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April 5, 2024

Two Stunning Portraits of Young Kiowa Girls, 1894

These stunning portraits were taken in 1894. The photo on the left is very rare because 19th century people never smiled for pictures. That Native American girl named O-o-dee of the Kiowa people in the Oklahoma Territory. Her friend on the right not smiling named Mabonia, also Kiowa. They wearing dresses decorated with elk teeth. Their names were embroidered in the textile next to them.

The girls were born and raised during the reservation period, which lasted from 1868 to 1906. The US had previously tried to assimilate their tribe by sending in Quakers and Christians as “Indian agents” to teach English and introduce concepts of Christianity and Euro-American culture. These agents also tried to convince the Kiowas to give up hunting and focus on farming. When this did not work, soldiers were dispatched to destroy the tribe’s food, clothing, shelter, and horses, effectively ending their ability to survive the impending winter.

The Kiowas reluctantly settled on the reservation where housing was provided for the chiefs; however, they continued to sleep in their tipis. The first Kiowa school was established in 1873 by Quakers, and all Kiowa children were forced to attend.

According to the Kansas Historical Society:

“Some children were captured and placed in boarding schools far from the reservation. The schools cut the children’s hair and banned the wearing of traditional clothing, the use of the Kiowa language, and any traditional religious practices. Children were not allowed to see their parents or any other tribal members. Boys were taught to farm, and girls were taught Euro-American domestic skills. These schools were centers designed to annihilate Kiowa culture and resembled internment camps. Many schools were surrounded by barbed wire to prevent escapes.

“Three Native American boys, who had been beaten and whipped by the schoolmaster, escaped in 1891 only to freeze to death in a blizzard. A measles outbreak occurred in 1892, killing more than 220 children. Afflicted children were sent back to their families, which quickly spread the illness across the reservation.”


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