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ISA-TAI

ISA-TAI (?–?). Isa-tai ("Coyote Droppings," "Rear-End-of-a-Wolf," literally "Coyote Anus") was a Comanche warrior and medicine man of the Quahadi band who gained prominence in 1873–74 as a prophet and "messiah." He succeeded, temporarily, in uniting the autonomous Comanche bands as no leader had ever done before, and he organized what was said to be the first Comanche sun dance, a Plains Indian ritual that his tribe had not previously adopted.

Isa-tai's prophecy was based on his claim that he had ascended above the clouds and had conversed with the Great Spirit and been granted extraordinary powers. Among these was the ability to cure the sick and bring the dead back to life, to control the weather and other natural phenomena, and to make the white man's bullets fall harmlessly to the ground. He claimed to have belched up a wagonload of cartridges and then swallowed them. He also correctly predicted the disappearance of a comet in 1873 and a drought later that year; these prognostications helped to convince the Comanches of his supernatural abilities.

Motivated in part by a desire for personal revenge (his uncle had been killed in a battle with United States troops), Isa-tai brought the Comanches together for the sun dance in May 1874. At that time he preached a war of extermination and promised the warriors that they would be invincible against their enemies. Members of other tribes, mainly the Kiowas and Cheyennes, found his message appealing. After discarding a plan to annihilate the Tonkawas, who were believed to be cannibals and who had long served as scouts for the whites, the Comanches decided to attack the hunters in the Texas Panhandle, who were destroying the buffalo at a frightening rate and thus endangering their chief source of food. On June 27 a party of 700 Indians, mostly Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes, attacked the buffalo hunters' headquarters, Adobe Walls, on the South Canadian River. During the battle, led primarily by the young Comanche Quanah Parker, Isa-tai remained on a distant hill, apparently unwilling to trust his own medicine. The whites, twenty-eight men and one woman, protected by the solid adobe walls and armed with long-range rifles, fought off the Indians and finally compelled them to withdraw. About fifteen warriors were killed and a larger number wounded.

Isa-tai tried to absolve himself by saying that his magic had been weakened before the battle when one of the Cheyennes violated a sacred taboo by killing a skunk. Several Cheyennes responded by beating him, and with that he was totally discredited and publicly humiliated. Although not a major historic engagement, this second battle of Adobe Walls was a crushing spiritual defeat for the Southern Plains Indians, who had come to believe fully in the supernatural powers of the medicine man, and marked the beginning of their steep decline as military powers. Isa-tai was eventually forgiven but remembered only as a comical figure. He was still alive in the 1890s.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937; 3d ed. 1969). Rupert N. Richardson, The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement (Glendale, California: Clark, 1933; rpt., Millwood, New York: Kraus, 1973). Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952).

Gaines Kincaid

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Gaines Kincaid, "ISA-TAI," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fis05), accessed October 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.