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Kiowa Ethnogeography

Kiowa Ethnogeography

An enlightening study of more than 300 place names and geographical features that reveal a rich trove of findings related to Kiowa culture and history.

December 2008
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366 pages | 6 x 9 | 27 b&w illus., 5 maps, 1 table |

Examining the place names, geographical knowledge, and cultural associations of the Kiowa from the earliest recorded sources to the present, Kiowa Ethnogeography is the most in-depth study of its kind in the realm of Plains Indian tribal analysis. Linking geography to political and social changes, William Meadows applies a chronological approach that demonstrates a cultural evolution within the Kiowa community.

Preserved in both linguistic and cartographic forms, the concepts of place, homeland, intertribal sharing of land, religious practice, and other aspects of Kiowa life are clarified in detail. Native religious relationships to land (termed "geosacred" by the author) are carefully documented as well. Meadows also provides analysis of the only known extant Kiowa map of Black Goose, its unique pictographic place labels, and its relationship to reservation-era land policies. Additional coverage of rivers, lakes, and military forts makes this a remarkably comprehensive and illuminating guide.

  • Pronunciation Guide
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Native American Ethnogeography and Research
  • Chapter 2. Kiowa Physical and Cultural Geography
  • Chapter 3. The Kiowa Homeland
  • Chapter 4. Black Goose's Map of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Reservation in Oklahoma Territory
  • Chapter 5. Contemporary Kiowa Ethnogeography
  • Appendix A. Kiowa Geography and Weather Terms
  • Appendix B. Kiowa Land-Based Place Names
    • Mountains
    • Hills and Ridges
    • Bluffs, Concavities, and Escarpments
    • Other Landforms
    • More Recent Anglo Locales
  • Appendix C. Kiowa Water-Based Place Names and Astrological Place Names
    • Streams
    • Springs, Ponds, and Lakes
    • Stream Crossings
    • Astrological Place Names
  • Appendix D. Modern Place Names Related to the Kiowa
  • Appendix E. Names of Kiowa Calendar Entries 1833-1892
  • Appendix F. Statistical Analysis of Kiowa Place Names
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

William C. Meadows is Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies at Missouri State University.


This book explores the ethnogeography, or place names and the cultural and historical knowledge associated with them, of the Kiowa. Except for a few English versions and translations of Kiowa place names, most are unknown to non-Kiowa and even to many Kiowa. Studies of Oklahoma place names (Gould 1933; Shirk 1965) include only a few entries associated with the Kiowa, primarily those related to the post-allotment Anglo division of reservation lands in 1901 and the formation of towns and post offices. Only the names of a few mountains, streams, and historical sites are recorded. Reflecting on the mixture of Indian and non-Indian names in America, Gould (1933:14) wrote, "I found that Indian Territory names were chiefly of four kinds; namely Indian names, English translations of Indian names, English names and French names." Many existing Indian place names were determined more by Anglo land developments (counties, cities, post offices) or by the increasing prominence of the military, railroad, and cattle industries than by native associations.

The major work on Kiowa geography (Schell 1994) lists only a few of the better known Kiowa sites. U.S. Geological Survey 7.5-minute topographic maps, state gazetteers (DeLorme 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 1998d), and other maps similarly show only a few of the best-known geographic locales of importance to the Kiowa, such as Medicine Lodge River, Rainy Mountain, and Saddle Mountain. These sites are unknown to most people outside southwestern Oklahoma, and even when local non-Indians are aware of the sites they often do not know the Kiowa’s relationship to them. This body of knowledge is quickly disappearing in the Kiowa community. Although a few places are known by virtually all Kiowa, with the rapid decline of the Kiowa language even tribal elders know a limited number of Kiowa place names, the places themselves, and their history. Because place names are now more commonly heard in English translation than in Kiowa, efforts to preserve this genre of information are timely.

In gathering data for this book, I examined published sources and unpublished archival records, conducted fieldwork with Kiowa elders from 1989 to 2007, and made field trips to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. I have been able to find information on 427 place names for 444 locations, including 256 place names for 272 locations in the Kiowa language and 171 modern place names for 172 locations in English (six of which have counterparts in Kiowa) that were created by Kiowa or refer to them. I use these names throughout the book to demonstrate categories of place names and culturally and historically important locales and events.

In undertaking this work, I had several goals. An important one was to retrieve and preserve place names and their contexts for the Kiowa and others, and then consider what can be learned about Kiowa ethnogeography from place names. Thus, my study came to combine inventory, preservation, ethnography, anthropology, history, and linguistics. Many Indian place names are unique and speak directly to the circumstances of their naming: although there are numerous towns named Millersburg, Salem, or Washington, there is only one Anadarko, Gotebo, or Komalty. And although most Euroamerican place names are transplanted from earlier locales through commemorative naming and generally have little or no relation to their new address, Indian place names are more directly associated with the geography and human activities at the specific site (see Waterman n.d.-a in Thornton 1997:213-214).

This study also aims to preserve the core of this remaining body of knowledge. Kiowa elders are more secretive about favorite locations to gather wild plums or Indian perfume than they are about named places, and typically discussed named places freely. Today only the best-known named places are still known throughout the community, while many other locations that have been outside Kiowa control for several generations are no longer actively known. Nevertheless, even the older names of places no longer visited have entered the fabric of Kiowa society through oral history and written texts and have contributed to the Kiowa sense of a homeland. In pursuing this theme of ethnogeography throughout my work, I was concerned to learn from the Kiowa themselves how they viewed important locations in their history, and how those sites maintain a presence in their culture and demography. Geosacred sites in particular have become a source of contention in Indian-Anglo relations, yet they also offer a profound way to enter the Kiowa culture and an opportunity to grasp the nature of a living landscape as culture is practiced. These sites have shifted over time with the Kiowa’s migrations over the centuries, and understanding the investment of a people in new landscapes seems critical to understanding broader themes of belonging to a particular society.

The five chapters of the book explore these various themes. Chapter 1 surveys the existing scholarship on American Indian or Native American ethnogeography, focusing on anthropological studies of American Indian, Plains Indian, and Kiowa ethnogeography. The different classification schemes that have been applied to American Indian place names at one time or another generally tackle the linguistic forms of place names, or their grammatical meaning, and the concepts of intertribal land sharing, geography, and religion that are reified in place names. The data in this chapter range from the early 1700s to the present. Appendices at the end of the book list the place names discussed.

Chapter 2 takes up the geographic and historical content of Kiowa place names by looking at their relationship to personal names and to pictographic calendars, which name half-years according to significant events and are illustrated with symbolic drawings anchoring event to place. In this chapter I consider such prominent geographic and anthropological concepts as sacred geography (Walker 1988; Campbell and Foor 2004), cultural landscapes (Stoffle et al. 1997), and sacred islands (Sundstrom 2003). Using mainly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century data, my discussion concludes with a brief statistical analysis of the basis of Kiowa place names during this period.

Chapter 3 turns to the Kiowa concept of a homeland and how this concept has changed with migration from the northwestern to the southern plains, confinement of the Kiowa to the reservation (1867-1901), allotment (1901), and the subsequent growth of communities and outmigration for work. This chapter examines a wide range of topics and their role in the Kiowa relationship to land, including reservation and allotment experiences, Kiowa communities, the concept of an allotment as a home place, Indian towns, remaining traditional cultural forms (arbors, sweat lodges, tipis), modern sites of importance (homes, churches, cemeteries, schools, dance grounds), contemporary symbols of sovereignty (Indian Country, tribal offices, flags, license plates, gaming), the "invisible landscape," spiritual geography, and modern forms of art (painting, sculpture, literature).

Chapter 4 discusses Native American cartography as a specific written and drawn form of ethnogeography recorded by Indians themselves. In this chapter we look at a map drawn by Chaddle-kaung-ky or Black Goose, the only known existing Kiowa map, which dates to between 1893 and 1895. In pencil-drawn images on a square of muslin, the map shows the joint Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) Reservation in Oklahoma Territory. More than 160 geographic locales are included, many with identifying labels in the form of pictographic images.

Chapter 5 considers contemporary Kiowa ethnogeography and its relationship to Kiowa culture and identity. From the discussion to this point, it is clear that despite migration and changes of residence, the Kiowa maintain a distinct sense of a homeland, now centered on dispersed allotted communities in southwest Oklahoma—the core area they still consider Kiowa Country. The Kiowa have also had a significant impact on the geography of southwestern Oklahoma and the surrounding southern plains from sites named by them or after them, although access to and protection of Native American religious sites may become an unavoidable issue in the future for the Kiowa. A quick comparison with Basso's work on the Cibecue Apache demonstrates similarities and differences in the ethnogeography of these two groups.

I have tried to take an emic (native or internal) view in the book, framing my discussions to present how Kiowa see and talk about their cultural geography. Some of the most poignant revelations about time and space came from my Kiowa consultants as we were casually driving around. I have also periodically reflected on how these issues relate to my personal experiences in both Kiowa and non-Indian communities as a means to help non-Indian readers relate to the Kiowa material presented here, as well as to stimulate their thoughts concerning their relationship to land, community, culture, and identity. I believe there is much to be learned from the Kiowa concerning this relationship.

All place names I collected in the course of my work, the basis for the name, the associated cultural historical significance, and geographic location data are listed by geographic form and in alphabetical order in the appendices. These lists show both old and new names and locations and show how the Kiowa concept of a homeland has shifted in both geographic basis and content. The place names also suggest the impact of Kiowa geography on large portions of the North American plains and modern America. While this collection by no means has every Kiowa place name, it does have the majority of those for which the Kiowa have had proper names in the Kiowa and English languages since the late 1800s.


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
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