January 5, 1834: The Nights the Stars Fell on the Kiowa

“Get up, get up, there is something awful going on!”meteor

On a cold January night on the Southern Plains, the Kiowa were awakened by a burst of light, and running out from their tipis, they found the night lit up as bright as day, with myriads of meteors darting about the sky.

“And they were awakened by the light of falling stars. And they ran out into the false day and were terrified. They thought the world was coming to an end. You can imagine something like that happening directly overhead, this havoc in the night sky. And so it’s very much in their blood memory.” –N. Scott Momaday

The Kiowa were camped that night in the Wichita Mountains, where they had been driven when the Cheyenne and Lakota took over the Black Hills. And now the nomadic Kiowa were unsure where to move next – more people were coming in from the east, also moving onto the southern Plain, and anyone could sense that the universe was changing – these new settlers were building towns, churches, schools, some even owned slaves – but these newcomers were Indians, too. They were Cherokee, Delaware, Ottawa, Shawnee, and Pottawatomi; Sac and Fox, Miami and Kickapoo; Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw; all were being forced from their old lands.

The Choctaw had seen the same omen in the heavens six weeks prior. On November 13, 1833 an extraordinarily intense meteor shower had lit up their night sky as bright as day. The women and children screamed and cried in terror, while others hid. All night long, the stars rained down.

The Choctaw heard the Great Spirit speaking to them. They knew that every human had two souls. The shilup left the body and traveled west to the Land of Death, the direction from which their ancestors fled in ancient times, while the shilombish  remained guarding the body. The Choctaw needed to stay and protect their ancestors.

An elderly Choctaw man still in the east explained all this to the American agents: “In those pines you hear the ghosts of the departed. Their ashes are here, and we have been left to protect them. Our warriors are nearly all gone to the far country west but here are our dead.

Shall we go, too, and give their bones to the wolves?”

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