Kiowa Black Leggings

Artist: Virginia Stroud

Kiowa Black Leggings was purchased for the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection. Since 1987, the Black Leggings Society Honor Guard has presented the flag during the opening ceremonies of The Sovereignty Symposium, sponsored each year by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. Established to honor veterans, the Kiowa name for the group is Ton-Kon-Gah. Membership is limited to male Kiowa tribal members who have served in the Armed Forces.

Military organizations within Kiowa society is a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years, but that hierarchy had nearly vanished by the early years of the twentieth century. All that changed in 1958 when the late Gus Palmer organized a meeting of Kiowa veterans in the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Carnegie, Oklahoma. Palmer wanted to honor his brother, Landreth, who had died in battle in World War II and he convinced the other veterans to revive the tradition.

Discussion exists as to the origin of the Society’s name. Some say it comes from the days before the Kiowa had horses and dust from the trail made the warriors’ legs black. Others say their legs were blackened from running back into action after an enemy burned out an area to repel an attack. Kiowas later painted their legs black for ceremonies.

Regalia worn by Black Leggings members has changed little over the years. A black string shawl is worn at the waist. Legs are covered with black paint or black leggings from the knees down and a red cape is draped over the shoulders. The cape is worn in honor of Gool-hay-ee, Palmer’s great-grandfather, who killed a Mexican officer in battle and took his red cape as a war trophy. The Black Leggings Society still has possession of the original cape.

Members also carry a decorated lance or spear. The adornment is a personal statement of individual military experience. Palmer had 21 eagle feathers on his lance, representing the 21 bombing missions he made during World War II. Ton-kon-gah members have served in every major United States conflict from World War I through the present. The United States Army’s night helicopter, the OH-58D, is named the Kiowa Warrior. For more on the Black Leggings Society, please see the Sovereignty Syposium Poster featuring Dixon Palmer on page 36.

When artist Virginia Stroud was twelve years old, a man knocked on her family’s door in Muskogee and said, “I understand there is a girl here who likes to draw.” That man was Dick West, an accomplished artist who was then teaching at Bacone College. West recognized Stroud’s natural talent and encouraged her to continue drawing. At the time, Stroud lived with the Ahtone family and fellow Oklahoma Judicial Center artist, Sharron Ahtone Harjo. The pair grew up as sisters. See Ahtone’s piece on page 94.

Stroud won first place in the Philbrook Annual competition at the age of seventeen. The following year the Cherokee-Creek artist gained national acclaim as Miss Indian America, traveling the country, appearing on television and visiting the White House. When her reign ended, Stroud returned to her art and continued as a student at Bacone College before transferring to the University of Oklahoma where she studied art and elementary education.

Stroud still follows advice she got from West, that each painting should tell a complete story. Her work is inspired by the two-dimensional ledger-style of traditional Native art, but she has made the style her own.

Her work is included in the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico, as well as the Thomas Gilcrease Museum and the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. She has also written and illustrated four children’s books, inspired by Native American stories.