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“I was like an unbroken horse. I went on the warpath. I took many scalps. I went with other warriors on raids in Texas and Mexico”

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45.     BIG TREE (Ado-Eete). Letter signed “Big Tree (Ad-do-ya-tee) Chief of Kiowas” to Miss Frances M. Schuyler, 617 Grace St., Williamsport, PA, whom he addresses as “My Dear Lady Chief,” dated “Chief Big Tree’s Camp, Rainy Mt., Jan. 7 1895,” apparently in the hand of his amanuensis, Julia Given. 5 pp. on rectos of five sheets of ruled paper (20.3 x 12.7 cm). On the verso of the last leaf is a contemporary pencil instruction about a children’s activity. First and last leaves lightly browned, creased where formerly folded. Fine overall, in a highly legible hand. With a small research archive of photocopied documents and letters.

A rare letter by an important Kiowa chief who could neither read nor write, apparently dictated to Given, who was Chief Satank’s daughter and Big Tree’s interpreter and was educated at Carlisle. Big Tree first thanks Schuyler for the gift of a bell that will be used in the Chapel (probably Immanuel Chapel), then describes a council in Kansas that he attended during which he told the “white people” that he was like “a locomotive” that works hard “to pull a long train and I will work hard to pull my people on the right road”, then describes his Christmas tree, which was covered with prairie flowers.

The rest of the letter is an exciting recounting of his fiery youth, his capture and extradition to Texas, and his conversion to Christianity. He recalls that when he was young, “I was like an unbroken horse. I went on the warpath. I took many scalps. I went with other warriors on raids in Texas and Mexico.” Although he “fled like a deer” when threatened with capture, he could not escape from Fort Sill. Hiding in a store, he escaped by jumping through a closed window. Upon being threatened with shooting, he surrendered and was put into irons and detained at Fort Sill until orders came from Washington to transport him, along with other prisoners, to Texas for trial. On the way, his fellow captive Satank swore that he would never cross the next stream, drew a knife, stabbed a soldier in the back, and was promptly shot to death. After two years of confinement, Big Tree was released when his tribe promised to be peaceful, although he admits he never knew “peace in my heart until I learned about Jesus and belief on him. Now my heart is happy.” He closes by wishing she could visit him in Oklahoma and discussing all the good that Aun-de-co and Mah-ta-mah are doing for the women and children, including their religious instruction, of which he says, “The words are like arrows—they go to the heart.” (He is referring to Marietta J. Reeside and Lauretta Ballew, the first Baptist missionaries to the area, who arrived at Mt. Rainy in 1893 and for whom Given served as interpreter. A regular pastor did not arrive until 1896.)

The story of Big Tree (ca. 1850-1929) is one of eventual assimilation after heroic resistance. The incident Big Tree describes is a crucial one in his life. After his tribe was forced to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma in 1867, Big Tree, at the time a very young man, allied himself with the rebellious chiefs Satank, Lone Wolf, and Satanta, making raids into Texas and within Oklahoma itself. The group was responsible for the notorious 1871 Salt Creek Massacre in Texas, at which Henry Warren’s wagon train was attacked; the incident resulted in loss of life on both sides. Shortly after that raid, Big Tree and his confederates were at Fort Sill, where Satanta had the ill grace to brag about the group’s raids. This led to their arrest and transfer to Texas, where Big Tree and Santanta were sentenced to hang by a civilian court, the first time Native Americans were so tried. (Satank had been killed en route, as is described in the letter.) Reprieved and paroled in 1873, Big Tree nevertheless returned to his raiding ways. He was then captured and imprisoned at Fort Sill until 1874, when his tribe was completely defeated. After his release, he converted to Christianity and spent the rest of his life urging his tribe to adapt to their present circumstances and building up religious life among them, including helping to found the first Baptist mission on the Kiowa reservation in 1893. He was elected a deacon of the Rainy Mountain Mission in March, 1895, a position he held until his death.

With the letter are four photographs, two of Big Tree and two of other individuals mentioned in the letter:

WINKLER, Christian (photographer). Posed studio portrait of Big Tree, seated on buffalo skin in front of painted backdrop including tipi and river scene. Fort Sill, Indian Territory: Christian Winkler, n.d. [thought to date from 1874]. Cabinet card (albumen print mounted on card with photographer’s imprint on verso). Image: 15.6 x 10.1 cm; card: 16.5 x 10.8 cm. Very fine. Inscriptions on card verso: [in pencil] “Big Tree K. Chief”; [in ink] “John H. [illegible].”

LENNY, [William J.] & [William L.] Sawyers (photographers). Portrait of Big Tree, seated with blanket on lap. [in white, near bottom of image] “Big Tree, Kiowa Chief.” Purcell, Indian Territory: Lenny & Sawyers, n.d. [thought to date from 1891]. Boudoir card (albumen print mounted on card with photographer’s imprint below image). Image: 18.4 x 10.9 cm; card: 12.6 x 13.4 cm. A few light marks and smudges to image, card with a few tiny stains, lightly soiled on verso, overall fine condition.

TROTT, A.P. (photographer). Three-quarter portrait of Satank. [below image, in print] “Sa-tank.” Junction City, Kansas: A.P. Trott, n.d. [ca. 1870]. Carte de visite (albumen print mounted on card with red-ruled edges, photographer’s imprint on verso). Image: 9.8 x 5.4 cm; card: 10 x 6.2 cm. Image somewhat faded, card browned, overall good condition.

SOULE, W[illiam] S. (photographer). Seated portrait of Satanta holding bow and arrow in lap. Fort Sill, Indian Territory: W.S. Soule, n.d. [ca. 1870]. Cabinet card (albumen print mounted on card with photographer’s imprint on verso). Image: 13.8 x 10.6 cm; card: 14.8 x 10.7 cm. Image faded and a bit dark, card with chip to lower left blank corner and a bit of spotting on verso, overall good condition. Illegible inscription in pencil on card verso.

     Both images of Big Tree show him seated and capture the sense of strength and resolution that he apparently displayed his entire life, giving striking visual evidence of the “locomotive.”

Such spontaneous, personal recollections of an important chief’s life are highly unusual. Although other statements by other chiefs exist as part of biographies, histories, or government reports, few actual letters from such people survive because many could not read or write. Big Tree’s lengthy recounting of such a dramatic moment in his life and the life of his tribe makes this letter a rare instance of contemporary Native-American documentation of events as they unfolded. It offers insights into the thinking and personal life of an important Kiowa leader who long outlived most of his contemporary Kiowa chiefs.


Sold. Hammer: $7,500.00; Price Realized: $9,000.00


Auction 22 Abstracts

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