William C. Meadows

Kiowa Military Societies: Ethnohistory and Ritu

The Civilization of the American Indian Series

University of Oklahoma University, 2010

Hardcover and paperback, 455 pp.

A Review by Rickey Pittman


All my life, I’ve always been a student of the Native Americans, especially the plains tribes of Texas and Oklahoma. I was raised watching all the cowboy movies and by the age of thirteen had read every book in the local branch of the Dallas Library about Native Americans.

As a Boy Scout, when applying for my American Indian merit badge, I went to the merit badge counselor’s house in Dallas to be interviewed for the award. Entering his house, I was directed to his den, where I found his collection of historical items, virtually a museum devoted to the American Indian. The most striking exhibit was an authentic Kiowa war bonnet, enclosed in glass. We had a discussion about coups, and the war honors each feather must have represented, and the counselor spoke of the deadly reputation of the Kiowa warriors during the Indian wars in Texas.

I continued my interest in Native Americans and that interest manifested itself in my fiction and essays. While working on my present western novel project set in North Texas, the Kiowa would play a prominent part of that story. Though there are more resources now, there are still too few works devoted to the Kiowa that would prove to be useful. So it was with great delight that I came upon William C. Meadows book, Kiowa Military Societies: Ethnohistory and Ritual. William C. Meadows has been working with and presenting his research on the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa since 1989. This is an amazing read, sure to hold many surprises about the Kiowa, and prove to be a valuable research tool for writers or those interested in Native American culture, legends, and history.

The text is well illustrated with drawings and photos (taken by the author) of the Kiowa from their beginning into modern times. The text is rich with Kiowa vocabulary, including a pronunciation guide. I found the index, the End Notes, along with the extensive Bibliography, to be valuable for reference and for adding extra information.

The body of the book, as the title suggests, focuses on the warrior/military societies of the Kiowa.  The Kiowa were truly a martial people, and Meadows points out how they lacked purely social dance societies like those of some other tribes. The societies revealed to me how central a place war held in the minds and hearts of the Kiowa. Meadows reveals how the warrior societies were structured, what were requirements for membership, rank and social status, rituals, taboos, dress, music (drums and rattles), dances (with choreography), society meetings, persona and society songs, and their connection to the Sun Dance. There were also women societies that served as “auxiliaries to Kiowa warriors, sources of supernatural protection, and as charitable organizations” (p. 307).

The first nine chapters of the book discuss in detail each military society: the Rabbits Society, the Mountain Sheep Society, the Horse Headdresses Society, the Black Legs Society, the Unafraid of Death or Skunkberry Society, the Sentinel or Scout Dogs Society, the Kiowa Bone Strikers, and the Omaha Society. Meadows documents the revival of some of the societies and stresses the Kiowa efforts to honor veterans of the nation’s wars.

I found numerous surprising details extremely interesting including the pictographic calendars of the Kiowa; the mescal bandoliers; the calls from captured bugles; the various sashes, lances (including the no-retreat staff), and staffs; and the Táime and Ten Medicine Bundles. The engaged reader will discover many more.

The reader and researcher will find many historical anecdotes, museums where historical Kiowa relics are located, legends, biographical descriptions of leaders and famous warriors, tribal traditions, as well as conflicts with and the influence of other tribes upon the Kiowa.

This is a book I would highly recommend to anyone who wanted to write about the west, about the fierce Kiowa who came down the Texas Corridor, or who needed an exceptional and reliable reference tool. There is information here one cannot find anywhere else.

The book can be ordered HERE:  https://www.oupress.com/9780806190099/kiowa-military-societies/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William C. Meadows is Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies at Missouri State University, Springfield. A scholar of Plains Indian cultures, he is the author of Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies: Enduring Veterans, 1800 to the Present; Kiowa Ethnography; and The First Code Talkers: Native American Communicators in World War I.