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First Posted: Dec 1, 2010
Mar 6, 2011


Total population: 11,500
Regions with significant populations: United States (Oklahoma)
Languages: English, Kiowa
Religion: Christianity and Native American Church

Kiowa: Two-hatchet

The Kiowa are a nation of American Indians who migrated from the Northern Plains around the 18th century to their present location in Southwestern Oklahoma. They are a federally recognized tribe, the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, with over 12,500 members. Mr. Ronald Dawes Twohatchet was elected and currently serves as the Kiowa Tribal Chairman. The Kiowa tribal headquarters is located at Carnegie, Oklahoma.

At the time of European contact "Kiowa" had no meaning in the Kiowa language and today they call themselves "Kaui-gu" that identifies them as a group. Ancient names were "Kwu-da" and "Tep-da", relating to the myth pulling or coming out of a hollow log until a pregnant woman got stuck. Later they called themselves "Kom-pa-bianta" for people with large tipi flaps before they met Southern Plains tribes or before white man contact. Another explanation of their name "Kiowa" originated after their migration through what the Kiowa refer to as "The Mountains of the Kiowa" (Kaui-kope) in the present eastern edge of Glacier National Park, Montana, just below the Canadian border. The mountain pass they came through was populated heavily by grizzly bear "Kgyi-yo" and Blackfoot people. Other tribes who encountered the Kiowa used sign language to describe them by holding two straight fingers near the lower outside edge of the eye and moving these straight fingers back past the ear. This corresponded to the ancient Kiowa hairstyle cut horizontally from the lower outside edge of the eyes to the back of their ears. This was a functional practice to keep their hair from getting tangled as an arrow was let loose from a bow string. George Catlin painted Kiowa warriors with this hairstyle.


The Kiowa was patrilineal with a chiefdom living in semi-sedentary structures. They were hunters and gatherers, meaning they did not live in one area long enough to grow plants or crops, but did trade with sedentary tribes that grew crops. The Kiowas migrated with the American bison because it was their main food source along with an abundant supply of antelope, deer, wild berries, wild fruit, turkeys and other wild game. Dogs dragged travois and rawhide parfleche that contained camping goods for short moves that were for long periods of time. With the introduction of the horse the Kiowa revolutionized their economy and when they arrived on the Plains they were a fully mounted warrior nation. The horses were acquired from Spanish racherias south of the Rio Grande River.

The new Kiowa and Plains Apache homeland lay in the southwestern plains adjacent to the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado and western Kansas and the Red River drainage of the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma. The Kiowas had a well structured tribal government like most tribes on the Northern Plains. They had a yearly Sun Dance gathering and a chieftain who was considered to be the leader of the entire tribe. There were warrior societies and religious societies that made up the Kiowa society. Kiowa government was democratic. The ideal personality of the Kiowas was that of the young fearless warrior. The entire tribe was structured around this individual. The warrior was the ideal to which young men aspired. Because of these factors, the Kiowa was of utmost importance in the history of the Southern Plains. The women gain prestige through the achievements of their husbands, sons, and fathers. Kiowa women tanned, skin-sewed and beadworked (later). The Kiowa women took care of the camp while the men were away. They gathered and prepared food for winter months and participated in events.


Chief Big Tree

After A'date famous Kiowa leaders were Dohäsan (Tauhawsin), Over-Hanging Butte, alias Little Mountain, alias Little Bluff; Lone Wolf, The Elder (Gui-pah-gho), alias Guibayhawgu (Rescued From Wolves); sub-leaders Satanta (White Bear)and Satank. Dohosan is considered by many to be the greatest Kiowa Chief (1805-1866). He signed several treaties such as the Fort Atkinson Treaty of July 27, 1852 and the Arkansas River Treaty in 1865. Lone Wolf, The Elder (Gui-Pah-gho), became the head chief of the Kiowa when Dohosan (Little Bluff) died. Lone Wolf, The Elder (Gui-Pah-gho), died in 1879. In 1871 Satanta and Big Tree were accused, arrested, transported, and confined at Fort Richardson, Texas, after being convicted by a "cowboy jury" in the Trial of Satanta and Big Tree in Jacksboro, Texas, for participating in the Warren Wagon Train Raid. In some documents Big Tree is translated as Addo-etta (Big Tree). During the transport to Fort Richardson, Satank was shot in an escape attempt by accompanying cavalry troops near Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

The sculptor of the Indian Head nickel, James Earle Fraser, is reported to have said that Chief Big Tree (Adoeette) was one of his models for the U.S. coin that was minted from 1913 through 1938. The last Kiowa Chief, the last federally-recognized Chief of the Kiowa Tribe was Chief Apeahtone, born in 1855 and died Aug. 8, 1930. Through his chieftanship, he developed and decided the use of the democratic system of nominating and voting maintaining Kiowa government as the white leaders. He developed the system and organization of tribal business committees to transact tribal business. He saw this would be the best way to govern and lead the Kiowa people. Apeahtone invested money, establishing the Kiowa Indian Hospital in Lawton in 1914 that is now part of the Indian Public Health Service.

Original Southern Plains Territory of the Kiowa Nation Indian Wars

Plains tribes fought for territory of hunting grounds against other tribes. In the early spring of 1790 at the place that would become Las Vegas, New Mexico, a Kiowa party led by war leader Guikate, made an offer of peace to a Comanche party while both were visiting the home of a mutual friend of both tribes. This led to a later meeting between Guikate and the head chief of the Nokoni Comanche. The two groups made an alliance to share the same hunting grounds and entered into a mutual defense pact and became the dominant inhabitants of the Southern Plains. From that time on the Comanche and Kiowa hunted, traveled, and made war together. An additional group the Plains Apache (Kiowa-Apache), affiliated with the Kiowa at this time.

In closing years of the 18th century and in the first quarter of the 19th century the Kiowa feared little from European neighbors. Kiowa ranged north of the Wichita Mountains. The Kiowa and Comanche controlled a vast expanse of territory from the Arkansas River to the Brazos River. The enemies of the Kiowa were usually the enemies of the Comanche. To the east there was warfare with the Osage and Pawnee. In the early 18th century the Cheyenne and Arapaho began camping on the Arkansas River and new warfare broke out. In the south of the Kiowa and Comanche were Caddoan speakers, but the Kiowa and Comanche were friendly toward these bands. The Comanche were at war with the Apache of the Rio Grande region. They warred with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, Pawnee, Sac & Fox and Osages. They traded with the Wichita south along Red River and with Mescalero Apache and New Mexicans to the southwest. After 1840 the Kiowa with their former enemies the Cheyenne, as well as their allies the Comanche and the Apache fought and raided the Eastern natives moving into the Indian Territory.

Transition Period

The United States military intervened and in the Treaty of Medicine Lodge of 1867, the Kiowa agreed to settle on a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. Some bands of Kiowas remained at large until 1875. By the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 the Kiowas settled in Western Oklahoma and Kansas. They were forced to move south of the Washita River to the Red River and and Western Oklahoma with the Comanches and the Kiowa-Apache Tribe. The reservation period lasted from 1868 to 1906. The transition from the free life of Plains people to a restricted life of the reservation was more difficult for some families than others.

An agreement made with the Cherokee or Jerome Commission signed by 456 adult male Kiowa, Comanche, and Kiowa-Apache on Sept. 28, 1892, cleared the way for the opening of the country to white settlers. The agreement provided for an allotment of 160 acres to every individual in the tribes and for the sale of the reservation lands (2,488,893 acres) to the United States - was to go into effect immediately upon ratification by Congress, even though the Medicine Lodge treaty of 1867 had guaranteed Indian possession of the reservation until 1898. The Indian signers wanted their names stricken but it was too late. A'piatan, as the leader, went to Washington to protest. Chief Lone Wolf (the Younger) immediately file proceedings against the act in the Supreme Court, but the Court decided against him on June 26, 1901.

Agents were assigned to the Kiowa people. 1873 the first school among the Kiowa was established by Quaker Thomas C. Battey. In 1877 the federal government built the first homes for the Indian chiefs and a plan was to employ Indians so 30 Indians were hired to form the first police force on the reservation. 1879 the agency was moved from Ft. Sill to Anadarko. Since 1968 the Kiowa have been governed by the Kiowa Tribal Council, which preside over business related to health, education, and economic and industrial development programs.

March 13, 1970 the Constitution and Bylaws of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, was ratified to voters of the Kiowa Tribe on May 23, 1970, which currently governs the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. A landmark decision and significant legal development occurred in 1998. In Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma v Manufacturing Technologies, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes retain their sovereign immunity from suit without their consent even in off-reservation transactions where they do not waive that immunity.

In the year 2000 more than four thousand out of 12,500 Kiowa lived near the towns of Anadarko, Fort Cobb, and Carnegie, in Caddo and Kiowa counties, Oklahoma. Kiowas also reside in urban and suburban communities from San Jose, California to Washington, D.C. World War II rekindled the Kiowa warrior spirit and urbanization and modernization occurred in the war's aftermath. Each year Kiowa veterans commemorate the warlike spirit of the 19th century leaders performed by the Kiowa Gourd Clan and Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society. Kiowa cultural identity and pride is apparent in their expressive culture and strong influence on the Gourd Dance and southern plains art.

Socio-political Organization

The Kiowa men lived in the families of their wives extended families, which merged to become a band (topadoga). These bands were led by a chief, the Topadok'i. The Kiowa had two political subdivisions (particularly with regard to their relationship with the Comanche): To-kinah-yup ('Men of the Cold', 'northern Kiowa', lived along the Arkansas River and the Kansas border)

Gwa-kelega ('southern Kiowa', lived in the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains), Oklahoma Panhandle and Texas Panhandle, allies of the Comanche). Kiowa bands within the tipi ring during the annual Sun Dance:

Kâtá ('Biters', often called Arikara, most powerful and largest Kiowa band)
Kogui ('Elks Band')
Kaigwa ('Kiowa Proper')
Kinep or Khe-ate ('Big Shields')
Semat ('Stealers', name by which the Kiowa called their allies, the Kiowa Apache)
Soy-hay-talpupé ('Blue Boys') or Pahy-dome-gaw ('Under-the-Sun-Men')

During the Sun Dance each band of the Kiowa had a special obligation and responsibility to do, which was traditionally defined:

The Kâtá had the traditional right (duty or task) to supply the Kiowa during the Sun Dance with enough bison meat and other means. This band was particularly wealthy in horses, tipis and other goods. One of the famous Kiowa chiefs, Dohäsan, was a member of this band.

The Kogui were responsible for conducting the war ceremonies during the Sun Dance. Many famous families and leaders because of their military exploits and bravery, like Ad-da-te ('Islandman'), Satanta, Big Bow, and others belonged to this band.

The Kaigwu were the guardians of the Sacred or Medicine bundle (Tai-mé, Taimay) and the holy lance. Therefore they were very respected by the other groups and enjoyed a special prestige.

The Kinep or Khe-ate were often called 'Sun Dance Shields', because during the dance they observed police duties and ensured security.

The Semat were allowed to participate equally, but had no specific duties and obligations during the Sun Dance.

The Soy-hay-talpupé were often called Montalyui ('Black Boys'). Like the Semat they had no specific duties or responsibilities.

Kiowa Visual Art, Literature, and Music

Documentation of the history and development of contemporary Kiowa art formulates one of the most unique records in Native American culture. As early as 1891, Kiowa artists were being commissioned to produce works for display at international expositions. The "Kiowa Five" were some of the earliest Native Americans to receive international recognition for their work in the fine art world. They influenced generations of Indian artists among the Kiowa, and other Plains tribes. Traditional craft skills are not lost among the Kiowa people today and the talented fine arts and crafts produced by Kiowa Indians helped the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative flourish over its 20 year existence. Kiowas are also gifted musicians and dancers.


A Kiowa calendar dates ten years before the stars fell when Kiowas first saw Americans. Set-t'an was an artists of the annual Kiowa calendars dating to the winter of 1833-1892. There is a photograph of the Settan calendar, as published. The original calendar cannot be located. In his drawings it contains a black bar of winter. Dohasan was a calendar keeper during his lifetime. A pioneering Kiowa easel artist was Haungooah (Silver Horn) (1860-1940). He created over one thousand drawings and paintings using Western art media to describe Kiowa daily and ceremonial life at the turn of the 20th century. AnKo was also a Kiowa calendar keeper.

Ledger Art

Kiowa ledger art, ca. 1874

Early Kiowa ledger artists were those held in captivity by the U.S. Army at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida (1875-1878) at the conclusion of the Red River War, which also is known as the Southern Plains Indian War. Ledger art emerges from the Plains hide painting tradition. Zotom was a prolific producer of this art and he chronicled his experiences before and after becoming a captive at the fort. After his release from Fort Marion, Paul Zom-tiam (Zonetime, Koba) studied theology from 1878 until 1881, when he was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal church. He went back to the Indian culture to become a medicine man and a very useful man. Artists' media for their pictographic images were natural objects and animal skins, but for the Kiowa in captivity the lined pages of record keeping books became a frequent substitute for the unavailable natural materials, thus "ledger art" was born.

Chief Little Bluff was given a tipi from Chief Sleeping Bear of the Cheyenne tribe. Chief Little Bluff gave this tipi and right to his name to his nephew new Chief Little Bluff II. The model of Tipi with the battle pictures was made and painted by Chief Little Bluff II, Charley Ohettoint. He was one of the young warriors imprisoned in 1875-1878 at Ft. Marion, Florida, where he gained artistic recognition for creating colorful drawings in the Ledger book or separate sheets of paper.

Kiowa Five

Following in Silver Horn's footsteps are the Kiowa Five, or, as they increasingly are known, the Kiowa Six. They are Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Lois Bougetah Smoky, and Monroe Tsatoke Coming from the area around Anadarko, Oklahoma, these artists studied at the University of Oklahoma. Lois Smoky left the group in 1927, but James Auchiah took her place in the group. The Kiowa Five gained international recognition as fine artists by exhibiting their work in the 1928 International Art Congress in Czechoslovakia and then participated in the Venice Biennale in 1932.


Detail of painting by Silver Horn (Kiowa), ca. 1880

Kiowa painters of the 20th century include Bianki, Al Momaday, George Keahbone, Bobby Hill, Roland Whitehorse, T. C. Cannon, Wilson Daingkau, Thomas Poolaw, Barthell Littlechief, Harding Bigbow, Joe Lucero, Robert Redbird, Sherman Chaddlesone, Sharon Ahtone, George Geionty, Ladonna Tsatoke Silverhorn, Cruz McDaniels, Woody Bigbow, R.G. Geionty, Tennyson Reid, Huzo Paddelty, Dennis Belindo, Dixon Palmer, Clifford Doyeto, Mirac Creepingbear, N. Scott Momaday, Keri Ataumbi, and Parker Boyiddle.


Kiowa beaded moccasins, ca. 1920, OHS

Kiowa beadwork art takes many forms, including clothing, rattles, cradleboards, and personal effects. Noted Kiowa beadwork artists include Donna Jean Tsatoke, Alice Littleman, Venice Reid, Nettie Standing, Edna Hokeah Pauahty, Leona Geimasaddle, Kathy Littlechief, Marilyn Yeahquo, Katherine Dickerson, Charlie Silverhorn, Paul McDaniels, Jr., Grace Tsontekoy, Richard Aitson, Judy Beaver, Vanessa Paukeigope Morgan, Leatrice Geimasaddle, and Teri Greeves.


Kiowa-Cherokee author N. Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn. Other Kiowa authors include playwright Hanay Geiogamah, playright Diane Yeahquo, poet and filmmaker Gus Palmer, Jr., Alyce Sadongei, Marian Kaulaity Hansson, and Tocakut.

Musicians and Composers

Kiowa music often is noted for its hymns that traditionally were accompanied by dance or played on the flute. Noted Kiowa composer of contemporary music include James Anquoe and noted for his contributions to Native American culture. Contemporary Kiowa musicians include Cornel Pewewardy, Phillip Bread, Tom Mauchahty-Ware, and Terry Tsotigh.


Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw (1906-1984) was one of the most prolific Native American photographers of his generation. He documented the Kiowa people living near his community in Mountain View, Oklahoma beginning the 1920s. His legacy is continued today by his grandson, Thomas Poolaw, a prominent Kiowa photographer and digital artist.

Kiowa Linguistics

Kiowa language was unique on the Plains. Scientists have shown a close relationship for Plains languages to other areas, however the Kiowa language family is to itself. The Kiowa language is not associated with any language stock in North America. Parker McKenzie, born 1897, was a noted authority on the Kiowa language, learned English when he began school. He worked with John P. Harrington, a Smithsonian linguist studying the Kiowa language. He went on to discuss the etymology of words and insights of how the Kiowa language changed to incorporate new items of material culture. McKenzie's letters are in the National Anthropological Archives on pronunciation and grammar of the Kiowa language.

Notable Kiowa: Lone Wolf, Kiowa chief, ca. 1907, J.T. Goombi, former Kiowa tribal chairman and first vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians Richard Aitson (b. 1953), bead artist and poet, pencer Asah, painter, one of the Kiowa Six, James Auchiah, painter, one of the Kiowa Six, Blackbear Bosin (1921-1980), painter and sculptor, T. C. Cannon, painter and print maker, Cozad Singers, drum group and NAMMY winners, Dohäsan (ca. 1785-1866), chief of Kata band and Principal Chief of the Kiowas, artist, calendar keeper, Teri Greeves, bead artist, Jack Hokeah, painter, one of the Kiowa Six, Kicking Bird (1835-1875), war chief Koitsenko, warrior society, one Wolf (Kiowa), Gui-pah-gho, The Elder and Principal Chief, Tom Mauchahty-Ware, musician and dancer, Parker McKenzie (1897-1999), traditionalist and linguist, N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize Winner, author, painter, and activist, Stephen Mopope, painter, one of the Kiowa Six, Horace Poolaw (1906-1984), photographer, Red Warbonnet (d. 1849), traditionalist, Satanta (Set'tainte) (ca. 1820-1878), war chief, Silver Horn (1860-1940), artist and calendar keeper Sitting Bear (Set-Tank, Set-Angia, called Satank)(ca. 1800-1871), warrior and medicine man, Lois Smoky, bead artist and painter, one of the Kiowa Six, Monroe Tsatoke, painter, one of the Kiowa Six, White Horse (Tsen-tainte) (d. 1892), chief.

In conclusion the Kiowa Tribe continues as a vital entity adding to the economy in the communities in southern Oklahoma. The Kiowa Higher Education, Health Programs, and Social Services provide services for tribal members. Kiowa language, values, and customs remain.

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