I rarely post about my family as we are a relatively private people. But, as I've started to gain a bit of notoriety from my book, I felt that it was important for me to give credit where credit is due; as it pertains to the Kiowa stories that I've written about. Many of the old Kiowa stories that I know came to me from one person, my grandmother Mary (Akoneto*) Miller.
My grandmother was born on September 11th, 1927 to Sadie and Charles Akoneto of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. Her parents were full-blooded members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and they were both fluent speakers of the Kiowa language. My grandmother was also very close to her own maternal grandmother Thot-Sau-Nah, whose name means "Getting Close to Home."
From her parents and grandmother, my grandmother learned all of the old stories of the Kiowa as well as Christian hymns and prayers in the Kiowa language. It always amazed me when my grandmother was able to recite a story or a song that was told to her when she was only 10 years old. She could remember little details with so much clarity. I can't even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.
My grandmother was a natural storyteller and she was always happy to share what she knew with other people. As a kid, I remember a prominent Kiowa artist stopping by to visit with my grandmother so that he could accurately portray the Kiowa people in a painting that he was working on. Another time, a noted Wichita tribal singer visited with her to learn certain Kiowa words and to discuss the meanings behind some of the songs of the O-ha-ma Lodge singers. That might have been the first time that I realized that my grandmother was something of an authority when it came to the Kiowa language and history. But she was always humble, and she lamented that she didn't know as much as she should have.
There is a special kind of magic in a storytellers voice and my grandmother certainly had some of that magic. When she told a tale, she could transport you to another time and place. Now, that particular time and place could be both cruel and savage, it was a raw age. But it was also a time and place of mystery, miracle and magic.
Today, I'd like to share one of my favorite stories that my grandmother learned from her own grandmother. But first I'd like to give you a little preface. My grandmother never started her stories with "Once upon a time." Rather she started her stories with "You know, way back there...". She sometimes used Kiowa words when quoting someone in the story. I will do the same in this writing, but I will place the English translations next to the Kiowa words or phrases.
The Big Fish
You know, way back there, the Kiowas lived out west near the Wichita mountains. Thot-Sau-Nah was a little girl when this happened. At that time, the Kiowas fought with everyone. When they were at war with the Osage, the Kiowas were split up into a bunch of different camps. This one camp saw a bunch of Osage warriors coming their way so the Kiowa warriors jumped on their horses and went out to fight. Even though the Kiowa warriors were brave and fought hard, there were too many Osage and the Kiowas lost. Almost all of the Kiowa warriors were dead or scattered.
At the Kiowa camp, there were only old people, women, and children. These Kiowa people saw dust plumes in the distance and they knew that it was the Osage coming to finish them off. All the Kiowa people started to run away. The old people helped each other and the mothers carried their children on their shoulders.
They ran for a long time but, when they looked back, they could see the dust plumes of the Osage getting closer. At last, the Kiowas came to a big river. It was Aw-say (spring time) so the river was swollen with flood water. The people got really scared because they knew they couldn't cross. The old Kiowa chief walked to the forefront of the group and said that he would try to cross the river.
The people watched as the old chief stepped in to the swollen river. He fought the currents and struggled to stay on his feet. But, the river was too strong, and the old chief went under the water. All the people started to wail and they fell to their knees because they loved their chief and the Kiowas could see the Osage on their horses coming towards them. But when they looked back at the river, they saw the old chief rising up out of the water. He motioned them to come forward and he said, AIM POHN! (get up!) AIM AH! (come here!)
The old chief was standing on something but the Kiowa people couldn't see what it was. The Kiowas stepped out on to the water and, under their feet, they could feel that they were standing on something solid. Whatever it was, it carried all the Kiowa people across the river. When all of the people were safely on the other bank, a big fish tail came up out of the river and splashed the water. Thot-Sau-Nah was one of those little children being carried on her mother's shoulders. She said that they were standing on something soft.
1. Her maiden name, Akoneto, was actually a corruption of our true family name, Akohn-doe; which means "He's Aiming."
T. D. Hill (Wichita, Kiowa, Pawnee) is a Native American artist, writer, and motivational speaker
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"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
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