The Kiowa started in the American North West (Montana) and throughout the 1700s they began to move east into the Black Hills and developed a close relationship with the Plains Apache. It was not until the late 1700s that the Kiowa moved into Oklahoma and Kansas. During their time in the Plains they adopted the horse as means of transportation allowing them to follow the buffalo herds. They Kiowa settled near the Cimarron River and ended up becoming close allies with the Apache. In addition to horses, the Kiowa also practiced the Sun Dance and lived in tipis like the Plains Apache. It is also believed that the Kiowa people have a connection to old tribes in Mexico, such as the Aztecs, because of similarities in the Kiowa language ( Cáuijòà) and worshiping practices.
The Kiowa were divided up into seven social divisions; the Biters/Anikara (known for trade relations), the Kogui (Elks), the Kaigwa, The Big Shields, the Thieves/Plains Apache, and Sendeh's Children/Black Boys (who were completely destroyed by the Sioux in the late 1700s). These divisions became incredibly important during the Sun Dance where they were assigned particular places and the leaders held discussions.
The Kiowa saw great importance in the extended family, especially in siblings. The oldest brother held the most authority in the family and the brothers had a responsibility to look after their sisters. The roles within the family units were divided up by gender. The males' job in the Kiowa culture was to hunt, participate in religious ceremonies and to participate in warfare/fighting. They were also responsible for the maintenance of all tools needed for these activities. The women were in turn responsible for the gathering of herbs, cooking, mending clothing, and caring for the children. The women were also responsible for the dogs and for preparing for travel. Women wore dresses of animal skin that “[were] decorated with trade beads, elk teeth, and quills” they also painted their faces (2). Men wore skin shirts and leggings and decorated their braided hair with wrappings. Children, generally, did not wear clothing.
Within the tribe the Kiowa people had societies, The Principal Dogs was a well known society dedicated to fighting and warfare. The Kiowa fought in many wars against neighboring tribes and even took their fighting into Mexico. They were also the primary source of conflict European peoples met upon coming to North America. During the Kiowa wars in the late 1800s, the Kiowa became allies with the Comanche. Throughout these wars the Kiowa saw many leaders rise and fall, some of the most well known of these leaders were Sitting Bear and Little Mountain. The histories of the Kiowa are remembered through singing, dancing, and stories along with written stories taken down by past chiefs.
2. Colonial Experience of the Kiowa
The first settlers to have encountered the Kiowa are said to have been Lewis and Clark in 1805 along the Northern Platte River. After this meeting the Kiowa did not have many dealings with colonialists for many years. They created an alliance with the Comanche, which lasted well into the 20th century, and fought over land with other nearby tribes such as the Apache and Cheyenne. The tribes were forced to make peace accords with the arrival of pioneers and traders along the Santa Fe and Butterfield trails.
In the 1830's and 1840's the Native Americans fought against the white colonialists in what became known as the Kiowa Wars. In 1837 the Kiowa signed the Treaty of Fort Gibson in an attempt to create peace between Native tribes and the U.S. With the Cholera epidemic of 1849 the Kiowa suffered heavy losses. In 1853 they signed the Treaty of Fort Atkinson in an effort to create peace on the Santa Fe Trail. The Kiowa population was again reduced due to a small pox outbreak in 1861. Forced to agree under protest the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, South Cheyenne, and South Arapaho had to relinquish claims to lands north of the Arkansas river. In 1867 the Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed designating lands for reservations. Despite the falling population numbers due to disease and the agreement to relinquish tribal lands , the Kiowa raided Texas throughout the 1870's. In May of 1871 the Kiowa attacked an army wagon train. By this time the tribe was split into two factions, one in favor of peace led by Kicking Bird and Little Mountain and the side in favor of war lead by Satank and Satanta. Satanta lead many of the raids into Texas and the Red River war of 1874-1874 which climaxed at the fight of Adobe Wells in 1874 with Santanta's capture at the hands of George Armstrong Custer's forces. Satanta was imprisoned and committed suicide in 1878.
By 1878 most Kiowa were living on reservations in Oklahoma where they encountered further misery, tragedy and drastic cultural change. The disappearance of the Buffalo around 1879 resulted in starvation among the Kiowa. The insistence of the government led the Kiowa to adopt an agriculturalist lifestyle but this only created further dependence on government assistance for subsistence. In 1901 to 1906 the Kiowa-Comanche reservation was severed into allotments and partially opened for white settlement. The money from the land, over a half of a million dollars, was kept in government hands under the guise of safe-keeping. In 1887 their particular Sun Dance custom died out. In its place the Ghost Dance tradition was adopted in the hopes that it would remove the white man and restore the Buffalo. In 1890 the last chosen priest who could open the Ten Grandmothers (ten sacred medicine bundles) died and as a result the Ten Grandmothers have not been opened since. By the late 19th century many Kiowa participated in Peyote ceremonies and have joined the Native American Church.
Chronology of Native North American History: From Pre-ColumbianTimes to the Present. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc., 1994. 125-126,134,146-147,164. Print.
Johnson, Michael G. Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2007. 139-40. Print.
"Kiowa." Ready Reference American Indians Volume II Headdresses-Pueblo Tribes Eastern. Pasadena, California: Salem Press Inc., 1995. 413-14. Print.
The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes Volume III: Arctic, Subarctic,Great Plains,Plateau. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc., 1998. 275-81. Print.
3. Contemporary Developments or Issues
Today the Kiowa Tribe is officially recognized by the United States government as the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. The tribe has a population of approximately 12,000 members and is located in primarily in Southwestern Oklahoma, and the tribe headquarters is located in Carnegie, Oklahoma. The Kiowa language, Cáuijòà, is still spoken by many older Kiowa tribal members despite its endangered status. In recent years, the number of fluent speakers of Cáuijòà has fallen. In response to this, the tribe has begun a non-profit language program that meets weekly in order to promote the Kiowa language in the town of Norman, Oklahoma. Additionally, three universities in Oklahoma located throughout the southern region of the state offer Kiowa language courses for its students.
The Kiowa Tribe provides three main health initiatives to its members. The Alcohol and Drug Abuse program offers outpatient services, support groups and additional assessments to tribal members who suffer from substance abuse. These services are extended beyond the Kiowa Tribe to include other Native American tribes that are federally recognized. The tribe also has a program dedicated to teen suicide prevention that works to reduce teen suicide and suicide attempts, as well as offer support to those who have been affected by suicide. This program is offered to individuals struggling with suicide, families, and communities; it is taught in schools in order to give students life skills to realize options other than suicide. In addition to these two programs, the Kiowa nation also provides an injury prevention program, which is primarily for elderly people and those who need motor vehicle safety awareness. All of these programs are run and upheld by Community Health Representatives who advocate for health education, patient support, and the general betterment and promotion of health throughout the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
The Kiowa Tribe offers various welfare related programs to its members. The Indian Child Welfare program provides assistance to families belonging to the Kiowa nation that are considered to be at risk. It also offers a family reunification service for Kiowa families that are involved in the federal court system. The tribe also offers a program called the Administration on Aging. Its purpose is to provide care to elders of the Kiowa nation by delivering meals to elderly tribal members. In addition to the aforementioned programs, there are also welfare initiatives that including food distribution, housing for those who need renovations or cannot afford safe or appropriate housing, childcare services, and transportation services for those who do not have the means to travel to work.
Education is a priority for the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma for both the tribe’s children and adult members. The tribal government offers a Head Start program, also referred to as Home Base, which caters to not only children’s educational needs, but also their physical and nutritional needs. There are multiple organizations that advocate for tribal members to attend a higher education institution in order to get a head start in the work force. Additionally, the Kiowa Tribe enforces the Workforce Investment Act, which provides its members with employment opportunities and training services.