Located in an area of the Wichita Mountain foothills in the extreme northwest corner of Comanche County is a small peak named Saddle Mountain. Surrounding land was allotted to Native American families after Congress passed the 1887 Dawes Allotment Act.
The land was originally part of the Kiowa Comanche Apache (KCA) Reservation, which was created in 1867 by the Medicine Lodge Treaty with the U.S. government. More than 5,000 representatives of the Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa-Apache, and Southern Cheyenne nations met the U.S. peace commissioners at the sacred site of Medicine Lodge Creek in Kansas.
The proposal, which offered a 2.9-million-acre tract to the Kiowas and Comanche, also included a 4.3-million-acre tract for the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation. Tribes were expected to transition from a nomadic way of life to a sedentary life of farming. The plan wasn’t met with much enthusiasm.
“This building of homes for us is all nonsense. We don’t want you to build any for us. We would all die. My country is small enough already. If you build us houses, the land will be smaller. Why do you insist on this?” asked Kiowa Chief Satanta.
Although there was opposition, the tribal chiefs and the U.S. peace commissioners signed the treaty, which was originally intended to be in place for 30 years (until 1897). The tribes surrendered claims to more than 140,000 square miles of land in exchange for $25,000 per year payments for 30 years and other annuities in food, supplies, seeds, farming equipment and the promise of schools and churches. They were also given permission to continue to hunt buffalo for as long as they existed, which turned out not to be for long. By the late 1880s, fewer than 100 bison remained in the wild.
“In words befitting the perspective of other tribal communities, a Kiowa woman named Old Lady Horse explained why. ‘The buffalo were the life of the Kiowa,’ she said. Bison, then, were at the heart of a way of life worth fighting for. The Comanche, also believed that by retaining the right to hunt on lands they had reserved for themselves in Kansas and Texas in prior treaties, they had also retained ownership,” wrote Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D. in the article “The Medicine Lodge Treaty and Its Aftermath.”
Before the 30 years of the Medicine Lodge Treaty had expired, government officials formed the Jerome Commission in 1892 to discuss how allotment would proceed. The Kiowas staunchly rejected the Jerome Commission and drafted a petition asking Congress to reject the proposed agreement. It was the beginning of a 10-year process that eventually took the Kiowas to the U.S. Supreme Court, with no avail. Tribal leadership contended that the document was never ratified by adult males of the participating tribes.
“They engaged in the legal battle with their Comanche allies, including some who had financial and legal support from American cattlemen who leased grazing lands on the reservation,” wrote Jennifer Graber in the book “The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West.”
During this process, a 31-year-old Baptist missionary from Canada named Isabel Crawford arrived at Saddle Mountain to establish a mission in 1896. She believed that the Kiowas resistance to allotment was centered on their relationship with the land and community not to the issue of cattle leasing, grazing rights and money.
“Crawford recounted when rumors of the reservations opening circulated. ‘The Indians are running everywhere gathering up the bones of their dead and bringing them to the different missions.’ Dividing lands into individual plots, as well as losing ‘surplus’ lands to white settlers, prompted panic about community maintenance, economic viability, and beloved places where Kiowas had made their homes, celebrated rites, and buried their dead,” wrote Graber.
(Saddle Mountain Mission … to be continued next week)
Sources for this article include en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddle_Mountain,_Oklahoma; books.google.com, “The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West” by Jennifer Graber; www.smithsonianmag.com, “How the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty Changed the Plains Tribes Forever” by Lorraine Boissoneault; www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com, “The Medicine Lodge Treaty and Its Aftermath” by Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D.; en.wikipedia.org, “Bison Hunting”; www.okhistory.org, “Saddle Mountain Mission” by Clyde Ellis.