10. Quanah, Cattle Barons, and Grass Leases

By Bill Neeley

In Quanah's vision for the future, cattle were to become the Indians' wealth. Many Comanches resented the fact that Quanah was chief, and most who chafed under his leadership, though a minority of the tribe, attributed his chieftainship to his half-white ancestry. Yet the young Chief of the Comanches, about thirty at the time he was placed in the position, did good things for his people. Having had most of their horses taken away from them, and with game becoming more and more scarce on the reservation, the captive Comanches and their Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache allies depended on rations. Salt pork was considered inedible unless in case of starvation because the Comanches thought it unclean. The streams of the reservation teemed with fish, but Comanches didn't eat anything from the water. Occasionally the Indians got stringy beeves to kill, and flour was used to make fry bread. But many Comanches suffered from hunger.

Fortunately for the Comanches, Texas cattle were crossing the reservation on the Western Trail that passed from Doan's Crossing on the south bank of Red River across the reservation and on to Abilene, Kansas, and the railroad. Quanah wasted little time in learning the cattle business, and he did so by meeting Corwin Doan, proprietor of the general store and post office on the Texas side of Red River. After establishing his store, Doan said, "I saw a great deal of Quanah, who at that time had become head chief. He told me that he had often been invited to return to his white relations near Weatherford, but he had refused." Quanah said, "Corwin, as far as you see here I am chief and the people look up to me. Down at Weatherford I would be a poor half breed Indian."

In the spring and summer of 1879, Doan did a booming business as 100,000 Texas cattle passed by his store. Two years later over 300,000 passed Doan's store and crossed Red River, and Quanah was waiting on the other side. Because Texas cowboys let the cattle graze on the rich grasses of the reservation, Quanah felt free to charge the cattlemen in beeves. In that way, he and all who lived in the neighborhood of West Cache Creek where Quanah camped had plenty of Texas beef to eat. In 1883, T. J. Burkett met Quanah on the Western Trail. "One day Quanah Parker, accompanied by another Indian, came to me and wanted "'Wohaw" plenty fat, heap slick."' So Burkett rode into the herd and cut out a fat yearling which Quanah and companion herded to their camp.

On another occasion, after a group of twenty young Comanches had asked for "Wohaws," they helped the cowboys swim the cattle across the Canadian River. When the cowboys' horses got stuck in quicksand, "the Indians fell right in with our boys," the trail driver recalled, "and helped to pull the horses out, and when the work was finished, they gave us an exhibition of their riding."

While most Texas cattle came from southwest Texas, a few cowmen closer to home looked longingly at the rich grasslands of the reservation. Railroads were coming to Texas, and the days of the trail drives were soon to be a thing of the past. Several Texas ranchers let their cattle "drift" across Red River to graze on Indian lands. While poorer cattlemen may have done so on the sly, the wealthier ones courted the chiefs. According to one source, Quanah was paid $50.00 a month with four other Comanches getting $25.00 each to lobby for a grass lease agreement. Additionally Quanah was reportedly promised 500 head of cattle. A council was held on December 23, 1884 by leaders of the three tribes, and leasing was approved. Agent P. B. Hunt supported leasing because he wanted the Indians to be paid and for white men not to have free grazing on Indian land. "I believe it is a wise thing for the Indians to make this agreement, as it will be a source of considerable income – will give employment to many young men – in addition it will protect them from the inroads made by trespassers upon their grass and timber."

Three months later, Quanah and Permansu of the Comanches, along with Kiowas Big Bow, Howling Wolf, and Tohausen, went to Washington to lobby the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the leasing agreement. An investigator was sent to the reservation to see if the Indians really wanted the lease agreement. His report came back negative. But a new secretary of the Interior took office, so Quanah, Permansu, and two Texas cattlemen returned to Washington. They returned to the reservation with an agreement. That same year, 1884, the cattlemen made grass payments of $9.50 to each member of the three tribes. While Quanah profited financially by helping to broker the grass lease agreement, every Indian on the reservation had disposable income. Good leaders bring good results, and Quanah's people profited by his chieftainship.

The above is excerpted from The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker by Bill Neeley. Copyright © 1995 Bill Neeley. All rights reserved.

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