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
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
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
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
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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925