“Attack on the Kiowa”
excerpted from . . .
Thomas Goodrich, Scalp Dance: Indian
Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879.
The Kiowas too were persistently victimized by the U.S. Cavalry. One of the most significant and bloodiest incidents took place in 1833. On this occasion a large body of soldiers rode westward past Clermont’s village on the Verdigris River near present Claremore to the salt plains of north-central Oklahoma. En route they discovered a Kiowa party’s trail leading to the northeast.
Concluding that the Kiowas were not headed for the Verdigirs, the soldiers tracked their trail back southwestward to the Kiowa camp at Rainy Mountain Creek near the Wichita Mountains. According to Kiowa accounts given many years later, some of the young men learned of the soldiers’ presence when they found a buffalo with a cavalry bullet in it. Others claimed that there was an exchange of gunfire before the virtually defenseless Kiowa camp fled in alarm, splitting into four divisions. One Kiowa group, thinking it was safe, went into camp on Otter Creek.
The pursuing soldiers found the camp and surrounded it. They waited through the night and at daybreak began creeping up to attack. A Kiowa youngster who had risen early to look for his ponies saw the soldiers and hurried to warn his chief. The chief immediately ran from his lodge, calling to his people, “To the rocks! To the rocks!”
The Kiowas fled in all directions with the gun-and saber-wielding soldiers in pursuit. Panic-stricken mothers, carrying babies or dragging tots, scurried frantically for safety; old men and women stumbled helplessly along; terrified young girls screamed as they dashed to escape; adolescent boys, already trained in the defense of their village, fought to hold back the enemy long enough to permit others to escape.
Few made it to the rocks. Virtually all were caught by the merciless soldiers and killed on the spot. Only two prisoners, a ten-year-old boy and his twelve-year-old sister, were taken. Five men and a large number of women and children were killed in the massacre. But the soldiers were not done. They began applying their victory trademark, hacking off heads from the bodies of their victims. This done, the heads were then placed in brass buckets around the camp. The bodies were left strewn around the smoldering remains of the village, which the soldiers burned to the last tipi.
Among those killed was the wife of the Kiowa keeper of the tribal spiritual medicine bag, the taime, as she tried to untie it from the tipi pole. The soldiers carried off the precious taime. This was a severe blow to the entire Kiowa tribe; the Kiowas did not hold their annual sun dance for two years.
The soldiers also discovered a large amount of Mexican bullion in the camp. This had been captured by the Kiowas in the Texas Panhandle the year before when they had attacked a group of American traders returning to Missouri from Santa Fe. The soldiers took the money-along with over a hundred Kiowa scalps, the captive children, and some four hundred horses-with them back to Fort Hays. The jubilant soldiers celebrated the victory with several nights of drinking and feasting. In the Kiowa calendar, the event became known as “the summer that they cut off their heads.”