds, the tribe started to embrace new rituals and ideas that promised resurrection and the return of the bison. A former warrior, Datekan, constructed a medicine tipi to bring back the bison in 1882. A Kiowa named Paingya professed that he could resurrect the dead in 1887, but when he could not raise his son from the dead, belief in his claims dwindled. A Paiute medicine man named Wovoka from Nevada claimed he knew of a way to see the return of the bison and the disappearance of Euro-Americans. His teachings evolved into the Ghost Dance movement.

The Kiowa learned the Ghost Dance from an Arapaho named Sitting Bull. The Ghost Dance movement was spread from the Paiute of Nevada to tribes across the northern and southern plains. It had reached the Kiowa by the early 1890s. Sitting Bull was able to bring devotees into a great trance where they could see their dead kin in another realm, where the bison still roamed and traditional tribal life endured. The Kiowa sent a descendent of Gui-pago named A’piatan to investigate the validity of the Ghost Dance. A’piatan first travelled north to observe the Sioux and then visited Wovoka in Nevada. Wovoka told A’piatan that the Ghost Dance ritual had lost its power because it had been changed by other tribes. When A’piatan returned to his people, he testified against the Ghost Dance, and most Kiowa stopped following the ritual as they had learned it from Sitting Bull.

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Entry: Kiowa - Medicine Lodge Treaty

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.