A principal chief of the Kiowas for many years was Satank, the
hard visage warrior of countless battles. He was born in the Black
Hills of the Dakotas about 1810 and survived years of savage warfare
against the Arapahos, Comanches, Cheyennes, Tonkawas, Pawnees,
Creeks, Apaches, Osages and Dakotas. Satank-the name means Sitting
Bear-distinguished himself early as an outstanding fighting man. He
was a member of the Ko-eet-senko, of which only the ten bravest
members of the tribe could be included. When initiated into this
elite group, each man too an oath to return from each warlike
encounter with honor or not return at all. Satank lived by this code
to the last.
Satank was instrumental in arranging the lasting peace with the
Arapahos and Cheyennes in 1840, and was the first man to sign the
Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867. The latter document provided for
the Kiowas and their principal ally, the Comanches, to live on a
reservation in Oklahoma (then Indian Territory) and cease their
raids upon the white settlers. Satank's loose interpretation of the
terms-he was a true product of the Stone Age and never would learn
to live the rules of the white men-permitted the Indians to continue
raiding under certain circumstances and to take their time in
settling down on the reservation. As a close friend of the head
chief, Lone Wolf, and other leaders of the tribes, Satank had a
great deal of influence upon the behavior of the Indians during the
crucial years following the enactment of the treaty.
In 1870, a son of Satank was killed while on a revenge raid in
Texas. The sorrowing chief went to Texas and gathered the bones of
the young warrior, thereafter carrying them with him in a bundle on
a special horse. Although he was at least 60 years old at this time,
Satank rode with the young braves in their attacks upon the hated
Satank was with Satanta in the infamous Warren wagon train massacre
(an account of which is given in the chapter on Satanta), the
incident which ended the tolerant period of U.S.-Kiowa relations.
Shortly afterward, under orders from General Sherman, Satanta,
Satank and Bit Tree were arrested, piled into wagons and put on the
road to Texas to stand trial. Satank, who refused to go willingly,
had to be bound and bodily thrown by four men into the lead wagon,
which was partially loaded with corn.
As the wagon jogged along, Satank sat erectly upon a pile of corn
and began a strange chant. It was the death song of the Ko-eet-senko,
the chant that promised death before dishonor. One of the troopers
recognized the song of death and alerted the corporal of the guard,
but nobody was afraid of the tired old man in the wagon. Satank
interrupted his chant long enough to talk to a Caddo scout asking
him to tell the Kiowas to make restitution and cease their raiding.
He then pointed to a tree on the road ahead, saying, "When I reach
the tree I will be dead." Satank resumed his death chant, meantime
working his hands free. As the wagon reached the tree Satank had
indicated, the old chief leapt up and lunged at the guard riding
with him. Satank wretched the rifle from the man's grasp and sent
him toppling into the road. An officer riding nearby saw the guard
fall and gave the order to the men near the wagon to fire. Just as
Satank was levering a shell into the chamber of the carbine, he was
struck by a volley of bullets. The old man fell to the wagon bed,
bleeding from several wounds. A moment later tottered again to his
feet and tried to aim the rifle at the officer. Before he could
press the trigger he again was brought down by a blast of
Old Satank still lived, but it was obvious that he soon would die.
He told his captors that he wanted to die alone, and accordingly he
was lifted from the wagon and place beside the road. When last seen
by the members of the caravan he was sitting against a tree and
covered with blood and dust. Later, his body was brought to Fort
Sill and buried in the Military Cemetery.
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