In 1833, an especially bright meteor shower awoke the Kiowas and earned a special place in Kiowa history, as it is considered a marker of the beginning of a new historical period. The Tai-me bundle had recently been stolen by Osages, which was a tragedy, and the Kiowas had just made their first treaty with the U.S. government. The falling stars symbolized to the Kiowas the upheaval of the order of their lives.
That the Kiowas marked the new historical period with a natural phenomenon rather than a significant political one (the treaty, or the Tai-me bundle’s theft) shows, again, the centrality of nature to Kiowa life. It also shows the ways in which nature and humans were seen to be connected: a meteor shower was seen to be of a piece with major political events.
Momaday then zooms out to place the golden age of the Kiowas from about 1740-1840, though the culture persisted in decline until the late 1800s. Momaday writes that the culture is “gone” with “little material evidence” of its existence, but it is still “within the reach of memory.” These memories are fading with time, but Momaday emphasizes that the Kiowa verbal tradition transcends memory in order to carry their culture forward.
Momaday began the book by emphasizing the importance of the verbal tradition, and he closes it in this way as well. It’s important to underscore this because the lack of material evidence for Kiowa history, alongside the presence of a strong oral tradition, dictates the way that Kiowa history is told and accounts for the differences between Euro-American-style history and Kiowa history. This also points to the importance of memory. Memory is all that is left of many aspects of Kiowa history and culture, which means that it is of vital importance to Kiowa survival.
Momaday then states that living memory and verbal tradition were brought together for him in a person, Ko-sahn, a hundred year-old woman who had one of the last living memories of the Sun Dance. He describes meeting her after both of his grandparents were already dead, and listening to her story about the Sun Dance. She told of tying a cloth to a tree as an offering to Tai-me, about the men having brought the sacrificial buffalo in from the plains, and about the songs people sang. The dancers, after being treated with buffalo medicine, began to dance and everyone was dressed up. The woman described how beautiful it was, and said it was a long time ago. Momaday then reflects about her, thinking that she must have wondered who she was, as someone with all these memories in a changing world. He wonders if she sometimes thought of the falling stars.
This ending ties many of the book’s themes together. It explicitly conjoins elderly people, memory, and the survival of Kiowa culture by telling of the woman who witnessed the Sun Dance. Since the Sun Dance was a ceremony that defined Kiowa culture and religion, the woman’s memories and stories of the Sun Dance embodied Kiowa history, even as Kiowa culture was in decline. Momaday ends the book on a note of tempered optimism, allowing the woman’s memories of the Kiowa golden age to suggest the latent greatness of the Kiowas in the present day. The question of whether the woman sometimes thought of the falling stars, though, is a reminder that the Kiowas cannot return to the past.