July 12, 2012

Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma


Although in some ways the Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma displayed a typical Plains Indian culture, they had an effective and well organized military strategy and were thought to be one of the most warlike tribes. 

Official Tribal Name: Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma

Address:  130 W Main St, Anadarko, OK 73005
Phone: (580) 654-2300
Email: Contacts List

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Gaigwu or Kǎ’-i-gwŭ (plural) or Kgoy-goo [kaw-eh-goo] or ‘koy-goo’ (singular) all meaning, “the principal people”, in their tribal language. The G and K are dialectal differences and are pronounced pretty much the same way. The word “Kiowa” comes from the Blackfoot language and originated after their migration through what the Kiowa refer to as “The Mountains of the Kiowa.” This location is in the present eastern edge of Glacier National Park, Montana, just below the Canadian border.

The mountain pass they came through was populated heavily by grizzly bear and Blackfoot people. The Blackfoot word for “grizzly bear” is “Kgyi-yo.” Kgyi-yo  (it means “one who is lost”) was corrupted in English as the root translation for the word Ki-o-wa. Today, Kiowa, Montana is located on the very spot where ancient Kiowa passed through the mountains during their southward migration.

They now call themselves K’oigu, the “Principal People.” Earlier names, Kwuda, or T’epda, “Coming-Out People,” commemorate the Kiowa creation story, when they “came out” of the ground.

Common Name: Kiowa – from the pronunciation of Gaigwu.

Name in other languages: Other tribes who encountered the Kiowa used sign language to describe them, by holding two straight fingers near the lower outside edge of the eye and moving these straight fingers back past the ear. This corresponded to the ancient Kiowa hairstyle, cut horizontally from the lower outside edge of the eyes to the back of their ears. This was a functional practice to keep their hair from getting tangled as an arrow was let loose from a bow string. George Catlin painted Kiowa warriors with this hairstyle.

  • Be´shĭltcha—Na-isha Apache name.
  • Datŭmpa´ta—Hidatsa name, according to old T’ebodal. Perhaps another form of Witapähätu or Witapätu
  • Gahe´wă—Wichita name.
  • Gai´wa—Omaha and Ponca name, according to Francis La Flesche.
  • Kaî-wa—Comanche name, from the proper form Gâ´-i-gŭa. As the Comanche is the trade language of the southern plains, this form, with slight variations, has been adopted by most of the neighboring tribes and by the whites. The same word in the Comanche language also signifies “mouse.” The form Kai-wa is that used by the Pueblo Indians of Cochiti, Isleta, San Felipe, and Santa Ana—Hodge, MS. Pueblo notes, 1895, in Bur. Am. Eth.
  • Ko´mpabi´ănta—”Large tipi flaps,” a name sometimes used by the Kiowa to designate themselves.
  • Kompa´go—An abbreviated form of Ko´mpabi´anta.
  • Kwu´’dă´—”Coming out” or “going out;” the most ancient name by which the Kiowa designated themselves. See Te´pdă´.
  • Na’la´ni—”Many aliens,” or “many enemies;” the collective Navaho name for the southern plains tribes, particularly the Comanche and Kiowa.
  • Nĭ´chihinĕ´na—”Rivermen,” the Arapaho name, from nĭ´chia river and hinĕ´na (singular hinĕ´n) men. The Kiowa are said to have been so called from their long residence on the upper Arkansas.
  • Shi´sh-i-nu´-wut-tsi´t-a-ni-o—Hayden, Ethn. and Phil. Missouri Val., 290, 1862. Improperly given as the Cheyenne name for the Kiowa and rendered “rattlesnake people.” The proper form is Shĭ´shĭnu´wut-tsĭtäni´u, “snake [not rattlesnake] people,” and is the Cheyenne name for the Comanche, not the Kiowa, whom the Cheyenne call Witapä´tu. The mistake arose from the fact that the Comanche and Kiowa are confederated.
  • Te´pdă´—”Coming out,” “going out,” “issuing” (as water from a spring, or ants from a hole); an ancient name used by the Kiowa to designate themselves, but later than Kwu´`da, q. v. The two names, which have the same meaning, may refer to their mythic origin or to their coming into the plains region. The name Te´pdă´ may have been substituted for Kwu´`da´, in accordance with a custom of the tribe, on account of the death of some person bearing a name suggestive of the earlier form.
  • Tepk`i´ñägo—”People coming out,” another form of Te´pdă´.
  • Wi´tapähä´tu—The Dakota name, which the Dakota commonly render as people of the “island butte,” from wita, island, and pähä, locative pähäta, a butte. They are unable to assign any satisfactory reason for such a name. See Witapähät.
  • T’häpet’häpa´yit’he—Arbuthnut letter in Bur. Am. Eth. (given as the Cheyenne name for the Kiowa).
  • Vi´täpä´tu´i—Name used for the Kiowa by the Sutaya division of the Cheyenne.
  • Wi´tăpähät, Wităp´ätu—Cheyenne forms, derived from the Dakota form Witapähätu, or vice versa. The Dakota render the name “island butte.” Attempts have been made to translate it from the Cheyenne language as people with “cheeks painted red” (wi´tapa, red paint; tu, cheek bone), but there is no evidence that this habit was specially characteristic of the Kiowa. It may possibly be derived from the ancient name Te´pdă´, q.v.
  • Wi´-ta-pa-ha—Riggs-Dorsey, Dakota-English Dictionary, 579, 1890.

Alternate Spellings of Kiowa:

  • Cahiaguas—Escudero, Noticias Nuevo Mexico, 87, 1849.
  • Cahiguas—Ibid., 83.
  • Caiawas—H. R. Rept., 44th Cong., 1st sess., I, 299, 1876.
  • Caigua—Spanish document of 1735, title in Rept. Columbian Hist. Exposition, Madrid, 323, 1895.
  • Caihuas—Document of 1828, in Soc. Geogr. Mex., 265, 1870. This form occurs also in Mayer, Mexico, II, 123, 1853.
  • Caiwas—American Pioneer, I, 257, 1842.
  • Cargua—Spanish document of 1732, title in Rept. Columbian Hist. Exp., Madrid, 323, 1895 (for Caigua).
  • Cayanwa—Lewis, Travels, 15, 1809 (for Cayauwa).
  • Caycuas—Barreiro, Ojeada Sobre Nuevo Mexico, app., 10, 1832.
  • Cayguas—Villaseñor, Teatro Americano, pt. 2, 413, 1748. This is the common Spanish form, written also Caygüa, and is nearly identical with the proper tribal name.
  • Cayugas—Bent, 1846, in California Mess. and Corresp., 193, 1850 (for Cayguas).
  • Ciawis—H. R. Rept., 44th Cong., 1st sess., I, 299, 1876.
  • Kaiawas—Gallatin, in Trans. Am. Eth. Soc., II, 20, 1848.
  • Kaí-ó-wás—Whipple, Pacific Railroad Report, pt. I, 31, 1856.
  • Kaiowan—Hodge, MS. Pueblo notes, 1895, in Bur. Am. Eth. (Sandia name).
  • Kaiowe´—Powell fide Gatschet, Sixth Ann. Rept. Bur. Eth., XXXIV, 1888.
  • Kai-wane´—Hodge, MS. Pueblo notes, 1895, in Bur. Am. Eth. (Picuris name).
  • Kawas—Senate Ex. Doc. 72, 20th Cong., 104, 1829. Kawa—La Flesche, Omaha MS. in Bur. Am. Eth. (Omaha name).
  • Kayaguas—Bent, 1846, in House Doc. 76, 30th Cong., 1st sess., 11, 1848.
  • Kayaways—Pike, Expedition, app. III, 73, 1810.
  • Kayowa—Gatschet, Kaw MS., 1878, in Bur. Am. Eth. (K aw and Tonkawa name).
  • Ka´yowe´—Gatschet, in American Antiquarian, IV, 281, 1881.
  • Kayowû—Grayson, Creek MS. in Bur. Am. Eth., 1886 (Creek name).
  • Kayuguas—Bent, 1846, in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, I, 244, 1851.
  • Ka´yuwa—Dorsey, Kansas MS. Voc., 1882, in Bur. Am. Eth. (Kaw name). 149
  • Keawas—Porter, 1829, in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, III, 596, 1853.
  • Keaways—Farnham, Travels, 29, 1843.
  • Ki´-â-wâ—Lewis, Report, 1805, in Mess. from the President Communicating Discoveries by Lewis and Clark, etc, 37, 1806.
  • Kiaways—Gallatin, in Trans. American Ethn. Soc., II, cvii, 1848.
  • Kinawas—Gallatin, in Trans. American Antiq. Soc., II, 133, 1836 (misprint).
  • Kiniwas—Wilkes, U. S. Exploring Exped., IV, 473, 1845 (misprint).
  • Kiovas—Möllhausen, Journey to the Pacific, I, 158, 1858 (misprint).
  • Kiowas—Rept. Comm’r Ind. Affairs, 240, 1834. This is the American official and geographic form; pronounced Kai´-o-wa.
  • Kiowahs—Davis, El Gringo, 17, 1857.
  • Kioways—Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, 80, 1814.
  • Kiwaa—Kendall, Santa Fé Ex., I, 198, 1844 (given as the pronunciation of Caygüa).
  • Kuyawas—Sage, Scenes in the Rocky Mountains, 167, 1846.
  • Kyaways—Pike (1807), Expedition, app. II, 16, 1810.
  • Riana—Kennedy, Texas, I, 189, 1841 (double misprint).
  • Ryawas—Morse, Rept. on Ind. Aff., app., 367, 1822 (misprint).
  • Ryuwas—Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, 85, 1814 (misprint).
  • Ni-ci´-he-nen-a—Hayden, Ethn. and Phil. Missouri Valley, 326, 1862.
  • Nitchihi—Gatschet in American Antiquarian, IV, 281, 1881.
  • Watakpahata—Mallery in Fourth Ann. Rep. Bur. Eth., 109, 1886.
  • Wate-pana-toes—Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, 85, 1814 (misprint).
  • Watepaneto—Drake, Book of Indians, xii, 1848 (misprint).
  • Wetahato—Lewis, Travels, 15, 1809 (misprint).
  • Wetapahato—Lewis and Clark, Expedition, Allen ed., I, 34, map, 1814. 150
  • We-te-pâ-hâ´-to—Lewis, Report, 1805, in Mess. from the President Communicating Discoveries by Lewis and Clark, etc, 36, 1806. (Incorrectly given as distinct from the Kiowa, but allied to them.)
  • Wetopahata—Mallery, in Fourth Ann. Rep. Bur. Eth., 109, 1886.
  • Wettaphato—Morse, Report on Indian Affairs, app., 366, 1882.

Region: Great Plains 

State(s) Today: Oklahoma

Traditional Territory:

It has been archaeologically recorded that the Kiowa originated in the Kootenay Region of British Columbia, Canada. The tribe then migrated to Western Montana and continued to move until they inhabited present day Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The Kiowa say they originated in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.

Historically, earliest written records indicate Kiowas in the northern basin of the Missouri River, but they migrated south to the Black Hills around 1650 where they lived with the Crow tribe.

The Kiowas moved down the Platte River basin to the Arkansas River area after they were pushed southward by the invading Cheyennes and Sioux who were being pushed out of their own lands in the great lake regions by the Ojibwa tribes. There they fought with the Comanches, who already occupied the land.

Around 1790, the two groups made an alliance and agreed to share the area. From that time on, the Comanches and Kiowas formed a deep bond; the people hunted, traveled, and fought wars together. An additional group, the Plains Apache (also called Kiowa-Apache), were also affiliated with the Kiowas at this time. 

The fact that they speak Tanoan suggests they came from New Mexico. It is possible that they are a group of Puebloan Indians (who also speak Tanoan dialects) who migrated north long ago and then migrated back.

The Pueblo have old stories that say that they migrated in all four cardinal directions — north, south, east and west. This was long ago. The stories say that after they had migrated east, west, south and north they returned to New Mexico and Arizona. They say where they live now in New Mexico and Arizona is the center of the earth, the best place to be.

Some of these stories tell about monkeys and parrots that could only be found far to the south. Other stories tell about ice and deep snow, like what is found in the far north. The Kiowa also have stories of going south till they saw monkeys and parrots and of the far north and snow and ice. The Kiowa stories match up nicely with the Puebloan stories.

Linguists who study the history of languages, however, believe that Kiowa split from the Tanoan branch over 3,000 years ago.

Confederacy: Kiowa-Comanche and Kiowa-Apache


Provisions of the 1865 Little Arkansas Treaty forced the Kiowa and Comanche to relinquish lands in Kansas and New Mexico.

After 1840, the Kiowas joined forces with their former enemies, the Cheyennes, as well as the Comanches and the Apaches, to fight and raid the Eastern natives who were moving into the Indian Territory. The United States military intervened, and the Kiowas were part of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 and were assigned a 2.8 million acre reservation in southwestern Oklahoma in 1868. They never really confined their activities to the reservation, however, and in 1874 resumed warfare with the white settlers in the vicinity. It wasn’t until about a year later in September, when several of their leaders and many of their horses were captured, that the Kiowas ended their war with the white settlers.


On August 6, 1901 Kiowa land in Oklahoma was opened for white settlement, effectively dissolving the contiguous reservation. While each Kiowa head of household was allotted 80 acres, the only land remaining in Kiowa tribal ownership today is what was the scattered parcels of ‘grass land’ that had been leased to the white settlers for grazing before the reservation was opened for settlement.

Tribal Flag:

Tribal Emblem:

Population at Contact: The Kiowa population in the 1800s is estimated at between 1,000 to 1,600.

Registered Population Today: Over 11,500 members.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements: Phone: 580-654-2300 ext. 327

Genealogy Resources: 

Name of Governing Body:  Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Business Committee
Number of Council members:   Three council members plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  Chairman or Lady Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer


Language Classification: The Kiowa speak a language called Tanoan or Kiowa-Tanoan. Tanoan is a large family of several related languages also spoken by some of the Pueblo tribes. 

Language Dialect: Kiowa

Number of fluent Speakers:

At the beginning of the twenty-first century about three hundred Kiowas, who refer to themselves as Koigu, “the people,” still speak Kiowa, a Kiowa-Tanoan language related to Tiwa, Tewa, and Towa spoken in ten of the Rio Grande Pueblos. Kiowa cultural revitalization activities include classes to teach and thereby preserve the Kiowa language. 

Dictionary: Vocabulary of the Kiowa language

Origins: It has been archaeologically recorded that the Kiowa originated in the Kootenay Region of British Columbia, Canada and later migrated to Montana. The Kiowas say they originated in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. Read the Kiowa Creation Story.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Nineteenth-century Kiowas practiced bilateral (both maternal and paternal lines) lines of descent and utilized a generational kin classification system similar to Hawaiian kinship systems, in which relatives are differentiated by sex and generation.

With exceptions, collateral relatives in the grandparents’ generation were recognized as grandparents, a person’s cousins were “brothers” and “sisters,” siblings’ children were “sons” and “daughters,” and great-grandparents and great-grandchildren reciprocally addressed one another as siblings.

Kin terminology included using the same word for parents’ siblings: mother and mother’s sister were called “mother,” father and father’s brother were called “father,” whereas mother’s brother and father’s sister were “aunt” and “uncle.”

Brothers and sisters practiced strict avoidance relationships after age ten, although men bonded closely with their sisters’ husbands, since brothers-in-law made good hunting and warrior companions.

This organization by age is called age grade social organization. This means people of certain age ranges would belong to social organizations. As a person got older he or she would move from one social organization to the next. The boys and young men’s organizations were the most important.

During the height of the horse and buffalo culture, ca. 1832 to 1869, Kiowa society was comprised of ten to twenty bands, or kindreds, extended family groups led by the eldest brother. A typical kindred was comprised of a man, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, and often his parents and their brothers.

The Kiowas recognized four classes: ondedau, or “rich” people; the ondegup’a, “second best”; the kwwn, “poor”; and the dapom, or “worthless.”

Upper echelon, ondedw or “rich” kindreds, were comprised of wealthy families called do’oi“family of many tipis,” signifying that wealthy kindreds attracted a large following. Every nuclear family inhabited a tipi, and where polygyny (multiple wives), typically sororal (marrying sisters), was practiced, each wife occupied her own tipi.

Younger, unmarried men shared a bachelors’ tipi.

After marriage, residence with the father’s family was preferred, though bilocality often resulted from residing with the wealthier of the two kindreds.

Ondedw kindreds (ten percent of the total population) were led by high-ranking men who possessed , “supernatural power” that contributed to their success as great warriors and owners of tribal or personal medicine bundles.

Next were Ondegupa, or “second rank” kindreds (thirty to fifty percent) represented by lesser ranked leaders, and below them were the kwwn (ten to fifty percent), the dapom, “bums,” or “no-accounts,” and the go.bop “captives”(ten percent).

Solidarity within ondedw kindreds was achieved by recruiting kwwn “poor” families that needed protection and the advantages of cooperative hunting.

Sharp contrasts between rich and poor characterized Kiowa society, although social mobility was occasionally achieved through the accumulation of war honors.

In the mid-nineteenth century each of the ten to twenty kindreds was led by a “main chief,” or dopadok’i, a term related to topadoga, “band.”

Average band size ranged from twelve to fifty tipis, and the bands were distributed into northern and southern groups.

The kindreds are not to be confused with the Kiowa “bands” or “subtribes” of the coalesced sun dance circle.

The tribal divisions in the order of the camp circle, from the entrance at the east southward, are:

  • Kaigwu
  • Kata
  • Kingeo
  • Kogui
  • Kongtalyui
  • Semat (i. e., Apache)
  • A 7th division, the Kuato is now extinct.

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

The Kiowa and Plains Apache initially skirmished with the more populous Comanche before creating a confederation between 1790 and 1806, and by 1840 the Kiowa had also forged alliances with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Osage.

Traditional Enemies:

Enemies of the Kiowa included the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Navajo, Ute, and occasionally Lakota to the north and west of Kiowa territory. East of Kiowa territory they fought with the Pawnee, Osage, Kickapoo, Kaw, Caddo, Wichita, and Sac and Fox.

To the south they fought with the Lipan Apache, Mescalero Apache, and Tonkawa.

The Kiowa also came into conflict with Indian nations from the American south and east displaced to Indian Territory during the Indian Removal period including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muskogee, and Chickasaw.

The Kiowas joined forces with their former enemies, the Cheyennes, as well as the Comanches and the Apaches, to fight and raid the Eastern natives who were moving into the Indian Territory, including the Lakota initially. 

Close proximity to the Spanish settlements south of the Red River in Texas and Mexico was conducive to the development of a raiding economy and social differentiation based on the acquisition of plunder, captives, and horses.

Combined Kiowa-Comanche raiding parties heading south frequently skirmished with Mexican and Texan enemies, while Kiowa war parties traveling west fought against the Ute and Navajo, often stopping to trade with the easternmost Pueblo peoples in New Mexico. Other enemies included the Pawnee, who came from the north to steal horses from the three horse-rich allies.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: The Kiowa are known for their beautiful beadwork.

Animals: The Kiowa were great horsemen, who captured and trained the many feral horses in their territory and introduced the horse to several other tribes along their trade and raiding routes. 


Housing: Kiowa housing was the tipical hide covered conical tipi of the Plains tribes.


The Kiowas lived a typical Plains Indian lifestyle. Mostly nomadic, they survived on buffalo meat, gathered vegetables, lived in teepees and depended on their horses for hunting and military uses.

The Kiowas were notorious for long-distance raids south into Mexico and as far north as Canada. Even though the winters in their homeland were harsh, the Kiowas tended to enjoy this climate and did not spend much time south of their land.

Economy Today:

The Kiowa tribe operates a casino, a local transportation service, a museum and giftshop. The Kiowa receive income from various other ventures, including their participation in the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Nineteenth-century Kiowa religious beliefs centered around the animistic beings who represented in various degrees the animatistic, orenda-like power force dw′ dw′ that permeated the universe and became manifest in natural phenomena (thunder, lightning, whirlwind, the four directional winds) and in birds and animals.

In accordance with Kiowa hierarchy, spirit beings possessed varying degrees of dw′ dw′ transferrable to humans through the vision quest. The most powerful source of warfare-related dw′ dw′ came from Sun, life force of the universe and provider/protector of the Kiowa people. Sun was father to Son of the Sun, who divided into the Split Boys, one of whom mutated into the eucharistic Talyi-da-i “Boy Medicines,” known today as the Ten Medicines.

The ten nineteenth-century keepers maintained Kiowa spiritual integrity and negotiated conflict resolution; today, gifts and prayers are still offered to the sacred bundles.

Ceremonies / Dances:

The sacred taime bundle survives, but the Sun Dance ritual it represents has not been performed in its entirety since 1887.

In its void, some Kiowas practiced the Ghost Dance between 1890 and 1916, a movement that attracted shamans and followers of the peyote religion.

In 1918 the Native American Church of Oklahoma was chartered, and today, several Kiowa roadmen conduct periodic tipi meetings.

Permanent missions appeared on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in 1887, as evident by extant Baptist and Methodist churches scattered throughout Kiowa country. Contemporary Kiowa beliefs often reflect indigenous and Christian elements, yet Kiowa peoples believe that all prayers go to Dwk’i, “God,” possessor of dw′ dw′.

World War II rekindled the Kiowa warrior spirit, which endures to this day. Currently, Kiowa veterans and soldiers in the armed forces commemorate the defiant, warlike spirit of nineteenth-century leaders Set’aide (White Bear) and Setangya (Sitting Bear) in warrior society dances performed by the Kiowa Gourd Clan and Black Leggings Warrior Society, and other organizations.

Burial Customs: 

Wedding Customs



Kiowa Chiefs and Leaders

Catastrophic Events:

Measles epidemic in 1800s killed 300 Kiowa, or about 1/3 of the tribe.

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading:

The Ten Grandmothers: Epic of the Kiowas
The Kiowa Indians: Their History And Life Stories
Kiowa Military Societies: Ethnohistory and Ritual  

US Tribes K to M
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