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Tahan
Chapter XVII The Beginning of a Tribe


THOSE with whom my lot was now cast were composed principally of men who had been undesirable members of their own tribes. These, of course, had been put out. Others left of their own will.

As I now recall it, there had been a council of many of the tribes. A few of the men quarrelled with their respective leaders, and left Zakatoh, the Kiowa chief of the Estizeddelebe, was one of these. He and several of his brother-warriors had refused to give themselves up when the Kiowas surrendered to the United States authorities. Afraid of being imprisoned or hanged for their raids upon white settlements in Texas, they had fled westward.

It was not long before they were joined by other stragglers, and Zakatoh, by force of his personality, had become their leader.

There were a Comanche or two, several Cheyennes and Arapahoes, at least one Osage and a Cherokee, and some from other half-civilised tribes, the larger number being Seminoles—a most peculiar combination. They had some difficulty in understanding each other clearly as they had not been together very long> Each man was compelled to use his own language at first, but always the sign language helped.

The Seminole came to predominate. I learned it rapidly, for I made my home in the tepee of Zakatoh whose wife, Tosopahehle—Pretty Face—was a Seminole. She could not learn his language, but he found hers easy for him. So the tepee-talk was Seminole.

In the new tribe there were, all told, about thirty men, women and children, when I first met them.

There were more men than women. But it was not long before there were more women than men. For these freebooters of the plains went on frequent excursions, and when they returned their arms were not empty.

They made a most picturesque appearance. Some of them wore the costume of the prairie tribes—the long-fringed buckskin shirt and leggings, and the moccasins with rawhide soles and shape peculiar to these tribes. Others wore the short-fringed shirt and leggings, and the soft-soled moccasins of the forest dwellers. There were two Mexicans, with their ornamented short jackets, slit bottomed trousers and high-heeled boots; and one white man in the dress of his civilised type.

The Indians wore their hair in the style of their respective tribes. The men of the prairie braided theirs on each side of their heads, and around each braid rolled a piece of otter skin or red cloth. The Kiowas fixed the hair on the left side in this manner, zoo but cut the right side even with the lower part of the ear. Like the other prairie tribes they braided the scalp lock, and let it hang down the back.

The Seminoles wore short hair, with the exception of the scalp lock which they braided as did the others, while the Osage cut off all of his except the scalp-lock and a roach running along the top of the head.

The two Mexicans and the white man let their hair hang loosely about their shoulders.

The band increased in numbers. Forced by the same causes which led Zakatoh and the original members to throw off their tribal allegiance, malcontents from various tribes kept coming in.

The primary reason for their banding together was that of self-protection. The weaker of the plains people were always in danger of being robbed or slain by the stronger, so loyalty to each other was the first law of existence.

When a straggler was met on the prairie by any of our tribe, or when any one appeared in our camp for food and showed a disposition to join us, the question was not what he had been nor whence he had come, but whether he was willing to become one of us for good or for ill. If any such showed a spirit to the contrary, his property was taken and he was left on the prairie to become food for the wolves.

Our chief was very suspicious of any member of the band whom he deemed a rival for his position.

The white man whom we called Kithlucks—Bon’t-Know—from the fact that he could hardly understand the mixed dialect we spoke—led a party of the warriors into Texas, plundered a Mexican settlement and captured two women.

Zakatoh, who had not been consulted in the matter, looked upon this as insubordination. Moreover, as the white man might be looking forward to deposing him, he took him on a hunt one day, and the white man never returned.

Notwithstanding Zakatoh’s strict discipline, there were desertions from the band from time to time.

Zackoyea, an influential Kiowa chief, was with us until after a fight with soldiers during which he with several of us became separated from the main body of our people. For several days we were without water, in consequence of which I became completely exhausted. And he, believing that I was dying, left me. He returned to his own people and reported that I had died. But they believed for many years that he had killed me.

With the feeling that there was not a single tribe friendly to us, a vigilant watch was kept against surprise. We never felt safe.

Zakatoh devised a system of signals by which our warriors could communicate with each other when separated. In case any of us wished to notify the others that an enemy was in the vicinity when we were scattered on the prairie, we went to the top of the highest hill, kindled a small fire and put some damp grass on it to make a dense smoke. Then we spread over it a robe which we jerked away deftly.

This made a puff of smoke. The number of puffs conveyed certain things to our friends.

At night fire-arrows were shot into the air as signals, and the cries of the screech owl and the bark of the coyote were imitated for message-carrying purposes.


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