Tehan (unknown–unknown)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: March 10, 2021

Font size: A / A reset

Tehan (Tahan) was a White captive of the Kiowa Indians whose unwitting role in the Red River War propelled him briefly into the limelight during the taming of the Panhandle frontier. Tehan was taken by the Indians when he was a child, perhaps between five and ten. The Indians called him Tehan ("Texan"). He was subsequently adopted by the Kiowa medicine man Maman-ti and grew up to become a fierce, proud warrior. Except for his red hair, fair skin, and bull-like neck, he was pure Kiowa, and he reportedly committed several depredations on Whites as an apprentice brave during the early 1870s. Tehan was about eighteen when the Red River War broke out in the summer of 1874. He was among those who fled the Wichita Agency in late August and camped near the upper Washita River in what is now Hemphill County while traveling west toward Palo Duro Canyon. On September 8 he rode back toward a previous campsite to look for some stray horses. As he was returning to the new camp, he was captured by Lt. Francis (Frank) D. Baldwin and three army scouts who were carrying dispatches from Col. Nelson A. Miles to Camp Supply. Although Tehan pretended to be grateful for his "deliverance," his captors took no chances and kept a rope tied about the prisoner's neck to prevent any escape attempt. After meeting with Capt. Wyllys Lyman's supply wagons, Baldwin left Tehan and scout William Schmalsle with Lyman in the belief that Miles would want to question the "White Indian." In the meantime, Indian scouts sent out to look for Tehan discovered Lyman's wagontrain and reported this information to Indians at the main camp. The Kiowas besieged the train from September 9 to 14, during which time Tehan escaped from his guards and rejoined his adopted tribe, sporting a suit of clothes the troops had given him. He probably was the one who advised the warriors to fortify the waterhole, thus causing Lyman's men to suffer from thirst for two days.

Rev. J. J. Methvin, a missionary at the Wichita Agency, stated that just before the events leading to the siege, Tehan had gone on a raid into Texas with Za-ko-yea (Big Bow), who was said to have murdered and plundered more than any other Kiowa leader. Indeed, he was among the last of the chiefs to surrender to the federal authorities in the spring of 1875. Before surrendering, Big Bow, in a desperate bid to cover up his crimes, reportedly shot and killed Tehan with his bow-and-arrow. Since Tehan knew of Big Bow's exploits, the chief, in a moment of madness, feared that his companion's "White blood" would eventually prompt him to reveal all he knew to the military authorities, thus leading to Big Bow's possible execution. After Big Bow came in, he and his family told everyone that Tehan had died of thirst while retreating from the horse soldiers out on the parched Llano Estacado.

Hoodle-tau-goodle (Red Dress), Tehan's foster sister, doubted this story of Tehan's death. According to a Comanche with whom she spoke, Tehan had come to his camp and subsequently joined him on several raids. For a time they lived with Apaches in the Mescalero country. When Tehan learned that his foster father had died in a prison in Florida, he determined to go to Fort Sill to take care of his foster mother. The Comanche did not know what became of Tehan after they parted. The mystery of Tehan's fate was compounded with the appearance of Rev. Joseph K. Griffis, a Presbyterian minister from Buffalo, New York, who in May 1895 was holding services as a guest preacher at the Presbyterian church in El Reno, Oklahoma. Griffis claimed that he was Tehan, that his mother had been murdered when the Kiowas took him captive in Texas at the age of two, that he had been captured by George A. Custer's troops in the battle of Washita on November 27, 1868, and that he had been sent to White relatives in Cooke County; he claimed to have escaped back to his adopted tribe and remained with them until the close of the Red River War, after which he drifted east to learn more of the White man's world and came under the influence of the Salvation Army, which set him on the "Narrow Path" toward the ministry. During his visit Griffis, whose sympathy for the Indians was evident, went to the Kiowa reservation, supposedly to visit his old cronies.

However, several Red River War veterans, including Andrew (Andele) Martínez, another White captive also present at the siege of Lyman's wagon train, declared that the minister's features did not resemble the muscular, Irish profile of the Tehan that they remembered. Dan W. Peery and other Oklahoma journalists investigated the story but could draw no definite conclusions. Years later, in the summer of 1930, Hoodle-tau-goodle wrote Griffis, then residing in Vergennes, Vermont, asking if he had certain scars on his body and, if so, how he received them. Griffis graciously answered her letter, apparently without providing the information she requested, and afterward faded out of the picture. Most of the Kiowas came to believe Tehan had, indeed, died out on the Texas plains. Historian Wilbur S. Nye later opined, "There may have been more than one Tehan."

William Cary Brown Papers, Western Historical Collections, University of Colorado, Boulder. Hugh D. Corwin, Comanche and Kiowa Captives in Oklahoma and Texas (Guthrie, Oklahoma: Cooperative Publishing, 1959). James L. Haley, The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). J. J. Methvin, Andele, or the Mexican-Kiowa Captive (Louisville, Kentucky: Pentecostal Herald Press, 1899; rpt., in The Garland Library of Narratives of North American Indian Captives, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn [New York: Garland, 1975-]). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Bad Medicine and Good: Tales of the Kiowas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937; 3d ed. 1969).


  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Captives and Victims of Attack

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Tehan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tehan.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
March 10, 2021