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The Kiowa are a nation of American Indians of the Great Plains. They migrated from western Montana southward into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado in the 17th and 18th centuries, and finally into the Southern Plains by the early 19th century. In 1867, the Kiowa moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.
Today they are federally recognized as Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma with headquarters in Carnegie, Oklahoma. The Kiowa language is still spoken today and is part of the Tanoan language family. As of 2011, there are 12,000 members.
Kiowa call themselves Ka'igwu, meaning "Principal People". Ancient names were Kwu-da and Tep-da, relating to the myth pulling or coming out of a hollow log until a pregnant woman got stuck. Later, they called themselves Kom-pa-bianta for "people with large tipi flaps", before they met Southern Plains tribes or before they met white men. Another explanation of their name "Kiowa" originated after their migration through what the Kiowa refer to as "The Mountains of the Kiowa" (Kaui-kope) in the present eastern edge of Glacier National Park, Montana, just south of the border with Canada.
The mountain pass they came through was populated heavily by grizzly bear Kgyi-yo and Blackfoot people. Other tribes who encountered the Kiowa used sign language to describe them by holding two straight fingers near the lower outside edge of the eye and moving these fingers back past the ear. This corresponded to the ancient Kiowa hairstyle cut horizontally from the lower outside edge of the eyes to the back of their ears. This was a functional practice to keep their hair from getting tangled as an arrow was let loose from a bow string. George Catlin painted Kiowa warriors with this hairstyle.
For a time, the Kiowa are thought to have shared land, mostly in present-day eastern Colorado, with the Arapaho. An Arapaho name for the Kiowa is "creek people", and the Arapaho word for "creek" is koh'owu', which when pronounced carefully has some resemblance to the current name "Kiowa". For example, the Kiowa are referred to as "creek people" in an oral narrative recited in 1993 by native Arapaho speaker Paul Moss. Thus, it is possible "Kiowa" may have come from a name by which the tribe was known among the Arapaho.
The Kiowa were patrilineal with a chiefdom living in semi-sedentary structures. They were hunters and gatherers, meaning they did not live in one area long enough to grow plants or crops, but did trade with sedentary tribes that grew crops. The Kiowas migrated with the American bison because it was their main food source along with an abundant supply of antelope, deer, wild berries, wild fruit, turkeys and other wild game. Dogs dragged travois and rawhide parfleche that contained camping goods for short moves that were for long periods of time. With the introduction of the horse the Kiowa revolutionized their economy and when they arrived on the Plains they were a fully mounted warrior nation. The horses were acquired from Spanish rancherias south of the Rio Grande. The new Kiowa and Plains Apache homeland lay in the southwestern plains adjacent to the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado and western Kansas and the Red River drainage of the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma.
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