12. Diplomacy in the Wichitas

By Bill Neeley

"By this morning's train Judge Flood left for Washington in charge of Quanah Parker, chief of the Comanches, and three other chiefs representing different tribes in the nation. Their mission is in the interest and to protest against the opening of the Fort Sill country."
Iowa Park Texan

An organized effort by land hungry whites across Red River at Iowa Park and other Texas towns bordering the "Fort Sill country" to open the reservation to settlers gathered steam in 1892. In only nine years, the treaty of Medicine Lodge was set to expire. Chief Ten Bears had dreaded this day when in 1867 he reluctantly put his mark on the treaty. Though Quanah, who told Captain Hugh Scott in his 1897 interview that he had been at Medicine Lodge, did not sign the treaty, he still had to deal with the ramifications of its expiration. White farmers in north Texas wanted to raise crops on land now leased by the cattlemen, Quanah's friends and allies. In spite of their wealth and political connections, farmers and citizens of small towns had more votes than the cattlemen, and the discrepancy was increasing almost monthly.

Buckskin Joe, Editor of the Iowa Park Texan, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior who oversaw the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Indian chiefs and cattlemen en route to Washington to frustrate the opening of the Comanche reservation. Please favor settlers and expel cattlemen." Six months after the letter was mailed, grazing leases were awarded as follows: D. Waggoner and Son, 502,490 acres with annual payment to Indians of $30,149; E. C. Sugg and Brother, 342,638 acres for $20,558.28; S. B. Burnett, 287,867 acres for $17,272.02; and C. T. Herring, 90,000 acres for $5,400. Buckskin Joe and the farmers had lost this round, but they would be back. The generations-old push for Indian lands continued unabated. Quanah had prospered, as had his people, in their business relations with the cattlemen, and they didn't want to see it end.

As years on the calendar peeled away, pressure increased on Congress, where vote counters felt increasing political pressure to get the Indians out of the way and let white Christians spread "civilization" and "cultivate" the land that, in their view, "savages" had no right to possess.

As the chiefs and their white companion boarded the train in Iowa Park, they were aware of the increasing pressure for the reservation to be broken up. During Quanah's time as business partner with the north Texas cattle barons, he had become politically savvy. Though he didn't read, several subscriptions to newspapers and journals arrived at his post office box in Cache, Oklahoma, and Quanah had them read to him. He dictated the letters he mailed to one of his white assistants. Since the Comanches had been forced on the reservation, Quanah had tried to make the best of the new reality. The Army's greatest cavalry officer, Brevet General Ranald Mackenzie, respected Quanah and recognized his leadership skills from the time of their first battle, and, amazingly, in spite of their history of conflict, authorized Quanah to ride out to his old haunts and bring in Comanches still out on the plains. Because of that assignment, Quanah did not endure the confinement within the stone walls of the icehouse. Many who suffered that humiliation resented Quanah and blamed his white ancestry for what they considered to be his special treatment.

Whether loathed or admired, Quanah had a job to do: preserve as much land as possible for the Comanches. In 1892, families could live anywhere on the reserve they chose, but the Jerome Commission came to the reservation to secure the signature of the chiefs of the Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches to agree to "allotting" plots of land to white settlers, with each Indian receiving only 160 acres. Even worse, communal living would end in 1901 as whites would be interspersed among lands granted to individual Indians. The large herds that some tribal members had developed over the years leading up to 1901 could not be sustained on the small acreage the Indians would receive, and many herds of cattle would have to be sold off. The Indians' plots of land were going to be too small for ranching, and no Comanche or Kiowa man was going to farm.

The Jerome Commission was therefore a threat to the Comanches' cultural and economic life. Quanah would get the best deal for the Comanches he could, and much of his diplomacy would take place at Star House, the two story mansion in the Wichita Mountains that the cattlemen built for Quanah in the 1880s in exchange for his support of the grass lease agreements. Quanah's own herds of horses and cattle would have to be drastically reduced as well after the land was allotted with white farms. Open range would be gone forever.

Quanah took advantage of an opportunity to lobby President Theodore Roosevelt when the chief was invited to the president's second inauguration in 1905. As Quanah rode in the parade among chiefs of other tribes, Captain Carter of the 4th Cavalry stood along the parade route. Unlike his commanding officer, Brevet General Ranald S. Mackenzie, who respected Quanah, Carter wrote in "Tragedies of Canon Blanco," "He (Quanah) came to Washington many times and at Theodore Roosevelt's second inauguration in 1905, the writer saw him ride up Pennsylvania Avenue in the augural column with other 'good Indians,' most of whom had dipped their hands in many white settlers' blood on the once far off borderland of the West." The old soldier failed to mention the atrocities committed by his fellow soldiers whom Carter saw only as heroic Americans, not as "savages" who raped and killed women and girls and made wallets out of the skin of their breasts. Nor did Carter mention that Texas Rangers and the U. S. army stood by while Tonkawa scouts consumed the flesh of deceased Comanches. Quanah's hands may have been "dipped in the blood" of those he fought to keep out of his people's lands, to be sure, but he fought only against men. He nor those who rode with him abused or captured women or girls. On one occasion Quanah made some Comanches in his war party release two little girls they had just captured outside Fort Worth.

President Roosevelt admired warriors and rugged men who could survive and raise a family in the wilderness. Quanah sat at the President's table and noted the small glasses of wine, though as a peyotist, the chief didn't drink any of it himself. Wine would be a topic of interest a few months later when "Teddy" sat at Quanah's table for a meal after a day of wolf hunting in the Big Pasture, the extra acreage Quanah was able to negotiate on behalf of the Comanches with the Jerome Commission. Now the wolf hunt, gotten up by Quanah and his cattlemen allies, especially Waggoner and Burnett, provided an opportunity for lobbying the President in favor of keeping at least a part of the reservation intact. In an effort to show Roosevelt Comanche generosity, Quanah ventured into the kitchen and directed his wives to fill goblets with wine. Just before the guests were invited into the dining room for dinner, one of Quanah's daughters, home from school back east, saw the goblets and had them replaced with wine glasses. When asked why the goblets had been used for wine, Quanah said that Teddy served his guests with small glasses, and the Chief of the Comanches wanted to show his generosity.

As enjoyable as was the President's visit, he nor the cattlemen could stop what loomed ahead, statehood for Oklahoma in 1907. Buckskin Joe of the Iowa Park Texan would win the day. The reservation was to be broken up, and white farmers were destined to move among the Comanches, and towns like Lawton, Anadarko, and Hobart would spring to life. From now on Comancheria would exist only in Numunus' hearts.

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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