Indian Terrors on the Santa Fe Trail

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 head waters of one of the tributaries of the Washita, 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.

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