Note: Some of the Native Americans I am writing about today have complex histories. Each one could fill an entire blog post on their own. I simply don’t have the time or space to do them justice here. I’m also aware that my grasp of Native American history is not perfect since historians dispute some of the events of the pioneer era discussed here. If I got something wrong in the details, I apologize.
Sarah and I traveled on to Medicine Park because she was participating in the Tour de Meers, an annual bike ride that takes place on Memorial Day. Meers is a small town located just north of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. You can choose to ride 10, 22, 30, 57, or 62 miles. Sarah’s desire to participate in the Tour de Meers was actually the initial catalyst for our road trip.
While Sarah joined her fellow cyclists, I headed to nearby Fort Sill to visit several cemeteries. The first one I wanted to stop at was the Fort Sill Post Cemetery. Because Fort Sill is first and foremost an Army base, I had to stop by the Visitor Center to get permission to enter. Fortunately, all I had to do was explain why I was there, fill out a few forms, and have my picture taken. They gave me a day pass to put on the dashboard of Sarah’s car and off I went.
Located on the base is the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, opened in 1935. I wish I had been able to stop by to look around but I didn’t have enough time.
Fort Sill Post Cemetery is a neatly tended burial ground that contains close to 7,150 graves. Most are the requisite plain white military markers. But there are a number of folks here that you might not expect to be interred at a military cemetery.
Early Fort Sill History
Long known as the home of the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery, Fort Sill started as a frontier cavalry post. Before that, the land was home to indigenous groups such as the Wichita, the Kiowa, and the Comanche.
In 1851, Capt. Randolph B. Marcy and a company of the Fifth Infantry passed through the area. Marcy suggested establishing a fort at the place that became the old post site. After the Civil War, Col. Benjamin H. Grierson (who became Fort Sill’s first post commander) and Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry constructed Camp Wichita there in 1868. The post was intended to serve as headquarters for the Kiowa-Comanche Reservation created under the provisions of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867.
In 1869, the 10th and elements of the Sixth Infantry began building a more permanent base known as Fort Sill. It was named by Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, commander of the Military Department of the Missouri, after Brig. Gen. Joshua W. Sill, a West Point classmate of Sheridan’s who died during the Civil War.
Under Grierson’s watch, Fort Sill assumed an important role in policing Indian Territory. Units from Fort Sill fought on the Southern Great Plains in 1869 and in the Red River War of 1874 to 1875. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, they served in a variety of peacekeeping duties. This included policing the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, and protecting settlers and Native Americans who lived in or were forcibly relocated to the area by the federal government.
I’ll cover more about Fort Sill’s history and Geronimo in a few weeks. He’s buried in a different cemetery on Fort Sill property.
At the front of the cemetery is what is known as Chief’s Knoll and the burial site for several prominent Native American chiefs. Having done minimal research before I visited, I was in awe as I began reading the names. Quanah Parker, his mother, and his sister are buried here. You can see their monuments in the picture below. You’ll remember from my post of a few weeks ago that I found the grave marker of his great-great-grandson Richard James Wahkinney at Elgin Memorial Cemetery.
Further back are grave markers for prominent Kiowa and Araphao tribal leaders.
Mother to a Chief
Born around 1827, Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted from her white family by Comanche raiders on the Texas frontier when she was only nine years old. Raised a Comanche, she wed Chief Peta Nocona and had three children with him. The oldest was Quanah, whose name translates as “fragrant” or “sweet smelling”. She was eventually discovered by white men who traded with the Comanches. Her family, having searched for her for years, quickly organized a ransom offer.
But the Comanches refused all offers, mainly because Cynthia Ann didn’t want to go. While born white, she was now culturally Comanche, the wife of a chief, with children she loved and did not want to leave. When she was 34, her camp along a tributary of the Pease River was attacked by Texas Rangers. Some believe Chief Nocona was killed but there’s some debate about that.
Regardless, her two sons fled. Quanah was 12 at the time. Along with her infant daughter Prairie Flower, Cynthia Ann was “freed” from captivity. But in Cynthia’s mind it was akin to being abducted again. She tried many times to escape and return to her family. Sadly, Prairie Flower died a few years after they were returned to white society. Cynthia herself died seven years after that at age 43. Many believe she starved herself to death. She and Prairie Flowere were originallly buried in Anderson County, Texas.
Quanah and his brother Pecos were taken under the wing of Horseback, the head chief of the Kwahadi people. Horseback taught them the ways of the Comanche warrior, and Quanah grew to considerable standing among his tribal peers. Pecos is thought to have died in 1862.
In 1875, Quanah surrendered to Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and taken to Fort Sill where he led the Comanches successfully for a number of years on the reservation. While Quanah was never elected principal chief of the Comanche by the tribe, the U.S. government appointed him principal chief of the entire nation once the people had gathered on the reservation and later introduced general elections.
Proud of his Native American roots, Quanah was a canny observer who knew he could learn much from whites while trying to bridge gaps for the betterment of his people. Quanah quickly established himself as a successful rancher and investor. Parker encouraged Native American youth to learn the ways of white culture, yet he never assimilated entirely. He remained a member of the Native American Church, and had a total of seven wives over his lifetime.
By the time Quanah died in 1911, he had attained something akin to celebrity status. Visitors to southwest Oklahoma, including Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, made it a point to call on him. His obelisk in the cemetery was erected in 1926.
Quanah never forgot his mother, Cynthia Ann. Shortly before he died, after years of legal wrangling, he had Cynthia Ann’s remains moved to Post Oak Mission Cemetery in Oklahoma. In 1957, she was re-interred beside Quanah at Fort Sill Post Cemetery. In 1965, the state of Texas arranged for Prairie Flower’s remains to be moved from Texas and re-interred next to her mother and brother at Fort Sill.
T’ene-Angopte (Kicking Bird)
The above-ground tomb of Kiowa leader Kicking Bird intrigues me. I read on one web site that his grave was originally marked by a wooden cross that deteriorated until it was lost, so officials weren’t sure where his remains were actually located in the cemetery. This leads me to wonder if his remains are actually in the tomb I photographed.
Born of Crow and Kiowa ancestry, Kicking Bird was known as T’ene-Angopte, which can be translated as Striking Eagle. After the death of Dohasan, chief of the united Kiowa bands in 1866, he assumed leadership of the tribe’s peace faction. He was a signatory of the Little Arkansas Treaty and the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867.
Some think Kicking Bird was poisoned, but nobody knows for sure. His role as a peacekeeper between the Kiowa and whites caused him to gain enemies on both sides. He died on May 5, 1875 at age 40.
Satanta (White Bear)
Satanta, also known as White Bear, was born around 1820 on the northern Plains. Much of Satanta’s adult life was spent fighting U.S. settlers and military. He participated in raids along the Santa Fe Trail in the early 1860s, and in 1866 became the leader of the Kiowa who favored resistance against U.S. military forces.
In 1867, he spoke at the Kiowa Medicine Lodge Council and because of his eloquence, U.S. observers gave him his nickname of White Bear. At the council, Satanta signed a peace treaty that obligated the Kiowa to resettle on the reservation in Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, however, he was taken hostage by U.S. officials who used his imprisonment to coerce more Kiowa into resettling.
For the next few years, Satanta took part in a number of raids in Texas where cattle ranchers and buffalo hunters were steadily pushing Kiowa and Comanche onto reservations. It was one of these raids that eventually led to Satanta’s arrest in 1871 by former Civil War Union General William T. Sherman and put on trial with others involved in the raids. He narrowly escaped death and was freed after two years of imprisonment at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas
A short time later, Satanta was lured into a peace council, arrested for parole violation, and sentenced to death. Humanitarian groups and Native American leaders protested the harsh sentence. In 1873, Satanta was paroled on the condition he remain on the Kiowa Reservation.
In 1874, during the Red River War, Satanta presented himself to U.S. officials to prove he was not taking part in the hostilities. His loyalty was rewarded with a return to the penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. Four years later, an ill Satanta was informed that he would never be released. On October 11, 1878, he is reported to have jumped to his death from an upper floor of a prison hospital. Some of his family, however, don’t believe he would have taken his life.
Satanta was buried in the prison cemetery in Huntsville. In 1963, his grandson artist James Auchiah received permission to move Satanta’s remains to Fort Sill.
I’ll have more stories from Fort Sill Post Cemetery soon. For now, here’s a photo of my pass from the day I visited Fort Sill’s cemeteries.