“Chief Satanta, I Presume?”


A week later, the commission got down to business: “A vast amphitheatre had been cleared in the center of a grove of tall elms as the place where the grand council should be held. Logs had been arranged so as to seat the principal chiefs of the Southern Nations. Tables were erected for the accommodation of the various correspondents. Before these tables were the seats ranged in a semi-circle for the commissioners. Facing the commissioners were a few of the most select chiefs of the different tribes. Beyond all were the ponies of the chiefs, forming a splendid background.…” The talking began, the government promising reservation land, food, equipment, and education in exchange for guarantees of peace, the Indian chiefs responding with resentment and resignation. The most belligerent was Satanta, warrior chief of the Kiowas. “I love the land and the buffalo, and will not part with any,” Stanley reported Satanta as saying. “I hear a good deal of fine talk from these gentlemen, but they never do what they say. I don’t want any of these medicine homes [schools] built in the country; I want the papooses brought up just exactly as I am.… I have heard that you intend to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don’t want to settle there. I love to roam over the wide prairie and when I do it, I feel free and happy, but when we settle down, we grow pale and die.… A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers, but when I go up to the river I see a camp of soldiers, and they are cutting my wood down, or killing my buffalo. I don’t like that, and when I see it my heart feels like bursting with sorrow.” The talks continued the next day, when Satanta was terse to the point of insult: “The Kiowas have no more to say. We have spoken already. When you issue goods, give us all that is our due to us; do not hide any from us. Keep none back.…”

He got the goods, as did the rest of the chiefs—but only after signing, with an eye on the coming winter, the requisite treaties. “Peace,” Stanley wrote grandly, “has been concluded with all the Southern tribes. Civilization is now on the move, and westward the Star of Empire will again resume its march, unimpeded in the great work of progress.”

Well, no. As it turned out, the summer of 1868 was no better than the summer of 1867; not for many years would permanent peace come to the southern Plains. Stanley himself fared better; his Medicine Lodge stories got him a job on James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald , and in 1871 the Herald sent him to Africa, where he stood before an aging missionary and, instead of reporting history, created it: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”