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Satanta, Kiowa Chief

16 Jun

Satanta, or Settiante (White Bear), was a Kiowa war chief.  Born around 1820, the son of Chief Red Tipi and a Spanish captive, he was in some ways similar the Comanche leader Quanah Parker, in that he was a formidable warrior and has been called the last great chief of his tribe.

There is occasionally some confusion between the above Satanta, a Kiowa, and Santana (also known as Santa Anna), a Comanche.  The Texas town of Santa Anna is actually named for the latter Comanche chief Santana, as opposed to either our subject today (Satanta) or the Mexican ruler by the same name (Santa Anna).

The Kiowas were known to have come to the Southern Plains from western Montana through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the 1600s to 1700s.  By the 1800s they were established in the Panhandle area of Texas, ranging south and southeasterly from there.  Their tribal headquarters are now in Carnegie, Oklahoma.  The tribe is large and their native language is still spoken.

Around 1840, the Kiowas, Kiowa Apaches, and Comanches united with the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos at Bent’s Fort in southern Colorado in an alliance, allowing them to range and trade supplies, horses and captives among the tribes for several decades.  They would trade among themselves and together they would fight the Anglo settlers as they came west to establish their settlements.

It is believed that Satanta was born around the Canadian River.  He became a tribal sub-chief under Chief Dohäsan as a result of his leadership, his considerable speaking and fighting abilities.  From the 1830s to the 1850s it is believed that he took part in Kiowa campaigns against the Ute and Cheyenne tribes as the Kiowa ranged as far as southern Texas and Mexico.  He fought in the first battle of Adobe Walls in 1864 in opposition to Kit Carson and his forces.  One of the notable things done by Satanta in that battle was his blowing of bugle calls on a captured instrument, which confused Carson’s troops and helped to force them to withdraw.

There were a number of failed treaties with the United States government, leading to more hostilities between the various Native American inhabitants and with the Kiowas in particular,  as settlers continued to pour into the area.  Chief Dohäsan died  around 1866, leaving the tribal leadership in flux for a few critical years.  Satanta emerged as a leader during that period culminating in a successful defense of the tribe at Ft. Zarah, Kansas in an incident that began with the death of a young Kiowa warrior at a civilian camp near the fort.

In the years that followed, Satanta led Kiowa attacks on wagon trains, notably the 1871 Warren Wagon Train incident near the current town of Graham, Texas in which a half dozen teamsters were killed and their bodies mutilated.  At this time, the Kiowa were confined to a reservation, but Satanta had admitted to these and other attacks that occurred in the area of responsibility of the well known Army General William T. Sherman, who personally arrested Satanta.

Satanta and two other leaders, Big Tree and Satank, were the first Native American leaders to be tried in United States courts for actions that took place on their raids.  The trial was to have been held in Jacksboro, Texas.  Satank attempted escape and was killed while being transported to Jacksboro for trial.  Satanta was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.  However, Reconstruction era governor Edmund J. Davis commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, perhaps under pressure from the government and thinking that this might serve as a better deterrent to the remaining tribe than his execution.  Satanta was freed after serving two years in Huntsville State Penitentiary in Central Texas.  He was later accused of having violated the terms of his parole by being at least present (though he may have not have taken part) at the second battle of Adobe Walls.

Satanta was returned to the Huntsville state prison after again being apprehended in 1874.  In 1878, Satanta attempted to commit suicide by cutting his chest and legs.  He was taken to the prison hospital and treated.  However, he was later able to commit suicide on October 11, 1878 by leaping head first from an upstairs window of the hospital.  This incident is thought to be the inspiration for Larry McMurtry in the death of his character Blue Duck (likely an amalgamation of several historical individuals), in McMurtry’s book Lonesome Dove.  Satanta was first interred at the Huntsville prison cemetery, but in 1963 his remains were reinterred at Fort Sill, Oklahoma at the request of his grandson, James Auchiah.

One of Satanta’s sons was Mark Auchiah (1872-1935), who along with his brother Odlepah both served in the 7th Cavalry of the United States Army, Indian Troop I under General Hugh L. Scott out of Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.  Mark was also an artist.

A grandson of Satanta and son of Mark Auchiah is the well known artist James Auchiah (1906-1974), noted for his paintings of traditional Kiowa figures.  Born near Medicine Park, Oklahoma, the younger Auchiah studied art at St. Patrick’s Indian Mission School in Anadarko, Oklahoma.  He later participated in further studies for Kiowa students at the University of Oklahoma School of Art under Dr. Oscar B. Jacobson.  He mostly worked in the media of tempera and water color.  James rose to prominence with his artistry and is known one of the “Kiowa Six,” the leading Kiowa artists of the tribe.  He also served in the United States Coast Guard in World War II.  Following the war, he was a painter in the installations section at Ft. Sill.  After his retirement from that position in 1967, James joined the staff at the Ft. Sill Museum as curator of ethology and as Indian historical advisor.  At all times, he was active with his artistic endeavors.  His various works are on display at the Gilcrease Museum, the Fort Sill Museum and in various other private collections around the country.

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