Indian Terrors on the Santa Fe Trail

Kiowa Indians

Kiowa Indians

The next morning at daylight, Satank called for some of his braves and with them rode out to Peacock’s ranch. Arriving there, he called out to Peacock, who had not yet risen: “Peacock, get up, the soldiers are coming!” It was a warning which the illicit trader quickly obeyed, and running out of the building with his field-glass in his hand, he started for his lookout, but, while he was ascending the ladder with his back to Satank the latter shot him full of holes, saying, as he did so: “There, Peacock, I guess you won’t write any more letters.”

His warriors then entered the building and killed every man in it, save one who had been gored by a buffalo bull the day before, and who was lying in a room all by himself. He was saved by the fact that the Indian has a holy dread of small-pox, and will never enter an apartment where sick men lie, fearing they may have the awful disease.

Satanta (White Bear) was the most efficient and dreaded chief of all who have ever been at the head of the Kiowa nation. Ever restlessly active in ordering or conducting merciless forays against an exposed frontier, he was the very incarnation of deviltry in his determined hatred of the whites, and his constant warfare against civilization.

He also possessed wonderful oratorical powers; he could hurl the most violent invectives at those whom he argued with, or he could be equally pathetic when necessary. He was justly called “The Orator of the Plains,” rivaling the historical renown of Tecumseh or Pontiac.

He was a short, bullet-headed Indian, full of courage and well versed in strategy. Ordinarily, when on his visits to the various military posts he wore a major-general’s full uniform, a suit of that rank having been given to him in the summer of 1866 by General Hancock. He also owned an ambulance, a team of mules, and a set of harness, the last stolen, maybe, from some caravan he had raided on the Trail. In that ambulance, with a trained Indian driver, the wily chief traveled, wrapped in a savage dignity that was truly laughable. In his village, too, he assumed a great deal of style. He was very courteous to his white guests if at the time his tribe were at all friendly with the government; nothing was too good for them. He always laid down a carpet on the floor of his lodge in the post of honor, on which they were to sit. He had large boards, twenty inches wide and three feet long, ornamented with brass tacks driven all around the edges, which he used for tables. He also had a French horn, which he blew vigorously when meals were ready.

His friendship was only dissembling. During all the time that General Philip Sheridan was making his preparations for his intended winter campaign against the allied Plains Indians, Satanta made frequent visits to the military posts, ostensibly to show the officers that he was heartily for peace, but really to inform himself of what was going on.

At that time I was stationed at Fort Harker, Kansas on the Smoky Hill River. One evening, General Sheridan, who was my guest, was sitting on the verandah of my quarters, smoking and chatting with me and some other officers who had come to pay him their respects, when one of my men rode up and quietly informed me that Satanta had just driven his ambulance into the fort, and was getting ready to camp near the mule corral. On receiving this information, I turned to the general and suggested the propriety of either killing or capturing the inveterate demon. Personally, I believed it would be right to get rid of such a character, and I had men under my command who would have been delighted to execute an order to that effect.

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

Sheridan smiled when I told him of Satanta’s presence and the excellent chance to get rid of him. But he said: “That would never do; the sentimentalists in the Eastern States would raise such a howl that the whole country would be horrified!”

Of course, in these “piping times of peace” the reader, in the quiet of his own room, will think that my suggestion was brutal, and without any palliation; my excuse, however, may be found in General Washington’s own motto: Exitus acta probat. If the suggestion had been acted upon, many an innocent man and woman would have escaped torture, and many a maiden — a captivity worse than death.

As a specimen of Satanta’s oratory, I offer the following, to show the hypocrisy of the subtle old villain and his power over the minds of too sensitive auditors. Once Congress sent out to the central plains a commission from Washington to inquire into the causes of the continual warfare raging with the Indians on the Kansas border; to learn what the grievances of the Indians were; and to find some remedy for the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children along the line of the Old Trail.

Satanta was sent for by the commission as the leading spirit of the formidable Kiowa nation. When he entered the building at Fort Dodge, Kansas in which daily sessions were held, he was told by the president to speak his mind without any reservation; to withhold nothing, but to truthfully relate what his tribe had to complain of on the part of the whites. The old rascal grew very pathetic as he warmed up to his subject. He declared that he had no desire to kill the white settlers or emigrants crossing the plains, but that those who came and lived on the land of his tribe ruthlessly slaughtered the buffalo, allowing their carcasses to rot on the prairie; killing them merely for the amusement it afforded them, while the Indian only killed when necessity demanded.

He also stated that the white hunters set out fires, destroying the grass, and causing the tribe’s horses to starve to death as well as the buffalo; that they cut down and otherwise destroyed the timber on the margins of the streams, making large fires of it, while the Indian was satisfied to cook his food with a few dry and dead limbs. “Only the other day,” said he, “I picked up a little switch on the Trail, and it made my heart bleed to think that so small a green branch, ruthlessly torn out of the ground and thoughtlessly destroyed by some white man, would in time have grown into a stately tree for the use and benefit of my children and grandchildren.”

After the pow-wow had ended, and Satanta had got a few drinks of red liquor into him, his real, savage nature asserted itself, and he said to the interpreter at the settler’s store: “Now didn’t I give it to those white men who came from the Great Father? Didn’t I do it in fine style? Why, I drew tears from their eyes! The switch I saw on the Trail made my heart glad instead of sad; for I knew there was a tenderfoot ahead of me because an old plainsman or hunter would never have carried anything but a good quirt or a pair of spurs. So I said to my warriors, ‘Come on, boys; we’ve got him!’ and when we came in sight after we had followed him closely on the dead run, he threw away his rifle and held tightly on to his hat for fear he should lose it!”

Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1879

Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1879

Another time when Satanta had remained at Fort Dodge, Kansas for a very long period and had worn out his welcome, so that no one would give him anything to drink, he went to the quarters of his old friend, Bill Bennett, the overland stage agent, and begged him to give him some liquor. Bill was mixing a bottle of medicine to drench a sick mule. The moment he set the bottle down to do something else, Satanta seized it off the ground and drank most of the liquid before quitting.

Of course, it made the old savage dreadfully sick as well as angry. He then started for a certain officer’s quarters and again begged for something to cure him of the effects of the former dose; the officer refused, but Satanta persisted in his importunities; he would not leave without it. After a while, the officer went to a closet and took a swallow of the most nauseating medicine, placing the bottle back on its shelf. Satanta watched his chance, and, as soon as the officer left the room, he snatched the bottle out of the closet and drank its contents without stopping to breathe. It was, of course, a worse dose than the horse-medicine. The next day, very early in the morning, he assembled a number of his warriors, crossed the Arkansas River, and went south to his village. Before leaving, however, he burnt all of the government contractor’s hay on the bank of the river opposite the post. He then continued on to Crooked Creek, where he murdered three wood-choppers, all of which, he said afterward, he did in revenge for the attempt to poison him at Fort Dodge.

At the Comanche agency, where several of the government agents were assembled to have a talk with chiefs of the various Plains Tribes, Satanta said in his address: “I would willingly take hold of that part of the white man’s road which is represented by the breech-loading rifles, but I don’t like the corn rations — they make my teeth hurt!”

Adoeette, aka: Big Tree

Adoeette, aka: Big Tree

Big Tree was another Kiowa chief. He was the ally and close friend of Satanta, and one of the most daring and active of his warriors. The sagacity and bravery of these two men would have been a credit to that of the most famous warriors of the old French and Indian Wars. Both were at last taken, tried, and sent to the Texas penitentiary for life. Satanta was eventually pardoned; but before he was made aware of the efforts that were being taken for his release, he attempted to escape, and, in jumping from a window, fell and broke his neck. His pardon arrived the next morning. Big Tree, through the work of the sentimentalists of Washington, was set free and sent to the Kiowa Reservation — near Fort Sill in the Indian Territory.

The next most audacious and terrible scourge of the Plains was “Ta-ne-on-koe” (Kicking Bird). He was a great warrior of the Kiowa and was the chief actor in some of the bloodiest raids on the Kansas frontier in the history of its troublous times.

One of his captures was that of a Miss Morgan and Mrs. White. They were finally rescued from the Indians by General George Armstrong Custer, under the following circumstances: Custer, who was advancing with his column of invincible cavalrymen — the famous Seventh United States — in search of the two unfortunate women, had arrived near the headwaters of one of the tributaries of the Washita River, and, with only his guide and interpreter, was far in advance of the column, when, upon reaching the summit of an isolated bluff, they suddenly saw a village of the Kiowa, which turned out to be that of Kicking Bird, whose handsome lodge was easily distinguishable from the rest. Without waiting for his command, the general and his guide rode boldly to the lodge of the great chief, and both dismounted, holding cocked revolvers in their hands; Custer presented his at Kicking Bird’s head. In the meantime, Custer’s column of troopers, whom the Kiowa had good reason to remember for their bravery in many a hard-fought battle, came in full view of the astonished village. This threw the startled Indians into the utmost consternation, but the warriors were held in check by signs from Kicking Bird. As the cavalry drew nearer, General Custer demanded the immediate release of the white women. Their presence in the village was at first denied by the lying chief, and not until he had been led to the limb of a huge cottonwood tree near the lodge, with a rope around his neck, did he acknowledge that he held the women and consent to give them up.

This well-known warrior, with a foreknowledge not usually found in the savage mind, seeing the beginning of the end of Indian sovereignty on the plains, voluntarily came in and surrendered himself to the authorities, and stayed on the reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

In June 1867, a year before the breaking out of the great Indian war on the central plains, the whole tribe of Kiowa, led by him, assembled at Fort Larned, Kansas. He was the cynosure of all eyes, as he was without question one of the noblest-looking warriors ever seen on the plains. On that occasion, he wore the full uniform of a major-general of the United States Army. He was as correctly molded as a statue when on horseback, and when mounted on his magnificent charger the morning he rode out with General Hancock to visit the immense Indian camp a few miles above the fort on Pawnee Fork, it would have been a difficult task to have determined which was the finer-looking man.

Kiowa Chief Ton-e-onca or Kicking Bear

Kiowa Chief Ton-e-onca or Kicking Bear

After Kicking Bird had abandoned his wicked career, he was regarded by every army officer with whom he had a personal acquaintance as a remarkably good Indian; for he really made the most strenuous efforts to initiate his tribe into the idea that it was best for it to follow the white man’s road. He argued with them that the time was very near when there would no longer be any region where the Indians could live as they had been doing, depending on the buffalo and other game for the sustenance of their families; they must adapt themselves to the methods of their conquerors.

In July 1869, he became greatly offended with the government for its enforced removal of his tribe from its natural and hereditary hunting-grounds into the reservation allotted to it. At that time many of his warriors, together with the Comanche, made a raid on the defenseless settlements of the northern border of Texas, in which the Indians were disastrously defeated, losing a large number of their most beloved warriors. On the return of the unsuccessful expedition, a great council was held, consisting of all the chiefs and headmen of the two tribes which had suffered so terribly in the awful fight, to consider the best means of avenging the loss of so many braves and friends. Kicking Bird was summoned before that council and condemned as a coward; they called him a squaw because he had refused to go with the warriors of the combined tribes on the raid into Texas.

He told a friend of mine some time afterward that he had intended never again to go against the whites, but the emergency of the case and his severe condemnation by the council demanded that he should do something to re-establish himself in the good graces of his tribe. He then made one of the most destructive raids into Texas that ever occurred in the history of its border warfare, which successfully restored him to the respect of his warriors.

In that raid Kicking Bird carried off vast herds of horses and a large number of scalps. Although his tribe fairly worshipped him, he was not at all satisfied with himself. He could look into the future as well as anyone, and from that time on to his tragic death, he labored most zealously and earnestly in connection with the Indian agents to bring his people to live on the reservation which the government had established for them in the Territory.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

At the inauguration of the so-called “Quaker Policy” by President Ulysses S. Grant, that sect was largely entrusted with the management of Indian affairs, particularly in the selection of agents for the various tribes. A Mr. Tatham was appointed the agent for the Kiowa in 1869. He at once gained the confidence of Kicking Bird, who became very valuable to him as an assistant in controlling the Indians. It was through that chief’s influence that Thomas Batty, another Quaker, was allowed to take up his residence with the tribe, the first white man ever accorded that privilege. Batty was permitted to erect three tents, which were staked together, converting them into an ample schoolhouse. In that crude, temporary structure he taught the Kiowa youth the rudiments of an education. This very successful innovation shows how earnest the former dreaded Indian was in his efforts to promote the welfare of his people, by trying to induce them to “take the white man’s road.”

Batty succeeded admirably for a year in his office of teacher, the chief all the time nobly withstanding the taunts and jeers of his warriors and their threats of taking his life, for daring to allow a white man within the sacred precincts of their village — a thing unparalleled in the annals of the tribe.

Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf

Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf

At last, trouble came; the dissatisfied members of the tribe, the ambitious and restless young men, eager for renown, made another unsuccessful raid into Texas. The result was that they lost nearly the whole of the band, among which was the favorite son of Lone Wolf, a noted chief. After the death of his son, he declared that he must and would have the scalp of a white man in revenge for the untimely taking off of the young warrior. Of course, the most available white man at this juncture was Batty, the Quaker teacher, and he was chosen by Lone Wolf as the victim of savage revenge. Here the noble instincts of Kicking Bird developed themselves.

He very plainly told Lone Wolf who was constantly threatening and thirsting for blood, that he could not kill Batty until he first killed him and all his band. But Lone Wolf had fully determined to have the hair of the innocent Quaker; so Kicking Bird, to avert any collision between the two bands of Indians, kidnapped Batty and ran him off to the agency, arriving at Fort Sill about an hour before Lone Wolf’s band of avengers overtook them, and thus the Quaker teacher was saved.

One day, long after these occurrences, a friend of mine was in the sutler’s store at Fort Sill. In there was a stranger talking to Mr. Fox, the agent of the Indians. Soon Kicking Bird entered the establishment, and the stranger asked Mr. Fox who that fine-looking Indian was. He was told, and then he begged the agent to say to him that he would like to have a talk with him; for it was he who led that famous raid into Texas. “I never saw better generalship in the field in all my experience. He had three horses killed under him. I was the surgeon of the rangers and was, of course, in the fight.”

When Kicking Bird was told that the Texas doctor desired to talk with him, he replied with great dignity that he did not want to revive those troublous times. “Tell him, though,” said Kicking Bird, “that was my last raid against the whites; that I am a changed man.”

The President of the United States sent for Kicking Bird to come to Washington, and to bring with him such other influential Indians as he thought might aid in inducing the Kiowa to cease their continual raiding on the border of Texas.

In due time, Kicking Bird left for the capital, taking with him Lone Wolf, Big Bow, and Sun Boy of the Kiowa, together with several of the headmen of the Comanche. When the deputation of Indians arrived in Washington, it was received at the presidential mansion by the chief magistrate himself. So much more attention was given to Kicking Bird than to the others, that they became very jealous, particularly when the President announced to them the appointment of Kicking Bird as the head chief of the tribe. But Lone Wolf would never recognize his authority, constantly urging the young men to raid the settlements. Lone Wolf was a genuine savage, without one redeeming trait, and his hatred of the white race was unparalleled in its intensity. He was never known to smile. No other Indian can show such a record of horrible massacres as he is responsible for. His orders were rigidly obeyed, for he brooked no disobedience on the part of his warriors.

Vintage Fort Harker, Kansas

Vintage Fort Harker, Kansas

In the summer of 1876, a party of English gentlemen left Fort Harker, Kansas for a buffalo hunt. They soon exhausted all their rations and started a four-mule team back to the post for more. Some of Lone Wolf’s band of cut-throats came across the unfortunate teamster, killed him, and ran off the team. After the occurrence, Kicking Bird came into the agency at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and told Mr. Haworth, the agent, that he had given his word to the Great Father at Washington he would do all he could to bring in those Indians who had been raiding by order of Lone Wolf, particularly the two who had killed the Englishmen’s driver.

He succeeded in bringing in 12 Indians in all, among them the murderers of the driver. They, with Lone Wolf, and Satank, were sent to the Dry Tortugas for life. The morning they started on their journey Satank talked very feelingly to Kicking Bird, with tears in his eyes. He said that they might look for his bones along the road, for he would never go to Florida. The Indians were loaded into government wagons. Satank was inside of one with a soldier on each side of him, their legs hanging outside. Somehow the crafty villain managed to slip the handcuffs off his wrists, at the same instant seizing the rifle of one of his guards, and then shoved the two men out with his feet. He tried to work the lever of the rifle, but could not move it, and one of the soldiers, coming around the wagon to where he was still trying to get the gun so as he could use it, shot him down, and then threw his body on the Trail. Thus Satank made good his vow that he would never be taken to Florida. He met his death only a mile from the post.

After the departure of the condemned Indians, the feeling in the tribe against Kicking Bird increased to an alarming extent. Several times the most incensed warriors tried to kill him by shooting at him from an ambush. After he became fully aware that his life was in danger, he never left his lodge without his carbine. He was as brave as a lion, fearing none of the members of Lone Wolf’s band; but he often said it was only a question of a short time when he would be gotten rid of; he did not allow the matter, however, to worry him in the least, saying that he was conscious he had done his duty by his tribe and the Great Father.

In a bend of Cash Creek, about half a mile below the mill, about half a dozen of the Kiowa had their lodges, that of their chief being among them. At ten o’clock one Monday in June 1876, Mr. Haworth, the agent, came in haste to the shops, called the master mechanic, Mr. Wykes, out, told him to jump into the carriage quickly; that Kicking Bird was dead.

When they arrived at the home of the great chief, sure enough, he was dead, and some of the women were engaged in folding his body in robes. Other Indian women were cutting themselves in a terrible manner, as is their custom when a relative dies and was also breaking everything breakable about the lodge. Kicking Bird had always been scrupulously clean and neat in the care of his home; it was adorned with the most beautifully dressed buffalo robes and the finest furs, while the floor was covered with matting.

It seems that Kicking Bird, after visiting Mr. Wykes that morning, went immediately to his lodge, and sat down to eat something, but, just as he had finished a cup of coffee, he fell over, dead. He had in his service a Mexican woman, and she had been bribed to poison him.

An expensive coffin was made at the agency for his remains, fashioned out of the finest black walnut to be found in the country where that timber grows to such a luxuriant extent. It was eight feet long and four feet deep, but even then it did not hold one-half of his effects, which were, according to the savage custom, interred with his body.

The cries and lamentations of the warriors and women of his band were heartrending; such a manifestation of grief was never before witnessed at the agency. A handsome fence was erected around his grave, in the cemetery at Fort Sill, and the government ordered a beautiful marble monument to be raised over it; but I do not know whether it was ever done.

Kicking Bird was only f40 years old at the time of his sudden death, and was very wealthy for an Indian. He knew the uses of money and was a careful saver of it. A great roll of greenbacks was placed in his coffin, and that fact having leaked out, it was rumored that his grave was robbed.

George Bent and his wife, Magpie

George Bent and his wife, Magpie

One of the greatest terrors of the Old Santa Fe Trail was the half-breed Indian desperado George Bent. His mother was Cheyenne, and his father, the famous trader, Colonel William Bent. He was born at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and at a very early age placed in one of the best schools that St. Louis afforded. His venerable sire, with only a limited education himself, was determined that his boy should profit by the culture and refinement of civilization, so he was not allowed to return to his mountain home at Bent’s Fort, and the savage conditions under which he was born, until he had attained his majority. He then spoke no language but English. His mother died while he was absent at school, and his father continued to live at the old fort, where George after he had reached the age of 21, joined him.

As soon as the educated George Bent set his foot on his native heath he readily found enough ambitious young bucks of his own age who were willing to look on him as their leader. They loved him, too, if such a thing were possible, as Fra Diavolo was loved by his wild followers. His band was known as the “Dog Soldiers“; a sort of a semi-military organization, consisting of the most daring, blood-thirsty young men of the tribe; and sometimes “squaw-men,” that is, renegade white men who married to Indian women, attached themselves to his command of cut-throats.

At the head of this collection of the worst Indians, hardly ever numbering over a hundred, Charley Bent robbed ranches, attacked wagon-trains, overland coaches, and army caravans. He stole and murdered indiscriminately. The history of his bloody work will never be wholly revealed, for dead men have no tongues.

He would visit all alone, in the guise of plainsman, hunter, or cattleman, the emigrant trains crossing the continent, always, however, those which had only small escorts or none at all. Feigning hunger, while his needs were being kindly furnished, he would glance around him to learn what kind of an outfit it was; its value, its destination, and how well guarded. Then he would take his leave with many thanks, rejoin his band, and with it dash down on the train and kill every human being unfortunate enough not to have escaped before he arrived.

He was indefatigable in his efforts to kill off the whole corps of army scouts. He would pass himself off as a fellow-scout, as a deserter from some military post, or as an Indian trader, for he was a wonderful actor, and would have achieved histrionic honors had he chosen the stage as a profession.

He would always time his actions so as to be found apparently asleep by a little campfire on the bank of Pawnee Fork, Crooked, Mulberry, or Walnut Creeks, all of which streams intercepted the trails running north and south between the several military posts during the Indian war, when he would seem delighted and astonished, or else simulate suspicion. Then he would either murder the unsuspecting scout with his own hands or deliver him to the red fiends of his band to be tormented.

The government offered a reward of $5,000 for Bent’s capture, dead or alive. It was reported soon after, that he was at killed in a battle with some deputy United States Marshals, and that they received the reward; but, the whole thing was manufactured out of whole cloth, and if the marshals received the money, Uncle Sam was most outrageously swindled.

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

The facts are that he died of malarial fever induced by a wound received in a fight with the Kaws, near the mouth of Walnut Creek and not far from Fort Zarah, Kansas. His “Dog Soldiers” were whipped by the Kaws, and his band driven off. Bent lingered for some time and died.

By Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated August 2020.

Also See:

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Fighting Comanche on the Santa Fe Trail

Massacre at Nine Mile Ridge

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Santa Fe Trail Photo Gallery

About the Author: Excerpted from the book, The Old Santa Fe Trail, by Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Note: The text is not verbatim, as edits have been made throughout the tale. Henry Inman was well known both as an officer in the U.S. Army and an author dealing with subjects of the Western plains. During the Civil War, Inman was a Lieutenant Colonel and afterward, he won distinction as a magazine writer. He wrote several books including his Old Santa Fe Trail, Great Salt Lake Trail, The Ranch on the Ox-hide and other similar books dealing with the subjects he knew so well. Colonel Inman left a number of unfinished manuscripts at his death in Topeka, Kansas on November 13, 1899.