Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 1, No. 3
June, 1923

Page 243

The Comanche Indians are one of the many tribes found in America by the white man as he pushed his way into the interior of the continent. They were a nomadic people who first were associated with the main Shoshone stock, located in the Rocky Mountains near the head of the Missouri River. They became separated from their Shoshone kinsmen about three hundred years ago and emerged from that region to the broad plains west of the Mississippi River. Here they followed the migratory birds as the different seasons approached, going south for the winter to escape the severe cold and snow, and back north in the spring to escape the heat of the summer and to camp where there were extensive stretches of green pastures. These pastures furnished food for the herds of buffaloes which were the main source of food and clothing for the tribes of the plains. In their migrations the tribes usually came in contact with other tribes of the plains, and there was almost perpetual warfare for the disputed territory. In these wars, as in the later wars with the whites, the scalp of the enemy was the greatest trophy that could be obtained, and an Indian’s valor as a warrior was largely determined by the number of scalps in his possession.

The first whites of which the Indians heard were the Spaniards. The news of the various Spanish expeditions reached even the fastness of their early Rocky Mountain home. At the beginning they regarded them as gods, and little did they dream that these whites were the forerunners of vast numbers of similar people who would wage an almost relentless warfare for the extermination of the red man.

Ethnologists have classified all American Indian tribes according to language stock. The Comanches being of the Shoshone stock, were in earlier days closely allied with the Snake Indians in the north. About 130 years ago they became friendly with the Kiowas and Plains Apaches. As the coasts of America were being more thickly settled, the white race began to push

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toward the interior, and it was at this time that the hostile relations between the white and red man began. So, instead of the inter-tribal wars, many of the Indian tribes united to fight a common foe and to attempt to roll back the tide that threatened their hunting grounds and their very existence. Before their subjugation, the Comanches frequently raided the pioneer American settlements, and the frontiersmen never were sure of life or property. Federal troops under different commanders began to hunt the Indian down, but in the skirmishes the Indians never offered battle in the open, but always from ambush unless the white enemy could be taken by surprise.

The defeat of a band of Comanches, under Chief Peta Nocona, by a company of Texas Rangers, under Captain L. S. Ross, marked the first step toward the conquering of the tribe. In this battle the chief was killed; his wife, Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who had been captured by the Comanches when but nine years old, was recaptured by the whites after a captivity of twenty-four years. Cynthia Ann Parker had been taken into the tribe and had become so accustomed to Indian ways that, when taken back to her white relatives, she pined away and died, broken-hearted, in 1870, away from the red people she had come to love so well. At the time of her recapture by the Texas Rangers, a small daughter called Prairie Flower was also captured, but died soon after. Her two sons escaped, one of these died a year or two later, but the remaining one, Quanah, survived. At the age of about eleven or twlve his father died and the chieftainship of the band, which otherwise might have been inherited by him, was seized by other hands. Later, Quanah gained the rank of chief through sheer force of character, courage and ability, and eventually, when the various bands of the Comanches were merged into one tribe, he became recognized as principal chief of the entire tribe and also a trusted counselor of several other western tribes, including the Kiowas and Apaches, who were closely affiliated with his own people.

After the loss of his mother, his sister and the death of his brother, Quanah remained sullen and wished to avenge the wrong. No longer a youth, he became a war-chief in his young manhood. He led his braves on many expeditions against the whites, but gradually the iron band of the white man closed in on the freedom of the tribe and it was difficult for the spirit

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of revenge to find expression. In the spring of 1874, most of the Comanches, Cheyennes and a part of the Kiowas smoked the war pipe together, the Arapahoes refusing to join them. Their hostilities consisted of raiding ranches and running off stock. Quanah’s last battle came at a trading post called Adobe Walls, on the South Canadian, about sixty miles west of the Oklahoma boundary line, on June 25, 1874. A party of buffalo hunters had taken refuge there and a band of 700 Comanches and Kiowas, under the leadership of Quanah, repeatedly charged them, but were repulsed with heavy loss, and finally retired in defeat, Quanah himself being badly wounded. One by one the Indian tribes surrendered, but Quanah with his men held out. A post at Fort Sill had been constructed several years before, and was garrisoned by troops of the United States Army to watch the movements of the Indians. To this fort Quanah began his march to surrender when no alternative was left. The flag of truce was waved and the Comanches under Quanah surrendered to Colonel R. S. McKenzie, at Fort Sill, the last Indians of the southern plains to make peace with the whites.

However, even after making a treaty, Quanah was much opposed to the white man’s ways, and kept his tribe from adopting civilization and the Christian religion. The plains Indians were restricted to reservations. Quanah and a part of his tribe once left the reservation without permission, which had been refused, and went out to the Texas Panhandle country to spend the winter in Palo Duro canyon. When spring came, a detachment of troops were sent out to find Quanah and bring him in. The troops arrived at the brink of the canyon just as Quanah’s party came up from below to start back to the reservation, and a fight started before Quanah knew of the presence of the troops. He immediately galloped out between his own people and the troops and explained that they were not at war.

By the treaty of Medicine Lodge, in 1867, the Comanches and Kiowas were assigned to the reservation which now comprises Comanche, Cotton, Kiowa and Tillman counties and parts of Grady, Stephens, Jefferson and Caddo counties. After their subjugation, the Comanches stayed on this reservation until it was opened for settlement, in 1901, when each Indian was given an allotment of 160 acres. Quanah was allotted a tract of land four miles northwest from Cache, Oklahoma. Here a home had

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been built for him by S. E. Burnett, the wealthy Texas cattleman and banker, and other cattlemen. The lumber for this house was hauled from Vernon, Texas. It consisted of twenty-two rooms. Rooms for each one of his wives were furnished identically alike, so neither of his wives could complain of partiality on this score. During his lifetime, Quanah recognized seven different wives, but he never had more than five at one time. Whenever Quanah Parker (for he added the name Parker to Quanah when, shortly after his surrender, he had gone to Texas to visit the relatives and grave of his mother) went to town or made trips on special occasions, he used a large stagecoach drawn by four mules, often taking all of his wives along and some of the children. At fairs and celebrations this stagecoach, with all the pomp and pride of its owner, was frequently seen.

In 1892, when the Comanches and Kiwoas agreed to accept allotments, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah in regard to the number of wives he would be allowed to keep. Their conversation was substantially as follows: "Quanah, you have agreed to take allotments and sell your surplus lands and let them be settled by white people. When the white people come to be your neighbors it will be the white man’s law and the white man’s law says one wife. You have too many wives. You will have to decide which one you want to keep and tell the rest of them to go somewhere else to live." Quanah listened attentively and looked at the commissioner with a very fixed gaze for some moments, and then startled that worthy by saying, "You tell um!" Then he waited several moments until the significance of this had dawned on the commissioner’s mind, when he added: "You tell me which wife I love most—you tell me which wife love me most—you tell me which wife cry most when I send her ’way—then I pick um." The commissioner replied, "Oh, let’s talk about something else." The significance of this was that the chief loved his wives all alike, but if the Government would tell him which one he would be happiest with he would abide by the decision. This responsibility the Government, through the Indian Department, never assumed, but after statehood, when Quanah wanted to take another woman (to whom he had taken a fancy) for a wife, the Indian agent at Anadarko warned him not to take any more. In time Parker quarreled with one wife and then another and

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"threw them away," to use the Indian phrase for divorce, until at the time of his death he had but two left.

Quanah Parker was a born politician and orator, could speak English, but not read. He took many papers and had them read to him. Many times he went to Washington, D. C., in the interest of his tribe and on one such trip, succeeded in having passed a congressional appropriation of $1,000.00 which was to be used to exhume the body of his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, from a Texas cemetery and brought to Post Oak Mission, near Indiahoma, Oklahoma, where many of his fellow tribesmen lie buried. This appropriation also included a large granite monument and high iron fence. Parker himself selected the burial lot for his mother and where he too was to be buried at her side, at his death. This lot is set a little apart from the rest of the cemetery on an elevation which can be seen for miles. When his mother’s remains were re-buried at this place on December 4, 1910, Parker gave a great feast, inviting both whites and Indians. The address which he gave shows his change of attitude since his last surrender, a change from hostility to white men to that of friendliness and adoption. He spoke in English as follows:

"Forty years ago my mother died. She captured by Comanche, nine years old. Love Indian and wild life so well no want to go back to white folks. All same people any way, God say. I love my mother. I like white people. Got great heart. I want my people follow after white way, get educate, know work, make living when payments stop. I tell um they got to know pick cotton, plow corn. I want um know white man’s God. Comanche may die tomorrow, or ten years. When end come then they all be together again. I want to see my mother again. That’s why when Government United States give money for new grave I have this funeral and ask white folks to help bury. Glad to see so many my people here at funeral. That’s all."

Shortly after the funeral the great granite monument was erected and the iron fence placed around the lots. On February 11, 1911, word was sent by telephone that the great chief had taken sick among the Cheyenne Indians, where a great medicine feast had been under way, and that he was returning by train

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to his home. Arriving at Cache, he was taken to his ranch, four miles distant. At his home he was helped to a couch. Tau-pay, one of his wives, asked him if he had any objection to a white doctor, to which he replied, "No, it’s good. I’m ready." The Indian women seemed to know that death was near and soon motioned the white doctor away, and as a last resort had one of the Indian medicine men minister to him. The chief asked the medicine man to pray to God, and he began, "Father in heaven, this our brother is coming." Then placing his arms about the chief’s body, he flapped his hands and imitated the call of the great eagle, the messenger of the Great Father. Water was given the chief, and he died just twenty minutes after his arrival. The wailing of the women was taken up by others, and soon the message of his death was carried by messengers and telephone.

His death and funeral attracted attention all over the United States and almost 2,000 whites and Indians gathered at the mission, coming in every imaginable conveyance, making a funeral cortege of almost two miles. The services were in charge of Rev. A. J. Becker of Post Oak Mission and Rev. E. C. Deyo of the Deyo Mission, near Lawton. The body of the dead chief was decked in the regalia of a Comanche warrior, a suit of buckskin, gold band rings on every finger, a sparkling brooch pin, a silver dollar over each eye, and it was rumored that many other valuables, even a large sum of money, was buried with him.

A watch was kept over the grave for almost a week, but it was not until four years after his death that ghouls entered the grave and robbed it of many of its valuables. One Sunday, one of the chief’s wives came to mourn over the grave, when she saw the partially filled grave with bits of the casket and bones lying here and there, she fainted away. Other Indians hurried toward her, found what was wrong and spread the news rapidly. The tribe was much aroused with indignation that, even in death, their beloved chief could not rest undisturbed. An all-night vigil was kept over the grave after the discovery of the desecration of the grave. The following day his remains were picked up one by one by the men and passed to some Indian women, who washed the bones in a tub of water and in turn passed them to others, who dried them with their costly blankets and reverently placed the remains in a new casket. Once more

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the funeral orations, the sobbing and the peculiar cry of the Indians was heard as it was placed in the same grave, thus enacting again the event of four years before.

After his death the Government denied the Comanche Indians the right of another chief, and instead they now are represented by a tribal committee of three, which looks after the interests of the tribe. Until the time of his mother’s re-burial, Quanah kept his tribe from becoming civilized and adopting the Christian religion. However, since his advice to the tribe at that funeral, they have made more rapid strides in adopting the white man’s ways and joining mission churches to the extent that now practically one-third of the tribe are members of churches.

Leaving the history of the last chief of the Comanches, let us see over what kind of a civilization he presided. The Comanches at an early time had formed a tribal government with a chief at its head who held office for life unless disqualified by some act which put him in disrepute with his fellow tribesmen. In case of death, the oldest son always succeeded to his place, though only after he had proven his fitness as a warrior and leader. There seldom was any danger of there being no heir, for the chief usually had several wives and many children with each. The power of the chief was limited; he had no power over the life of any member of the tribe. But in all administrative affairs, in warfare, and in case of dispute between factions in the tribe his authority was supreme and never questioned.

Under the chief was a Council of Braves or Warriors, composed of all the oldest men of the tribe who had shown extra ability as warriors, leaders or guides. The chief was chairman of this assembly which could be convened at any time. All matters of importance such as declaring war, making peace, disposition of spoils and movements of camp from place to place were under the jurisdiction of this body.

There was no need for law, all action was taken according to precedent and custom in which each tribesman was well versed. Their home life was simple before being affected by American civilization. The husband was head of the house, his only duties were to fight and to provide the food by killing wild game. It was the wife’s hard lot to do all the other work. Chil-

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dren received little or no education until about twelve years of age. At this age the girl began to help her mother and learned to do all the things which would make her a desirable wife. The boy would accompany his father on hunting expeditions, learn to track game, and to use the bow and arrow. A Comanche youth would not get married until he had made a name for himself as a warrior and not until he had ponies enough to present to the father of the bride. There was little or no wooing, the youth would merely pick the girl who seemed most desirable and if she recognized some little favor bestowed on her, he was encouraged to go and present so many ponies to her father; if these were accepted, then the ceremony was over.

In case of death, the whole tribe joined in mourning, loudly lamenting the departure of a kinsman. The relatives, on beginning to cry, would be joined by the others, and when the relatives ceased their wailing, it was a sign for the others to do likewise, the relatives sometimes drying the tears of the others and telling them that they now feel better. The nearest women relatives, in earlier days, would cut off their hair as a sign of mourning and cut gashes in their arms and beat their heads with stones in order to prolong the grief and make themselves cry, even after being exhausted. All the deceased’s belongings were placed in the grave or destroyed, no remembrance or relic being retained to recall the memory of the departed.

Chief among their ancient customs is the war dance, one of the most degrading practices and largely the cause of more or less immorality in the tribe today. This dance is carried on in different ways or steps, so to speak. Sometimes two ranks face one another, chanting, yelling and hopping up and down to the music of a drum; sometimes in a large circle facing the center where the drummer carries on his weird music; and sometimes in a compact mass crowding to the center around the drummer and slowly "milling" around to the right as a great whirlpool, but instead of flying off at a tangent they crowd still closer to the center. Here they yell and chant their songs; men and women in one group while the young men and girls are in another group until their minds are in the highest state of excitement. For all this ceremony they are gaudily dressed, ornamented with paint, coins, elk teeth, bells and other trinkets and also wear their war dresses, trimmed with colored eagle

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feathers. This practice is indulged in to celebrate any notable event or happening, in earlier times more often to celebrate some victory over an enemy. Often this celebration lasts several days and nights.

The primitive Comanche had a religion which taught him to believe in a Great Spirit, or a Great Father, who had his place of abode in a region called the Happy Hunting Ground. In opposition to the Great Spirit were the Evil Spirits, who were the cause of all sickness, death, famine and other calamities. Death to them was not so great a calamity as to the ancient Greeks, who had no hope for a happy future life, for the Comanches believed in a beautiful place where all go at death, where there is eternal happiness and ideal hunting and living conditions.

Their religion and treatment of the sick goes hand in hand, in fact, the magic or quack treatment by the medicine man is a form of procedure and rites which embodies their whole religion. The Great Spirit is invoked by the medicine man or priest to drive out the evil spirits. Peyote, a drug in the form of a mescal bean, is administered to the patient and also partaken of by all those gathered in the medicine teepee temple, some Indians eating as many as thirty of these beans. The evil effects of this drug cannot be questioned, although there is much propaganda to allow the Indians to retain this drug, which is obtained in old Mexico. Only in the last Congress a bill was passed appropriating money to stop this traffic among the Indian tribes.

The medicine man, to the Indians, is the only one to administer to a patient in case of sickness. Peyote is the only religion and the only way in which the Great Spirit can manifest himself to them, and the dance their only expression of jubilee. To break away from these they believe will bring upon them a great calamity. The older leaders therefore tried to strengthen the position of this pagan religion against the invasion of the Christian religion. But they waged a losing fight for their religion had no legal protection as a religion, until a representative of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, for reasons not yet clear, started active propaganda among the various tribes to arouse a new enthusiasm in peyote and the Indian dance. Meetings were held everywhere and during this time the dance and the medicine teepee were revived and all the vices attending

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camp life were indulged in. The result of all this agitation was that a charter was applied for to put this pagan worship on a legal basis and on a par with other religions. The charter was granted by Secretary of State J. L. Lyon, of Oklahoma, on October 10, 1918, to ten Indians representing five different tribes, the Comanches being one of them.- The charter provides for the estabishment of a native American church, "to establish a self-respect and brotherly union among the men of the native race of Indians and to foster and promote their belief in Christian religion with the practice of the peyote sacrement as commonly understood among the Indians." The clause permitting the practice of the peyote sacrement as commonly understood, permits almost any interpretation and each tribe can follow the practice of eating peyote with all the attendant degrading influences and indulge in all the vices connected with the practice. This gives a flexibility which permits, under shadow of lawful right, any whim or passion to dictate the Native American Church and still be called legitimate Christian religion. Membership includes nearly all those who do not belong to American missions or churches. The harm of reviving the pagan practice became so apparent that the United States Government sent officers out to investigate and ordered white agitators from the reservation.

The United States treaty with the Comanches provides that the Indians were to be wards of the Government for a period of twenty-five years. This restriction will expire in four more years and the Comanches will then have taken up the full duties of American citizens instead of wards of Uncle Sam, unless the restrictions are extended by Congressional action.

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