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Chief Sitting Bear: Foundation Of An Oklahoma Family.

For "Lost Stories"- Metro Family Magazine

By Dennis W. Zotigh



Sitting Bear is well documented as the leader of the Kiowa 10 Bravest War Society (called the Ko-eetsenko in the Kiowa Language).  In historical documents, he is more popularly referred to as Satank (aka. Set-angya to the Kiowa). Sitting Bear was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota approximately 1810. He had six wives and several children before his death in 1871.


His legacy tells of early history when Oklahoma was simply called, "Indian Territory." This legacy extended before the reservation period in which his lands and way of life dwindled before his eyes. Rich in drama, his day-to-day life demonstrated the leadership of a bygone era.


His spirit of preservation and perseverance is a testament to Oklahoma's rich American Indian heritage. In a dark part of American history where Indian families were disjointed and separated by forced reservation life, Sitting Bear laid his life on the line to protect and keep his family together. Below is one story that illustrates this legacy:


"Old Chief Sitting Bear left the Kiowa reservation against the threats of his U.S. Army overseers. His reason was to retrieve the bones of his son in Texas and bring them back home. Following Kiowa beliefs, the family unit was of primary importance throughout ones life.


Upon his return, he was captured, shackled and taken by wagon to Ft. Sill for leaving the reservation. With Ft. Sill in sight, he told the wagon driver and escort, "See that tree up ahead? You will not live to see the other side." He then stood up and began to sing his death song:


     'O sun. You remain forever, but we Ko-eetsenko must die.

     'O earth you remain forever, but we Ko-eetsenko must die."


According to Kiowa oral history, when he ended his song, he pulled a knife that he had been concealing  - out of his throat and took the life of the wagon driver. The escort immediately shot Old Chief Sitting Bear to his death. It is said that Sitting Bear would rather give up his life than live without the remains of his cherished son."


Indian people traditionally believe in a strong family unit. In the Kiowa tribe, aunts and uncles are referred to as mothers and dads. Family members are considered "close relatives" up to 5 generations. Immediate families are incredibly large and extended families are made through "Indian adoptions."


Traditionally the family unit is cohesive and youngsters who lose their parents are immediately taken in by their other mothers or fathers. Elders who are no longer able to care for themselves typically live with family members until their death. It is at this time that their rich repository of cultural knowledge is passed on to their youngest of family members.


Chief Sitting Bear's death epitomizes the family unit of the Kiowa and the length a Kiowa warrior will go to preserve the family unit. Many of his descendents still carry on the warrior traditions of protecting family, homelands and way of life. These descendents are still active in Kiowa ceremonials and have participated in all the major wars America has fought. Sitting Bear's great, great, great grandchildren are currently in the Persian Gulf defending the their homelands,  like all the generations before them.




Dennis W. Zotigh is a member of the Kiowa tribe. He is currently the American Indian Research Historian for the Oklahoma Historical Society. He is also the director of the internationally known dance company The Great American Indian Dancers. Recently he presented a cultural paper at the British Museum in London and also served as a cultural consultant for the Hallmark miniseries "Dream Keepers" which will air on ABC television May 11 and 12, 2003.