American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Kicking Bird

Best-known as head of the peace faction during the Kiowa Wars of the 1870s, one of Kicking Bird's (Kiowa, 1835–1875) grandfathers was a Crow captive who had been adopted into the Kiowa nation. The Kiowas called him Watohkonk, meaning "black eagle," as well as Tene-Angpote, "eagle striking with talons" or simply "Kicking Bird." Kicking Bird's one wife was called Guadalupe. At the time of his death, Kicking Bird was a staunch proponent of education and had persuaded Thomas C. Battey, the Kiowa Indian agent, to build a school for Kiowa children.

Kicking Bird became a noted warrior as a young man. Growing older, he began to accept the counsel of Little Mountain (a principal chief of the Kiowas), who asserted that a peaceful approach to relations with the whites was better than military actions. In 1865, Kicking Bird signed the Little Arkansas Treaty, which established a Kiowa reservation that was further described in the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867.

With the demise of Little Mountain in 1866, Kicking Bird became the Kiowas' major leader of the peace party, with Satanta representing the war faction. To resolve this split in 1866, the Kiowas turned to Lone Wolf as the compromise choice for principal chief. However, Lone Wolf was unable to unite the opposing forces in his nation. During 1870, Kicking Bird was called a coward at a Sun Dance on the North Fork of the Red River. To disprove such allegations, he commanded a war party of about 100 men against a detachment of U.S. troops in Texas. During the resulting battle, Kicking Bird proved his valor by personally charging into a unit of about fifty soldiers, slaying one of them with his lance.

Kicking Bird still could not assuage his peoples' resentment regarding reservation conditions. Brian C. Hosmer wrote in a biography of him that, by late 1873, the war faction was raiding in Texas and Mexico. During these raids two young warriors, one the nephew and the other the son of paramount Chief Lone Wolf, were killed. Motivated by revenge and angered by the continued slaughter of the buffalo, Kiowa warriors attacked immigrants on the frontier. Kicking Bird kept his followers on the reservation, but some Kiowas, including Bird Bow, White Shield, White Horse, Howling Wolf, and perhaps Satanta and Lone Wolf, joined with Quanah Parker's Quahadi Comanches in the unsuccessful attack on Adobe Walls on June 27, 1874 (Hosmer, 2004).

Hosmer continued, describing the end of Satanta's career as a war chief in late 1874 and Lone Wolf's surrender early in 1975. Kicking Bird thus remained the only notable Kiowa leader.

In 1875, to influence the Kiowas, the Army gave Kicking Bird the title "principal chief." Hosmer wrote that, as chief and principal intermediary between the tribe and federal authorities, Kicking Bird was placed in charge of the hostile Indians captured during the uprising of 1874 and 1875. This position allowed Kicking Bird to protect some of his followers from danger, but it also placed him under the influence of the Army (Hosmer, 2004).

Kicking Bird's cooperation with the Army was seen as treason by some of the Kiowas. When officers from Fort Sill gave Kicking Bird a horse, Kicking Bird's reputation as a collaborator was further reinforced. Following Kicking Bird's sudden death on May 4, 1875, at Cache Creek (in Indian Territory), it was widely believed that a cup of coffee he had recently consumed had been poisoned (Hosmer, 2004). Several other Kiowas asserted that Kicking Bird was killed by witchcraft. According to Hosmer, Kiowa lore alleges that Mamanti used his medicinal powers to kill his long-time adversary. Mamanti himself died shortly after hearing of Kicking Bird's death.

Kicking Bird was buried as a Christian at Fort Sill, Kansas, even though he had never been converted. His grave was marked by a simple wooden cross. After the cross decayed, the exact location of Kicking Bird's remains was forgotten (Hosmer, 2004).

Bruce E. Johansen


Further Reading
Hosmer, Brian C. 2004. "Kicking Bird." Red River Authority of Texas. Available at: http://www.rra.dst.tx.us/c_t/history/archer/people/KICK ING%20BIRD.cfm. Accessed January 17, 2007.; Johansen, Bruce E., and Donald A. Grinde, Jr. 1997. Encyclopedia of Native American Biography. New York: Henry Holt.; Mayhall, Mildred. [1962] 1971. The Kiowas, 2nd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.; Nye, Wilbur Sturtevant. [1939] 1969. Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill, 3rd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
 

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