Too Many Weak and Unprincipled Men Among Us

 

This is a time for serious reflection on direction, principles, and leadership. I have several thoughts on these as related to both our present and future. But as I am inclined to do, I consider the stories of the past when looking at both the present and the future. There are no perfect examples, only examples of imperfect humans who are caught in their own times and challenges. But the ones who truly leave us with examples of guidance can see beyond the mire of the moment, personal damage or false glory. They, by some trait, either acquired or momentarily blessed with, see with promise guided by lasting principles. They are the leaders who matter, regardless of the cost they pay.

Some of my thoughts of the last few days have reminded me of words from a Kiowa leader of decades past as he lamented that there were “too many weak and unprincipled men among us”. It brought to mind some words from another deep thinking observer of another age, C.S. Lewis: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.”

On May 3, 1875, the Kiowa chief known to history as Kicking Bird was brought a cup of coffee by a Mexican servant. He drank it and soon after died. His death, as well as his life, is still a matter of both legend and study even now. He was probably around forty years of age and his legacy affected not just the direction taken by the Kiowa tribe during the 19th-century but still shapes it today. He was a proven fighting man among the fiercest horseback tribe of the plains whose vision was peace, independence, and education.

As I have said he is known to history as Kicking Bird, but the Kiowa language can be even more of a barrier to the modern mind than most other native tongues. T’ene-angop’te has a more marital translation than the picture of some small bird shaking the water from its feet. A closer meaning would be “Eagle who Strikes with Talons” or “Striking Eagle.” It is a warrior’s name earned from blood and bone, close-quartered conflict.

The Kiowa were a “small numbered people” surrounded on the southern and middle plains by larger tribes with who they competed for resources. Despite their lack of numbers, they were probably the most independent and clannish of the tribes and took pride in it. Even among the plains tribes, they were horsemen without peer. On a per-capita basis, they held more horses than any other tribe. The growth of those herds depended not just on their husbandry skills but quite a bit on their ability in war and theft. Theirs was a culture built around following the widely drifting buffalo herds and raiding others. By the time the white man encountered them, they had long-standing feuds with the Ute, Apache, Osage, and Pawnee. They at first had the same status with the much more populated Comanche but had formed an alliance with them even if they did consider them cultural and moral inferiors. But they became valuable allies in raiding into Texas and New Mexico as well all along the very profitable Santa Fe Trail. Plunder and captives helped them to tolerate the Comanche.

Kiowa male society, like most warrior cultures, centered around military societies. Kicking Bird reached first-ranked social status as “onde” at an early age and was in his early to mid-twenties when he was accepted among the leadership of his people. He was a part of the combined plains tribes forces that met Kit Carson in the First Battle of Adobe Walls during the Civil War.

He was a favorite of the Kiowa principal chief Tohawson (Dohasan) but was considered too young to secede him. But the two shared an understanding of the probable future of their tribe and their way of life. Their tribe’s own tradition recalled how they had been pushed before other tribes until they had reached the plains and were given the gift of the horse. The two leaders could see that their people were again facing an overwhelming force but this time with no place to retreat to. Like they had adapted to the plains life and culture, they now had to plot a path that would ensure their survival while retaining their identity.

Kicking Bird played a major role in the implementation of the Little Arkansas Treaty of 1865 in getting the return of several white captives which had been a big stumbling block. This treaty, as most of the ones to follow, had the promise of generous annuities to the Kiowa in return for tamping down the raids along the Santa Fe Trail and into Texas. But as with most government promises of prosperity, the annuities were usually short, late or not at all. There are some things in life that remain constant. As one Kiowa came to observe, “Promises are a poor thing to live on”.

And besides, the Kiowa were hardly a docile people. They were accustomed to long-ranging hunts and raids that often lasted over a year, stretched for hundreds of miles, and resulted in huge captures of both animals and human captives. They were not inclined to sit and wait to be fed, or to be inactive. History, both ancient and modern, tells us that nothing good comes from either.

The 1866 death of Tohawson brought a change of leadership. Guipago (Lone Wolf) had been tapped by Tohawson as the successor because of Kicking Bird’s age, he was of the old school and even if he did attempt some of the “peace path” in the beginning still saw his leadership as a day to day reaction instead of a long reaching direction. Two other older, well-established leaders who were much more of the war camp were Satanta (White Bear) and the aging, ever hostile Satank (Sitting Bear).

Satanta was an imposing and often impressive figure, especially to outsiders. He was larger than most Indians of any tribe, had a booming voice which he had a fondness for using, an impressive record as a warrior, and a sense of drama as long as he was the center of it. Satank was approaching 70 but still, an active raider, entitled to wear the red band as one of the “Ten Bravest”, was sullen and hard to be around even for friends and believed to have magical powers he did not hesitate to use.

Among those who lined up behind Kicking Bird’s vision of trying to maintain a path to an agreement with the Americans were the high priest Napawat and Settern-ka-yah (Stumbling Bear), an established fighter of the old-order who had probably taken part with distinction in every major engagement involving the Kiowa between 1850 and 1870.

The later 1860s were a trying time between the Americans and the Kiowa. The poor delivery of promised annuities was a constant issue as well as their distribution. With the end of the Civil War and an uncompleted transcontinental railroad, the trade route along the Santa Fe Trail offered more prospects to a raiding culture than undetermined installments from the government. And the cattle trade in Texas was beginning to boom and sending herd after herd toward the Red River and Kansas beyond. A couple of those late 60s years were tense and bloody.

By 1870, some of the disagreements between what could be considered from the outside as the “peace” and “war” fractions of the tribe had become extremely taunt. After strong accusations of being a “coffee chief” and the white man’s errand boy, Kicking Bird reaffirmed his war leader credit with a raid into Texas to capture a cattle herd pointed toward the Red River. When some extra raiding on a near-by town by some young warriors drew a detachment of the Sixth Cavalry, Kicking Bird set up below a hill to encourage a frontal attack, used two pincer movements to flank the pony soldiers and charged into the column to lance an officer and send the army heading back to Fort Richardson.

1871 brought added tensions between the Americans and the Kiowa. The year began with a raid into Texas killing some freighters hauling supplies between the western forts. And by summer, old Satank was seeking vengeance for the death of his favorite son who was killed in an earlier raid into Texas. Carrying some of the son’s bones in his medicine bag, he was part of what became known as the Warren Wagon Raid that resulted in the loss of an entire supply train, seven burned and scalped freighters as well as a very upset General William T. Sherman. The general had just missed being a victim of the same party and he had a new and intensified interest in keeping the Kiowa north of the Red. Both of the raids had been “inspired” by the spiritual planner Maman-ti which can be translated as Walks Above the Ground or Sky Walker. He claimed great power and vision by way of the owl and was also known as the Owl Prophet. He was not a proponent of peace. (WINGS OF AN OWL AND A SEARCHER, February 22, 2019)

The second raid might well have gone unpunished if Satanta had been able to keep from bragging about it to the Indian Agent. Sherman ordered three chiefs to be taken back to Texas to stand criminal charges of murder, a first-ever measure. When Satank was put aboard a load of corn to be taken away, he pulled his red blanket over his head, gnawed at his wrists until his hands were free, pulled out a hidden knife – or, according to legend, used his magic to vomit it up, attacked the soldiers guarding him and died fighting. (SATANK: BONES AND PROMISES, July 5, 2016). Satanta and Big Tree went to prison and were later released on parole, in part due to the efforts of Kicking Bird.

Lone Wolf had since also lost a son to American soldiers and had lost all interest in the “peace path”. He carried the young warrior’s bones on a packhorse and planned raid after raid for blood vengeance.

Kicking Bird and the dramatic Satanta became the faces of what could be called the “peace” and “war” fractions of the tribe. But more than once Kicking Bird was able to “keep a lid” on things and actually prevented the older man’s arrest a couple of times.

One account handed down through the tribe tells of Satanta and some of his followers having a conflict over the “holding” of a buffalo herd with Kicking Bird’s brother and brother-in-law. It resulted in the two men being beaten and having their arrows broken by the larger group. Kicking Bird was not in camp yet having stopped for a few days because one of his wives was sick. After a couple of days, Satanta rode out to talk with the younger chief. He was greeted with, “Did you come to fight?” Satanta assured him that he did not and offered 4 horses, a white mule, some saddles, a gun, and blankets as a gift to smooth things over.

An elder retelling the story in later years said, “Satanta was a big man, and he was older than Kicking Bird. But he was not as wise. Furthermore, I think Kicking Bird had the stronger medicine.”

Another story is of a dispute concerning a celebration after a returning raid. A young offended warrior who did not know Kicking Bird from his more war-like days stormed into the chief’s lodge aiming a gun. He fell back with three arrows in his chest.

But Kicking Bird had a vision of what he considered necessary for the survival of his tribe and he worked to develop it through a growing relationship with the Quaker teacher Thomas Battery and Indian Agent James M. Haworth. He saw that becoming educated into the language and ways of the Americans would be needed before any measure of independence could be gained by the Kiowa. By 1873, Kiowa children, led by Kicking Bird’s daughter, were being taught in classes. By 1875, a school was opened at Fort Sill with 44 Kiowa students. With Agent Haworth, Kicking Bird discussed possible plans for dividing range lands among the Kiowa and developing a livestock industry on a competitive basis.

But Lone Wolf and Satanta found the lure of plunder, battle glory, and blood vengeance too hard to stay away from. The intense raiding of 1874 and the early days of ’75 broke out into a major uprising. If the situation was not settled quickly, a major campaign would have reduced the Kiowa to starvation and ruin. After some tense action, Satanta was captured to be sent back to Texas prison and Lone Wolf was finally corralled and being held. The army felt they had no choice but to name Kicking Bird as principal chief of the Kiowa much as they had done with the young Quanah with the Comanche.

The government determined they would send a total of 70 prisoners to Fort Marion, Florida as tribal punishment if Kicking Bird could hold the rest down. And they asked the young chief to pick the 70 who had to go.

There was little doubt that hard-liners like Lone Wolf, Maman-ti, and White Horse would have to go if any order was to be kept. But after them, Kicking Bird selected mostly obscure members of the tribe and several Mexican captives, trying to leave the core of the tribe’s social order intact.

Kicking Bird spoke to the prisoners before they were taken away and Maman-ti, the Owl Prophet, told him he would soon pay a price for his help to the Americans. Such a Kiowa curse normally takes about three days to play out. Five days later, Kicking Bird was brought the coffee by the Mexican captive servant and was dead that afternoon. The common explanation, besides a curse of course, is that he was poisoned. But he also showed signs the night before of what might have been a heart condition while visiting with a white trader. He rose the next morning and washed in the running waters of Cache Creek in line with custom and felt better. There was no autopsy.

Three months later Maman-ti was dead himself in the old, damp Spanish prison in Florida.

During his last years, Kicking Bird bore the brunt of the hostility from some of his tribe because of his leadership toward a safer, more secure future for his tribe. Some claimed he profited from the annuities while his people suffered. Actually, this chief who had been the most prosperous of his tribe depleted a great deal of his own wealth trying to keep his fellow Kiowa fed and cared for. His own horse herd, once the largest of the tribe, was reduced as he traded to keep the peace. Because of his determination to preserve his people, he risked all that was important to a Kiowa chief; his well-earned status as a war leader, his tribal following, his wealth, and in the end, his life. The risk was taken for a future beyond the abyss that his nation faced.

History, at times, gives us stories of such leaders. They are imperfect men who at times make imperfect decisions. But they leave behind their own comfort and ease or even wealth because they feel they can protect something more important. Despite any faults or failures, they are worthy of our respect – and gratitude. They are often resented by those with shorter vision or less courage. Sometimes they are even betrayed. Seemingly, they are always resisted, or undermined, by those who prefer to cline to comfort in the “normal” regardless of how destructive it really is. I suppose that has been true of many past times. It might even be true of our own.

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  1. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Outstanding. Thanks.

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Fascinating history, and a complex piece of writing. Great job, congratulations on making it work so well. 

    • #2
  3. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Fascinating. Thanks. I knew the name of Kicking Bird from books about American Indian history but now know much more about him thanks to you. 

    • #3
  4. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Looking at the picture, did he have blue eyes? I thought that was just the Cherokees with red hair and blue eyes and so on. Or am I over-reading the photo?

    • #4
  5. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Looking at the picture, did he have blue eyes? I thought that was just the Cherokees with red hair and blue eyes and so on. Or am I over-reading the photo?

    It might be the quality of the picture which is reproduced so many times. There is another picture of him wearing a military coat, staring into the camera. His grandfather was a Crow captive turned Kiowa warrior but beyond that he was Kiowa as far as I know.

    • #5
  6. Jim Beck Member
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Morning Ole Summers,

    I think the Kiowa were doomed and either path would lead to the end of Kiowa culture and tribal life. So the question to me is more puzzlingly. Who are weak and unprincipled men is not easily discerned from this comparison. In “The Mountain People”, Colin Turnbill records the destruction of a tribe when the hunting ways of the tribe become prohibited by the government. To me this suggests that cultures can adapt to novel challenges as long as the network of obligations are maintained. If the Kiowa were to become ranchers, they would cease to be Kiowa. What do you think?

    • #6
  7. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    We didn’t deal with the Kiowas harshly enough, they were the henchmen for the truly barbaric and evil Comanche.

    Not paying annuities that were promised was actually brilliant. The murderers stopped fighting briefly and then sat around complaining that they were treated unfairly.

    I find no merit in permitting stone aged people to claim an entire continent. They were rightfully dispossessed. Their superstitions and magic beliefs are thankfully dead now, except in museums.

    Kicking Bird seems to have seen the writing on the wall more than most, but he and his people chose poorly and rightfully paid a dear price for their life of murder.

    • #7
  8. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Morning Ole Summers,

    I think the Kiowa were doomed and either path would lead to the end of Kiowa culture and tribal life. So the question to me is more puzzlingly. Who are weak and unprincipled men is not easily discerned from this comparison. In “The Mountain People”, Colin Turnbill records the destruction of a tribe when the hunting ways of the tribe become prohibited by the government. To me this suggests that cultures can adapt to novel challenges as long as the network of obligations are maintained. If the Kiowa were to become ranchers, they would cease to be Kiowa. What do you think?

    They were a savage people who had to make a change or cease to exist. Their way of life had no way to survive except in a much more isolated world. they were on the plains because of being pushed ahead by more numerous settled peoples. All cultures have to develop and grow or be lost. For the most part, they did become stockmen mostly but much slower than the Comanche for examples. :) being stubborn, isolated and hard to get along with are qualities not easily changed 

    • #8
  9. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Being a tribal leader in that era was a true Kobayashi Maru situation: war meant eventual, inevitable destruction by a vastly superior enemy and peace meant accepting conditions that would lead to the extermination of the culture, style, and substance of traditions and communal life. 

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Being a tribal leader in that era was a true Kobayashi Maru situation: war meant eventual, inevitable destruction by a vastly superior enemy and peace meant accepting conditions that would lead to the extermination of the culture, style, and substance of traditions and communal life.

    Kobayashi refers to a situation where you only have bad choices, all of which are inflicted on you. They chose to live a life of murder. If they were just buffalo hunters their story would have been much different. But they were murderers, child thieves, rapists, torturers, and devoid of any merit.

    • #10
  11. carcat74 Member
    carcat74
    @carcat74

    I find no merit in allowing poorly and uneducated people to take over an entire country. We haven’t dealt harshly enough with those who burn, break, loot, and create mayhem.

    • #11
  12. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Being a tribal leader in that era was a true Kobayashi Maru situation: war meant eventual, inevitable destruction by a vastly superior enemy and peace meant accepting conditions that would lead to the extermination of the culture, style, and substance of traditions and communal life.

    Kobayashi refers to a situation where you only have bad choices, all of which are inflicted on you. They chose to live a life of murder. If they were just buffalo hunters their story would have been much different. But they were murderers, child thieves, rapists, torturers, and devoid of any merit.

    Ancestor get abused by Kiowa? Commanche? Pretty harsh assessment. And can we really pass judgment when we are guilty of harming the planet with capitalism and infringing transgender rights?

    Violence of a personal nature seems to be a pretty common theme among North America’s native peoples and the fact that adult males are all called “warriors” is probably a clue that peaceful co-existence and Geneva Convention rules of war may not have been the norm. 

    War crimes and atrocities aside, wandering after buffalo brought tribes into contact and conflict with one another and would do so with white settlers. I don’t think there was a peaceful solution that permitted continuation of that lifestyle. Buffalo and people who hunt them need a lot of space. And when there was predictable, inevitable friction, Congress and the US cavalry were always gonna side with settlers even if the Kiowa were a lot nicer people. It was over for them no matter what.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Great post, Ole.

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    War crimes and atrocities aside, wandering after buffalo brought tribes into contact and conflict with one another and would do so with white settlers. I don’t think there was a peaceful solution that permitted continuation of that lifestyle. Buffalo and people who hunt them need a lot of space. And when there was predictable, inevitable friction, Congress and the US cavalry were always gonna side with settlers even if the Kiowa were a lot nicer people. It was over for them no matter what.

    Atrocities aside? Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    The Kiowa and Comanches were not just noble savages trying to retain a way of life. They were brutal and enthusiastic about torture, murder, and mayhem. Until the Texas Rangers started using that new fangled revolver, the Indians had the decisive military advantage. Neither the Spanish nor Americans could even bother them, let alone stop them, and the Spanish had tried for hundreds of years.

    Their delight in mayhem only started to abate with the adoption of the walker colt revolver and their terror never really stopped until we killed all the wild buffalo.

    • #14
  15. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    War crimes and atrocities aside, wandering after buffalo brought tribes into contact and conflict with one another and would do so with white settlers. I don’t think there was a peaceful solution that permitted continuation of that lifestyle. Buffalo and people who hunt them need a lot of space. And when there was predictable, inevitable friction, Congress and the US cavalry were always gonna side with settlers even if the Kiowa were a lot nicer people. It was over for them no matter what.

    Atrocities aside? Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    The Kiowa and Comanches were not just noble savages trying to retain a way of life. They were brutal and enthusiastic about torture, murder, and mayhem. Until the Texas Rangers started using that new fangled revolver, the Indians had the decisive military advantage. Neither the Spanish nor Americans could even bother them, let alone stop them, and the Spanish had tried for hundreds of years.

    Their delight in mayhem only started to abate with the adoption of the walker colt revolver and their terror never really stopped until we killed all the wild buffalo.

    Is there a ratings system for worst tribe ever? The Iroquois perpetrated some major genocide in their heyday against Huron/Algonquin people. The Commanche were the first to use those horses the Spanish let loose and promptly used that technology to pound and enslave neighboring unmounted peoples. Apache creativity in torture methods was world famous–better to save that last bullet for oneself rather than be captured by that bunch. (I was stationed for a year at Ft. Huachuca and studied its history–those guys always managed to not find any Apaches on patrols so they could get back to the fort alive each time. It was not the real army showed up that the Apaches were challenged.)

    • #15
  16. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Great post, thank you. I’m more familiar with the American Apache Wars that began in 1849 and ended in 1886. The historical end was 1886, but the last Apache raid in Arizona took place in 1924. Apache raiding did not end in Mexico until 1933.

    In the spring of 1886:

    In the spring of 1886, General Crook went after Geronimo and caught up with him just over the Mexico border in March. Geronimo and his group fled, and Crook could not catch them. The [United States Department of War/War Department] reprimanded Crook for the failure, and he resigned. He was replaced by Brigadier General Nelson Miles in April 1886. Miles deployed over two dozen heliograph points to coordinate 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, 100 Navajo scouts, and thousands of civilian militia men against Geronimo and his 24 warriors. Lt. Charles B. Gatewood and his Apache scouts found Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon in September 1886 and persuaded them to surrender to Miles.

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Is there a ratings system for worst tribe ever?

    I guess that would be a distasteful endeavor! Bad is bad enough, I guess.

    • #17
  18. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Is there a ratings system for worst tribe ever?

    I guess that would be a distasteful endeavor! Bad is bad enough, I guess.

    In 1969, The Cleveland Indians went 62-99, finishing 46.5 games back.

    • #18
  19. Steven Galanis Coolidge
    Steven Galanis
    @Steven Galanis

    Great piece! I think I can skip my testosterone supplement today. 

    • #19
  20. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    For this school year my equity professional development is focused on American Indian culture. (This was my choice – I was not going to sit though white privilege navel gazing sessions.) At any rate, we have looked at art and music, and some history – but not much. The Natives who are facilitating these sessions would have you believe that it was so unfair of the whites to take their land, etc, etc. And yes, there was nastiness on both sides – that happens in war. But I have tried to consider where and at what time in history has a conquered people been able to demand that their culture be recognized as worthy of so much honor and respect that it is untouchable by the conquerors. Our high school is named for the first governor of the state, who is seen as a traitor to the local tribes (32 of whom are students in the high school of 1400). The district has made the decision, based on ‘community demand’ to spend up to a half million dollars to change the high school name, and possibly also the mascot (Warriors – used to be an Indian chief but was changed some time ago). Don’t tell me there is no money in education.

    There is much made of the attempt by whites to destroy the language of the Natives. This too is a common practice of conquerors. I am of Slovak heritage, and during the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, only Hungarian was taught in Slovak schools, and if you wanted a public government job, you had to be able to speak Hungarian. I am not sure that these wars of conquest are any different from others in history, yet for some reason I am supposed to feel guilty for them. 

    • #20
  21. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    Juliana (View Comment):

    For this school year my equity professional development is focused on American Indian culture. (This was my choice – I was not going to sit though white privilege navel gazing sessions.) At any rate, we have looked at art and music, and some history – but not much. The Natives who are facilitating these sessions would have you believe that it was so unfair of the whites to take their land, etc, etc. And yes, there was nastiness on both sides – that happens in war. But I have tried to consider where and at what time in history has a conquered people been able to demand that their culture be recognized as worthy of so much honor and respect that it is untouchable by the conquerors. Our high school is named for the first governor of the state, who is seen as a traitor to the local tribes (32 of whom are students in the high school of 1400). The district has made the decision, based on ‘community demand’ to spend up to a half million dollars to change the high school name, and possibly also the mascot (Warriors – used to be an Indian chief but was changed some time ago). Don’t tell me there is no money in education.

    There is much made of the attempt by whites to destroy the language of the Natives. This too is a common practice of conquerors. I am of Slovak heritage, and during the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, only Hungarian was taught in Slovak schools, and if you wanted a public government job, you had to be able to speak Hungarian. I am not sure that these wars of conquest are any different from others in history, yet for some reason I am supposed to feel guilty for them.

    Most all of us have savage tribes in our background if you go back far enough – :) will let you decide for yourself if it fits you – and all have had to cope with the end of that phase and the development after – in case of the American Indians there is no tribe who was “holding” land who did not aquire it or hold it by means of war. Some were of course more nomadic than others – but that life style can not last unless you are pretty isolated. Growing, developing cultures will replace those that arent. There is little guilt , mostly just the hows and whys. Believe me, those tribes all knew what it was to take territory by force for their own benefit 

    • #21