Kicking Bird (ca. 1835–1875)

By: Brian C. Hosmer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 18, 2020

Kicking Bird (Tene-Angopte, Striking Eagle), Kiowa chief of mixed Crow and Kiowa ancestry, was best known as a proponent of peace and accommodation with Whites. He rose to prominence in his late twenties and, after the death in 1866 of Dohäsan, paramount chief of the united Kiowa bands, assumed the leadership of the tribe's "peace faction," a position he held for the rest of his life. His position made him a natural intermediary between his Kiowa tribesmen and officials of the federal government. In this capacity he, along with Satanta, Satank, and several other leading men, represented his people at the Medicine Lodge Treaty Council in 1867 and in 1869 helped to gain the release of Lone Wolf and Satanta from army captivity. Yet peace was elusive, and as conditions on the reservation worsened, Kicking Bird's close relationship with White men made enemies among his own people. At the same time, the ranks of such war chiefs as Satanta and Lone Wolf swelled as hostile Kiowas continued raiding settlements in Texas.

By early 1870 Kicking Bird, his influence diminished by accusations of cowardice, had joined the fray and put together his own raiding party. In July his group, some 100 strong, crossed the Red River. Events quickly got out of hand as several warriors broke away from the group and robbed a mail stage at Rock Station, near the site of present Jermyn, Jack County. Alerted to the actions of Kicking Bird's followers, Capt. Curwen B. McLellan led several officers from the Sixth Cavalry, based at Fort Richardson, in pursuit. On July 12 McLellan attacked Kicking Bird's encampment near the site of Seymour, Texas. The officer quickly realized that he was outnumbered, however, and attempted to retreat, but, by a swift flanking maneuver, Kicking Bird cut off the army's escape, attacked, and in a day-long fight succeeded in forcing McLellan to seek the help of local cattlemen. The next day, with three men dead and twelve wounded, one of them reputedly lanced by Kicking Bird himself, the defeated McLellan returned to Fort Richardson (see LITTLE WICHITA RIVER, BATTLE OF THE).

The victory marked the end of Kicking Bird's military career, however. Expressing regret that tribal divisions forced him to adopt violence, he devoted the rest of his life to reestablishing his contacts with Whites and securing peace for his people. In 1871, after the Warren Wagontrain raid, Kicking Bird acquiesced in the arrest of Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree and worked to calm his tribesmen after the three chiefs were transferred to Fort Richardson. However, in late 1873 he skillfully negotiated the release of Satanta and Big Tree, a diplomatic coup that earned him the loyalty of some two-thirds of his tribesmen. At the same time he worked to further the cause of assimilation among his people by accepting a Quaker Thomas Battey to live among the Kiowas as a teacher and counselor.

Even Kicking Bird's considerable abilities were not enough to quell a rising sense of dissatisfaction over reservation conditions, however, and, by late 1873 the war faction raided in Texas and Mexico. During this expedition two young warriors, one the nephew and the other the son of paramount chief Lone Wolf, were killed. Stimulated by a desire for revenge and angered by the continued slaughter of the buffalo, Kiowa warriors again took to the warpath. Though Kicking Bird was successful in keeping his followers on the reservation, a number of Kiowas, including Bird Bow, White Shield, White Horse, Howling Wolf, and perhaps Satanta and Lone Wolf, joined with Quanah Parker's Quahadi Comanches in the unsuccessful attack on Adobe Walls on June 27, 1874 (see ADOBE WALLS, SECOND BATTLE OF).

Afterward, Kiowa military power was utterly destroyed. When Satanta stepped down as war chief in late 1874 and Lone Wolf surrendered early the next year, Kicking Bird was left as the only leader with a sizable following. Consequently, in an effort to influence Kiowa affairs, the United States Army named Kicking Bird principal chief in early 1875. The majority of the tribe, essentially leaderless, acquiesced. As chief and principal intermediary between the tribe and federal authorities, Kicking Bird was placed in charge of those hostile Indians captured during the 1874–75 uprising. Though this position allowed him to shield many of his tribesmen from possible danger, it also placed him under the influence of army authorities. Consequently, when it was decided that some of the hostile Kiowas would be incarcerated in Florida, Kicking Bird was required to choose which of his tribesmen would go. He chose White Horse, Maman-ti, Lone Wolf, and a number of obscure Kiowas, Comanches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Mexican captives, some seventy prisoners in all.

Not surprisingly, Kicking Bird's acquiescence to the demands of the army was interpreted as treason by many Kiowas. When officials from Fort Sill presented him with a grey horse, the image of Kicking Bird as a collaborator was strengthened further. Consequently, when Kicking Bird died suddenly on May 4, 1875, after drinking a cup of coffee, it was widely assumed, but never proved, that he had been poisoned. Several Kiowas claimed that he was killed by witchcraft. Kicking Bird, dead at about forty years of age, was given a Christian burial at Fort Sill, even though he had never been converted. His grave was marked only with a wooden cross, and when that decayed, the location of his remains is believed to have been forgotten. However there appears to be a marble grave marker at the Main Post Cemetery at Fort Sill.

Mildred P. Mayhall, The Kiowas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962; 2d ed. 1971). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937; 3d ed. 1969).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Chiefs and Other Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

Brian C. Hosmer, “Kicking Bird,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022,

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November 18, 2020