The War to Save the Buffalo

1874January 13, unemployed workmen battle police in New York City; hundreds injured. February 13, U.S. troops land at Honolulu to protect the king. February 21, Benjamin Disraeli becomes English Prime Minister, replacing William E. Gladstone. March 15, France assumes protectorate over Annam (Vietnam). May 29, Germany dissolves Social Democratic party. July, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates his new invention, the electric telephone. July 7, Theodore Tilton accuses the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher of adultery. November 4, Samuel J. Tilden elected governor of New York after overthrow of Tweed Ring. December, the Whiskey Ring, involving distillers and U.S. government officials, is exposed.

I have heard that you intend to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don’t want to settle. I love to roam over the prairies. There I feel free and happy, but when we settle down we grow pale and die. I have laid aside my lance, bow, and shield, and yet I feel safe in your presence. I have told you the truth. I have no little lies hid about me, but I don’t know how it is with the commissioners. Are they as clear as I am? A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers; but when I go up to the river I see camps of soldiers on its banks. These soldiers cut down my timber; they kill my buffalo; and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting; I feel sorry. … Has the white man become a child that he should recklessly kill and not eat? When the red men slay game, they do so that they may live and not starve.


My people have never first drawn a bow or fired a gun against the whites. There has been trouble on the line between us, and my young men have danced the war dance. But it was not begun by us. It was you who sent out the first soldier and we who sent out the second. Two years ago I came upon this road, following the buffalo, that my wives and children might have their cheeks plump and their bodies warm. But the soldiers fired on us, and since that time there has been a noise like that of a thunderstorm, and we have not known which way to go. So it was upon the Canadian. Nor have we been made to cry once alone. The blue-dressed soldiers and the Utes came from out of the night when it was dark and still, and for campfires they lit our lodges. Instead of hunting game they killed my braves, and the warriors of the tribe cut short their hair for the dead. So it was in Texas. They made sorrow come in our camps, and we went out like buffalo bulls when their cows are attacked. When we found them we killed them, and their scalps hang in our lodges. The Comanches are not weak and blind, like the pups of a dog when seven sleeps old. They are strong and farsighted, like grown horses. We took their road and we went on it. The white women cried and our women laughed.

But there are things which you have said to me which I do not like. They are not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds. You said that you wanted to put us upon a reservation, to build us houses and make us medicine lodges. I do not want them. I was born upon the prairie, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and, like them, I lived happily.

When I was at Washington the Great White Father told me that all the Comanche land was ours, and that no one should hinder us in living upon it. So, why do you ask us to leave the rivers, and the sun, and the wind, and live in houses? Do not ask us to give up the buffalo for the sheep. The young men have heard talk of this, and it has made them sad and angry. Do not speak of it more. …

If the Texans had kept out of my country, there might have been peace. But that which you now say we must live on is too small. The Texans have taken away the places where the grass grew the thickest and the timber was the best. Had we kept that, we might have done the things you ask. But it is too late. The white man has the country which we loved, and we only wish to wander on the prairie until we die.


AFTER THE BATTLE OF the Washita in December, 1868, General Sheridan ordered all Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, and Comanches to come in to Fort Cobb and surrender, or face extinction by being hunted down and killed by his Bluecoat soldiers. (See chapter seven.) Little Robe, who succeeded the dead Black Kettle as chief, brought in the Cheyennes. Yellow Bear brought in the Arapahos. A few Comanche leaders—notably Tosawi, who was told by Sheridan that the only good Indian was a dead Indian—also came to surrender. The proud and free Kiowas, however, gave no sign of cooperating, and Sheridan sent Hard Backsides Custer to force them to surrender or to destroy them.

The Kiowas could see no reason for going to Fort Cobb, giving up their arms, and living on the white man’s handouts. The treaty of Medicine Lodge, which the chiefs had signed in 1867, gave them their own territory in which to live and the right to hunt on any lands south of the Arkansas “so long as the buffalo may range thereon in such numbers as to justify the chase.” 1 Between the Arkansas and the western tributaries of the Red River, the Plains were black with thousands of buffalo driven down from the north by the white man’s advancing civilization. The Kiowas were rich in fast-footed ponies, and when ammunition was scarce they could use their arrows to kill enough animals to supply all their needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Nevertheless, long columns of Bluecoat pony soldiers came riding to the Kiowa winter camp on Rainy Mountain Creek. Not wanting a fight, Satanta and Lone Wolf, with an escort of warriors, went out to parley with Custer. Satanta was a burly giant, with jet black hair reaching to his enormous shoulders. His arms and legs were thickly muscled, his open face revealing strong confidence in his power. He wore brilliant red paint on his face and body, and carried red streamers on his lance. He liked to ride hard and fight hard. He was a hearty eater and drinker, and laughed with gusto. He enjoyed even his enemies. When he rode up to greet Custer he was grinning with pleasure. He offered his hand, but Custer disdained to touch it.

Having been around the Kansas forts enough to know the prejudices of white men, Satanta held his temper. He did not want his people destroyed as Black Kettle’s had been. The parley began coldly, with two interpreters attempting to translate the exchange of conversation. Realizing the interpreters knew fewer words of Kiowa than he knew of English, Satanta called up one of his warriors, Walking Bird, who had acquired a considerable vocabulary from white teamsters. Walking Bird spoke proudly to Custer, but the soldier chief shook his head; he could not understand the Kiowa’s accent. Determined to make himself understood, Walking Bird went closer to Custer and began stroking his arm as he had seen soldiers stroke their ponies. “Heap big nice sonabitch,” he said. “Heap sonabitch.” 2

Nobody laughed. The interpreters finally made Satanta and Lone Wolf understand that they must bring their Kiowa bands into Fort Cobb or face destruction by Custer’s soldiers. Then, in violation of the truce, Custer suddenly ordered the chiefs and their escort party put under arrest; they would be taken to Fort Cobb and held as prisoners until their people joined them there. Satanta accepted the pronouncement calmly, but said he would have to send a messenger to summon his people to the fort. He sent his son back to the Kiowa villages, but instead of ordering his people to follow him to Fort Cobb, he warned them to flee westward to the buffalo country.

Each night as Custer’s military column was marching back to Fort Cobb, a few of the arrested Kiowas managed to slip away. Satanta and Lone Wolf were too closely guarded, however, to make their escapes. By the time the Bluecoats reached the fort, the two chiefs were the only prisoners left. Angered by this, General Sheridan declared that Satanta and Lone Wolf would be hanged unless all their people came into Fort Cobb and surrendered.

This was how by guile and treachery most of the Kiowas were forced to give up their freedom. Only one minor chief, Woman’s Heart, fled with his people to the Staked Plains, where they joined their friends the Kwahadi Comanches.

To keep close watch upon the Kiowas and Comanches, the Army built a new soldier town a few miles north of the Red River boundary and called it Fort Sill. General Benjamin Grierson, a hero of the white man’s Civil War, was in command of the troops, most of them being black soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry. Buffalo soldiers, the Indians called them, because of their color and hair. Soon an agent with no hair on his head arrived from the East to teach them how to live by farming instead of hunting buffalo. His name was Lawrie Tatum, but the Indians called him Bald Head.

18. Satanta, or White Bear. From a photograph by William S. Soule, taken around 1870. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

General Sheridan came to the new fort, released Satanta and Lone Wolf from arrest, and held a council in which he scolded the chiefs for their past misdeeds and warned them to obey their agent.

“Whatever you tell me,” Satanta replied, “I mean to hold fast to. I will pick it up and hold it close to my breast. It don’t alter my opinion a particle if you take me by the hand now, or take and hang me. My opinion will be just the same. What you have told me today has opened my eyes, and my heart is open also. All this ground is yours to make the road for us to travel on. After this, I am going to have the white man’s road, to plant corn and raise corn. … You will not hear of the Kiowas killing any more whites. … I am not telling you a lie now. It is the truth.” 3

By corn-planting time, two thousand Kiowas and twenty-five hundred Comanches were settled on the new reservation. For the Comanches there was something ironic in the government’s forcing them to turn away from buffalo hunting to farming. The Comanches had developed an agricultural economy in Texas, but the white men had come there and seized their farmlands, forcing them to hunt buffalo in order to survive. Now this kindly old man, Bald Head Tatum, was trying to tell them they should take the white man’s road and go to farming, as if the Indians knew nothing of growing corn. Was it not the Indian who first taught the white man how to plant corn and make it grow?

For the Kiowas it was a different matter. The warriors looked upon digging in the ground as women’s work, unworthy of mounted hunters. Besides, if they needed corn they could trade pemmican and robes to the Wichitas for corn, as they had always done. The Wichitas liked to grow corn, but were too fat and lazy to hunt buffalo. By midsummer the Kiowas were complaining to Bald Head Tatum about the restrictions of farming. “I don’t like corn,” Satanta told him. “It hurts my teeth.” He was also tired of eating stringy Longhorn beef, and he asked Tatum for an issue of arms and ammunition so the Kiowas could go on a buffalo hunt. 4

19. Lone Wolf, or Guipago. Photographed by William S. Soule sometime between 1867 and 1874. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

That autumn the Kiowas and Comanches harvested about four thousand bushels of corn. It did not last long, distributed among 5,500 Indians and several thousand ponies. By springtime of 1870 the tribes were starving, and Bald Head Tatum gave them permission to go on a buffalo hunt.

In the Summer Moon of 1870, the Kiowas held a big sun dance on the North Fork of Red River. They invited the Comanches and Southern Cheyennes to come as guests, and during the ceremonies many disillusioned warriors talked of staying out on the Plains and living in plenty with buffalo instead of returning to the reservation for meager handouts.

Ten Bears of the Comanches and Kicking Bird of the Kiowas spoke against this talk; they thought it best for the tribes to continue taking the white man’s hand. The young Comanches did not condemn Ten Bears; after all, he was too old for hunting and fighting. But the young Kiowas scorned Kicking Bird’s counsel; he had been a great warrior before the white men penned him up on the reservation. Now he talked like a woman.

As soon as the dancing was finished, many of the young men rode off to Texas to hunt buffalo and raid the Texans who had taken their lands. They were especially angry against white hunters who were coming down from Kansas to kill thousands of buffalo; the hunters took only the skins, leaving the bloody carcasses to rot on the Plains. To the Kiowas and Comanches the white men seemed to hate everything in nature. “This country is old,” Satanta had scolded Old Man of the Thunder Hancock when he met him at Fort Larned in 1867. “But you are cutting off the timber, and now the country is of no account at all.” At Medicine Lodge Creek he complained again to the peace commissioners: “A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers; but when I go up to the river I see camps of soldiers here on its banks. These soldiers cut down my timber; they kill my buffalo; and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting; I feel sorry.” 5

Through that Summer Moon of 1870, the warriors who stayed on the reservation taunted Kicking Bird unmercifully for advocating farming instead of hunting. At last Kicking Bird could bear no more. He organized a war party and invited his worst tormentors—Lone Wolf, White Horse, and old Satank—to accompany him on a raid into Texas. Kicking Bird did not have the bulky, muscular body of Satanta. He was slight and sinewy and light-skinned. He may have been sensitive because he was not a full-blooded Kiowa; one of his grandfathers had been a Crow Indian.

With a hundred warriors at his back, Kicking Bird crossed the Red River boundary and deliberately captured a mail coach as a challenge to the soldiers at Fort Richardson, Texas. When the Bluecoats came out to fight, Kicking Bird displayed his skill in military tactics by engaging the soldiers in a frontal skirmish while he sent two pincer columns to strike his enemy’s flanks and rear. After mauling the troopers for eight hours under a broiling sun, Kicking Bird broke off the fight and led his warriors triumphantly back to the reservation. He had proved his right to his chieftaincy, but from that day he worked only for peace with the white man.

By the coming of cold weather, many roving bands were back in their camps near Fort Sill. Several hundred young Kiowas and Comanches, however, remained on the Plains that winter. General Grierson and Bald Head Tatum scolded the chiefs for raiding in Texas, but they could say nothing against the dried buffalo meat and robes which the hunters brought back to help see their families through another season of scanty government rations.

Around the Kiowa campfires that winter there was much talk about the white men who were pressing in from all four directions. Old Satank was grieving for his son, who had been killed that year by the Texans. Satank had brought back his son’s bones and placed them upon a raised platform inside a special tepee, and now he always spoke of his son as sleeping, not as dead, and every day he put food and water near the platforms so that the boy might refresh himself on awakening. In the evenings the old man sat squinting into the campfires, his bony fingers stroking the gray strands of his moustache. He seemed to be waiting for something.

Satanta moved restlessly about, always talking, making proposals to the other chiefs as to what they should do. From everywhere they heard rumors that steel tracks for an Iron Horse were coming into their buffalo country. They knew that railroads had driven the buffalo from the Platte and the Smoky Hill; they could not permit a railroad through their buffalo country. Satanta wanted to talk to the officers at the fort, convince them that they should take the soldiers away and let the Kiowas live as they had always lived, without a railroad to frighten the buffalo herds.

Big Tree was more direct. He wanted to go to the fort some night, set the buildings on fire, and then kill all the soldiers as they ran out. Old Satank spoke against such talk. It would be a waste of words to talk to the officers, he said, and even if they killed all the soldiers at the fort, more would come to take their places. The white men were like coyotes; there were always more of them, no matter how many were killed. If the Kiowas wanted to drive the white men out of their country and save the buffalo, they should start on the settlers, who kept fencing the grass and building houses and making railroads and slaughtering all the wild game.

When spring came in 1871, General Grierson sent out patrols of his black soldiers to guard the fords along Red River, but the warriors were eager to see the buffalo again, and they slipped past the soldiers. Everywhere they went that summer on the Texas plains they found more fences, more ranches, and more white buffalo hunters with deadly long-range rifles slaughtering the diminishing herds.

In the Leaf Moon of that spring, some Kiowa and Comanche chiefs took a large hunting party up the North Fork of Red River, hoping to find buffalo without leaving the reservation. They found only a few, most of the herds being far out in Texas. Around the evening campfires they began talking again of how the white men, especially the Texans, were trying to drive all the Indians into the ground. Soon they would have an Iron Horse running across the prairie, and all the buffalo would disappear. Mamanti the Sky Walker, a great medicine man, suggested that it was time for them to go down to Texas and start driving the Texans into the ground.

20. Kicking Bird, chief of the Kiowas. Photographed by William S. Soule at Fort Dodge, Kansas, in 1868. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

They made preparations, and in mid-May the war party eluded Grierson’s patrols and splashed across Red River into Texas. Satanta, Satank, Big Tree, and many other war leaders were in the party, but the raid had been a vision of Mamanti, and therefore he was the leader. On May 17 Mamanti brought the warriors to a halt on a hill overlooking the Butterfield Trail between forts Richardson and Belknap. There they waited through the night and until noon of the following day, when they saw an Army ambulance escorted by mounted soldiers heading-east along the trail. Some of the warriors wanted to attack, but Mamanti refused to give the signal. He assured them a much richer prize would soon follow, perhaps a wagon train filled with rifles and ammunition. (Unknown to the Indians, the passenger in the Army vehicle was none other than the Great Warrior Sherman on an inspection tour of southwestern military posts.)

As Mamanti had predicted, a train of ten freight wagons rolled into view a few hours later. At the proper moment he motioned to Satanta, who was holding a bugle ready. Satanta blasted a call on the instrument, and the warriors swarmed down the slope. The teamsters formed a corral and made a desperate stand, but the onrush of Kiowas and Comanches was too much for them. The warriors broke through the corral, killed seven teamsters, and then let the others escape in a nearby thicket while they plundered the wagons. They found no rifles or ammunition, nothing but corn. They took the mules from the wagons, fastened their wounded to horses, and rode north for Red River.

Five days later the Great Warrior Sherman arrived at Fort Sill. When General Grierson introduced him to Bald Head Tatum, Sherman asked the agent if any of his Kiowas or Comanches had been absent from the reservation during the past week. Tatum promised to inquire into the matter.

Shortly afterward several of the chiefs arrived from their camps to draw weekly rations. Kicking Bird, Satank, Big Tree, Lone Wolf, and Satanta were among them. Agent Tatum summoned them into his office. With his usual kindly solemnity, Tatum asked the chiefs if they had heard of an attack on a wagon train in Texas. If any of them knew anything about it, he said, he would like to hear them speak.

Disregarding the fact that Mamanti had led the raid, Satanta immediately arose and said that he was the leader. Various reasons have been given as to why he did this. Was it vanity? Was he merely boasting, or did he feel it his duty as principal chief to assume all responsibility? At any rate, he used the opportunity to rebuke Tatum for the way the Indians were being treated: “I have repeatedly asked you for arms and ammunition, which you have not furnished, and made many other requests which have not been granted. You do not listen to me talk. The white people are preparing to build a railroad through our country, which will not be permitted. Some years ago we were taken by the hair and pulled close to the Texans where we have to fight. … When General Custer was here two or three years ago, he arrested me and kept me in confinement several days. But arresting Indians is played out now and is never to be repeated. On account of these grievances, I took, a short time ago, about one hundred of my warriors, with the chiefs Satank, Eagle Heart, Big Tree, Big Bow, and Fast Bear. … We went to Texas where we captured a train not far from Fort Richardson. … If any other Indian comes here and claims the honor of leading the party he will be lying to you for I did it myself!” 6

Tatum remained outwardly unperturbed by Satanta’s surprising speech. He told Satanta that he had no authority to issue arms and ammunition, but that the Great Warrior Sherman was visiting Fort Sill, and if the chiefs wished to petition Sherman for arms and ammunition they were free to do so.

While the Kiowa chiefs were debating the advisability of a council with Sherman, Tatum sent a note to General Grierson, informing him that Satanta had admitted leading the raid on the wagon train and had named other chiefs who were present. Not long after Grierson received the message and passed it on to Sherman, Satanta arrived alone at the fort’s headquarters, asking to see the great soldier chief from Washington. Sherman stepped out on the wide porch, shook hands with Satanta, and told him he was summoning all the chiefs for a council.

Most of the summoned chiefs came voluntarily, but soldiers had to force old Satank to attend. Big Tree tried to run away, but was caught. Eagle Heart fled when he saw soldiers arresting the others.

As soon as the chiefs were assembled on the porch, Sherman told them he was arresting Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree for murdering civilian teamsters in Texas. Furthermore, his soldiers would return them to Texas for trial by a court of law.

Satanta flung his blanket back and reached for his pistol, shouting in Kiowa that he would rather die than be taken as a prisoner to Texas. Sherman calmly gave a command; the shutters on the porch windows flew open, and a dozen carbines were leveled at the chiefs. The headquarters office was filled with black troopers of the Tenth Cavalry.

Kicking Bird now arose to protest. “You have asked for these men to kill them,” he said. “But they are my people, and I am not going to let you have them. You and I are going to die right here.” 7

About this time a troop of mounted cavalry arrived on the scene. As they took positions along a picket fence facing the porch, Lone Wolf rode up. Ignoring the soldiers, he dismounted casually, tied his pony to the fence, and placed his two repeating carbines on the ground. He stood there for a moment tightening his pistol belt, his eyes alert, an expression of amused contempt on his face. Then he picked up his weapons and strode toward the porch. When he reached the steps he handed his pistol to the nearest chief and said loudly in Kiowa: “Make it smoke if anything happens.” 8 He tossed a carbine to another chief, and then sat down on the porch floor, cocking his remaining weapon and staring impudently at the Great Warrior Sherman.

An officer called an order, and the cavalrymen brought their carbines to firing positions, hammers drawn.

Satanta threw up his hands. “No, no, no!” he shouted. 9

Sherman calmly ordered the soldiers to lower arms.

It was June 8, in the Summer Moon, when the soldiers loaded the three chiefs into wagons for the long ride to Fort Richardson. Handcuffed and hobbled with chains, Satanta and Big Tree were shoved into one wagon, and Satank into another.

As the wagons rolled out of the fort with their cavalry escorts, old Satank began singing the death song of his Kiowa soldier society:

O sun, you remain forever, but we Kaitsenko must die.

O earth, you remain forever, but we Kaitsenko must die. 10

He pointed to a tree where the road turned to cross a stream. “I shall never go beyond that tree,” he shouted in Kiowa, and pulled his blanket over his head. Beneath the blanket, he tore flesh from his hands as he freed them from the manacles. He drew a concealed knife from his clothing. With a cry of desperation he leaped for the nearest guard, stabbing him and throwing him from the wagon. An instant later he had seized a carbine from one of the other startled guards. Outside, a lieutenant shouted a command to fire. A volley cut the old Kiowa down. The wagons had to be halted for an hour while the soldiers waited for Satank to die. Then they tossed his body into a ditch beside the road and resumed the journey to Texas.

The trial of Satanta and Big Tree for murder began on July 5, 1871, in the courthouse at Jacksboro, Texas. A jury of ranchers and cowboys wearing pistols in their belts listened to three days of testimony, and promptly returned a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced the prisoners to be hanged. The governor of Texas, however, took heed of warnings that their executions might arouse the Kiowas to war, and he commuted the sentence to life imprisonment in the Huntsville Penitentiary.

Now the Kiowas had lost their three strongest leaders. During the autumn many young men slipped away in small parties to join the Indians who lived the old free life by keeping to the Staked Plains. Avoiding white hunters and settlers, they followed buffalo herds between the Red and Canadian. With the coming of the Geese-Going Moon they made winter camps in Palo Duro Canyon. The Kwahadi Comanches dominated this group of Indians, but they welcomed the growing numbers of Kiowas who came to join them.

Lone Wolf had hunted with the Kwahadis and must have given some thought to joining them, but in the early months of 1872 he was engaged in a struggle with Kicking Bird over which direction the reservation Kiowas should take. Kicking Bird and Stumbling Bear advocated following the white man’s way, even though it meant abandoning the buffalo hunts in Texas. Lone Wolf opposed such talk. The Kiowas could not live without their buffalo hunts. If the white men stubbornly insisted that the Indians must hunt within the reservation, he said, then the reservation must be extended to the Rio Grande on the south and the Missouri on the north!

That Lone Wolf’s vigorous arguments gained him strong support was evidenced when the Kiowas chose him over Kicking Bird and Stumbling Bear to be their principal representative on a mission to Washington. In August the Indian Bureau invited delegations from all the dissident tribes in the territory to visit Washington for a discussion of treaty obligations.

When a special commissioner, Henry Alvord, arrived at Fort Sill to conduct the Kiowa delegation to Washington, Lone Wolf informed the commissioner that he could not go to Washington until he had consulted with Satanta and Big Tree. Even though they were in a Texas prison, Satanta and Big Tree were the tribe’s leaders, and no decision could be made in Washington without their advice.

Alvord was dumbfounded, but after he realized that Lone Wolf meant what he said, he began the tedious arrangements for a meeting with the imprisoned chiefs. A somewhat reluctant governor of Texas finally agreed to release his famous prisoners to temporary control of the United States Army. An extremely apprehensive cavalry commander took possession of the manacled chiefs at Dallas, Texas, on September 9 (1872) and started overland for Fort Sill. The cavalry escort was trailed by bands of armed Texans, each man eager to win glory by killing Satanta and Big Tree.

As the caravan neared Fort Sill, the acting commander there grew so agitated that he sent a civilian scout to warn the cavalry officer to take his prisoners elsewhere: “Indians here and in or about the Fort Sill Reservation … are sullen, ugly and warlike. … To bring Satanta, their principal war chief, here in irons and expect to take him back to the State Penitentiary, without trouble, probably a desperate fight, would be almost impossible. … I beg therefore, in spite of your positive orders to the contrary, not to bring them here on the reservation, but to take them to the present terminal of the M. K. & T. Railroad.” 11

Commissioner Alvord now had to convince the Kiowas that a meeting with Satanta and Big Tree was being arranged in the great city of St. Louis. To get there, Alvord explained, they would have to travel by wagons to a railroad and ride the Iron Horse. With an escort of warriors, the suspicious Kiowa delegation journeyed for 165 miles eastward to Atoka, Indian Territory, the terminal of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad.

At Atoka this comic-opera affair reached its climax. Almost as soon as Alvord arrived there with Lone Wolf’s delegation, he received a message from the cavalry commander that he was bringing Satanta and Big Tree to the railroad station for transfer to the commissioner’s custody. Alvord was alarmed by such a prospect. The railroad terminal was a lonely place, and the commissioner feared that if Satanta should suddenly appear there, the emotional reaction might bring on an uncontrollable situation. He rushed the messenger back to the cavalry commander, begging him to keep his prisoners hidden somewhere in the blackjack thickets until he could get the Kiowa delegation started to St. Louis.

At last, on September 29, in special rooms at the Everett House in St. Louis, Satanta and Big Tree celebrated their temporary freedom with Lone Wolf, who had made it all possible. Commissioner Alvord described the reunion as “a most impressive and affecting occasion,” but he apparently did not realize that the Kiowa chiefs were conducting important business: Before Satanta and Big Tree were started back to prison, Lone Wolf knew exactly what he must accomplish on his mission to Washington. 12

Several other Indian delegations arrived in Washington at the same time as the Kiowas—some minor Apache chiefs, a group of Arapahos, and a few Comanches. The Kwahadi Comanches, who were the real power in the tribe, would not send anybody; Ten Bears represented the Yamparika band, and Tosawi the Penatekas.

Washington officials gave the Indians a grand tour, a display of the government’s military might, a Sunday sermon complete with interpreters supplied by the Methodist Church, and a reception by Great Father Ulysses Grant in the East Room of the White House. After everyone had exchanged flowery speeches filled with the usual blandishments, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Francis Walker, arranged to address the Kiowas and Comanches together. He delivered a surprising ultimatum: “First, the Kiowas and Comanches here represented must, before the fifteenth of December next, camp every chief, head man, brave, and family complete within ten miles of Fort Sill and the agency; they must remain there until spring, without giving any trouble, and shall not then leave unless with the consent of their agent.” 13 He went on to say that the Kwahadi Comanches and other bands who had declined to send representatives to Washington would soon hear that United States troops had been directed to operate against them. Furthermore, every Indian not camped within ten miles of Fort Sill by December 15 would be considered an enemy of the United States government, and soldiers would kill them wherever they were found.

Ten Bears and Tosawi replied that their Comanche bands would do what the Great Father wanted them to do, but Lone Wolf expressed doubt that he could enforce such an ultimatum on all the Kiowas. Satanta and Big Tree, he explained, were the war chiefs of the tribe, and as long as the Texans kept them in prison, many of the young warriors would be bound to carry on a war with the Texans. Peace could be obtained only if Satanta and Big Tree were given their freedom and returned to the reservation, where they could keep the young men from raiding in Texas.

This condition, of course, was what had been decided upon in that “most impressive and affecting occasion” of the Kiowa chieftains’ reunion in St. Louis. Lone Wolf’s maneuver was worthy of a trained diplomat, and although Commissioner Walker had no authority to order the governor of Texas to release Satanta and Big Tree, he finally had to promise to free the chiefs before Lone Wolf would agree to obey his ultimatum. Furthermore, Lone Wolf set a deadline for the release—no later than the end of the next Bud Moon and the beginning of the Leaf Moon, or about the end of March, 1873.

One effect of the Washington visit was the complete alienation of Ten Bears from the Comanches. While Lone Wolf returned to the reservation as a hero, Ten Bears was virtually ignored. Ailing and exhausted, the old poet of the Plains gave up and died on November 23, 1872. “With the exception of his son,” said the agency schoolmaster, Thomas Battey, “his people had all left him.” 14

Meanwhile, on the Staked Plains, as Commissioner Walker had warned, the Army began searching out the free Kwahadi Comanches. From Fort Richardson, the Fourth Cavalry prowled through the upper forks of Red River. These pony soldiers were led by Ranald Mackenzie, a wiry, irascible, mutton-chopped Eagle Chief. The Comanches called him Mangoheute, Three Fingers. (He had lost his index finger in the Civil War.) On September 29, along McClellan’s Creek, Three Fingers’ scouts discovered a large Comanche village, Bull Bear’s people. The Indians were busily drying meat in preparation for winter. Charging in at a gallop, the troopers overran the village, killed twenty-three Comanches, captured 120 women and children, and took almost the entire herd, more than a thousand ponies. After burning the 262 lodges, Mackenzie moved back downstream and made a night camp. In the meantime, the hundreds of warriors who had escaped the attack had walked to a neighboring Comanche village. With borrowed ponies and fresh reinforcements they made a surprise night attack on the cavalrymen. “We got all our horses back and some of the soldiers’ too,” one of the warriors said afterward. 15 But they could not rescue the captive women and children, and after Mackenzie took them to Fort Sill, Bull Bear and a number of other Kwahadis came to the reservation in order to be with their families. The main force of Kwahadis, however, still roamed free with the buffalo, continued to gain recruits from other southwestern tribes, and under the leadership of a twenty-seven-year-old half-breed, Quanah Parker, was more implacable than ever.

21. Ten Bears of the Comanches. Photographed by Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C., 1872. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

With the first signs of spring in 1873, the Kiowas began preparing for a big celebration to welcome back Satanta and Big Tree. All winter long, Bald Head Tatum had used his influence to block release of the chiefs, but the Commissioner of Indian Affairs overruled him. Tatum resigned, and James Haworth came to replace him. When the Bud Moon passed and the calendar was well into the Leaf Moon, Lone Wolf began to talk of a war with the Texans if they refused to free the chiefs. Kicking Bird urged the warriors to be patient; the governor of Texas was having trouble with the Indian-hating settlers. At last, in the Moon of Deer Horns Dropping Off (August), officials from Washington arranged for Satanta and Big Tree to be transferred to Fort Sill as prisoners. Not long afterward the governor of Texas himself arrived for a grand council.

22. White Horse, or Tsen-tainte. Photographed by William S. Soule in 1870. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

On the day of the council Satanta and Big Tree were allowed to be present under a soldier guard. The governor opened the proceedings by telling the Kiowas they must settle down on farms near the agency. They must draw their rations and answer to a roll call every three days, they must stop their young men from raiding in Texas, they must give up their arms and ponies and raise corn like civilized Indians. “In the meantime,” he continued, “Satanta and Big Tree are to remain in the guardhouse until the commanding officer at Fort Sill is satisfied that these conditions are carried out.”

Lone Wolf was the first to speak: “You have already made our hearts good by bringing back these prisoners. Make them still better by releasing them today.”

But the governor would not yield. “I will not change these conditions,” he said, and the council ended. 16

Lone Wolf was bitterly disappointed. The conditions were too harsh, and the chiefs were still prisoners. “I want peace,” he told Thomas Battey, the schoolmaster. “I have worked hard for it. Washington has deceived me—has failed to keep faith with me and my people—has broken his promises; and now there is nothing left us but war. I know that war with Washington means the extinction of my people, but we are driven to it; we had rather die than live.”

Even Kicking Bird was offended by the governor’s demands. “My heart is as a stone; there is no soft spot in it. I have taken the white man by the hand, thinking him to be a friend, but he is not a friend; government has deceived us; Washington is rotten.” 17

Battey and the new agent, Haworth, both realized that bloodshed, possibly open war, was likely if the governor did not make a gesture of goodwill by releasing Satanta and Big Tree from the guardhouse. They went to the governor, explained the situation to him, and firmly persuaded him to relent. Late that night the governor sent a message to Lone Wolf and the other chiefs, asking them to meet with him the next morning. The Kiowas agreed, but they made up their minds before daybreak that they would listen to no more broken promises. They came to the meeting fully armed, with warriors placed near the guardhouse and fast horses ready for flight.

None of this was lost on the governor of Texas. He kept his speech short, saying that he was sure the Kiowas would keep their part of the bargain, and then announced that he was paroling Satanta and Big Tree over to their agent. They were free men. Lone Wolf had won another bloodless victory.

In the Moon When the Leaves Fall Off, Satanta moved into his red-painted tepee with its red streamers waving from the ends of the poles above the smoke holes. He gave his red medicine lance to his old friend White Cowbird, and said he had no desire to be a chief anymore. He wanted only to be free and happy, to roam over the prairies. But he kept his word and stayed close to the agency, and did not slip away that autumn to hunt buffalo with the young men on the Staked Plains.

In the Geese-Going Moon some white thieves from Texas raided the Kiowa and Comanche horse herds and stole two hundred of their finest ponies. A party of warriors went in pursuit, but recovered only a few animals before the Texan thieves crossed Red River.

A short time after that a group of nine young Kiowas and twenty-one Comanches decided to go south after horses to replace the stolen ones. Not wishing to cause trouble for Satanta and Big Tree by raiding Texan horses, they headed for Mexico. Keeping away from settlements, they rode swiftly for five hundred miles and crossed the Rio Grande between Eagle Pass and Laredo. In Mexico they raided ranches until they collected about the same number of horses the Texans had stolen from them. But they had to kill some Mexicans in order to take the horses, and on the way back they killed two Texans who tried to stop them. Then the Bluecoats came in hot pursuit, and during a running fight not far from Fort Clark nine of the young Indians were killed. Among them were Tauankia and Guitan, the son and nephew of Lone Wolf.

It was midwinter when the survivors returned to Fort Sill. The Kiowas and Comanches went into mourning over the loss of their bravest young men. In his grief for his son, Lone Wolf cut off his hair, burned his tepee, slew his horses, and swore revenge upon the Texans.

As soon as the grass greened on the prairies in the spring of 1874, Lone Wolf organized a party to go deep into Texas to recover the bodies of Tauankia and Guitan. Because they were watched so closely on the reservation, the Kiowas could not keep the expedition a secret, and they had scarcely crossed Red River before columns of Bluecoats were riding to intercept them—from forts Concho, McKavett, and Clark. Somehow Lone Wolf managed to elude all his pursuers. His party reached the burial place, recovered the bodies of his son and nephew, and swung northward toward the Staked Plains. A troop of cavalry, however, came so close upon them that Lone Wolf was forced to rebury the bodies on the side of a mountain. Breaking up into small parties, the Kiowas took flight across the Staked Plains. Most of them reached Red River in time to hear about a very special sun dance that was being held on Elk Creek.

For many years the Kiowas had been inviting their Comanche friends to attend their sun dances, but the Comanches had always come as spectators and had never held such a ceremony of their own. In that spring of 1874 they invited the Kiowas to come to their first sun dance and help them decide what should be done about the white buffalo hunters who were destroying the herds out on the Staked Plains. Kicking Bird refused to accept the invitation. He had heard that the Kwahadis had organized the sun dance, and as they were considered hostile to the government, Kicking Bird convinced his followers to stay in their camps and wait until July for their own sun dance. Lone Wolf, however, still grieving over the death of his son and angry at the white men for refusing to even let him bring the boy’s bones back for a proper burial, decided to lead his followers to the Comanche sun dance. Satanta went along with him; the paroled chief could see no harm in attending a Comanche ceremony within the reservation boundary; it was the courteous thing to do.

The Kwahadis arrived on Elk Creek in force, riding in from the Staked Plains with bad news about the buffalo herds. White hunters and skinners were everywhere; the stench of rotting carcasses fouled the very winds of the Plains; like the Indians, the great herds were being driven into the ground.

(Of the 3,700,000 buffalo destroyed from 1872 through 1874, only 150,000 were killed by Indians. When a group of concerned Texans asked General Sheridan if something should not be done to stop the white hunters’ wholesale slaughter, he replied: “Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated, as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance.” 18)

The free Kwahadis wanted no part of a civilization that advanced by exterminating useful animals. At the Comanche sun dance, a Kwahadi prophet named Isatai spoke for a war to save the buffalo. Isatai was a man of great magic; it was said that he could vomit wagonloads of ammunition from his belly, and that he had the power to stop the white men’s bullets in midflight.

Quanah Parker, the young war chief of the Kwahadis, also spoke for a war to drive the white hunters from the grazing grounds. He suggested that they strike first at the hunters’ base, a trading post near the Canadian River known as Adobe Walls.

Before the sun dance ended, a party of Cheyennes and Arapahos arrived from their reservation in the north. They were very angry because some white horse thieves had stolen fifty of their best mustangs. They suspected the thieves might be buffalo hunters. When they heard about Quanah’s plan to attack the white hunters at Adobe Walls, they decided to join the Kwahadis. Lone Wolf and Satanta and their Kiowa warriors also volunteered to fight. To their minds, the urgency to save the buffalo from extermination was a much more important matter than obeying petty reservation rules. After all, were not the hunters intruding upon buffalo ranges reserved by treaty for exclusive use of Indians? If the soldiers would not drive the hunters away as they were supposed to do, then the Indians must do it.

Altogether seven hundred warriors rode westward from Elk Creek in the waning Summer Moon. Along the way Isatai made medicine and reassured the warriors. “Those white men can’t shoot you,” he said. “With my medicine I will stop all their guns. When you charge, you will wipe them all out.” 19

Before sunrise on June 27, the warriors rode up close to Adobe Walls and made preparations for one mighty charge that would wipe out every buffalo hunter in the supply base. “We charged pretty fast on our horses, throwing up dust high,” Quanah Parker said afterward. Prairie-dog holes dotted the ground, and some of the ponies caught their hooves in them, falling and rolling with their painted riders. The Indians found two hunters trying to escape in a wagon, and they killed and scalped both of them. The gunfire and thundering hooves alerted the white men inside the adobes, and they opened up with their long-range buffalo rifles. The Indians pulled away and then began their traditional circling attack, individual warriors darting in to hurl lances or to fire through windows.

“I got up to the adobe houses with another Comanche,” Quanah said. “We poked holes through roof to shoot.” 20 Several times the Indians withdrew to make new charges, hoping to force the hunters to expend all their ammunition. In one of these charges Quanah’s horse was shot from under him, and as he tried to take cover, a bullet creased his shoulder. He crawled into a plum thicket and was later rescued.

“The buffalo hunters were too much for us,” one of the Comanche warriors admitted. “They stood behind adobe walls. They had telescopes on their guns. … One of our men was knocked off his horse by a spent bullet fired at a range of about a mile. It stunned but did not kill him.” 21

Early in the afternoon the attackers withdrew out of range of the powerful buffalo rifles. Fifteen warriors were dead; many more were badly wounded. They turned their rage and frustration against Isatai, who had promised them protection from the white men’s bullets and a great victory. An angry Cheyenne lashed Isatai with his quirt, and several other braves came up to join in, but Quanah stopped the flogging. Isatai’s disgrace was punishment enough, he said. From that day, Quanah Parker never again put his trust in a medicine man.

After the chiefs gave up the useless siege of Adobe Walls, Lone Wolf and Satanta took their warriors back to the North Fork of Red River to attend the Kiowa sun dance. They of course invited their Comanche and Cheyenne friends to come along. That summer the main feature of the Kiowa ceremonies was a celebration of the return of Satanta and Big Tree to the reservation. The Kwahadis and the Cheyennes chided the reservation people for celebrating while their buffalo herds were being rubbed out by invading white hunters. They urged all the Kiowas to come and join them in a war to save the buffalo.

23. Quanah Parker of the Comanches. Photographed by Hutchins and/or Lanney on the Kiowa reservation (for Kiowas, Comanches, and Kiowa-Apaches) in Oklahoma between 1891 and 1893. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Kicking Bird would listen to none of their arguments. As soon as the sun dance ended, he started his followers hurrying back toward the agency. Lone Wolf and his followers, however, were convinced that their duty lay with the determined Kwahadis.

This time Satanta did not join Lone Wolf. Deciding that he had pushed his luck far enough, the gregarious, action-loving chief reluctantly turned back toward Fort Sill. On the way he took his family and a few friends down Rainy Mountain Creek to visit the Wichita reservation to do some trading with those corn-growing Indians. It was a pleasant summer, and he was in no hurry to return to Fort Sill to start answering roll calls and drawing rations.

Out on the Plains later that summer it seemed that everything had turned bad. Day after day the sun baked the dry earth drier, the streams stopped running, great whirlwinds of grasshoppers were flung out of the metallic sky to consume the parched grass. If such a season had come upon this land a few years earlier, a thunder of a million buffalo hooves would have shaken the prairie in frantic stampedes for water. But now the herds were gone, replaced by an endless desolation of bones and skulls and rotting hooves. Most of the white hunters departed. Bands of Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos roamed restlessly, finding a few small herds, but many had to return to their reservations to keep from starving.

At the agencies everything was in turmoil. The Army and the Indian Bureau were at cross-purposes. Supplies failed to arrive. Some agents withheld rations to punish the Indians for roving without permission. Here and there outbreaks occurred; shots were exchanged between warriors and soldiers. By mid-July half the Kiowas and Comanches registered at the Fort Sill agency were gone. As though by some mystical power, these last tribes to live by the buffalo were drawn to the heart of the last buffalo range, the Place of Chinaberry Trees, Palo Duro Canyon.

The Palo Duro was invisible from the flat horizon, a curving chasm slashed into the Plains, an oasis of springs and waterfalls and streams that kept its willows and buffalo grass green and lush. The canyon could be entered only by a few trails beaten out by buffalo herds. Coronado had visited there in the sixteenth century, but only a few white men had seen it since or knew of its existence.

All through the late summer of 1874 Indians and buffalo sought sanctuary there. The Indians killed only enough animals to supply their needs for winter—stripping the meat carefully to dry in the sun, storing marrow and fat in skins, treating the sinews for bowstrings and thread, making spoons and cups of the horns, weaving the hair into ropes and belts, curing the hides for tepee covers, clothing, and moccasins.

Before the beginning of the Yellow Leaves Moon, the floor of the canyon along the creek was a forest of tepees—Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne—all well stocked with food to last until spring. Almost two thousand horses shared the rich grass with the buffalo. Without fear, the women went about their tasks and the children played along the streams. For Quanah and the Kwahadis this was the way they had always lived; for Lone Wolf and the Kiowas and the other agency fugitives this was a beginning of life all over again.

Such defiance of the white man’s way was of course intolerable to authorities on the emptying reservations. The implacable Kwahadis and their allies had scarcely settled into their hidden villages for winter when the Great Warrior Sherman began issuing military orders. In September five columns of Bluecoats were in motion. From Fort Dodge, Bear Coat Nelson Miles struck southward; from Fort Concho, Three Fingers Mackenzie marched northward. From Fort Bascom, New Mexico, Major William Price moved eastward; from forts Sill and Richardson came colonels John Davidson and George Buell. Thousands of Bluecoats armed with repeating rifles and artillery were in search of a few hundred Indians who wanted only to save their buffalo and live out their lives in freedom.

Using mercenary Tonkawa scouts, Mackenzie’s pony soldiers found the great Palo Duro village on September 26. Lone Wolf’s Kiowas bore the fury of the first assault. Although caught by surprise, the warriors held long enough for their women and children to escape, and they then retreated under a cloud of dense powder smoke. Mackenzie’s troopers stormed up the creek, burning tepees and destroying the Indians’ winter supplies. By the end of the day they rounded up more than a thousand ponies. Mackenzie ordered the animals driven into Tule Valley, and there the Bluecoats slaughtered them, a thousand dead horses left to the circling buzzards.

Across the Plains the Indians scattered on foot, without food, clothing, or shelter. And the thousands of Bluecoats marching from the four directions methodically hunted them down, the columns crossing and crisscrossing, picking up the wounded Indians first, then the aged, then the women and children.

Lone Wolf and 252 Kiowas managed to avoid capture, but at last they could run no more. On February 25, 1875, they came into Fort Sill and surrendered. Three months later Quanah brought in the Kwahadis.

In this turmoil of military action the paroled chiefs, Satanta and Big Tree, fled the reservation. When they reached the Cheyenne agency they surrendered voluntarily, but were shackled in irons and placed in the guardhouse.

At Fort Sill each surrendering band of Indians was herded into a corral, where soldiers disarmed them. What little property they carried was piled into a heap and burned. Their horses and mules were driven out upon the prairie and shot. Chiefs and warriors suspected of responsibility for leaving the reservation were locked in cells or were confined behind the high walls of an unroofed icehouse. Each day their captors threw chunks of raw meat to them as if they were animals in a cage.

From Washington, the Great Warrior Sherman ordered trials and punishments for the captives. Agent Haworth requested leniency for Satanta and Big Tree. Sherman had nothing in his heart against Big Tree, but he remembered the defiance of Satanta, and it was Satanta who had to return alone to the Texas penitentiary.

Because the military authorities could not decide which of their many prisoners to punish, they ordered Kicking Bird to select twenty-six Kiowas for exile to the dungeons of Fort Marion, Florida. Repugnant as the task was, Kicking Bird obeyed. He knew that Lone Wolf would have to go, Woman’s Heart and White Horse, and Mamanti the Sky Walker, because of their fighting in Texas. For the remainder of the quota, he chose obscure warriors and a few Mexican captives who had grown up with the tribe.

Even so, Kicking Bird’s part in the judgment of his tribesmen lost him the support of his followers. “I am as a stone, broken and thrown away,” he told Thomas Battey sadly. “One part thrown this way, and one part thrown that way.” 22

On the day the chained prisoners were being loaded into wagons for the start of their long journey to Florida, Kicking Bird rode out to say good-bye to them. “I am sorry for you,” he said. “But because of your stubbornness, I have failed to keep you out of trouble. You will have to be punished by the government. Take your medicine. It will not be for long. I love you and will work for your release.”

Mamanti the Sky Walker answered him scornfully: “You remain free, a big man with the whites. But you will not live long, Kicking Bird. I will see to that.” 23

Two days later, after drinking a cup of coffee in his lodge near the post, Kicking Bird died mysteriously. Three months later, at Fort Marion, after learning of the death of Kicking Bird, Mamanti also died suddenly, and the Kiowas said the medicine man had willed his own death because he had used his power to destroy a fellow tribesman. Three years later, wasting away in a prison hospital in Texas, Satanta threw himself from a high window to find release in death. That same year, Lone Wolf, racked by malarial fever, was permitted to return to Fort Sill, but he also was dead within a year.

The great leaders were gone; the mighty power of the Kiowas and Comanches was broken; the buffalo they had tried to save had vanished. It had all happened in less than ten years.

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