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Satanta

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The very name Satanta conjures an image of strength, of wildness and primitive cunning. To the white settlers in Texas and Oklahoma it was a name to inspire terror. To the Kiowas it was, and still is, a name synonymous with courage and leadership. Satanta-White Bear-was born about 1830 in Indian Territory at a time when the Kiowas were at war with several other tribes such as the Osages, Navajos, Utes and Tonkawas. They also had a profitable hobby of raiding the white and Mexican settlements in New Mexico and parts of Texas. He was raised as a warrior and distinguished himself in battle many times.
He was about 10 when the disastrous smallpox epidemic of 1840 almost decimated the Kiowas. When he was 19 he saw many of his friends and loved ones die in the cholera epidemic which is the most terrible experience in the tribe's history.

As a leading brave, Satanta participated in raids in Texas even after the Kiowas and their Comanche allies had made peace with the United States via the Treaty of 1853. It was the reasoning of the Indians that Texas and the United States were enemies because Texas was in armed rebellion against the government of the United States at the time of the treaty. Therefore, Texas could be raided even while friendly relations were maintained with the United States.

On one war party into Texas, Satanta brought back a captive woman and her four children and attempted to obtain ransom for them at Fort Larned. The Indian Agent upbraided them for taking captive citizens of the Untied States and demanded that the prisoners be returned without any compensation to the kidnappers. Satanta said that he would have to confer with his chiefs, and as he pretended to parley the war party sneaked away with the captives. Satanta turned them over to the army at Fort Dodge for a tidy ransom.

After the signing of a new treaty on October 21, 1867, peace again was negotiated with the Kiowas and Comanches. Satanta, who was tall and muscular and had a knack for public speaking, was one of the signers of the Medicine Lodge Treaty. Despite his warlike attitude, Satanta was popular with the army leaders and became widely known as "the orator of the Plains."

General George A. Custer was placed in charge of the Indian Territory after the treaty, and it was he who led the infamous raid on a Cheyenne village on the Washita River, near Cheyenne, Oklahoma's, on November 27, 1868. Black Kettle and 103 of his followers were massacred in the so-called Battle of the Washita, and redskin fury grew as the news spread among the tribes., The Kiowas then were approached by Custer and ordered to go to Fort Cobb, which was planned as the Kiowa Agency, or they would be treated in the same manner as Black Kettle's band. When some families tried to steal away, Lone Wolf and Satanta, respectively head chief and sub chief, were seized. Custer told the Kiowas that their chiefs would be hanged unless the tribe capitulated and went immediately to the reservation. When all but one Kiowa band delivered themselves to Fort Cobb, the chiefs were released.

Even after they settled on the reservations, the Kiowas continued their raids into Texas. On May 17-18, 1871, General Sherman traveled with a small escort along the Butterfield Trail of Texas to investigate personally the reports of Indian atrocities. In the region between Fort Griffin and Fort Richardson, scene of several Indian ambuscades, Sherman remarked upon the peacefulness of the countryside and suggested that the reports of the settlers must have been exaggerated. Little did he suspect that his movements were observed from the nearby hills by a war party of more than 100 Kiowas, Comanches and Kiowa-Apaches, under the leadership of Satanta, Satank and the great Kiowa medicine man, Maman-ti. Only with difficulty did Maman-ti restrain the warriors from attacking. He explained that his medicine forbade the attack because bigger prey was coming.

The medicine man knew were of he spoke, for a few hours later a wagon train came into view. Satanta did not order the attack until the wagons were in open country, away from any cover. Then the war party swooped down, catching the teamsters by surprise. There were 10 wagons, all heavily laden with goods, attended by wagon master Nathan Long and eleven men.

In the initial assault, Long and three teamsters were killed and another man was wounded, falling inside a wagon and believed by his comrades to be dead. Three Indians were shot down, one fatally. After a cautious siege, the Indians keeping their distance to avoid the marksmanship of the teamsters, the surviving seven white men made a dash for some nearby woods and were hotly pursued by a group of mounted braves. Two of the men were killed and the others managed to escape and hide in the thicket.

The raiders stayed back from the wagons, fearful of a trap. Finally, a young Kiowa warrior named Hau-tau raced to one of the wagons and claimed it was his own property. An instant later a rifle was thrust from the wagon and a bullet smashed into Hau-tau's face. The fatal shot (the warrior died several days later) was fired by the wounded teamster.
The Indians fell upon the wagons in savage fury, seizing the wounded teamster and tying him to a wagon tongue, face down. A fire was built under him and he was slowly roasted. The bodies of the other men were mutilated horribly before the war party gathered up their loot, rounded up 41 mules belonging to the Warren Mercantile Company and headed back to the reservation at Fort Sill. A heavy rain covered their trail.

Troops under Col. Mackenzie found the remains of the wagon train, which had been carrying grain from the railroad at Weatherford, Indian Territory, to Fort Griffin. Suspecting that the raiders would go directly to the reservation in the belief they would be safe there, the troopers followed. Sherman was informed of the massacre and arrived at Fort Sill a few days later. It is difficult to understand the reasoning of a man like Satanta. He was raised to believe that a life of warfare and plunder was the right and proper life for a warrior, and he did not believe that he would be punished for it.

Lawrie Tatum, the Indian Agent at Fort Sill, was a Quaker and had handled his charges with brotherly love and kindness. Despite his non-violent beliefs, Tatum had come to the conclusion, even before the wagon train massacre, that his peace policy would not work with the Kiowa-Comanche bands. Now he asked Satanta if he and his men were responsible for the raid. To his horror, Satanta then demanded that guns and ammunition be supplied to his men so they could continue their degradations. Tatum, sick at heart, suggested that Satanta speak to General Sherman about it. Sherman sent word that the Indian leaders should meet him in council on the front porch of Colonel Grierson's house at Fort Sill.

Satanta, Big Tree, Satank, Lone Wolf, Kicking Bird and Stumbling Bear kept the appointment. Kicking Bird was a worker for peace and tried to restrain his fellow chiefs from telling about their part in the massacre, but Satanta proudly told the whole story. Sherman then announced that Satanta, Satank and Big Tree must go to Texas and be tried in the civil court for the murders. He further said that the tribe must make restitution to the owners of the wagons and mules. Satanta started to draw his pistol, saying that he would rather be shot than stand trial. He was quickly covered by carbines of the troopers. Kicking Bird tried to plead for the accused chiefs, but Sherman was adamant. Stumbling Bear, who was an advocate of peace, upbraided his men and then announced that he would kill Sherman himself. He drew his bow, but some of his friends grabbed him and the arrow went wild. Then Lone Wolf aimed his gun at the general, and was tackled to the ground by Grierson. Sherman reiterated his demand that the three chiefs of the wagon train raid must be taken to trial.

The prisoners were piled into wagons and taken toward Fort Richardson. Old Satank chose to die in a futile attempt to kill his guards, but Satanta and Big Tree stood trial and were condemned to hang. The governor of Texas commuted their sentences to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. After two years they were released on condition that their tribe refrained from further warlike activities. Actually, their release was brought about by unrest among the Kiowas, now under the leadership of the implacable Lone Wolf. The great chief held out for the freedom of his friends as terms of peace.

When there were further raids in Texas, it was widely said that Satanta was involved. Actually, he was hunting buffalo at the time, but his notoriety was such that he was arrested and returned to prison in 1874. To the freedom loving chief, such a life was untenantable, and his health and spirits declined rapidly. On October 11, 1878, he brought an end to his unhappy existence by diving headfirst from the upper story of the prison hospital. His skull was smashed on the concrete floor.

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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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