In early 1869, General Sheridan ordered all Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, and Comanches to come to Fort Cobb and surrender. The Kiowas refused because they had confidence in the treaty they’d signed in 1867, which granted them hunting rights south of Arkansas—there could be no point in “living on the white man’s handouts.”
Sheridan’s mission was to “tame” the powerful tribes of the Great Plains by forcing them to live on a small reservation near Fort Cobb.
Rather than risk a fight, Kiowa chiefs, including Chief Satanta and Chief Lone Wolf, went to Fort Cobb to negotiate with General George Armstrong Custer. Custer refused to shake the chiefs’ hands. He impressed upon the chiefs that they must surrender at Fort Cobb or face destruction. Then, Custer ordered that the chiefs be placed under arrest immediately. The remaining Kiowas were “forced to give up their freedom” by coming to Fort Cobb.
From the beginning, Brown establishes that Custer looks down on Native Americans (as almost all U.S. generals of the era would have done). He doesn’t seem to think of them as human beings, let alone as worthy of his respect or honor.
General Sheridan ordered that Satanta and Lone Wolf be released from prison, and Satanta assured Sheridan that his people would never break the peace with the U.S government, so U.S. troops moved the Kiowas and Comanches to a reservation. There, the tribes had to survive by farming rather than by hunting buffalo, as they’d always done. As a result, many men ran away from the reservation and returned to a life of hunting.
Notice that on the reservation, tribes that traditionally survived by hunting were forced to switch to a new, more traditionally European form of subsistence: agriculture. This reflects the process of cultural genocide occurring in America at the time, whereby tribes were made to give up their ways of life.
In 1870, a group of Kiowas, including Lone Wolf and Chief Kicking Bird, left the reservation and rode off to Fort Richardson, Texas. Kicking Bird led his soldiers in a successful attack on the U.S. soldiers, killing many, and then rode back to the reservation.
Like other successful guerrilla warriors Brown discusses, Kicking Bird was able to outmaneuver the U.S. army, despite his inferior manpower and firepower.
The Kiowas continued to plan ways of undermining white settlers. They advocated attacking settlers and burning white settlements in buffalo country. In May 1871, an army of Kiowas rode across the Red River into Texas. The army raided a passing train.
The Kiowas were some of the most brutal Native American warriors of the period: they responded in kind to the white settlers who used horrific terrorist tactics against Native Americans.
Shortly after the train raid, Satanta and other Kiowa chiefs met with government agents to discuss rations. The government agents brought up the train raid, and Satanta—who hadn’t been involved in the raid at all—took responsibility for it. He demanded that the U.S government give the Kiowas more guns, or else risk further raids. The agents told Satanta that he should meet with General Sherman. Soon afterwards, a group of Kiowa chiefs, including Satanta, met with General Sherman. Sherman immediately had the group arrested for murder. Satanta was tried for murder in July of 1871, and the jury, made up of white ranchers, convicted him. Satanta was sentenced to be hanged; his peers, meanwhile, were imprisoned. However, the Texas governor gave Satanta a life sentence, rather than risk war with the Kiowas. Nevertheless, the Kiowas had lost their most important leadership.
General Sherman’s tricks are typical of his long career dealing with Native Americans—indeed, he used a similar trick to arrest a group of chiefs in an earlier chapter. Because of this “dirty trick,” Sherman was able to “behead” the Kiowa resistance: without Satanta, the Kiowas were left weak and vulnerable to the U.S. army.
By 1872, there was a schism within the Kiowa tribe between the followers of Lone Wolf and the followers of Kicking Bird. Lone Wolf—whose ideas were more popular among the Kiowas—argued that the Kiowas should continue hunting buffalo, instead of embracing agriculture. He expressed his ideas to a special government commissioner during a visit to Washington, D.C. During the visit, Lone Wolf received an ultimatum: the Kiowas must resettle at Fort Sill or else risk being shot. Lone Wolf agreed, on the condition that the government release the Kiowa chiefs, including Satanta, from prison.
Notice that as the book goes on, the U.S. military becomes increasingly more confident and aggressive in its demands: here, the military is powerful enough to give the Kiowas a clear ultimatum, rather than negotiating to avoid outright war. Because the book proceeds chronologically, this could reflect the fact that, as the 19th century went on, the U.S. military became more powerful and the Native American resistance for the most part got weaker.
By the fall of 1872, the Kiowas had begun relocating to Fort Sill. However, there were still many Comanches who refused to relocate, despite the government’s ultimatum. Many of these people were murdered by U.S. soldiers. Furthermore, the government still hadn’t released Satanta and his peers from prison—the commissioners claimed that they’d only be released after all Kiowas had completed the relocation process. Kicking Bird complained that the government had “deceived us.” Recognizing that the Kiowas would go to war unless their chiefs were freed immediately, the governor of Texas released Satanta and his peers.
In effect, the U.S. military held Satanta hostage—which certainly was not what the Kiowas had envisioned when they agreed to comply with the military. Once again, the U.S. military acted “dishonorably,” in part because its commanders didn’t believe that Native Americans were worthy of their honor or respect.
Shortly after the release of Satanta, Lone Wolf’s nephew was killed in a fight with a group of soldiers. Lone Wolf swore revenge on the people of Texas. In the spring of 1874, he and an army of Kiowa warriors rode out to recover his nephew’s body. During the journey, Lone Wolf encountered huge fields of slaughtered buffalo. In the 1870s, it’s now known, white settlers killed millions of buffalo. General Philip Sheridan once said, “Let [the settlers] kill … until the buffalo is exterminated, as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance.”
In this short passage, Brown discusses one of the darkest chapters in Native American history: the slaughter of buffalo. White settlers killed literally millions of buffalo, often for no practical reason whatsoever. Brown strongly implies that the settlers were trying to weaken the Native American population by cutting off one of their most important food sources. In this way, the killing of buffalo was probably one of the most horrific cases of genocide in American history.
Furious with white settlers for their cruelty and destructiveness, Lone Wolf’s army of Kiowa warriors began a series of raids on white buffalo hunters. The warriors’ medicine man had told them that his magic would protect them against white settlers’ bullets. But in raid after raid, the Kiowa soldiers were defeated by the settlers’ superior firepower.
As the 20th century approached, there were a handful of Native American religious movements that claimed to give their followers immunity to weapons used by white settlers. The most notable of these was the Ghost Dance Movement, which Brown will discuss in the final two chapters.
By 1875, there were only a few hundred Kiowa warriors left under Lone Wolf’s command. Lone Wolf had no choice but to surrender at Fort Sill. He and his fellow chiefs were sentenced to jail, and within a year he was dead. In less than a decade, the Kiowas had gone from one of the mightiest Native American tribes to a “broken” people.
Like so many other tribes of the era, the Kiowas fought a brave resistance to the U.S. army and lost, and thereafter became a weak, traumatized group.