Satank was a member of the Kiowa tribe. He was a leader of men, warrior, and as a shaman, he possessed strong medicine in war and peace. Satank was a principal chief of the Kiowas for many years. The word, Satank, is the English corruption of his Kiowa name, Set-ankeah, which means Sitting Bear. Early years Satank was born in the sacred Black Hills region of South Dakota, around 1810. His paternal grandmother was of the Canadian Sarsi¹ people. Little is known about his early life. Satank was a leader of the Koitsenko² (Crazy Dog) warrior society. He was a keeper of two sacred relics: the Grandmother Medicine Bundle, and the Eagle Shield, which gave him magical power. By the age of 20, Satank had proved himself as a leading warrior at a time when many Plains tribes existed in a constant state of conflict. He took every opportunity to improve his standing among his people and establish himself as an outstanding fighting man. Beginning in his twenties, he fought intertribal wars and gained much prominence for his victorious campaigns against such enemies as the Cheyenne, Sac, and Fox. Satank grew in prominence in warfare against the Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Tonkawa, Pawnee, Creek, Apache, Osage, and Dakota. Though respected by his tribe, his ruthless personality bred fear among his people. In his thirties, he played a significant role in organizing peace among the Kiowa, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, which allowed the tribes to combine forces against the white invaders. Turning against the whites As more whites moved onto the Plains, Satank's ruthlessness became directed against them. His targets included white settlements, wagon trains, and, on occasion, army outposts. Following Chief [3874:Dohäsan's] death in 1866, Satank became one of several Kiowa leaders. In 1867, he represented the Kiowa at the Medicine Lodge Treaty council. He was one of the leading Kiowa chiefs who signed the treaty, one of whose provisions compelled the tribe to move to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma^. Although he accompanied the majority of the tribe when they settled on its reservation the following year, Satank never adjusted to the confinement and often rode off for long periods. When his son was killed in Texas in 1870, his bitterness against the white man grew. The grief-stricken chief went to Texas and gathered the bones of the young warrior, thereafter carrying them with him in a bundle on a special horse. After journeying to Texas to retrieve his son’s bones, he joined other discontented Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache, including Santana and Cheyenne chief Big Tree, to conduct raids on settlements in northern and western Texas throughout the following year. On May 18, 1871, Satank and his fellow warriors attacked the Henry Warren wagon train, which was hauling supplies to Fort Griffin, and killed seven of the 12 teamsters. General William T. Sherman sent Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry to search for the renegades. Mackenzie failed to find them. Satank, Santana, and Big Tree had returned to Fort Sill to request their reservation rations³. When questioned about the raid by the Indian agent, Santana, in an act of bravado, admitted his participation in the raid, in the process implicating Satank and Big Tree. Shortly afterward, under orders from General Sherman, Santana, Satank, and Big Tree were arrested and imprisoned. Sherman was determined that they be transferred to Fort Richardson, where civil authorities would try them for murder. Later, the three leaders, handcuffed and shackled, began their journey. Satank refused to climb into the transport wagon and had to be thrown into the bed. Sudden death While on the road to Texas, the 61-year-old Satank began to sing the death song of the Koitsenko, and when he finished, he lunged at the guard riding with him, knocked him out of the wagon and into the road. As Satank grabbed the soldier’s carbine, a barrage of rifle fire cut him down, mortally wounding him. His body was left beside the road. Shortly afterward, Satank’s scalp was cut off by Tonkawa scouts. Later, it was brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and buried in the Military Cemetery. The year was 1871.
¹The Sarsi are Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Athabascan branch of the Nadene linguistic stock. Also known as the Sarcee, at the beginning of the 19th century their hunting grounds were on the upper Saskatchewan River.
² The Ko-eet-senko was a prestigious warrior society in which only the 10 bravest members of the tribe were included. When initiated into that elite group, each man swore an oath to return from each warlike encounter with honor or not return at all.
³ According to most treaties with indigenous peoples, the basic conditions were that the participant tribe would withdraw to a prescribed reservation and in return, the federal government promised to provide supplies, food, and often an annuity.