Chief Set'tain-te

An excerpt from...

"100 Years Beneath the Plow"

A Historical Anthology of Haskell County

In the Kiowa on the Great Plains in the 1920s a baby was born who was to become as renowned warrior, as great an orator, as fearless leader and a spectacular a figure as the Kiowas ever produced.  The father gave child the name of White Bear, Set'tain-te in the Kiowa language.

Chief Set'tain-te

Now having been born into the aristocracy of the Kiowa tribe, Set'tain-te rose to his high rank in the elaborate Kiowa military organization by war deeds such as rescuing a comrade while retreating before a charging enemy, counting coup, killing an enemy, being wounded during hand-hand combat and stealing horses.  Set'tain-te, better known in later years as Satanta–the white man's corruption of his name–achieved fame among his people and the Comanches with whom they had made a treaty, making them allies for life.

Satanta became a great war chief finding his Indian enemies, but when the white man made his presence known on the Great Plains he returned to fighting the whites.  During the Civil War Satanta and his warriors all but destroyed the traffic on the Santa Fe Trail.  During 1865 and 1866 he talked amicably with General Hancock and had frequent visits with post commanders at Fort Larned and Fort Dodge.  In 1865 Satanta and other Chiefs met with Colonel Leavenworth, William Bent, Kit Carson, and Generals Harney and Sanborn for the signing of the Treaty of the little Arkansas. 

Satanta was an Indian of unusual intelligence.  He developed into a marvelous speaker and was known as the "Orator of the Plains."  Those who could not understand a word he said loved to listen to the rhythmic tone of his voice.  In 1867 he achieved further fame as an orator when he spoke for the Kiowas and the Comanches at the great Peace Council on Medicine Lodge Creek.  The government wanted to establish a system for civilizing the tribes.  The Peace Commission explained that the Indians would soon need houses and farms because there will be no buffalo to hunt, but the Indians could not believe it.  Satanta spoke for his tribe: "All the land south of the Arkansas belongs to the Kiowas and the Comanches and I don't want to give any part of it away.  I love the land and the buffalo and will not part with it.  I don't want any of the medicine lodges (churches) within the country.  I want the children raised as I was.  I have heard that you want to settle us on a reservation near the mountains.  I don't want to settle.  I love to roam over the prairies.  There I feel free and happy, but when I settle down I grow pale and die.  A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers but when I go up the river I see camps of soldiers on its banks.  Those soldiers cut down my timber; they kill Buffalo, and when I see that it feels as if my heart will burst with sorrow. 


Satanta was a brilliant political thinker and he was being clever when he said that "a long time ago this land belonged to our fathers," for the Kiowa, a historically minded people, well remembered that they had migrated from the north.  Satanta's wiliness was of no avail.  The lands of the Kiowa and dozens of other tribes passed into Federal hands between 1840 and 1870 under pressures fair or foul.

In 1871 Satanta took part in the Warren Wagon Train raid in Texas.  A few days later he and other Kiowa chiefs were invited by General Sherman to Fort Sill where they were arrested.  Satanta was tried and sent to the state penitentiary at Huntsville.  He was released to his people in 1873 because the remaining Kiowas refused to negotiate with the government.  In 1874, enraged that the hunters had destroyed the buffalo herds, he took part in a raid on the buffalo hunters' camp at Adobe Walls.  He was re-arrested in 1875 and was sent back to the penitentiary.  During the last years of imprisonment he lost his spirit on October 11, 1878, he threw himself headfirst from a second story balcony to the prison courtyard.  He died a few hours later and was buried in the prison cemetery.

The Santa Fe Land and Improvements Company bought the land of the site of Satanta, and the Santa Fe Railroad gave the name of Satanta to the town developed there in 1912.  It was the last town the railroad ever named.  The Santa Fe received such criticism for selecting the name of "a bloody Indian Chieftain" that it refused to name any more towns on its lines.

In 1959, Kiowa Indian Chief Robert Goombi came to Satanta from Anadarko, Oklahoma to conduct a ceremony during which he officially made all Satanta citizens honorary members of the Kiowa Indian tribe. -Nancy Anton