Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas: The Ghost Dance, Peyote, and Christianity

Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas: The Ghost Dance, Peyote, and Christianity

by Benjamin R. Kracht

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Framed by theories of syncretism and revitalization, Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas examines changes in Kiowa belief and ritual in the final decades of the nineteenth century. During the height of the horse-and-bison culture, Kiowa beliefs were founded in the notion of daudau, a force permeating the universe that was accessible through vision quests. Following the end of the Southern Plains wars in 1875, the Kiowas were confined within the boundaries of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache (Plains Apache) Reservation. As wards of the government, they witnessed the extinction of the bison herds, which led to the collapse of the Sun Dance by 1890. Though prophet movements in the 1880s had failed to restore the bison, other religions emerged to fill the void left by the loss of the Sun Dance. Kiowas now sought daudau through the Ghost Dance, Christianity, and the Peyote religion. 

Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas examines the historical and sociocultural conditions that spawned the new religions that arrived in Kiowa country at the end of the nineteenth century, as well as Native and non-Native reactions to them. A thorough examination of these sources reveals how resilient and adaptable the Kiowas were in the face of cultural genocide between 1883 and 1933. Although the prophet movements and the Ghost Dance were short-lived, Christianity and the Native American Church have persevered into the twenty-first century. Benjamin R. Kracht shows how Kiowa traditions and spirituality were amalgamated into the new religions, creating a distinctive Kiowa identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496204585
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 342
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Benjamin R. Kracht is a professor of anthropology at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He is the author of Kiowa Belief and Ritual (Nebraska, 2017).

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Christianity, Peyotism, Shamanism, and Prophecy from the Reservation Period to Statehood, 1869–1906

The Reservation Period began shortly after the Medicine Lodge Treaty went into effect. According to James Mooney (1898, 182), the treaty marked "the beginning of the end" for the Kiowas, Comanches, Plains Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahos, especially in the wake of the Southern Plains wars. As the Kiowas transitioned to reservation life, religious change occurred with the introduction of Christianity and Peyotism. Many nonconverts, however, tenaciously clung to shamanic traditions or followed prophets promising to return the buffalo. Some openly opposed the new religions, especially Peyote.

The Quaker Years, 1869–77

In 1870 construction of a school south of the Fort Sill Agency commenced. Built of local stone, the two-story, shingle-roofed schoolhouse opened on February 20, 1871, and the first four students belonged to the Penateka Comanche band of Esihabit (Milky Way). Ironically his band was registered at the Wichita Agency in Anadarko, so none of the original students was from the Fort Sill Agency. Afraid to sleep in the upstairs dormitory section of the building, the Comanche students lived in tipis until they felt acclimated enough to stay with the other students, who were Caddos (Corwin 1958a, 108, 88–89).

On May 17, 1871, Lone Wolf and a group of Kiowas visited the school, expressing interest in having their children educated by Josiah Butler, the Quaker teacher, although the distant location of the school made it difficult for them to bring their children (Corwin 1958a, 92). Another school was established at the Wichita Agency that spring and was operated by A. J. Standing, also a Quaker, then Battey (Methvin n.d.a, 32). The Wichita agent Jonathan Richards hired Dr. Fordyce Grinnell as agency physician, who in his spare time taught the gospel to the Wichita and Caddo bands living north of the Washita River (Methvin n.d.a, 45; Hume 1951, 113–14).

Battey taught at the Wichita School for two years before leaving for the Kiowa camps, where he opened a school in a tipi in Kicking Bird's village of "peaceful" Kiowas on January 23, 1873. On that day his class of twenty-two pupils was interrupted by a hatchet-wielding warrior, whom Battey physically removed from the tipi. Several days later Battey learned that the man's behavior stemmed from rumors that Battey had caused illness among Caddo children due to his "bad medicine," undoubtedly linked to the fact that numerous children in Kicking Bird's camp suffered from colds that winter, upsetting many of the adults. Battey was allowed to remain in camp only after gaining approval from a council (Battey 1968, 115–20). Nevertheless Battey's efforts among Kicking Bird's people were unsuccessful (Corwin 1958a, 97), partially due to his failing health and the Kiowa-Comanche "outbreak" of 1874–75. For instance, in 1874 there were thirty-nine pupils at the Fort Sill Agency School, but none of the students was from the agency, and none of the sixty students in 1875 were Kiowas.

After the cessation of the Red River War, members of the Mount Scott Kiowa community began sending their children to the Fort Sill School, which was in operation from November 1875 to June 1876; approximately seventy Kiowa and Comanche children attended the school during that period, causing overcrowding problems. Dangerous Eagle, a Kiowa chief, served as interpreter. After a brief hiatus the school was reopened in November 1876. Among the prominent Mount Scott Kiowas attending the school were Kicking Bird II, Virginia Stumbling Bear, Lucius Aitson, Ton-hone, and Kah-bole (Left Hand). Attendance increased until the school was closed in 1878, when the agency moved to Anadarko (Corwin 1958a, 107, 100).

Satisfied that the Kiowas and Comanches were completely humiliated following the "outbreak," Indian Commissioner John Q. Smith was convinced that they were willing "to enter upon a civilized mode of life." Agent J. M. Haworth also felt that Quaker teachings were helping his charges:

Besides our regular morning-meeting, which many Indians attend, it has been our custom to have one meeting each Sabbath for religious instruction, especially for the benefit of the adult Indians, in which they have manifested very great interest, both in attendance and attention; and, instead of fleeing from fright or trembling with superstitious fear, as they did a few years ago, when the guidance and blessings of the Great Spirit were invoked, either in their own language or in ours, they bow their heads in reverence and in some instances respond with deep feelings. I believe good has been accomplished by these meetings.

Haworth's observation of Indian reverence for Quaker Christian practices reflects that the Kiowas, like most American Indians, tolerate other religions and believe it is disrespectful to show irreverence during any religious ceremony. Nevertheless, in some instances Kiowas disdained missionaries who preached against Native religious beliefs. Hayworth's reference to "deep feelings" reflects that Indian prayers are "deeply emotional cries for help and sustenance" and that Native celebrants typically manifest such "experiential religious emotions" (Hultkrantz 1989, 8; Hultkrantz 1990, 168). Such heartfelt prayers rendered today often amaze non-Indian observers (Kracht 2000, 236).

In Haworth's last annual report, filed in 1877, he noted that his charges were optimistic toward Christianity: "It is very gratifying to note the fact of the continued interest manifested by the regular attendance of a large number of Indians at the religious meetings, and the anxiety manifested by some of them to learn more of the white man's road in that respect. ... Quite a number expressed themselves glad of the opportunities given them of learning about the Great Spirit's ways as taught in the book which we had given."

Despite increased success in their mission efforts, Quaker influence waned when P. B. Hunt, an Episcopalian, replaced Agent Haworth in 1878 and subsequently took over the consolidated agency in Anadarko. Years later Reverend Methvin claimed that removing the Quakers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs led to political corruption at most Indian agencies (Methvin n.d.a, 46).

Missions and Schools, 1876–87

Between 1876 and 1887 very little mission work was conducted among the KCA Indians and the Wichitas and Caddos. After the Quakers departed, Methvin (n.d.a, 45) lamented that the few Christian converts "were left like orphans," even though a man claiming to be a Baptist minister came to Anadarko in 1876 or 1877 and stayed for a year, utilizing a plank building at the agency constructed by Agent Andrew C. Williams. Although his name was not recorded, the alleged minister lost popularity with the Wichitas and Caddos when he preached that "there was no definite experience in the Christian religion, and people could not know until death whether they were ordained for heaven or hell. This was so different from what they had been taught by the Friends and from what they realized in their own hearts, that they quit and would not hear this man any more, and he left" (45).

In 1877 Robert Lake, asserting a Kiowa identity, visited Mormon elders in Salt Lake City, informing them that the Kiowas desired to be taught from the Book of Mormon. Accepting the challenge to proselytize in Indian Territory, elders Matthew W. Dalton and John Hubbard accompanied him in March to Vinita, northeast of present-day Tulsa, where they were abandoned by Lake, who proved to be a fraud. Their situation improved when they met Brother Antony Navair, a Pottawatomie convert. As a team, they preached among the Creeks and Cherokees, then finally made it to Kiowa country, but Hubbard died on September 12 and was buried somewhere along the Washita River in southwestern Indian Territory. Discouraged by the death of his colleague and opposition from Indians, Dalton returned home, ending the earliest and only attempt to convert Kiowas to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Agent P. B. Hunt reported in 1879 that there were no permanent missionaries among the Kiowas and Comanches, though in the previous year Reverend Murrow, Major Ingalls, and former agent Lawrie Tatum had occasionally visited Indian camps to conduct mission work. Sometime that year John McIntosh (Creek), a Baptist minister, came to the Anadarko Agency and occupied a building north of the river among the affiliated tribes. Delivering a more positive message than his predecessor, he preached at several encampments in newly constructed arbors, where he attracted large gatherings. Within a short period of time McIntosh's congregation reached fifty members (Hume 1951, 114; Methvin n.d.a, 46).

On June 23, 1881, Rev. J. B. Wicks, representing the "Protestant Episcopal church of the diocese of New York," arrived in Anadarko with a former Fort Marion prisoner of war named Paul Zotom (Chewed Driftwood), a recently ordained deacon financially supported by a "noble-hearted Christian lady" of Syracuse, New York, to become a missionary to the KCAIndians. During the next year Wicks intermittently conducted church services in the Kiowa-Comanche school, built during Hunt's tenure on the south side of the Washita River, one-half mile west of the agency (Methvin n.d.a, 87), which averaged 103 students a month. Wicks desired to build a church for the Indians. Concomitant to Wicks's work in Anadarko, Rev. H. S. P. Ashby, a Methodist minister representing the Northwest Texas Conference, preached at the Fort Sill subagency (Vernon 1980–81, 395). In 1883 Wicks, who also had ministered to the Cheyennes and Arapahos, permanently moved to Anadarko, as the new church, with a seating capacity of up to two hundred people, was almost finished; that year several youths were baptized and twelve were confirmed. According to Methvin (n.d.a, 86), Wicks built the church from the lumber of a wrecked house near Fort Sill that he bought from the trader C. A. Cleveland. Once the church was opened, weekly services were conducted, primarily for the Wichitas and Caddos, although Methvin (n.d.a, 84) claimed that services were more for whites at the agency than for the Indians and that Wicks's mission work was chiefly in the two Indian schools in Anadarko. In 1885 Wicks took ill and retired, and there were no full-time missionaries south of the Washita River until 1887, although Agent Hunt mentioned in his annual report that a Methodist preacher visited the agency once a month in 1885.

Schools were obviously an important part of the Christian infrastructure, as school-age children were the primary targets for religious conversion (see Ellis 1996). Thus in 1879 two new boarding schools were planned for the Kiowa Agency since the original two schools built by the Quakers in 1871 needed to be replaced: the school near the old Fort Sill Agency was abandoned in the fall of 1878, when the agency moved to Anadarko (Corwin 1958a, 100), and the school built for the Wichitas on the north banks of the Washita River burned down in 1878. After consolidating the former agencies in Anadarko, Agent Hunt had the old Wichita School rebuilt, and he ordered the construction of the new Kiowa School west of the agency. Students attended classes in several of the old agency buildings as these plans were being drafted (Methvin n.d.a, 87; Shannon 1971, 12, 19–22).

The Wichita School, renamed Wichita Industrial Boarding School, reopened on October 1, 1879, with a capacity of 150 students. The Kiowa School across the river was not finished, so a makeshift school for Kiowa children was established in the physician's quarters at the Fort Sill subagency, close to the original school. Both schools were filled to capacity in 1880 (Corwin 1958a, 97; Shannon 1971, 24–25). With one hundred students, the new Kiowa School opened in 1881. Monthly attendance averaged eighty-seven students, mostly Kiowas and a few Comanches. Attendance remained constant over the next several years, though in 1884, average monthly attendance dropped to fifty-three students. In his eighth and final annual report Agent Hunt stated that the average monthly attendance was back up to seventy-six students, but he did not note that the school had structural problems.

Hunt's successor, J. Lee Hall, however, mentioned that the Kiowa School was in bad shape. In his second annual report Hall noted that the badly dilapidated building served approximately fifteen students a month. Furthermore the parents of the Comanche children complained that they wanted their own school near the Fort Sill subagency. In 1888 Special Agent E. E. White claimed that both schools in Anadarko were inferior, especially the Kiowa School, which he feared would be unusable during the forthcoming winter. Because the school lacked a sick ward or hospital facilities, sick children were housed in the dormitories. Moreover both schools were overcrowded, compelling White to send children from the KCAReservation to other schools, including Carlisle Industrial School, Haskell Institute, Chilocco Indian School, and Lincoln Institute in Philadelphia.

The Proliferation of Missions and Schools, 1887–1906

The absence of missionaries and the dilapidated conditions of the two government boarding schools prompted Christian mission societies to establish missions and schools among the KCAIndians beginning in 1887. Inspired by the 1887 Dawes Act, a major victory for evangelical reformers (see Hoxie 1988, 204–28; Prucha 1976, 1978, 1984; Beaver 1988, 430–58), several Christian denominations placed bids to open missions and schools among the Indians at the Kiowa Agency, as evidenced by Special Agent White's only annual report in 1888:

One hopeful indication for these Indians is the interest now being manifested in them by religious societies and mission boards. During the past year three missionaries have entered this field, and others see the great opportunities which it presents, and are preparing to come. The first to come was Rev. J. J. Methvin, of the Home Mission Board of the M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church, South, who arrived here last fall. He was followed in the spring by Rev. G. W. Hicks, of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and Miss J. M. Ballew, of the Territorial Baptist Convention. These people are all doing good work. Mr. Methvin preaches regularly at the agency, and seems to be working mainly among the Kiowas. Mr. Hicks and Miss Ballew are among the Wichitas and affiliated bands, many of whom are already members of the church. During the spring and early summer Miss Ballew taught a small day school at the Wichita church....

The mission boards of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of South [North] America and the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches are also making preparations to establish schools and missions here. It is my policy, as I understand it to be yours, to encourage all religious and missionary societies in their work among the Indians.

Mission and church growth accelerated after Thomas J. Morgan became Indian commissioner in 1889. By the time his term ended in 1893 there were six Indian schools on the KCA Reservation, and by 1895 there were nine. After the "opening" in 1901, there were three government schools, four mission schools, and nineteen churches on the former reservation. The following Christian organizations operated in Kiowa country before Oklahoma statehood.

Methodist Missions and Schools

Reverend Methvin toured the Indian Territory in 1886 to consider a mission, and after encountering Kiowas he decided to establish a church near the Kiowa Agency. In the fall of 1887 Methvin arrived in Anadarko to begin his ministry, conducting church services in town and preaching in the Kiowa encampments, and for the next two years he traversed the different parts of the reservation seeking converts (Corwin 1968, 44–46; Babcock 1941, 116). During this period Methvin (n.d.a, 72) and his family lived next to Collier & Sneed's Trading Store in a "small shack that had served as kitchen for the store."

Methvin could not speak Kiowa and found it difficult to communicate using rudimentary sign language. He desperately needed an interpreter, especially someone sympathetic to his efforts to proselytize the Kiowas, who resisted conversion. Eventually Methvin met Virginia Stumbling Bear, the Carlisle-educated daughter of the old chief, who was initially reticent to translate but finally acquiesced. She interpreted for Methvin during a church service held in a tipi (Vernon 1980–81, 397). After becoming Methvin's interpreter, Stumbling Bear helped convert several prominent Mount Scott Kiowas to Methodism: Luther Sahmaunt, who eventually married her, his old schoolmate; Jimmy Quoetone, father of Guy Quoetone, future Methodist minister; Hunting Horse and his two sons, Albert and Cecil, future Methodist ministers; and several of the Indian scouts stationed at Fort Sill. Additional Mount Scott converts included Sankadota (Medicine Feather); Howard Sankadota, a Peyotist; Apekaum (Charcoal); and Sia-tigh, or Little George (Vernon 1980–81, 392, 402–9; Vernon 1984; Corwin 1958a, 44–45, 195–96; Babcock 1941, 116; Stewart 1962–63, 334).


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Kiowa Pronunciations
Introduction: Kiowa Culture in the Nineteenth Century
1. Christianity, Peyotism, Shamanism, and Prophecy from the Reservation Period to Statehood, 1869–1906
2. The Ghost Dance, 1890–1916
3. Christianity and Peyotism in the Postallotment Era
4. Peyotism and Christianity after World War II
Conclusion: Indigenized Christianity and Spirituality

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