Of all the nomadic Indian tribes who roamed the plains of southwestern Oklahoma, only the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Kiowas celebrated an annual medicine dance. The Comanches, being materialists and skeptics did not indulge, though sometimes they watched the performance staged by their friends and allies, the Kiowas. There are many points of similarity in these sun dances as practiced by the plains Indians; probably this is because all of these people came originally from the northern part of the country, and in the north obtained their idols and rituals. Each tribe possessed certain sacred articles called Medicine, preserved from prehistoric times, and regarded with great veneration. The great medicine of the Kiowas, supposed to have been obtained from the Crows during the period when the tribe lived in the Yellowstone country, consisted of two idols, about eighteen inches in length, and painted to represent human figures. One of these was captured by the Utes in 1868 and has never been recovered; the other is preserved in its traditional kidney-shaped leather pouch, and is guarded by an old woman who lives north of the Wichita Mountains, near the town of Mountain View, Oklahoma. It has not been exposed to view since 1889, and the office of Chief Medicine Man, or Taime Keeper, has expired. The last high priest was a man of part Mexican origin named Mokine (evidently a corruption of the Spanish "Joaquin").
Before he died Mokine explained fully to George Hunt the intricacies and significance of the various features of the sun dance, and Mr. Hunt has related them to the writer2, in order that the Kiowas themselves, especially the younger generations, may know and remember what this ancient folk custom was like, it being unlikely that the dance will ever be revived. Mr. Hunt, a full-blooded Kiowa, personally witnessed and participated in one of the last sun dances, called the "Oak Creek Sun Dance", held above Rainy-mountain Creek in the summer of 1887, and he has spent a life-time studying the history and customs of his people.
The late General Hugh L. Scott compared the Kiowa Taime (pronounced Taimey) to the Ark of the Covenant of the ancient Israelites; it was to the Indians, who also wandered the wilderness, a symbol of religious veneration not entirely dissimilar to the sacred statues, paintings, and other relies so highly regarded by the religions of other races throughout the world. They called it "Our Grandfather", suggesting, perhaps, the well-known ancestor worship of the ancient Romans or the modern Asiatics. In addition they possessed ten lesser idols—a'dalbeahya—called "Grandmother" gods, which were preserved in pouches made of human scalps, and whose appearance has not been divulged. They were held in respect only slightly less than that accorded the Taime.
Although the religion of the Kiowas has been studied and reported upon by several ethnologists, it is doubtful if it can be made understandable, even by the Indians themselves. It was too vague and indefinite, too wrapped in legend and folk-lore. It is known that the Indians were nature-worshippers, and the Kiowas were supposed to have paid homage to the sun, although it is sometimes said that they really worshipped a supernatural being who lived beyond the sun, rather than that orb itself. The earth, too, was highly regarded. Since the earth is the mother of all Indians, everything provided by this universal Mother was received with prayer and thanksgiving. The first whiff of tobacco smoke, the first morsel of food, after being held aloft to the sun, was given to Mother Earth. So it was entirely natural that the buffalo, being earth's greatest gift to the Indians, featured largely in the sun dance of the Kiowas. From the buffalo were obtained food, shelter, clothing, parts of weapons,—in all over fifty different useful items; therefore the hide of a buffalo adorned the center pole of the great medicine lodge during the sun dance.
To the Kiowas the Sun Dance was more than a simple religious festival. It was a combined Passion Play and Metropolitan Grand Opera; a church sociable and Sunday-school picnic; a state fair and world series baseball game. At this gathering old friends and relatives met for the first time in perhaps a year; clubs and societies held conventions, elections, and initiations; young warriors met their future wives; women and children found relief from the tedium of camp labor; infants were medicated and charmed against disease and epidemic. The whole religious at-
mosphere of the tribe was toned up and given a rebirth, warlike achievements of the past year given proper publicity, and growing boys launched in their careers as full-fledged members of the clan. The institution tended to maintain tribal and racial solidarity, and through its influence the traditions of the people were preserved.
Several white men, not captives or members of the tribe, have witnessed the sun dance of the Kiowas, and two or three have attempted to describe it. But these accounts, excellent as they are, leave much to be desired with respect to completeness and understanding as to the significance of what was seen. It is not claimed that the description which is given here is all inclusive, but it fills some of the gaps in previous accounts and offers se full an exposition as can be obtained at so late a date.—W. S. N.
THE ANNUAL SUN DANCE OF THE KIOWA INDIANS.
The whole Kiowa tribe of over one thousand souls was divided into various orders, societies, or clubs. The most important of these were the ones composed of the warriors or soldiers of the tribe; and the Kaitsenko stood at the top of the list. The Kaitsenko were the ten bravest warriors among the Kiowas, and had rules like the Samurai of Japan. No Kaitsenko could return from war except with added honors; either he must win coups, or he must not come back at all. Next in order to these "bravest of the brave" were the Tai-pekos, and in all there were six orders, with the Rabbits, composed of the young boys, at the bottom. Promotion to the next higher orders was through merit alone. The women also were divided into societies, the most important one being the Old Women's club, composed of the gray-haired squaws.
It was the privilege of any recognized warrior to announce the time and place for the next sun dance, and thus become the sponsor of the dance; but this honor generally was assumed by a member of the higher fraternities; and it was the special prerogative of members of that club who carried red war shields. On rare and infrequent occasions two sponsors might come forward; whereupon a double, or repeated sun dance was held. The season for the dance was midsummer, when the weather was hot, and there was little likelihood that a rainstorm would mar the festivities; but the original decision to hold it, and the general proposal as to its location usually was made during the preceding fall or winter.
At this time the sponsor went forth as a messenger, rode entirely around all of the scattered camps, and notified everyone of the decisions made. During this ride he was not allowed to partake of food or water until he had completed the circuit, unless the ride consumed more than four days. At the end of four days he could build a sweat lodge, offer prayers and sacrifices, then eat and drink. The following day, being rested and refreshed, he would continue the journey.
As the messenger passed each village a joyous shout went up, for every member of the tribe, and more especially the women and children, anticipated the event with great pleasure. Rarely did a warrior absent himself voluntarily, because in addition to the natural desire to be present, it was considered very bad medicine to remain away,—generally fatal to the one so offending.
After this announcement ride was completed the chief medicine man entered into council with the leading men of the tribe to select the time and place for the first general assembly of the different bands. There were four such assemblies, each succeeding one being closer to the spot selected for the sun dance, and the final or fourth assembly being at the very site. Messengers were sent out to notify the tribe as to what was laid down in the council.
Later on, a few weeks before the time for the dance, the various bands and families began to move to the first assembly place. As the time approached tepees were torn down, camp equipage packed on mules or horses; sick or ailing members of the tribe were transported in little travois ambulances, constructed on lodge poles fastened on either side of gentle horses, with the rear ends dragging on the ground. Children too small to ride alone were tied to tame horses, everyone else mounted his favorite steed, and the tribe was on the move. At the assembly point the arrival of the different villages resembled the advent of miniature rodeos or tent shows. Men and boys dashed about on horseback, raising clouds of dust; young women hobbled the ponies, or carried water from the nearby stream in brass buckets or skin sacks; industrious squaws erected tepees in brief order, infants wailed in their little leather cradles, and gaunt dogs barked and snarled at each other. The old men squatted in the sun, smoking and talking; and watching with anxious eyes the pots of meat simmering over the little fires built beneath low tripods. There was laughter and happy
shouting; for the Kiowas were a gregarious and sociable people, fond of fun and hospitality. There was a great deal of visiting around between lodges of friends and relatives; much feasting, singing and dancing.
In the daytime everyone had his task; the men were far afield chasing buffalo, in order to lay in a supply of meat sufficient to last through the entire gathering; the women were drying sheets of meat suspended in the sun over ropes or saplings, or vigorously removing the flesh from hides staked out on the ground; the young boys were watching the vast pony herds, or hunting small game along the cottonwood groves lining the stream. But at night, as the cool breezes swept across the prairie, and fireflies winked over the waving grass, the people gave themselves up to song and dance. In the tepee of the chief medicine man was held a rehearsal of the Gourd-Rattle song, to be sung at that year's dance, and any who cared to do so might sit around outside the lodge and participate in the singing. The sound of tom-tom could be heard in various parts of the village, and weird, thrilling chanting; while on the bluffs in the distance the coyote and wolf added their notes to the barbaric cadence. It was enough to stir the blood of any young person, be he white or red.
Let us join the village, and see what transpires.
The first assembly endures for a week or teen days, while the different bands comprising the tribe continue to arrive. This is the time for the building of sweat lodges and the offering of prayers to the "Grandmother" gods. Any man who chooses may make such a lodge; he gathers willow saplings and constructs the framework of a small semi-spherical igloo, which is covered over with blankets and buffalo robes. Inside, in the center, is dug a circular, shallow fire-pit for the reception of hot stones, and around the wall of the tent is built a rim of sage grass. The tribesman goes to the tepees of the medicine man and secures one or more of the idols and places them within the lodge on the pile of sage grass. Then he builds a fire about seven feet from the entrance and commences to heat a pile of stones to a dull red glow. When the stones are sufficiently hot the medicine men enter the lodge, recline on either side of the door, which faces to the east, and order the stones to be placed in the fire pit. After this is done the suppliant who has built the lodge crouches outside the door.
and passes in to the priests a bucket of water. They spill this slowly over the rocks, and as the clouds of steam swirl through the tent they commence a series of prayers for the fellow outside. The "grandmothers" are requested to preserve the warrior and his family from sickness, cause his sons to grow up to be great fighters, and his daughters good women. This is repeated four times, during which the door flap is kept closed, except when the water bucket is being handed in, or when the steam becomes so suffocating that a little air must be admitted. Upon completion of their prayers the medicine men emerge from the stifling hut, and sit in the sun to cool off slowly, while the builder of the lodge returns the idols to their proper places.
Some time during the first or second assembly the chief medicine man, accompanied by a committee of two old men, goes down along the creek to select a place for the fourth assembly. He also picks out a suitable tree from which the center lodge pole is to be cut, and marks it with a piece of cloth. At the same time certain designated dignitaries stake out the campsite for this final assembly, and place in the center of the circle, where the medicine lodge is to be erected, a stake dressed in crude representation of an enemy, like a scarecrow.
The "Rabbit" club, similar to Boy Scouts, is not idle during these assemblies; the boys build miniature lodges in imitation of their elders, practise with bows and arrows, chase coyotes and jack rabbits over the plains, and indulge in horse races and other sports.
The second and third assemblies are like the first; they are given over to hunting, feasting, and merrymaking. Then, as the third gathering comes to a close, the elders of the tribe hold an evening council in the tepee of the chief medicine man. The ceremonial pipe is smoked, plans for the dance are discussed, and a decision made that the final assembly will be held the following day. A camp herald or crier goes out to make this announcement, and from this time until the Taime is carried around the camp, no one may leave the confines of the village for any reason whatsoever, on pain of becoming blind.
At dawn the sponsor of the dance, painted and dressed for the occasion, mounts his best horse, ties the Taime securely to the saddle, and rides in a circle around the outside of the camp,
crying to sun for mercy. Then he takes the idol back to its tepee, and the Kiowas begin to break camp preparatory to the final move. When everything is ready all ride forward in a group, the medicine man in the lead carrying the Taime, and the warriors immediately in their rear, singing and beating tom-toms. After proceeding a short distance the Taime Keeper dismounts, and in company with the other priests smokes four pipe-fulls of tobacco and kinnekinic, while the rest of the tribe sit in a great circle and solemnly watch. The fourth pipe finished, the procession moves on. This is repeated four times; at the second halt three pipes are smoked, at the third two, and at the fourth one. It should be noted here that all rituals connected with the sun dance are repeated four times, possibly because the Indians noted that Nature passes through four cycles or seasons.
When the high priest mounts his pony after the last smoke, a feeling of vast excitement ripples through the entire tribe. In a moment, at a given signal, all of the men will race to the scarecrow stake, called T'au, and this pell-mell rush is something worth worth seeing, but dangerous to participate in. Five hundred or more shrilling, screaming Indians converge on this single point, a half-mile or so distant, and there are no rules as to safety, and no pulling up of nags until the race is over. The first man to touch the stake wins great honor. He may count coup on it just as if he had touched a live enemy. But no man may run down and trample underfoot the T'au except one who similarly has ridden down a man in mortal combat.
Before the medicine man gives the signal all warriors are supposed to be on line abreast of each other, so that none may have an advantage. But if we watch closely we may observe some over-anxious fellows "offside",—sneaking out to the flanks, and into the brush, to get a "head start". Finally the old priest drops his arm in the direction of the T'au, and the wild, headlong rush is on, reducing to insignificance any sophomore-freshman affair ever staged.
After the race is finished, and the dust subsides, the women commence putting up the tepees and erecting brush arbors. Each family is directed to its proper place by patrolmen detailed for the purpose. The village is formed in the shape of a circle, with the entrance gate facing the east. It is located in a level grassy
place, adjacent to a good clear stream, with plenty of firewood and large cottonwood trees near at hand. The tents are pitched on the outer part of the circle, facing the center, instead of to the east, and leaving a generous space vacant in the middle, where the medicine lodge will be erected.
After the village is built, and the chiefs are satisfied that each lodge is in its proper place, the women and children seat themselves in the shade of the brush arbors, while the men and boys repair to outside to form for the grand opening procession. The clubs ride in single file, in order of rank, in through the village entrance, circle the inside at a slow canter, and depart as they came in. The "Rabbits" bring up the tail of the column; and as each order passes by the spectators cheer and whoop just like the audience at the opening parade at a circus. The only thing lacking is the pop corn and chewing gum vendor. As each performer reaches the outside of the village he unsaddles his horse, gives it a slap to send it out to graze with the herd, and swaggers back to eat a justly-earned supper.
For several days after the village has been moved there is a period in which the Indians enjoy informal programs of singing, dancing, and feasting. Life is one big picnic; all of the delicacies which have been saved for the occasion are now brought forth. There are dried wild plums, and grapes, or little cakes made of mesquite-berry meal; dried wild persimmons, like dates, and a curious but toothsome mixture of dried persimmons and jerked meat, beaten together. In later years the Kiowas obtained other articles from the traders such as canned goods, flour, coffee, sugar, hard-tack, or crackers. Corn, apples, and watermelons were obtained from white farmers or the more agricultural Indians, and finally, a few oranges. The prisoners who had returned from their involuntary sojourn at Fort Marion, Florida, had acquired a taste for tropical fruit, and on one occasion when the trader at Fort Sill shipped in a bunch of bananas at considerable expense, one old Indian wanted to buy the whole lot.
If buffalo are in the vicinity some of the men go hunting, but in general the time for this has passed, and no one may depart on a raid or war party. Such activity is strictly forbidden during the entire course of the sun dance.
It is the custom at this time for the six societies to hold meetings and initiations. Frequently all-night frolics are held,
and no explanation has to be made to their wives as to where they were all night. At the time agreed upon for the opening of the evening's entertainment the flap of the club lodge is lowered, and woe betide any brother who is absent or late. It is the rule that any such offender is denied permission to enter, and on the following day he is "posted" to the entire village: the camp crier announces to the whole grinning assemblage that So-and-So was absent from lodge last night, and "he is in love with his mother-in-law". This is a terrible disgrace, almost more than the average brave can endure; for the mother-in-law taboo is one of the strongest and most inviolable customs of the tribe. It is forbidden for any man to look his mother-in-law directly in the eye, address her except through another person, enter her lodge, or in fact have any dealings with her. This prohibition works both ways; the women must similarly leave her daughter's husband strictly alone. The practice was not without merit.
Sometimes a tardy club member might persuade the brethren to admit him, after protracted pleading outside the lodge, and promising to undergo any punishment that might be imposed except the above horrible penalty. Let us slip unobtrusively into the lodge of the Tai-pekos, and watch them punish the late Mr. Tsen-a-toke, who has just been admitted, after whining outside the door for an hour, in the most doleful manner. First he is stripped to the skin, none too gently; then they smear him all over with a mixture of wet ashes, and paint his head and face black. His hair is brought over the front of his face and tied like a chicken comb, a pendant hair beard fastened to his chest, a cloth or feather tail appended to his stern, until the poor fellow looks like a great grotesque turkey. And this fowl, considered unclean, is what he now represents; he must hop about in imitation of the turkey, keeping step with the tom-tom, and at stated intervals gobble lustily, while the jovial fellows around the circle sing uncomplimentary ditties and hold their sides in merriment. The camp crier has informed the village as to what is going on, and as the solo dance continues, punctuated by gasps of the sweating performer, feminine giggles are heard outside the lodge.
Now the time draws near when the sacrificial buffalo must be sought. The Kiowas, in common with many other races, included in their religion the slaying of an animal as a blood sacrifice;
it was natural and fitting that a buffalo be used as this offering. The duty of killing the buffalo was an hereditary one, just as were all duties connected with the sun dance; the honor reposed in a certain family, and the most important warrior in that family was the representative who went out after the bison. He had to be a man who had engaged in successful combat, with a human enemy, and generally he was a chief who had counted many such coups.
He selects several assistants, and departs from the village, traveling in a westerly direction, so that he will return with his face to the east. During the time he is hunting the animal, until he returns to the village, he must not eat or drink; as buffalo are sometimes at considerable distance from the village, this may be a real hardship. When the buffalo herd is sighted the men approach close enough to select a two-year old bull, fat and sound. This bull is cut off from the rest of the herd, and the slayer prepares to kill it with an arrow. Holding an arrow above his head, and shouting "With this arrow I killed a Ute (or any other enemy), on such-an-such occasion.", he drives his pony close alongside the fleeing bison, fits, the arrow to his bow string, and drives it into the heart of the buffalo. The bull must be killed with one dead shot, and if the cry of the killer is true in fact, he cannot miss. They say this has never failed.
As the animal falters and comes to a stop, he is guided so that he dies on his knees, facing the east. The warrior springs from his horse, draws a sharp knife and immediately begins removing the hide. He starts the incision at the nose, and takes that portion of the skin including the head, a strip down the back, about thirty inches wide, and the tail, the whole being skinned off with one long continuous cut, just as if he were scalping an enemy. While he is at work his assistants collect buffalo chips which they pile up in the shape of a little altar, with handfuls of the sacred sage grass on top. The killer rolls the hide and places it on this altar. He then secures his horse which is unconcernedly grazing nearby. Returning to the altar, he makes a prayer to the sun, takes up the hide, and gestures as if to tie it to the saddle. This motion is repeated four times before he finally secures the hide; then all the party mount, and move slowly in the direction of the village. The assistants ride in the rear at a respectful distance. After proceeding a few paces the
killer halts, raises his arms to the sun, and cries for mercy; the companions remain respectfully silent, but with prayers in their hearts. This is done four times, as usual, whereupon the party starts off at a fast trot, not pausing again until they come in sight of the village. They ride with songs on their lips and joy shining in their faces.
They try to arrange to approach the village in the evening, but camp during the night in the vicinity. Scouts are sent on ahead, and the following morning the people are notified that the buffalo-killers are returning triumphant. The populace goes forth to welcome the hunters, who now approach the village with loud whoops, firing their guns in the air in the manner of warriors returning from a successful raid. The people cheer, and the medicine men beat lustily on their tom-toms, while the procession approaches from the west, circles the village to the south, and comes up to the entrance gate. There they halt as the whole tribe swells the chorus of the "Buffalo-Coming" song with that weird high-pitched chanting so characteristic of Indian music.
The Medicine men have received early notification of the return of the hunters, and since daybreak have been in the Taime tepee, singing the "Buffalo-Coming" song, and whipping a big sheet of loose rawhide, which gives off a note about as musical as that produced by beating a rug over a clothesline. On the floor in the center of the lodge is a large drawing traced in the beaten earth, which represents a prone human figure. A little hole has been dug directly over the heart, and into this the ashes of the ceremonial pipe are dumped from time to time. The Indians say that many generations ago an actual human sacrifice was used instead of the drawing. Now as the buffalo-killer approaches, the medicine men come forth to meet him. The chief medicine man, painted white, and wearing a buffalo robe over one shoulder, stalks majestically in front of the other priests, holding at arms' length the long ceremonial pipe, filled with tobacco and kinnekinic (dried sumac leaves). He waves the pipe slowly up and down four times, then commences to walk backwards, while the lesser doctors beat the rawhide vigorously and the tribesmen chant in unison their falsetto quavering song. As the Taime Keeper retreats the buffalo-killer advances, halting four times for the pipe-waving ceremony. The final halt is made in
front of the Taime lodge, where the killer deposits the hide on another dung-and-sage altar. The hide is unrolled and extended at full length, with the head toward the east. This accomplished, the slayer gets on his horse and departs, stopping four times as before, until he is beyond the entrance to the village. Being now dismissed he spurs to put his horse up and go home for a big long drink of water.
The next part of the program consists in making offerings to the buffalo. The families of the Taime priests come forward first and tie their gifts to the hide; these mementoes consist of bits of calico cloth, the soft breast feathers of an eagle, or shining pieces of sea-shell, obtained on the Texas gulf coast. The first and brightest offerings are tied to the nostrils of the buffalo, and the others are secured all over the hide. Every person in the tribe brings forward similar presents, and the children especially are encouraged to rub their hands on the hide, then all over their bodies, to prevent sickness and insure longevity. Like the widow's mite, it was the spirit in which the gift was made rather than the intrinsic value which was considered praiseworthy.
After everyone has had opportunity to make an offering, two or three of the most famous warriors of the tribe, like White Horse, or Quo-to-tai, built a special sweat house, in which the buffalo hide is placed, with all its presents attached, and remains there until the great sun dance lodge is built. Informal entertainments have now ceased; everything proceeds according to ancient custom.
The next morning preparations are made to hold a sham battle and to cut the forked pole for the center of the lodge. Two companies of warriors go down into the timber, and build imitation forts of brush and branches. The rest of the people ride to the place where the medicine lodge is to be erected. Here a ring of post holes has been dug by the Old Women's Club. The Taime Keeper takes post on the west side of these holes, facing east. He and the other priests begin to sing war songs without the accompaniment of drums, and while this singing is going on the remainder of the warriors pass between the priests and the post holes. As noted warriors pass they are greeted by war whoops from the women, to do them honor. These whoops are in a high tone, made tremolo by beating the hand against the mouth.
When the medicine man gives a signal all these warriors gallop to attack the sham forts along the timber, firing blanks and charging in a most realistic manner. While this show is being staged for the edification of any who care to watch, the high priest and his assistants are walking slowly to the spot where the forked pole is to be cut. This pole comes from a tall cottonwood, having a straight trunk about eighteen inches in diameter, with a fork twenty feet or more from the ground.
The sham battle is over soon, and the soldier clubs come to rest in the shade of the trees and watch the cutting of the forked pole. A captive woman is selected for this honor, lest any mistake in the ritual have an injurious effect on a blood member of the tribe. Two medicine men stand on either side of the woman, shaking gourd rattles and singing, while another woman steps forward and paints a red circle around the trunk, about two feet from the ground. The captive makes a motion with her age, as if to chop the tree, then draws back; another song is sung, and another red circle applied. After four repetitions the captive goes ahead and cuts down the tree, felling it to the west. Then the fork is trimmed to the proper length, and all other branches and twigs removed.
Now the warriors come forward, pass lariats under the trunk of the tree, and take post on either side like pall bearers. The chief medicine man stands at the large end of the log, with a cap of rabbit fur on his head, in his hand a fan or object like a flyswatter, made of crow feathers, and in his mouth a whistle made from the wing bone of an eagle. While the whole tribe stands with bated breath he climbs up on the log, and runs with little mincing steps down the entire length, stepping off at the forked end. If he makes the trip without stepping off to either side everyone shouts for joy, but if the old rascal makes a misstep, groans are heard, for everyone knows that bad luck will dog the tribe during the remainder of the year.
The warriors pick up the log with their ropes and carry it for several yards; then they halt and the chief medicine man does his balancing act once more. After the fourth time the pole is carried directly to its place, where another club places it in position. The pole is raised and seated in the ground with a dint of shouting, grunting and heaving, until finally the earth is
tramped firmly around the base. Meanwhile the elders of the tribe sit around in a circle smoking and commenting on the work of their juniors, and regretting, no doubt, the passing of the more virile age of which they were a part.
After the forked tree is in place a man clad in a breechclout climbs aloft like a southsea islander after a cocoanut, seats himself in the crotch at the top, and prays loud and long to the sun, while the rest of the tribe stands at attention. This supplication lasts at least ten minutes, and gives opportunity for a select detail to retire to the sweat house for the buffalo hide. It is carried reverently to the pole, hoisted to the top, where the fellow in the fork secured it with rawhide thongs, the head of the buffalo facing up the pole.
The next feature is for the warrior clubs to cut seventeen shorter forked poles to support the rafters radiating from the center pole to the outer walls. Each club brings two poles. Also the rafters themselves must be cut, and brush obtained to cover the top and sides of the lodge. This part of the proceedings may occupy more than a single day, and it is the portion of the program most enjoyed by the young people. It is an occasion for merrymaking and sociability. Each young man mounts his horse and rides about the camp seeking a partner. The girl selected may refuse but if she accepts, climbs up behind the man and they ride away with the others to get the timber. It is something like an old-fashioned log rolling or corn husking party.
The lodge is built circular in form, with brush walls thin enough so that spectators can see through, yet thick enough to cast some shade. There is a brush roof over part of the pavilion, extending from the outer walls part way to the center, leaving the central portion open to the sky. When the structure is completed the warriors indulge in a rough frolic, consisting of promiscuous foot-fights and wrestling matches, like a battle-royal. They run and leap about, kicking and tripping each other, laughing and shouting. Then a partition is built on the interior of the pavilion, near the rear, consisting of a row of alternate cedar and cottonwood branches. A small space is left between this and the outer wall, where the dancers can change their costumes. The cedar, like the sage, is sacred to the Kiowas; it being an evergreen and famous for its longevity, is a symbol of immortality.
Now the ground inside the lodge is carefully cleared of all brush, twigs, roots or other foreign matter, and clean white sand is brought from the stream bed and spread damp over the floor. The Old Women's Club and the Rabbits collect this sand, packing it in cloth sacks slung over their shoulders. Singing and dancing lighten the labor.
After the sand is smoothed out on the floor the lodge is dedicated. Four chiefs, dressed in all their finery, and carefully painted, line up inside facing the east. A number of women stand in a row on either side of the entrance to honor the chiefs, who, naturally, are great warriors. The chiefs shoot their guns out the entrance, like Chinese shooting firecrackers in front of an altar, and the women whoop and throw their shawls at the feet of the warriors. It is the custom that any poor woman present may pick up a shawl, and these garments represent considerable money. It is not uncommon for a shawl to cost fifty dollars. A stone is placed in the entrance for the warriors to step on as they emerge from the lodge.
The next act in the drama is the Entrance of the Buffaloes. About a hundred men, women, and children are dressed in buffalo robes, tanned with the head, legs, and tail intact, the head being supported by sticks held in the hands of the performers. Like the giant figures in a Mardi Gras parade they prance out of the village, cavorting in humorous steps, and pantomiming the motions of buffalo. The "herd" marches to a point about four hundred yards opposite the entrance to the village, and lies down to ruminate. One old and decrepit buffalo reclines apart from the rest, and on the opposite side from the village. Two noted men built a small fire inside the village, on the south side, kindling it with a coup stick which has touched an enemy. Then they pick up a live coal on two sticks, hand it to a third man, who walks with it around the camp in a clockwise direction until he reaches a point behind the medicine lodge, when he peeps out at the buffalo herd. After scouting the herd four times he runs out the entrance of the "corral", represented by the village, and circles the herd. When he reaches a point in rear of them the buffalo begin to rise, and when he throws away the fire they stampede, rush toward the entrance of the corral, and roar in a most realistic manner. They circle the medicine lodge four
times, then enter and lie down on the interior. The old bull follows slowly, stopping several times to lie down and rest, then staggers on in a very feeble manner, and finally enters the lodge. This scene gives the actors a chance to display their histrionic ability. As soon as the old bull is inside the lodge, the spectators, who have been watching from the circle of their tepees, rush to the outside of the pavilion and peer in through the brush walls.
The ten minor medicine men, clad in ceremonial robes painted to delineate war experiences, emerge from the red Taime tepee and enter the big main, cottonwood temple. While the people outside watch intently the priests circulate among the recumbent bison, inspecting each, in order to select four of the "fattest and strongest" for the use of the tribe. They lift up the robes, see who is underneath, and when they find one to their liking, lay a short medicine stick on its back, and announce in stentorian tones: "Here is a great buffalo! If at any time the tribe is in trouble or distress, they can depend on him. And his name is KICKING BIRD! (or any particularly popular or famous leader)". On hearing this the women make a prolonged tremolo whoop to honor the noted personage. After four such men have been singled out, a benediction is pronounced by the chief medicine man, and the buffalo are dismissed.
The evening of the same day is the time appointed to bring the Taime into the lodge. At sunset the medicine men carry the idol out of its tepee, singing four songs in rear of, and on each quarter of the temple, then go inside and place the god, facing east, against the cedar and cottonwood partition. In front of the Taime are two holes dug in the sand in which incense of cedar and wild wormwood shavings, lighted with a coup stick is kept continually burning. Nearby is a buffalo skull, painted half red and half black.
Although the sun dance proper commences at sunrise the following morning, any of the dancers that desire to do so may begin their dance as soon as the idol has been placed. The main dance lasts four days and nights, with intermissions only for changing costumes or repainting the performers. During this entire period the dancers are not permitted to take water or meat; but in olden times their women gathered cattail-rushes in the river, and brought
them to the temple. The men might help themselves to these and chew the white bulbous end, from which they derive some moisture and nourishment. In later years pieces of sliced watermelons were placed for the refreshment of the dancers.
There are about forty of the sun dancers; they are painted white above the waist, with pigments dug from Mother Earth. Sometimes they wear buckskin shirts and carry in their mouths eagle bone whistles provided by the medicine man. On their beads are caps of sage brush, with wisps of the same material tied to their wrists and ankles. They dance facing the Taime, which is dressed in soft white feathers, with a blue bead necklace about its neck. On the side of the lodge are the musicians, who maintain the rhythm for the dancers by beating on tom-toms, shaking rattles, and singing from time to time. The priests occasionally smoke the pipe, which they light from the sacred fire.
At noon of the first day of the dance the head medicine man comes out of his lodge to summon the people to witness a special act which he is going to put on himself. He is dressed in all of his ornaments, and is specially painted. He blows his loudest whistle, enters the temple, goes up to the Taime and chews some kind of clay fastened to its dress. He spits this medicine out on the dancers, endowing them with some kind of magic properties, then takes up his crow feather fan, waves it four times at the idol, and proceeds to chase the dancers around the ring. Then they chase him, and he turns over his shoulder and waves the fan at a dancer, who falls to the ground in simulated distress, crying for mercy. The significance of this play is not clear.
After the medicine man has "overcome" the dancers with his superior medicine the dance is resumed, and continues throughout its allotted period, with only one other interruption. This occurs on the second day. Four men are initiated into an honor fraternity by painting them in a peculiar fashion; two green crescents are painted on both sides of their chests and backs, with a circular green sun in the center. The background is bright yellow, and the war shields receive similar designs. This decoration is done by retiring incumbents of the office, and the candidate must recompense them with rich and valuable presents. Since this is repeated each year at four successive sun dances, only, young men of wealthy families can afford the honor. During the time that
they belong to the club they are supposed to be immune in battle, but there are certain advantages, for the taboos surrounding the order are sometimes inconvenient. For example, they are not allowed to look at themselves in a mirror.
On the evening of the fourth day the dance is brought to a close. A song is sung, and everyone joins in a general dance, after which the people are permitted to strip leaves and twigs from the lodge, to be carried away as souvenirs or good-luck charms. Families having infants bring the old clothing of these papooses to the lodge, where it is tied to the center pole, with an appropriate prayer, and left hanging there to preserve the children from epidemic during the ensuing year.
The following morning the tepees are torn down, and the tribe breaks up into its component bands, each moving off to new hunting grounds, or on war-like expeditions. The young people, especially the women, are very sorry to see the dance come to an end, for it has been a period of pleasure and happiness for them.
The Kiowas harmed no one, not even themselves, with their sun dance; they loved it and looked forward to it throughout the year. But unfortunately there were those among their white
1This account of the Kiowa sun dance is quite different from the sun dance of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, as described by John H. Seger, in the September, 1933, Chronicles of Oklahoma.
The sun dance of the Cheyenne Indians was to them a sacred religious ceremony, in which the dancers offered vicarious sacrifices; even to suffer the most excruciating torture, through the mutilation of their own bodies, to propitiate the "Evil Spirit." They felt that every misfortune, every calamity, that came upon their tribe was for their wrong doings and sins, as they understood sin, was sent upon them by the "Evil Spirit". This dance was to appease the Evil Spirit, and to re-instate them in the favor of the Good Spirit. Mooney, in writing of the Sun Dance of the Kiowas, said: (17th Annual Report Bureau of American Ethnology, page 242 1895-1896). "It (the Kiowa Sun Dance) differed radically, however, in the entire absence of those who volunteered self tortures, which have made the sun dance among the tribes a synonym for savage horror. With the Kiowas, the accidental shedding of blood, on such an occasion, was considered an evil omen, and was a signal for abandoning the dance." In this, the Bureau of Ethnology, confirms George Hunt's story of the Kiowa Sun Dance. There was no self-torture practised by the Kiowas.—D. W. P.
2The writer has known George Hunt for more than thirty years He is a full-blood Kiowa Indian, and has received his education, not only, in the tribal schools, but has attended higher educational institutions. He is fully Americanized, and an educated man. He is a resident and a citizen of Kiowa County. There are but few, if any, who have as much information pertaining to the history of the Kiowa tribe as has George Hunt, and any statement coming from him may be considered authentic.—D. W. P.
neighbors who simply could not bear the thought that such pagan practice should continue amidst the beneficent influences of "civilization". Continuous pressure was brought to bear on the government, until finally, in 1889, an order was issued to stop the dance. The Kiowas said they would hold it anyhow; a threat of military force from Fort Sill was then employed, and the great medicine dance came to a permanent close.
Today no one cares whether the Kiowas dance or not; but it is too late. They have other interests, and too few old people survive who are familiar with the ritual.