Like many tribes, the Kiowa tribe developed a unique system to preserve their culture. Through elder observations and intent to pass historical and cultural knowledge to their generations to come, the uses of tribal language, object significance, and observance of art practice for the Kiowa provide education through visual means. The mission of the Kiowa mural project is to promote knowledge of the Kiowa land, language, and culture through indigeneity and provide translation for community members. The preservation of culture holds a commonality with Kiowa tribal government from Lewis Toyebo’s initiation in 1978 to the present.
In 2019, Legislator for the Ah-Kaw-Lay District #1, Angela M. Chaddlesone McCarthy approached the Kiowa Museum to curate an exhibition featuring the murals, honoring the wishes of her father, muralist Sherman Chaddlesone, as well as artists Parker Boyiddle Jr. and Mirac Creepingbear, to be featured nationally and internationally. On September 17, 2020, the Kiowa Tribe lost Angela to Covid-19.
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Previously, these murals had only been on private view. The Kiowa Tribal government now chooses to share these murals with the world, a decision made with the expectation that these artworks would educate those outside of our community about the presence and perseverance of the Kiowa people. The Kiowa Tribal Executive Branch currently wishes to honor the artists’ and families’ requests with this exhibition.
— Tahnee Ahtone, Curator
According to oral history, the Kiowa people have many stories and legends about the infamous Saynday, the Kiowa Hero. Saynday could communicate with both animals and humans.
The Kiowa saying, “Behold, I stand in good relation to all,” results from the Kiowas not seeing a difference between themselves and other creatures. As every Saynday story begins, “Saynday was coming along….” This story is about him wandering alone on the sunless earth and finding the Kiowas living underground.
Spider-Woman came upon the Boy Who Fell from the Sky, known as the Half Boy, who became two warriors after disobeying their Grandmother. In this painting, boys stand over a rattlesnake they have just shot while a ghostly sea serpent writhes overhead. Not knowing they had killed Snakeman, Grandmother Spider’s husband, they caused a split that impacted their people. There is more to the story within the mural. Still, this portion of the teaching remains with the Kiowa community for cultural preservation.
After many adventures, the Half Boys decided to leave the earth. The boy, who was half-boy and half-earth, left the world by walking into the water. The other half-boy half-sky chooses to give himself to the Kiowa people by cutting himself into ten parts. This is the symbolism of the red and blue for the Kiowa people related to their religion, relations to the present, and belief.
The Kiowa people were migrant people who made their way from Canada, Montana, and Yellowstone. Before the migration, the people split into two groups. Some went farther north into Canada, near Banff, and the others made their way down to the Great Plains region.
The Sun Dance or “Skaw-tow” was an annual celebration held in late spring, usually around the summer solstice. The purpose was to reunite the small bands scattered across the land. It was a time of thanksgiving, peace-making and honoring the Great Mystery known as “Dom-oye-aim-daw-k’ee.” Although it was called the Sun Dance, it was not meant to worship the Sun but to thank the Great Mystery, the mysterious creator of all things.
During the last stage of the Kiowa’s southward migration onto the Southern Plains, they encountered many tribes and creatures along the way. The horse was probably the most critical factor in enabling the Kiowas and other Plains Indians to lead a successful, nomadic life. Although the Kiowas used large dogs as a primary source of transportation, the horse made traveling much easier and faster.
The Plains Indians acquired horses from the Spanish, who entered Northern Mexico and Texas around 1630 CE. By 1690, 60 years later, many Indians had horses. Thus, the Plains Indian culture, as we have historically defined it, is relatively recent, only about 300 years old. The culture reached its peak from 1775 to 1875 and eventually died as it began — with dependence on the horse. When the Indians were forced off the ancestral homelands by the U.S. Government, the horses were confiscated, their nomadic life died, and the horse/buffalo culture ended abruptly. It was necessary to ally with neighboring tribes of the Comanche and the Cheyenne.
“In my work, I try to show the strength and character of our people. The feeling comes from the heart, and my work reflects my pride in my people. I feel that I am recording history, one person’s view about who we are”
— Creepingbear (Southern Plains Indian Museum 1981)
After the Kiowas migrated to the Southern Plains, they established an alliance with the Comanche and Cheyenne people. During this time, the US Military began to force the tribes off the land and onto reservations.
The Plains tribes placed on reservations in western Oklahoma had long lived the life of hunters and gatherers; hence, the government’s expectation of them quickly taking up farming was doomed to fail. Resisting reservation life, the starvation and disease that accompanied it, about 70 Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapaho “war-leaders” were arrested and taken to Fort Marion Prison in St. Augustine, Florida, where they were incarcerated for three years.
During the incarceration, the prisoners were given ruled ledger pads by their captors to draw. The military viewed these as art and encouraged the prisoners in this pursuit. The prisoners used fundamental materials for their drawings: pencils, pens with ink, and crayons. They most often drew scenes of the way life was before the Indian wars and reservation life; sometimes, though, the prisoners drew little battle scenes and life at Ft. Marion. These drawings represented a turning point in Native American art. They documented the pivotal time when the Indians were losing their traditional way of life and were forced to submit to the ways and laws of foreign culture. Artistically, the drawings bridge the gap between the conventional mediums of American Indian art, such as paintings on stone and hide, and the westernized mediums of paper and canvas. The resulting ledger drawings from Ft. Marion served to influence several generations of Native American artists. This piece speaks to the Kiowa’s significance and importance of document taking through art, a practice still honored today.
Here we see a vast, desolate plain littered with the skeletal remains of the slaughtered buffalo and the Sun Dance lodge. By 1888, not a single buffalo could be found anywhere on the Southern Plains for the Sun Dance. The Kiowa could not fathom the waste with which the animals were slaughtered for sport or hides while leaving the flesh to rot; it ultimately rejected the notion of harmony with nature and the Great Mystery known as the Creator. The Kiowas believed that to subdue the Indians, the government sanctioned the buffalo slaughter to starve them into submission. Since there were no buffalo to be found, the Sun Dance could not be performed. The gathering was ultimately outlawed through pressure from the missionaries.
A heavy, dark thunderstorm rolls in above the plain in the painting above — fierce forks of lightning and sheets of rain pound the desolate earth. High in the dark clouds are ghostly images of the vanished Sun Dancers and buffalo herds. The dark storm foreshadows a time of great despair and depression for the Kiowas.
The image of the ledger artist Wohaw conveys the conflict experienced by all Plains Indians of the time — the conflict of the hunt and the farm, and the futile struggle to maintain their traditional, nomadic way of life while being forced to live a lifestyle that was foreign and unnatural to their traditional existence. In the sky above, the hunters are the symbols of the crescent moon, a star, and the Sun. It is noted that Wohaw added these astronomical symbols to portend the time of ensuring changes for the Indian People.
With their traditional religion abolished, a new religion emerged among the Kiowa in the 1800s known as the Kiowa Ghost Dance. The dance was designed to bring about the return of the buffalo.
With the abolishment of the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance, many Kiowas were desperate for spiritual and religious belongings. Many turned to the Christianity of the Missionaries and others to the Native American Church.
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In the 1950s, the Kiowa revived two traditional societies, the Black Leggings Society and the Kiowa Gourd Clan. The society and clan members in the painting emerge in procession; on the left are two Kiowa Princesses, who represent all women of the tribe. However, the woman in the center is dressed differently from the others, dressed in the tradition of the Kiowa Scalp Dancers. Before the reservation days, the women would perform the Scalp Dance when the warriors returned from battle. They would ride into the camp in full battle dress, yelling and whooping. The women then held the Scalp Dance in celebration of a victorious battle. During the dance, the women would wear the captured war bonnet to mock the fallen enemy.
The Black Leggings tipi partially painted red with black and tan stripes that represent war trials and individual battles. The north side of the tipi, now blank, will one day be painted with Kiowa battle scenes.
Four objects raised on posts belong to the Kiowa Gourd Clan. The war bonnet and the Calvary sword were captured from the enemy’s battle. The bugle and the spear belonged to Kiowa War Chief Set-tainte, who learned to play the bugle for later use. The bugle was an effective weapon in battle for the Kiowa’s. Set-tainte would trick troops by playing the retreat call to play back when he heard the battle play for charge. This mixed up the troops, causing their defeat in battle. Today, the Kiowa Gourd Clan’s horn is still used to honor this victory.
Rainy Mountain is included as it was a stop during the Kiowa southward migration. Caught in a bad rainstorm that lasted for several days, the Kiowas were stranded at the mountain due to thick mud. The tribe eventually stayed in the region and never resumed their southward migration. The blacktopped road represents the migration of the Kiowa people from the beginning of time in the north county leading to the present day in the Southern Plains of what is now known as Oklahoma.
Parker Boyiddle Jr., Mirac Creepingbear, and Sherman Chaddlesone, the Kiowa Mural Artists, joined their talents in creating this final Mural. As a symbol of cooperation and a sense of ownership, the three handprints are included to acknowledge the work of each artist and their contribution to the mural project.
- What It Means to Curate for My Native American Community
- Kiowa Murals Embody Kiowa Language, Culture, and Community
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