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How the Boy Medicine Came to the Kiowas / Jimalee Chitwood Burton

Essay/Description

How the Boy Medicine Came to the Kiowas by Jimalee Chitwood Burton references the cosmological frameworks of the Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 worldview, and tells the story of Záidètàlyì (Sun Boy Medicine). For her tapestry-like narrative, Burton appropriates a combination of symbols (pictorial and figurative) from various Great Plains and Southwest Indigenous nations, transposing them onto canvas in an amalgamation of storytelling sequences. The tale begins in the center of the painting, where a beautiful woman climbs a tree. She is following the Sun’s son, who is disguised as a porcupine. In the story, the tree continues to grow as the woman climbs up, and it gets so tall that it transports her to the upper world. The painting is separated into distinct sections containing four composite images representing different episodes in the Záidètàlyì story. Burton’s depiction represents one of several known variations that have been passed from one generation to the next, primarily through oral histories.

How the Boy Medicine Came to the Kiowas exemplifies the role of Indigenous painting as an extension of oral history. Burton is of Cherokee descent,2 yet she captures key representations of Kiowa histories through diverse pictorial cues. An example of continuity throughout each episode within the painting is the presence of a small green plant called pomme de terre (literally, ground apple; French for potato) by the first colonists of Kiowa territories. The plant plays a significant part in the Záidètàlyì story because it provides a connection between two worlds when it is unearthed.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

This text was developed from an interview with Kiowa oral historian Kenny A. Harragarra (Kiowa, Otoe) by Jordan Poorman Cocker, July 8, 2021. Kiowa spellings provided by Kiowa artist and language instructor Travis Mammedaty (Kiowa, Cayuga, Wyandot).

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1 Cáuigù is the correct identity used by the Kiowa Tribe.
2 The artist’s birth and death years vary greatly in difference sources. Birth years include 1891, 1898, about 1898, about 1904, 1906, and 1920. Death years include about 1977, 2000, and 2006.

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Title(s): 
How the Boy Medicine Came to the Kiowas
Creator(s): 
Jimalee Chitwood Burton (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Cherokee
Date: 
mid-20th century
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on board
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1964
Accession No: 
01.1938
Previous Number(s): 
0127.1938; 24271
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint with possible colophon, "JIMALEE BURTON HO-CHEE-NEE" in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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