The Kiowa are identifiable by name beginning around 1800; earlier evidence is complicated by the uncertainty of some identifications (for example, the "Manrhoat" of 1682). Kiowa cultural identity was forged in the Great Plains after the adoption of the horse into the regional culture and possibly after the entry of European traders. The time, place, and circumstances of ethnogenesis present problems to scholars. Tradition points to a northern homeland, located in the yellowstone region of the Rocky Mountains; legendary accounts of emergence from an underworld and a long southward Migration continue to have strong emotional appeal to the Kiowa people. But serious efforts to trace Kiowa origins must also take into account their linguistic kinship to the Tanoan peoples of New Mexico, a connection that is echoed in cultural traits, including folklore motifs and details of Ceremonial life. On the other hand, sociopolitical organization shows convergence to a Plains type, with strongest points of similarity to north Plains and Plateau tribes such as the Teton Dakota, Kutenai, and Sarsi. A preliminary model of Kiowa ethnogenesis must locate the ancestral population in the south plains, adjacent to related Tanoans of the Rio Grande valley, at a time prior to the entry of Apacheans into the Region, about A . D . 1100 to 1300.
Subsequent expansion of the Apache in the plains had the effect of separating the ancestral Kiowa from their cogeners, forcing their retreat eastward and northward. A part of this population remained as far south as the Arkansas-Canadian drainage, within or marginal to their aboriginal hunting range, while others, either as refugees or in pursuit of trade, traveled as far as the Yellowstone valley. Historical records, including the journal of Lewis and Clark, confirm Kiowa claims of contacts with the Crow, Sarsi, and Cheyenne, and an association with the Black Hills region early in the nineteenth century. During the same years, Kiowa further south formed an alliance with the Comanche, who had displaced the Apache in the New Mexican borderlands region and were able to reestablish contacts with New Mexico. Throughout historic times, the Kiowa had a close relationship with the Kwahadi band of Comanche; they also maintained friendly ties with Taos and other New Mexican Pueblos in the west, and with the Wichita and other Caddoans in the east. They traded with most Plains tribes, claiming a special tie with the Crow. Although closely associated with the Kiowa Apache, relations were usually hostile with western Apachean groups, including the Navajo. In the east, the Osage were long-time enemies with whom the Kiowa finally made peace in 1837 under U.S. government pressure. Their geographical position enabled the Kiowa to deal with White traders in New Mexico and in the Mississippi valley; however, both hunting and trade declined before the treaty period.
In 1867, the Treaty of Medicine Lodge was made between the United States and the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache, who received combined reservation lands in Oklahoma. Despite outbreaks of violence during the following decade, and the arrest and imprisonment of their leaders, the Kiowa remained settled on lands within their traditional heartland. In 1892, under the Jerome Agreement, they accepted individual allotments of 160 acres plus a tribal bloc of grazing land; the agreement is unique in making provisions for non-Kiowa attached to the tribe to receive a share in tribal lands.