THE moral code of our
people was strictly observed by both sexes. There was but one standard
of morality. That which was right for the man to do was also right for
the woman. The Scarlet Woman was unknown among us before the advent of
the white man. Many an Indian maiden has been wooed and wedded by the
paleface only to be left unprotected, unprovided for, and thus to become
an outcast and a prey to the unholy.
It was the Kiowa law that
every woman should have a husband to provide for her. Therefore, when
war had made the men fewer than the women it naturally followed that a
man must take more than one woman to wife. So the Kiowas were
polygamous. It was the custom where a man married the oldest of a number
of sisters, for him to take to wife every one of them as soon as she
arrived at marriageable age. This, however, was a privilege, not an
obligation. There was no ceremony at a Kiowa wedding, but the wooing was
done after a fashion long observed.
When a young man arrived
at the marriageable age, he usually found opportunity at a feast or a
dance to whisper into the chosen maiden’s ear his mating hopes. Followed
always the presentation of robes and horses to her father and sometimes
the giving by the maiden of a buckskin shirt beautifully beaded—her
handiwork—to her lover.
If the father did not
look with favour upon the offer of marriage, it was not exceptional for
the wooer to carry off by force the denied object of his affection.
One of the marriage
customs, peculiar to the Kiowas only, I believe, was the prominent
position accorded the mother-in-law—the bride’s mother, by the
way—immediately after the wedding. For four moons the newly married man
was not allowed to speak to an unmarried woman. If any communication was
necessary, it was carried on through the mother-in-law.
Owing to our strict
adherence to the single standard of morality, the Kiowa mother was able
to bear children sound in body and mind. Before the coming of the white
man we were not afflicted with the loathsome diseases that make for
blighted offspring. Never do I remember seeing in our tribe a child
deformed or even birthmarked, and an idiotic infant was an extreme
rarity. It was a rare occurrence, too, for any of our people to become
mentally unbalanced. In such event the person was looked upon as
possessed by overpowering spirits and was treated with respectful
The orphans of the Kiowas
never lacked for loving care. They were adopted by parents who gave to
them attention fully the equal of that bestowed upon their own flesh and
Mutual interests made of
us a true brotherhood. Since the members of the tribe were brethren,
there was no incentive for any one to take advantage of another. So,
there was no thieving among us. To be sure, the property of a hostile
tribe might be obtained in any way possible. For a man to enter the
enemy’s camp, outwit him and escape with his horses, was not only right
A man with the forked
tongue, a man with the coyote heart, could have no standing in the
It was not long after our
first intercourse with the white man that this saying originated:
“The pale-face writes his
words on paper and forgets them; the red man does not write his words.
He remembers them.”
I have known Indians to
travel many days and to undergo great hardships rather than break their
word. The characteristic prevails even in these degenerate days.
Not long ago a party of
Seminoles living in the Everglades of Florida agreed with a white man to
go with him as guides on a bear-hunt. Before the day set, some white men
who wanted the job, told the red men the hunt was off. When the Indians
learned they had been victims of the forked tongue, they were nearly a
hundred miles from the white man’s place. They covered the entire
distance afoot Finding the man at home in the yard, they stalked
silently to him, and without salutation the leader spoke:
“Injun come. Injun no
Then apparently deaf to
the response the little party stalked away on the homeward trip.
Affairs of honour in the
long-ago time were often settled face to face and foot to foot. One such
affair was connected with the romantic mating of my foster parents,
Zepkhoeete and Tsilta.