Kiowa Customs: Interpreting Omens
The story presented here is from a compilation of Native American tales gathered by Hugh Lenox Scott (1853‒1934), a cavalry officer in the United States Army, who in 1892 was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as commander of Troop L of the Seventh Cavalry, an all-Indian unit comprised of Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. A West Point graduate who served at various posts in the western United States between 1876 and 1897, Scott developed a great interest in the region’s indigenous populations and became an astute practitioner of Plains Indian sign language, a non-verbal method of communicating with hand signals. Familiarity with sign talk enabled Scott to undertake “an intensive study of every phase of the Indian and his customs.” In particular, he set about collecting stories from the Kiowa and other Native Americans who resided in the vicinity of Fort Sill. Many of the stories were gathered firsthand by Scott, while others were brought to him by Indians with whom he worked. Scott credits I-See-O (formerly Tah-bone-mah, died 1927) with actively searching out new stories. He “would sometimes be sent to outlying places where rumor pointed to another story—sometimes as far as 150 miles up the Washita . . . this went on until Isee-o said it was no use to search further for there were no more stories.” A combination of historical accounts, firsthand observations, and traditional fables, these stories, Scott wrote, “were the means by which their history, philosophy, and moral precepts were handed down to the younger generations by tales as old as the Kiowa tribe.” The stories are preserved in the Hugh Lenox Scott papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Scott led an eventful life that included, in addition to his service in the American West, stints as acting governor of Cuba, military governor of the Sulu Archipelago, Philippines, superintendent of West Point, and U.S. Army chief of staff. Upon his retirement from the army, Scott accepted an appointment to the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1919 to 1929. Details of his life can be found in a lengthy autobiography, Some Memories of a Soldier (1928).
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Last updated: June 16, 2016