The Texas Kiowa Indians

by R. E. Moore

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Kiowa man and his wife.

The Kiowa lived in and around the Texas panhandle. This includes western Oklahoma and northeast New Mexico. They were nomadic buffalo hunters. That makes them hunter gatherers. They were famous for their long distance raids. Some of these raids went all the way down into Mexico and way up almost to Canada. They were friends and close allies with the Comanche who lived in the same region.

Click here for a map showing where the Kiowa lived

Like the Comanche, they lived in tee-pees. Tee-pees are easy to move and being nomads the Kiowa moved all the time. They moved to follow buffalo herds. Buffalo meat was their most important food. They also gathered plants, roots and berries to eat when they could find them. The women did this gathering. The men hunted.

They organized themselves by age. This is called age grade social organization. This means people of certain age ranges would belong to social organizations. As a person got older he or she would move from one social organization to the next. The boys and young men's organizations were the most important.

Here is a nice example of Kiowa dress. This lady is wearing an elk tooth blouse. The elk teeth are the white things in rows. They are sewn onto the blouse. The blouse is probably made of elk skin.

Elk teeth and skin was believed to be powerful love magic. A woman wearing elk skin and teeth was irresistible to men.

The Kiowa speak a language called Tanoan or Kiowa-Tanoan. Tanoan is a large family of several related languages. Kiowa is a form of Tanoan. This is important because there are other Tanoan speakers, the Pueblo Indians. Not all of the Pueblo Indians speak Tanoan. But, most of the Rio Grande river valley Pueblos speak a form of Tanoan. Tiwa is one branch of the Tanoan language. Towa and Tewa are two other closely related Tanoan languages.

Language is an important way to trace ancestry because whole tribes do not drop one language and start speaking another. By looking at the relationship between cultures who speak related languages you can begin to see how societies are related and where they come from.

Most of the Tanoan speakers live in south New Mexico along the Rio Grande river. The Tigua in El Paso Texas are another Tanoan speaking tribe. They speak a form of Tanoan called Tiwa. In fact, the word Tigua in Spanish is pronounced Tiwa. Also, you can add or remove the "o" and compare Kiowa with Tiwa or Tiowa or Kiwa with Tiwa. The "T" and the "K" are pronounced very much the same way.

The other Texas tribe that probably spoke Tiwa or a form of Tanoan are the Jumano. In fact, Dr. Nancy Hickerson, author of "The Jumano", UT press, speculates that the Kiowa may be descendants of the Plains Jumano.

Another Tiwa speaking Pueblo tribe is still close to the old Kiowa land. The Taos Indians live in the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. You can find this on a map. Just look in north eastern New Mexico for the city of Taos. The pueblo is right next to the town. It is still there and the Taos Indians still live there.

It is a little know fact that the land the Kiowa claim in the Texas Panhandle used to have Pueblo villages. There are a number of Pueblo ruins along and near the Canadian River. These ruins were abandoned around 1350-1400

There are other Tiwa speaking Pueblo tribes. The Isleta Pueblos speak Tiwa and live near modern Albuquerque. In Spanish times a whole region just south of modern Albuquerque with many Tiwa Pueblos was called Tiguex.

The Pueblo Indians live in big buildings called, ready now, pueblos. A pueblo is like a big apartment house with lots of rooms. Pueblos are made of big mud bricks. They look pretty cool and you should get a picture of one to look at. They grow corn, beans and squash. Taos Pueblo is famous for trading with the plains Indian tribes for buffalo hides and meat. They traded corn for these things. Now that you know about the Kiowa’s relatives, lets look at the Kiowa.

It is not clear just where the Kiowa came from. Kiowa tradition says they came from the north up near Montana. The fact that they speak Tanoan suggests they came from New Mexico. It is possible that they are a group of Puebloan Indians who migrated north long ago and then migrated back. The Pueblo have old stories that say that they migrated in all four cardinal directions -- north, south, east and west. This was long ago. The stories say that after they had migrated east, west, south and north they returned to New Mexico and Arizona. They say where they live now in New Mexico and Arizona is the center of the earth, the best place to be.

Some of these stories tell about monkeys and parrots that could only be found far to the south. Other stories tell about ice and deep snow, like what is found in the far north. The Kiowa also have stories of going south till they saw monkeys and parrots and of the far north and snow and ice. The Kiowa stories match up nicely with the Puebloan stories.

One Kiowa story tells about a place far up north, Bear Butte. That's the Indian name. The white man name is Devil's Tower. I like the name Bear Butte better. A butte is like a small mountain with a flat top. Bear Butte is in Montana near the South Dakota border. It is near the Black Hills in South Dakota. The Black Hills a very holy place for several Plains Indian tribes. The Lakota were the last tribe to live there, but the Kiowa, Cheyenne and several other tribes consider Bear Butte and the Black Hills a sacred place. Here are some pictures of Bear Butte. These pictures was taken at a ceremony on the old Sun Dance grounds next to the butte. These pictures were taken with the permission of the ceremony leaders because they wanted people to see that it took place. The fact that the Kiowa consider Bear Butte one of their sacred places shows they have been there and not just on a short visit.

Bear Butte. The Kiowa say a boy and girl were being chased by a giant bear and they climbed to the top of the butte to escape. The bear clawed at the sides trying to climb up and get them. Look close and you can still see the claw marks on the sides of Bear Butte. That is how it got its name.

Here are the Lakota and northern Cheyenne doing a horse ceremony on the old Sundance grounds at Bear Butte. The man in the middle with the black jacket is Arvil Lookinghorse. Arvil is the keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle of the Lakota.

Now, a neat story. Remember what the nomadic Indians used to carry their stuff before they had the horse? DOGS. They used dogs to pull or carry stuff when they moved around. So guess what the nomadic Indians on the plains called the first horses they saw? Sacred dogs. They thought they were some kind of giant dog from the gods. They learned later they were just horses, but the name stuck. Most Indian tribes still call horses sacred dogs. Click here to go to the "Indians and Horses" page for more about Indians and horses.

Kiowa baby in a papoose. Look at the colorful blue and red beadwork above the baby's head and on the brown leather parts. This is like a backpack. Indian mothers would carry the baby in the papoose around with them on their backs.

The Kiowa are famous for their beadwork. They would bead all kinds of things.

Beaded Kiowa moccasins

A beaded horse halter.

So, where are the Kiowa today?

They were moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. The Kiowa used live on the same reservation as the Caddo and Wichita Indians around Anadarko Oklahoma. Times were pretty hard on the reservation.

These are Kiowas waiting for their monthly food ration from the reservation commissary around 1900. It gives a little insight into what life must have been like on the reservation.

This reservation was closed down, but the Kiowa still live there. In 1989 there were about 5000 of them living in Oklahoma. I was just there last summer (1998) and I saw quite a few Kiowas. They have a nice little museum in Anadarko where you can see some of their crafts.

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Copyright by R. E. Moore and Texarch Associates, 1999, 2000, 2012 all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.




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