Western Short Story
I’ve never witnessed a Comanche raid nor have I ever seen the Comanches in battle but I’ve been told that it’s a frightening scene. When the Comanches fought an enemy, either another Indian tribe or a band of white men, they killed eyeryone they could, man women and children. They fought as if they did not fear death. Occasionally they took a few prisoners that they then incorporated into their tribe. They liked having strong women, so in raids into Texas, women that the Anglos might consider good looking were often killed while heavy women were taken prisoner. The other plains Indians, whom they fought against, knew that the Comanches were stone killers and so they often also fought to the last man.
The Comanches, much like the Ancient Spartans, lived for warfare. I learned, from the writings of the early Spanish explorers, that the Comanches began as just a part of the Shoshoni tribe of hunter gatherers who roamed the southern plains, but then they settled down and became the Comanches, after the Spanish introduced them to the horse.
There was an immediate love affair between the Comanches and the horse and they developed into the finest horsemen in the New World and perhaps in the entire world.. They both fought on horseback and hunted the buffalo on horseback. The wealth and status of a Comanche warrior was measured by how many horses he owned.
With their knowledge of riding, they became the fiercest warriors of the all the Native American tribes. Warfare was their lifestyle.. Their children did not play games .They played at learning how to become warriors. The Comanche nations, which consisted of eight separate bands, managed to conquer most of the other plains tribes and either wiped them out or subjugated them. They almost eradicated the Apaches, perhaps the one tribe that could compete with them in battle. They subjugated the proud Kiowas, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho and built a gigantic realm on the southwestern plains.
From my knowledge and studies, of which I will tell your more later, the Comanches were much like the Mongols. They carved a huge empire out of the plains, subjugating most of the other Indian tribes. In the early part of the last century they consistently defeated the white men, both the Mexicans and the Texans,that they came into conflict with.
My feeling was that they could have controlled the entire middle of the United States but for three things – guns, population and their overreliance on bison. They never developed their own superior technology and although they could effectively use the rifles they stole or bought from the white men, they never could match, especially after the Great War between the States, the firepower of the encroaching Americans. The repeating rifle and the Sharps’ long buffalo rifle were their complete undoing.
Also they never had the population size to counter the multitude of Anglos. As far as I can determine, there were never more than twenty thousand Comanches. They had eight bands or sub-tribes and lived in Tepees in well set out but temporary villages. These villages were quite large and had streets arranged so that that their horse herds could be moved easily. The wealth and tribal standing of a Comanche warrior was measured by the size of his horse population. The Mongols in their conquests, although less numerous than the people they conquered, the Chinese, the Persians, the Turks and the Arabs, still could attack with armies numbering in the thousands. The Comanches never could. They could hold off the Mexicans and the Spanish who never attacked them with large forces but after the great war, the Texans and the Americans had just too much firepower.
Finally was the Comanche overreliance on the buffalo. Their whole culture depended on the plentifulness of the Buffalo herds. They used the massive number of free ranging bison for food, clothing and building materials. As the Anglos killed the buffalos with their long rifles the main Comanche subsistence was destroyed..
My name is Henry Leuwitt. I was a professor of Classical History at the University of Missouri in Joplin. I was born in 1821, a Dutch New Yorker, and grew up in the Dutch part of New York State. In 1843 as a man of twenty-one years old, I went to Yale University to become a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, but instead, my interests changed and I studied both classical history and the law. I became a lawyer in Rhinebeck, New York, but I continued my classical studies and wrote extensively about ancient cultures, particularly the Mongols and the Spartans. I was most fascinated by Genghiz Khan and was intrigued by how a primitive culture could conquer much more advanced societies such as the Chinese and the Muslims..
The University of Missouri was a land grant university being built up and funded by the US government, after the end of the Civil War. Based on my writings I was offered a professorship in history at this university. In 1854 I moved to Joplin, Missouri to teach. I began studying the Native Americans in general and the Comanches in particular. I was fascinated by the similarities between the Mongols, the Spartans and the Comanches.
In the great war, I commanded a regiment for the Union Blues and saw action against Confederate bands in Missouri. I earned my reputation as a veteran, loved by the union sympathizers in Missouri and hated by the Rebs.
After the war I was induced by the Republican Party to run for Congress and had a great deal of success, despite the hatred and resistance from the reb sympathizers. There was a great deal of work to be done to rebuild after the war. The tension between those that favored the Union and those that loved the Confederacy lasted well into the 1890’s and beyond. We also had to deal with the Klan that I effectively opposed. President Grant was especially vigilant in fighting this vicious organization.
I went on to become a four term congressman at the same time that the US Army began the great Indian wars on the plains and the prairie. There were several theatres of combat in this struggle. The two main areas of warfare in the great plains were up north in Minnesota, Montana and the Dakotas, against the Sioux and the Cheyenne and further south against the Comanches, the Kiowa and the Apaches.
Of course ,as the US Army fought both the Apaches and the Comanches, these two traditional enemies continued fighting each other.
In 1871 the Comanches, with their empire already greatly diminished, began to fight what we called the Red River War. This was in the northern part of Texas and was essentially their last stand.
In 1873, a Comanche medicine man named Isatai persuaded the Comanche bands to gather together for a Sun Dance. This was not a Comanche practice but had been a Kiowa ritual. The bands gathered in May of 73 on the Red River. At this Sun Dance, one of the Comanche Chieftains, Quannah Parker, recruited warriors for raids into what had been their own tribal lands in Texas. Other Comanche chiefs, White Wolf and Big Red Meat, suggested that Quannah Parker should attack the merchants that were killing the buffalo herds. Quannah led a war party of around 250 warriors, composed mainly of Comanches and Cheyennes, against a trading post and fort at Adobe Walls in Texas. Quannah Parker and his band were unable to penetrate the two-foot thick sod walls on the fort and were fought off by the buffalo hide merchants' and their long-range .50 caliber Sharps rifles. This attack started the Red River War which was led on the federal side by Colonel Rufus MacKenzie. After several years of small skirmishes in which there were few casualties there was a decisive Army victory in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. Ir was not really a battle but a federal slaughter. In September of 1874 Mackenzie and his troops attacked a large Comanche village at Palo Duro Canyon and killed nearly 1,500 Comanche horses, the main form of the Comanche wealth and power. It was a slaughter much the same as the Sand River Massacre led by General Custer further north against the Lakota.
After Palo Duro the Comache’s continued to fight on, but bit by bit, they began to lose. Part of it was the US Army’s policy of killing the buffalo. The development of the Sharp’s long rifle made it easy for buffalo hunters to shoot the big herds and in a few years they managed to kill millions of bison. It became hard for the Comanche bands to survive
Eventually the final main band of Comanches, called the Antelope band or Khwahadi, in the Comanche language, were forced to surrender and this is where I and Quannah Parker, enter this story.
The leader of the remaining bands of Comanches was a half white, half Comanche warrior called Quannah. His mother, Cynthis Ann Parker, was a Anglo Texas rancher’s daughter who had been kidnapped by the Comanches in the 1840’s. She was a sturdy young woman, the kind that the Comanches loved. She so associated with the tribe that she adopted the Comanche name Narduah and married a Comanche chief Peta-Necona,, the son of the great chieftain, Iron Jacket. Narduah and Peta-Necona had three children, Quannah, Pecos and a daughter Topsana. . Narduah so completely assimiliated in the Comanche lifestyle, that when she was recaptured by the Texas Rangers and returned to her Anglo family, she refused to return to white ways. She eventually died of disease living with the Texans and Quannah, who had become a great Comanche Warrior, used the Anglo name Parker to honor her. Thus he was known as Quannah Parker,
Quannah lead one final massive attack on the Texans, to try to rout all of the buffalo hunters. When this assault failed, the Red River War wound down and Quannah and the Comanches realized that all was lost. He led his band of Khwahadis to Fort Sill in the Indian territory of Oklahoma and surrendered. A Commission was formed to work out details for the formation of a Plains Indians reservation. One of the main difficulties was that the Apaches, Cheyenee, Kiowa, and Arapahos were all to be housed on the same land as the Comanches. This was not a problem for the Kiowa, the Cheyenne and the Araphos who had been conquered by the Comanches, but it was a problem to have the Apaches living alongside the Comanches. As a respected ex-congressman I was contacted by General Sherman, the Civil War Hero, who commanded the whole US Army in the Indian Wars, to be part of the Commission.
In the fall of 1875, I, now a lawyer, traveled from Joplin to Fort Sill to meet with the Comanche leaders and the other Anglo commissioners. At Fort Sill, in the negotiations I met Quannah Parker.
We commissioners, lived in the barracks of Fort Sill, while the Indian leaders lived in tepees on the fort grounds. The army set up a large conference room for the negotiations to take place. Each morning the Indian leaders would be brought in for the meetings. The Indian leaders were mostly bewildered by the meetings and did not really understand that their lands and lifestyle were being taken away. The Anglo commissioners, though, ignored their confusion, and treated the proceedings as if they were dealing with Europeans. Quannah, though, was different. He studied the whites during the meetings and seemed to develop a grasp of the negotiating process. While the other Indian chieftains approached the negotiations as if they were trading with another tribe, Quannah alone, began to see and understand the Anglo methods.
The Comanche system of government was democratic and the head chieftains were elected by a council from among the greatest and wealthiest warriors. I recognized this as another similarity with the Spartans and the Mongols. Although Quannah was never chosen as the head chieftain of the Khwahadis and certainly not chief of the whole Comanche tribe, it was clear to the commissioners, that he was the leader of the Indians. He alone of the Indian leaders seemed to understand the Anglo world and he could deal with the other commissioners as an Anglo or a European would. The commission appointed Quannah as the Chairman of the Comanches and the Indian representative for the whole reservation.
Quannah had an imposing presence, tall and extremely powerful. Although half white, he was dark skinned from his father and from years living in the blazing sun on the plains. He could have been Mexican or a dark American. Later in his life, after these talks, he dressed only in Anglo attire.
Quannah was shrewd and took every advantage that he could. After we met, I spoke with him often and was impressed by his insightful wisdom. His English, which began at only a basic level, improved as the negotiations proceeded and he was totally fluent by the time the treaty commission concluded. He and I and I became friends, a Dutchman and an Indian, and it was a friendship that would endure for many years. Personally, before Quannah, I knew very few Indians. A few Iroquois came from their reservation in Upstate New York to work on our family farm, but as a young man I looked down at them personally. It wasn’t until meeting Quannah that I realized the basic humanity of the Indians. His appointment as the Chairman of the tribes angered the Apaches. The Kiowas, Araphos and Cheyennes accepted this, given the historical strength of the Comanches.
Quannah and I had many conversations during the negotiations and afterwards. He was completely curious about the Anglo ways. It was as if he realized that he could never return to the Comanche lifestyle and he would have to do the best he could in the white world. He asked me many questions. Of particular curiosity to the Comanche part of him was the fact that we were negotiating at all. If the Comanche had won they would kill all their enemies, not negotiate with them. Through the negotiations he began to understand Christianity. Although I think he never believed in the white God he encouraged his people to adopt Christian practices, realizing that the Anglos would be reluctant to be completely cruel to other Christians. Privately I knew that Quannah in his private life perservered as a native Comanche. Although he managed to become a wealthy rancher he still had seven wives. Even though he pushed Christianity onto his tribesmen he practiced the native Comanche religion.
Quannah, as Chairman of the tribes, was a resourceful and effective leader. He negotiated that the Comanches would have water and grazing rights on the reservation, which allowed the Indians to become relatively wealthy ranchers. They leased grazing and water rights to Anglos, something that Quannah had argued for. Quannah himself became perhaps the wealthiest Indian in the Southwest.. He owned a large horse ranch and tied himself to a Texan Anglo named Samuel Butler who also became his friend. Quannah built for himself a large Anglo style ranch house which he called the Star House .He was well-respected by the whites and the other Comanches and he learned the white ways.
After the negotiations I visited Quannah once a year, often bringing my family, to his home in Oklahoma. I learned much about the Comanche lifestyle and philosophy from him and I taught him a lot about the wider world. When his children learned to read and write, Quannah struggled to learned to read and write in English also. I gave him books on history and he liked to refer to himself with my direction as the Genghiz Khan of the Americas..
President Theodore Rooselvet visited him at the Star House and the two of them went hunting together. They also became friends and Teddy Roosevelt visited him several times. It was because of Quannah that Roosevelt formed the Wichita Mountain Reserve as a federally protected land.
Quannh learned about ranching and investments and through Butler’s advice he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day. Nevertheless, for himself, he rejected monogamy as well as Protestant Christianity.
I have just passed eighty years old and the new century has begun. It has been ten years since I last visited Quannah but I hear he is doing well in Cache and I think of him often. It was difficult for the Comanches and the others at the Fort Sill reservation in 1890 when the Oklahoma territory was opened up for settlement but the Comanches have done the best they could. Through Quannah’s leadership they have avoided some of the poverty and degradation that have occurred to the nearby and more numerous Navajo.
I look at Quannah in much the way that I might have looked at Genhiz Khan in his later years looking back at what he had conquered. I value the friendship that I had with him.