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Maman-ti

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History books are filled with the names of the Indian leaders of the Kiowa and Comanche during the wars of the 1870's in the Oklahoma-Texas frontier. Quanah, Satanta, Satank, Lone Wolf, Mow-wi, Wild Horse-these names were well known to the enemy, the U.S. Army. Lurking in the shadows behind these men was another whose name was known to few white men, but whose power among the embattled tribes was almost omnipotent. This was Maman-ti (Sky Walker, He-Who-Touches-the Sky), more often called Do-ha-te (the Medicine Man) or Owl Prophet.

A sinister figure? Not to his people, the Kiowas, nor to the Comanche, who elevated him to a position of master of all the medicine men of the allied tribes. Tall and aristocratic, lean yet muscular, he had the aristocratic features of a god. His bravery in battle was unexcelled, his kindness to the unfortunate widely praised. The Cheyenne's knew him as a hero of the Battle of the Washita, where about to be massacred by Custer's troops.
Born about 1835, Maman-ti became a medicine man of the buffalo cult while still a young man. One day he began studying the cries of a screech-owl and discovered that he could understand its language and that from it he gained new sources of medicine. Thus he became the prophet of the owl.

He married twice and had several children by each wife. He also reared an adopted son called Tejan, a white boy with red hair. The youth was treated as one of the family, not as a prisoner.

The source of Maman0ti's influence was a seemingly magical gift that lifted him far above the status of medicine man. This was an uncanny ability to prophesy the outcome of contemplated battles, even to describing the highlights of the action and determining in advance how many warriors of both sides would be slain. So accurate were his predictions that it became customary to rely on him to bring success to all military ventures, and it was he who decided when and how battles should be waged.

On the night before an engagement he would hold council with the chiefs. Out of the blackness would appear what seemed to be a living owl which perched on the medicine man's wrist, accompanied by the raucous owl-cries and the beating of wings. The medicine man would converse with the creature and interprets eerie utterances to the chiefs, who were convinced that the prophet's deceased ancestors spoke to him through this feathered oracle. In this manner the events of the coming fight would be described. It was a performance to put Edgar Bergen to shame.

An example of this gift for prophecy may be seen in the Lost Valley massacre, a revenge raid into Texas led by the Owl Prophet himself. One night before the flight he foretold that no Indians would be killed, that two of the enemy would die, and that the greatest heroes of the battle would be mounted on gray horses. He added that the youngest brave would get a fine bay horse as part of the plunder. The battle occurred as described, with two young braves on gray horses making the greatest number of coups. One of these men was Hunting Horse, the youngest of the fifty warriors in the party, who captured a fine bay belonging to a Texas Ranger he slew in the fight.

Another time the oracle related that if Maman-ti would take a party of braves to a certain point on the Butterfield Trail, in Young County, Texas, two parties of whites would pass a few hours apart. The first would be a small group, easy to overwhelm, but it should not, under any circumstances, be molested. The second and much larger party should be taken. Indian losses would be small, but many more of the enemy would die and there would be much plunder.

On the given morning a wagon with a small detachment of soldiers passed as foretold, and the impatient braves begged to be permitted to attack. But the Owl Prophet was steadfast in his insistence that they hold back. About three hours later, a train of ten wagons appeared on the plain. It was successfully ambushed. Seven teamsters were either killed or captured and the prisoners were tortured to death in a horrible manner. Forty-one mules and much plunder were taken. Only two Indians died.

The first party, spared upon Maman-ti's command, consisted of General William T. Sherman and his escort, just arrived to investigate reports of Indian atrocities. Had Sherman been slain it is probable that full scale reprisals against the Indians would have been undertaken by the government.

The Owl Prophet was not a "behind the front" leader, for he always donned war paint and either led or actively participated in all Kiowa-Comanche raids under his direction. In battle he was a terrifying figure, stripped to the waist and painted white all over, with blue owls painted on his chest and back. His warhorse also was painted in this motif and decorated with red cloth. Behind him rode his similarly attired apprentices, Sankey-dotey, H-an-t'agai and Ho-ha-san.

A rival medicine chief, Isa-tai, of the Quohada Comanche tribe organized the raid that is known as the Battle of Adobe Walls against the advice of Maman-ti. After the fight proved to be a humiliating defeat, only Maman-ti had sufficient prestige to organize further revenge raids. Time after time his medicine proved true and his fame spread among the tribes until he was recognized as the greatest intellect among them.

Kicking Bird, a powerful Kiowa chief, perceived the futility of a hopeless war and succeeded in taking three-fourths of the Kiowas and many Comanches to Fort Sill, Indian territory (Oklahoma), to settle to peaceful ways. For five years he worked for peace-and earned the implacable hatred of the Owl Prophet.

On Friday, Aug. 21, 1874, the strained truce was broken when Red Food's band of Noconee Comanches and a Kiowa band led by Lone Wolf and his advisor, Maman-ti, made hostile advances at Anadarko, Indian Territory, seat of the Wichita agency. On the next day a series of skirmishes developed after the arrival of Lt. Col. John W. Davidson and four troops of the Twelfth Cavalry. By Sunday after much shooting and attempts to burn the agency, five civilians and one Comanche were dead. The Indians were scattered by the troops, and within a month some 1,370 of them had surrendered. The remainder, comprising slightly over half of the Comanche, Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache tribes, sought refuge in the wild and uninhabited country west of the mountains toward the Texas plains.
Gen. Philip H. Sheridan planned a strategy in which the hostiles would be harassed from all direction by converging troops from Fort sill and Camp Supply, Indian Territory; Fort Union, New Mexico and Fort Conco, Texas. One the afternoon of Sept. 7, 1874, in the area adjacent to the Washita River headwaters, Lt. Frank Baldwin and three of his scouts captured Maman-ti's foster son, Tejan, and on the next day delivered the captive to Captain Wyllys Lyman, who was leading a wagon train from Camp Supply to the forces led by Capt. Miles. On Sept. 9 the wagon train was attacked by a large Kiowa war party which included Maman-ti, Long Wolf, Satanta, Big Tree and Poor Buffalo-the aristocracy of the Kiowa warlords.

After a siege that lasted four days, help arrived from Camp Supply and the Indians scattered. Maman-ti and Lone Wolf led many of the fleeing Kiowas to the Texas plains, to a hiding place not known to the white men. This was Palo Duro Canyon, a 120 mile long slash in the Texas plateau. The Owl prophet assured his friends that the gods favored the canyon as a safe refuge. A city of hundreds of teepees, fifteen miles long, was erected on the canyon floor.

On Sept. 27, scouts from the Fort Concho regiment found the hideaway and reported to Col. Ronald Mackenzie. Next day Mackenzie's scouts followed an animal trail into the deep chasm and made a surprise raid that completely routed the Kiowas. Most of the Indian horses were captured and destroyed (a monument now marks the spot on the Tule Ranch, near Tulia, where nearly 1,400 horses were killed).

Knowing their cause was hopeless, Maman-ti and Lone Wolf continued their warlike activities with small bands. Finally, on Feb. 6, they reported to Fort Sill. They were greeted by Kicking Bird, now recognized by the army as chief of the Kiowas, who told them he would work tirelessly for their release. On April 28, Maman-ti shackled and piled into a wagon to be sent to Florida for imprisonment, reviled Kicking Bird as a traitor and told him, "You will not live long… I'll see to that. " Two nights later, on the road to Fort Marion, near St. Augustine, another medicine man named Eagle Chief begged Maman-ti to pray Kicking Bird to death. Maman-ti sadly agreed, but explained that his own life would be taken if he did so, for it was against his medicine to use magic against a Kiowa. On the morning of May 4, as Maman-ti finished his death prayer, Kicking Bird died suddenly. The fort surgeon's report states that the chief "died suddenly, May 4, supposed to have been poisoned by styrchnine…"

The Owl Prophet did not endure punishment for long. One the evening of July 28 he summoned his friends to his prison room and explained that he would die three hours after sunup. Next morning he called them back, walked around to say farewell to each of them, lay down on his cot and died. Thus did Maman-ti, New World Machiavelli, go to his peace.

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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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