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Tahan
Chapter XII The Orders of Warriors—A Warrior’s Joke


THE tribe was divided into bands with a chief for each band. These prairie people had not yet developed the clan system. A man rose to the position of chieftain by force of personality, by prowess in war and by wisdom in council, and he stayed in power until death unless he proved himself unworthy. Then he was deposed and another put in his place, by common consent

In the faraway time the Kiowas did not have a head chief. The leaders of the several bands were guided in their important affairs by the medicine men, who believed that in dreams and visions they received revelations from above. And since these men spent their lives in fasting and praying, we felt them to be especially fitted to listen to the Voices of The Above-Ones.

There were five orders of warriors. Into some one of these the boy—the “rabbit”—was initiated when he reached the proper age. He then chose another newly promoted “rabbit” for a life-and-death friend. Each took a vow to stand by the other even unto death. If one was killed in battle it was the sworn comrade’s duty to avenge his death.

The fifth order—the Kho-ee-tsay-ko—dog soldiers —was composed of members of the other four. These men had distinguished themselves in battle and were known to be men of exceptional worth. Their badge of distinction was a belt of skin painted red. To them were assigned the most dangerous duties. Also they had oversight of the tribe when it was on the move—a sort of police escort.

When the various bands were together in camp, which was always pitched in a circle, the tepees of the Kho-ee-tsay-ko were on the eastern edge—the place of honour.

In the old days when a party went upon the warpath, they rode one sleep from camp. On the morning of the second day the chief of the band asked of each man: “Is your wife soon to become a mother?” If answered in the affirmative, the man was sent back home.

The return of a war party was an occasion of deepest grief or of wildest joy. If it had met with defeat and had suffered loss of warriors, there was a slow approach to camp amid the wails of the women. If it had met with success, a warrior was sent on ahead with the news. Shortly followed the victors. Near home they lashed their horses into a run and dashed into camp to the delight of the whole village. Then followed scalp dances, feasts and a time of general merriment.

One summer two of the chiefs with their followers went upon the warpath against the Utes. One of them shot a Ute chieftain near his tepee, scalped him and returned to camp. The other Kiowa happened along soon after, gave his war whoop and charged toward the Ute’s tepee. At the approach of the enemy the dying chieftain’s warriors propped his body up against the lodge and placed his war bonnet upon his head and his bow and arrows in his hands so he might die like a man. Then they fled.

The Kiowa sent an arrow through the body of the supposedly defiant Ute, then jumped from his horse and jerked the war bonnet from the enemy’s head to scalp him. The scalp was gone! The Kiowa was certain he had killed the chief, and the missing scalp brought terror to his heart. He leaped to the saddle, called to his warriors and they lashed their horses madly homeward. The party arrived at the camp while the other chief was celebrating his victory by dancing around the scalp he had taken.

The frightened chief, whose heart still trembled with fear, dismounted and told of his adventure. With the war bonnet in his hand as evidence, he explained, in terror-stricken tones,

“I took this from the head of the Ute. The scalp was gone. Where did it go?”

Amid shouts of laughter from the victorious chief and his merry-makers, he soon learned the truth. He didn’t appreciate the joke. Downcast and ashamed, he remounted his horse and headed alone for the Ute country. When he returned the scalp of a Ute was dangling from his belt. So he regained prestige in the eyes of his warriors.


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