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Tahan
Chapter X Moral Code—Marriage Customs


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 consideration.

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 blood.

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 but honourable.

A man with the forked tongue, a man with the coyote heart, could have no standing in the tribe.

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 lie.”

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.


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