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    Follow the Stories | Denver, Colorado (2010)

    Memoirs by H.S. Kilbourne


    Posted: 4.12.2010

    Photo of Satanta with bow and arrow
    Undated portrait of Santata, a Kiowa chief, by W.S. Soule.

    The following story is from a manuscript by Henry Sayles Kilbourne (1840-1910), who planned a book based on his experiences stationed on the American Plains as a contract surgeon with the 10th U.S. Cavalry at various times between 1862 and 1875. Kilbourne's memoir was never published, but drafts of three chapters have been preserved by his descendants, who have allowed ANTIQUES ROADSHOW to publish them for the first time here.

    The Arrest of the Kiowa Chiefs

    In the Summer of the year 1871, the General of the Army made a personal inspection of the military posts on the northern frontier of Texas, and crossing Red River by fording came suddenly and unexpectedly to the Agency of the Comanches, on Cache Creek, a northern tributary of that stream. On his way it happened that he passed the wreck of a wagon train of freighters which had just before been attacked by a war party of Indians. The wagons had been looted of their valuables, the horses and mules driven off and the trainmen killed and scalped, some having been tied to the wheels of their wagons and burnt alive. The general arrived at the Agency fresh from this scene of savage cruelty and at once began an inquiry to discover the perpetrators. No news of the occurrence had previously reached the station, and nothing had yet been done in the affair. The agent, a worthy Quaker, whose methods of administration were all leniency and kindness, was informed of the event and requested to send word to the Kiowas, who were suspected, that all the Kiowas must come into the Agency from their camps, and that the chief of all the white soldiers was there, and had something to say to them. In response to the call the Indians soon began to straggle in from their camps, from all directions. In three days all who could be reached had come in and encamped in the valley in the vicinity of the Agency distant about three miles from the military post. They had responded without hesitation, never before having seen the general, and not aware that they were to be called upon to answer for the murder of the trainmen. The Agent was then requested to make informal inquiry among them, to ascertain if possible, the names of those taking part in the tragedy. To his intense surprise they at once acknowledged the crime, but Sa-tan-ta one of the war chief's boasted of it saying "that if the Comanches say that they had anything to do with the fight, then they lie. I and my Kiowa brave young men fought that fight well, and we took many scalps and plenty of horses." On hearing this the Agent returned to the general and told him that he was afraid the Indians were guilty, and asked him what should be done. "Tell Satanta and all those who were with him in the fight," said the general, "that I wish to see them here and have a talk with them about it. I want to know those brave men." The agent agreed and returned to the camp to deliver the message. In the meantime preparations were made to secure the expected visitors. The troops were ordered instantly to form under arms, the infantry to assemble inside their barracks, the cavalry to saddle and fall in within the walls of their stable yards, there to await orders. The main guard to be doubled, and, with the officer of the day, to take post on each side of the house where the general had established his temporary headquarters. All this was done in haste, but with no hurry or disorder, and so quietly that many people in the garrison knew nothing of the arrangements in progress.

    All those Kiowas here present, who killed the teamsters, I shall send back to Texas to be tried. ... You Sa-tan-ta, and Sa-tank, and you Big Tree and you Lone Wolf, I arrest now.

    After some delay the Indians, mounted on their ponies began to straggle into the quadrangle, enclosed on all sides by the barracks and quarters of the troops. Riding first, leading the motley procession came Sa-tan-ta the boaster, with Big Tree, a young brave gaily decorated with vermilion paint and eagle feathers. Next Sa-tank, an old chief, and Sa-lo-so, son of Sa-tan-ta, well mounted and equipped, rode side by side. Then came Big Bow, Kicking Bird, and Woman's Heart, all chiefs, prancing along bedecked in much savage finery, the pennons of their spears streaming in the wind. Lone Wolf followed attended by many braves of lesser note, and Lone Wolf's son, a young and rising chief, bestriding a war pony adorned with braided mane and tail. In the rear rode Stumbling Bear, a big, fat chief, curious to see the great white chief, and expecting to behold a much bigger man than himself.

    The general and some of his staff came out of his quarters to receive them, and as many as could, seated or squatted themselves on the veranda. "Tell them," said the general to the interpreter, "what I saw on the march here, before crossing the river." The shocking story was then related in the Indian tongue, with some vivid embellishments in the sign language. The Indians heard in silence. "Now tell them" continued the general, "that I know the Kiowas have done this thing." This was also done. Then Sa-tan-ta, seeing the gathering storm of wrath, arose and said, "The Agent gave the Kiowas a bad talk. It is true that the Kiowas go with the Comanches to Texas. That is the country of the Comanches. It belongs to them. They are our friends and brothers, and they ask us to go with them. The Kiowas are brave men. They have done no wrong."

    "That is enough," said the general, when this had been interpreted. "Now hear what I have to say. The Comanches have no business in Texas, and they must keep out of that country, and the Kiowas with them. They and the Kiowas must never cross the Red River again. All those Kiowas here present, who killed the teamsters, I shall send back to Texas to be tried there by the white men for the crime of killing those white people. You Sa-tan-ta, and Sa-tank, and you Big Tree and you Lone Wolf, I arrest now."

    Here he paused for a moment, and the guards, with their carbines loaded and ready, filed out from the sides of the house, closing in at the front and barring the way. At the same moment a platoon of cavalry rode at a sharp trot into each of the intervals between the building surrounding the great quadrangle of the parade, closing all avenues of escape. At this sight the Indians sprang to their feet, some began to string their bows, others threw off their blankets and robes, and commenced to load their guns and pistols, which they had brought in, concealed underneath. The general sat quite still looking at Sa-tan-ta, who at first made a movement as thought he would shoot and then quietly turned to go, but seeing the carbines of the guards very near his head, sat down again. Some of the others followed his example.

    Sa-tank was having trouble with the loading of an old carbine and fumbled excitedly with its worn and disabled mechanism. Big Tree jumped from the veranda and tried to push through the guard to reach his pony, tied to the railing in front of the house, but being overtaken and brought back sat down for a moment. Then suddenly springing through the open door into the main hall of the house, he ran through it, passing the huddling, terrified domestics, to the back of the house, and ran swiftly down the hill to the traders store at the bottom. Through this he dashed, crashing out again through a glass door in the rear, and into a garden behind it. Here he was over taken and surrounded by a pursuing cavalry patrol. He then stopped, sat down on the ground, and pulling his robe over his head awaited his fate. This was not the instant death he had expected. He was disarmed and led away by his captors to the guard house to cool off, and confined there as a prisoner of war. Meantime, and at the beginning of the excitement, the guards had cocked their carbines and stood like statues, each man covering his Indian, and waiting for an order to fire. A single slip of a finger, or the discharge of a single piece would certainly, at this critical moment, have been followed by fighting at close quarters, and the loss of many lives. But the order was never given. The Indians surprised at the suddenness of the action, and quickly comprehending that resistance would have been futile and hopeless, sat down again, one by one, and finally began to excuse themselves of complicity in the affair.

    While this renewed talking was going on, a young Comanche, who had come in along with the party of Kiowas, seeing the state of the case, attempted to escape by riding furiously at one of the exits guarded by the troopers, as he came on he was twice ordered to halt, to this he paid no heed, but continued on his rapid course. The platoon on guard opened their ranks to let him pass, admiring his reckless courage. But as he went through, they turned and promptly shot him off his horse. This was the only blood shed on the occasion. The talk on the veranda ended in the surrender and marching off in arrest, of a dozen or more of the chiefs and braves, under charge of the guard. The rest were permitted to go, which they lost no time in doing. But long before this result had been reached, news of the difficulty the Kiowas were in had got wind and gone to the camp at the Agency. All who were there immediately took flight to the hills. So great was the excitement and consternation that they abandoned everything brought along. Teepees remained standing where they had been pitched. Food remained cooking over the fires, saddle and bridles were forgotten by the owners as they made their escape in frantic haste on bareback ponies. In less time than is required to tell the story, the camp became deserted by the panic-stricken tribe. One incident impressed visitors to the deserted camp. The Indian women had brought in their children, some of them quite young and packed away in their odd little baby cases, looking for all the world like diminutive mummies in them. One of them had been left suspended by the loop to a sapling near an abandoned teepee. The little fellow, softly cooing to himself like a bird on the branches, came down from his perch into the arms of a sympathetic white matron, who carried her prize home in triumph, and tenderly cared for it. Subsequently she restored him to his distracted mother, when the fortunes of war permitted.

    On the following day the inquiry in the matter of the massacre being resumed, resulted in the liberation of all but five of the Indians. Sa-tan-ta, Sa-tank, Big Tree, Big Bow, and Quir-par-to, or Lone Wolf, being held as prisoners of war, to be sent to Texas for trial by the Courts of that state. A separate place of confinement was assigned them in the garrison, under charge of a strong guard. Some days later a battalion of cavalry arrived from the Texas frontier stations with orders to receive the prisoners, escort them southward and deliver them to the Texas authorities.

    The Kiowas had been informed of their destination, and received the news stolidly, all excepting Sa-tank, the old chief. He at once began singing the death-song the significance of which was at once understood by the interpreter who informed the officer in charge that Sa-tank had determined to die, and advising that he be closely watched. On the day fixed for their departure the prisoners were searched, and a large hunting knife found concealed on the person of Sa-tank, obtained by him in some unknown way, as all had been disarmed at the time of their arrest.

    The five prisoners with their belongings, were placed in a large army wagon, provided with dismounted guards, who rode in the wagon beside them with leaded carbines. A mounted party of the guards surrounded the vehicle, and the march began. Just after the advancing column had passed the Agency buildings Sa-tank suddenly rose while singing his monotonous chant, and threw himself upon one of the guards, seizing the carbine and quickly turning to the front, fired at the teamster sitting on a wheel mule, with his back toward the wagon and ignorant of his danger. The bullet, truly aimed, struck his head, and rolled him off his saddle to the ground. Sa-tank then, with manacled hands, attempted to reload the piece for a second shot. While so engaged a corporal of the guard, hearing the shot, rode up and seeing at a glance the state of the case, quickly clubbed his carbine and struck the savage a heavy blow across his arms, breaking one of his wrists. But in spite of this terrible injury he continued his efforts to reload the piece. Another of the guards at this instant fired and shot him through the body, inflicting a fatal wound. He died in a moment with the carbine still held in unrelaxing death grip. The other Indians took no part in the melee, but sat cowering on the floor of the wagon. The troops halted for a few minutes. The dead chief and the wounded teamster found a way back to the post. The troops resumed the march without further notable incident. The teamster, a stout young fellow, recovered after a short illness, the bullet having ploughed a furrow along his scalp, instead of smashing his skull.

    The bones of the Indian chief are still preserved to point the moral of his tragic history. His associates were tried and convicted of their crimes and imprisoned for life. But after some years of confinement they were released and permitted to return to their tribe, which, in the meantime, had ceased to harass the borderers. The deterrent effect of this vigorous policy of dealing with the lawless redskins became at once apparent. They did not relish the idea of falling into the hands of the Texans to answer for their conduct and from that time their aggressiveness diminished.

    In the two years following the events narrated, the Qua-ha-das, a most turbulent band of the Comanches, after a brilliant series of cavalry operations abandoned their retreats among the caƱons of the sources of the Red River and took a permanent residence on the reservation assigned to the tribe. At the close of the year 1874 all the Indians belonging to this Agency had become fairly peaceable and the Comanches, so long the terror of the Southwest, led the way to "the white man's road."

    Two figures at least among the Kiowas have something more than a suggestion of heroism. Sa-tan-ta, whose leonine head and mane, tower above the travesty of his dress, as he maintains the claim of the Comanches to their native soil, and through them his own right by courtesy; and Sa-tank of the lean and hungry visage, behind which lived a resolution and reckless, courage, of a Cassius, choosing death before dishonor, and resolving that it shall bring discomfiture to his enemies. If not now, then at some future time, we may have something to learn of the heathen which have been given unto us for an inheritance.

    Read the Kilbourne manuscripts in full here:
    "In a Buffalo Stampede" »
    "The Buffalo Killing of the Palefaces" »
    "The Arrest of the Kiowa Chiefs" »


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