Kiowa Belief and Ritual


Kiowa Belief and Ritual

Benjamin R. Kracht

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians Series

402 pages
3 photographs, 15 illustrations, 1 chronology, index


July 2017


$75.00 Add to Cart

December 2022


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eBook (PDF)
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July 2017


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About the Book

Directed by anthropologist Alexander Lesser in 1935, the Santa Fe Laboratory of Anthropology sponsored a field school in southwestern Oklahoma that focused on the neighboring Kiowas. During two months, graduate students compiled more than 1,300 pages of single-spaced field notes derived from cross-interviewing thirty-five Kiowas. These eyewitness and first-generation reflections on the horse and buffalo days are undoubtedly the best materials available for reconstructing pre-reservation Kiowa beliefs and rituals. The field school compiled massive data resulting in a number of publications on this formerly nomadic Plains tribe, though the planned collaborative ethnographies never materialized. The extensive Kiowa field notes, which contain invaluable information, remained largely unpublished until now.

In Kiowa Belief and Ritual, Benjamin R. Kracht reconstructs Kiowa cosmology during the height of the horse and buffalo culture from field notes pertaining to cosmology, visions, shamans, sorcery, dream shields, tribal bundles, and the now-extinct Sun Dance ceremony. These topics are interpreted through the Kiowa concept of a power force permeating the universe. Additional data gleaned from the field notes of James Mooney and Alice Marriott enrich the narrative. Drawing on more than thirty years of field experiences, Kracht’s discussion of how Indigenous notions of “power” are manifested today significantly enhances the existing literature concerning Plains religions.


Author Bio

Benjamin R. Kracht is a professor of anthropology at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. 


"Kiowa Belief and Ritual is a thought-provoking contribution to the study of religion and spirituality within the Kiowa nation in Oklahoma."—Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote, Canadian Journal of Native Studies

“[An] encyclopedic and yet still surprisingly personalized . . . rendition of Kiowa religion. The result is what could hardly be imagined as a more complete summary of a people’s beliefs and rituals at a particular moment in time—a moment that had just ended when the data were collected and that, despite all of the tribulations and losses faced by the Kiowa, continues not only to be remembered but to reverberate through their culture.”—Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"[Kiowa Belief and Ritual] makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Plains Indigenous religion, and offers Kiowa community members an engaging link to their Indigenous heritage."—Andrew McKenzie, Great Plains Quarterly

"Benjamin R. Kracht's Kiowa Belief and Ritual is a welcome, important contribution to the literature on Plains Indian Religions, specifically the Kiowa. . . . Kracht has accomplished excellent, dedicated work in providing his assessment of these incredibly important fieldnotes from, it should be recognized, an exceptionally special group of honored elders."—Inés Hernández-Ávila, Reading Religion

“Benjamin Kracht provides keen insight into the belief system and worldview of the Kiowa people. This ethnographic window reveals what is sacred, powerful, and spiritual among this warrior people of the southern plains. Kracht’s scholarship advances our understanding of the true reality of the Kiowas.”—Donald L. Fixico, Distinguished Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University and author of Call for Change: The Medicine Way of American Indian History, Ethos, and Reality

Kiowa Belief and Ritual offers a meticulously researched and richly detailed account of pre-reservation Kiowa religious life. Benjamin Kracht makes extensive use of interviews conducted with Kiowa elders in 1935, and their recollections and experiences make for compelling reading. This is a significant contribution to the literature on Native North America.”—Michael Paul Jordan, assistant professor of ethnology at Texas Tech University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Kiowa Pronunciations
Introduction: Ethnographic Studies of Plains Indian Religions
1. Kiowa History, 1832–1868
2. Kiowa Beliefs and Concepts of the Universe
3. Acquiring, Maintaining, and Manifesting Power
4. Bundles, Shields, and Societies
5. The Kiowa Sun Dance
Conclusion: The Collapse of the Horse and Buffalo Culture and the Sun Dance
Appendix: Kiowa Sun Dance Chronology, 1833–1890

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