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Chief Big Tree Dies at Anadarko

submitted by: Dorman Holub

The following article from the Daily Oklahoman, regarding the death of Chief Big
Tree, one of the first Indians to be tried in civil courts is reprinted herewith.

The death of Chief Big Tree on 13 November 1930 marked the passing of the last of the
old Indian warriors, and recalls one of the most thrilling incidents in Indian
history of western Oklahoma.

Having been made a war chief of the Kiowa tribe while a young man, Big Tree
participated in many plundering expeditions and massacres before the warlike
tribes of the plains were finally suppressed and induced to live peaceably on
reservations. For his part as one of the leaders in the capture of a government
wagon train near Fort Richardson, Texas, in which the train master, and six
teamsters were killed. Big Tree was arrested together with Satanta and Satank,
two of the most merciless war chiefs in the entire Indian country. Satank was
shot by soldiers who were escorting the prisoners in Texas when he attacked them
with a large knife. Satanta and Big Tree were convicted in Texas courts and
sentenced to be hung, which was later committed to life imprisonment.

In November, 1871, however, President Grant presented their case to the Texas
governor who released them on parole in 1873. Satanta broke his parole and was
returned to the penitentiary where he committed suicide. Since Big Tree was only
a young man, it was believed that he could be saved by keeping him busy in
worthwhile peaceful duties. He was put in charge of the supply train from
Wichita and other Kansas points to the Indian agency, which is now located at
Anadarko, and never broke his parole. Later he was a leader in asking for a
missionary to his people and assisted in the establishment of the first mission,
now known as Rainy Mountain Indian mission. Big Tree became a member of the
church in 1897 and for the past 30 years has been a deacon. He remained an
active leader in his tribe until a few years ago when age and ill health
prevented active participation in tribal business.

Big Tree was buried in the Rainy Mountain cemetery near his home. He is survived
by two daughters, Mrs. Alma Ahote and Mrs. Marietta Haag, who live in the Rainy
Mountain community, about three miles southwest of Mountain View in Kiowa
County. Unlike most of the older Indians, Big Tree was married only once. His
wife died about ten years ago.

The historical events in which Big Tree played a part make an interesting
narrative as told by G.W. Conver of Anadarko, who has lived in the Indian
country more than 60 years. As a soldier he was sent here in 1876 and was in
charge of the commissary at Fort Sill during much of the Indian warfare.

“Early in the year of 1871,” Conover says, “the Kiowas held their big medicine dance.

“It was their custom at the close of the dance for them to decide their course
for the summer — whether for peace or war, which was almost always for
plundering expeditions down into Texas or Mexico.

“This was a good time when the grass was good and their ponies were in good
condition and when the broad prairies afforded ample food for both man and
beasts, for there was plenty of game and wild game.

“Early in the summer, Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree with a considerable band of
warriors went into Texas and not far from Fort Richardson captured a government
train and killed the train master and six of the teamsters, and it was reported
that they tied the train master to a wagon wheel and burned him.

“According to Satanta, Eagle heart, Big Bow and East Bear were with the expedition.

“At this time General Sherman was out west visiting all the military posts, and
he came along south after this tragedy, on his way to Fort Sill. It was the
custom with the Indians when they made a raid of this kind to come into their
camps by the time of the issuing of rations, which was every two weeks, and
tell and boast of what they had done.

“When Sherman reached Fort Sill he made inquiry as to what Indians had been off
the reservation, and who committed this depredation. Laurie Tatum, the Quaker
Indian agent, thought he could find out. He and General Sherman and Colonel
Grierson, commandant of Fort Sill, decided that morning to visit the Indian
school and left word with one of the Indians came in during their absence, which
they probably would do to close the commissary, and let them know at once.

“Very soon after, the did come in and camped with women and children and dogs,
about 30 yards from the commissary.

“They had already heard that the big war chief from Washington was here and they
wanted to see him and see how they could measure up with him. Very soon they had
the opportunity but Satanta got a very cool reception from Gen. Sherman. Sherman
was walking back and forth upon the porch of the commissary with his hands
behind him in meditative attitude when Satanta with Horace P. Jones, the post
interpreter, approached, and Jones introduced Satanta, but the general paid but
scant attention , did not offer to shake hands but merely remarked, “Yes, I have
heard of him,” and continued his meditative walk. The Indian were anxious to
hold a council, and when they got together in the commissary council room an
inquiry was made concerning the raid in Texas, and the murder of the teamsters,
Satanta arose and said, “Yes, I led the raid, I have made many requests to you,
but you do not listen to my talk and you refuse to grant me what I ask. The
white people are reparing [sic] to build a railroad throughout the country,
which will not be allowed. Some years ago they took us by the hair of the head
and placed us here near the Texas people, where we have to fight them. More
recently I was arrested by the soldiers and kept in prison several days, but
that is played out now. I want you to remember that no more Kiowas are to be
arrested. On account of these wrongs, a short time ago I took about 100 of my
warriors to Texas, whom I wished to teach how to fight. I also took Satank,
Eagle Heart, Big Bow, Big Tree and Fast Bear. We found a mule train which we
captured, and killed seven men, and three of our men were killed, but we are
willing to call it even. It is all over now, and it is not necessary to say much
about it. We don’t expect to do any raiding around here this summer, but we
expect to rain on Texas. If any other Indians claim the honor of leading that
raid they are lying. I led it myself.” When he ended his speech, Eagle Heart,
Big Tree and Satank, who were present sanctioned what he said.

“Big Tree and Satanta later were taken to Jacksboro, Texas, and tried for
murder, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on the first day of September,
1871. Their sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and after several
years of confinement in the Texas penitentiary they were paroled upon good
behavior. But later Satanta violated his parole and was sent back to the
penitentiary, where one day in despair he committed suicide by jumping from the
second story of his prison to the pavement below.

“Big Tree was the last of all the old warriors. For years he had been a
peaceable citizen and manifested some excellent qualities in his latter days. He
was a leading member of the Baptist Church at Elk Creek and held a creditable
place in the esteem of his people.”

An amusing incident occurred in connection with the organization of the mission
of which Big Tree was one of the first members. A barrel of clothing from the
east was distribute [sic] among the Indians a week before the founding of the
church. So Sunday morning Big Tree appeared for the organization of the mission
all dressed up in a stove pipe hat, a Prince Albert coat and Indian breeches
made of sheeting.

According to the records at the Kiowa Agency, Big Tree was 49 years old at the
allotment in 1900, which would make his age at the time of his death 78 or 79
years. His Indian name was Ahdoete, which means “big tree” in the Kiowa dialect.

How merciless Big Tree and his band of warriors were upon their frequent raids,
is shown by an incident occasionally related by Big Tree. While leading a
plundering expedition into Texas, a sparsely populated settlement was attacked
and the men were slaughtered. A young mother with a small baby in her arms was
pleading for her child’s life. Big Tree rode up, grabbed the infant by one leg,
tore it from the mother’s arms and hurled it into a tree. But Big Tree did not
tell of the atrocity in a boasting way, always using it as an example of the
power of God to forgive. “God has forgiven me - and I did that hideous thing,”
he would conclude and his face would light up with a kindly smile of
satisfaction, the sincerity of which could hardly be doubted.

Satank’s son, Frank Givens (Aukount), a Kiowa medicine man living near Carnegie,
is the only direct male descendant of the old Indian war chiefs of the Kiowa
tribe. Givens is about 60 years old and is said to greatly resemble his warlike father.

The Jacksboro Gazette
Jacksboro, TX
Thursday, January 23, 1930

Saturday, July 11, 2009

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