History

2. Growing Up Comanche: The Making of a Blue-Eyed Warrior

By Bill Neeley

Nadua delivered her first born, a blue-eyed, dark skinned boy in a bed of wildflowers near the banks of Elk Creek in southwest Indian territory. That information comes from Quanah himself in response to Charles Goodnight's question about his place of birth. In a twist of irony defying belief, the man who led the Texas Rangers and U. S. troops to the confluence of Mule Creek and Pease River where Nadua was captured by the Rangers had since become a close friend and fellow cattleman of the adult Quanah, Chief of the Comanches.

"From the best information I have, I was born about 1850 on Elk Creek just below the Wichita Mountains," Quanah dictated to his assistant composing the letter.

As a child, young Quanah, meaning "Odor" after the scent of the wildflowers surrounding Nadua at his birth, lived as the other boys in camp. His father, Peta Nocona, meaning He Who Leaves Alone and Returns, brought honor to the family because of his exploits in battle. He was, no doubt, proud to exhibit his scalps in the scalp dance. In the war dance, he was sure to have boasted of his exploits in battle. Great warriors tended to be good hunters and Quanah's father had to be as he had at least two wives to care for: the captive Spanish wife and Nadua.

As a boy Quanah was matched against other boys of his size in wrestling matches to prepare the young ones to fight. Numunu's survival as a people depended on it. Quanah had two powerful male figures in his life: Peta Nocona's father Pohibits Quasho, known to the whites as Iron Jacket for the coat of Spanish armor he wore in battle, and Peta Nocona. Young Quanah, therefore, had strong leaders among the people to teach him Comanche ways. By the time he could walk, or even before, Quanah was riding horses. He was taught to ride at full gallop and fire arrows at targets from the back of a horse, or underneath its neck. By the time his white counterparts were in school, Quanah was shooting rabbits and even birds with his tiny arrows.

He must surely have joined in the horse races that Comanche boys and men held for sport. Around one of the Medicine Mounds southeast of Quanah, Texas, there are deep ruts in the soil dug out by thousands of flying hooves. Comanches also raced Comancheros from New Mexico who came into the canyon country of the Texas Panhandle to trade goods needed by the Comanches in exchange for captives, horses, cattle, and hides. By his teen years Quanah was a skilled horseman, much like the Comanche boy observed herding horses by a cavalry officer scouting Comanche territory. The boy, while moving the horses to a fresh grazing area away from the village, moved effortlessly without bridle or rope across the backs of the horses as they loped along. The cavalryman was astonished at the symmetry of Comanche and horse.

Quanah grew up in that environment listening to the war exploits of his father, grandfather and other Comanche warriors. All went well in Quanah's childhood until the fateful day in December 1860 when his mother was taken away from him, his younger brother and his father. His grandfather, Iron Jacket, had died in battle two years earlier when Texas Rangers crossed into Indian Territory from Texas and attacked a Comanche camp along the Canadian River at Antelope Hills. It was an illegal act, but no one from the United States government protested the Texas Rangers' attack for two reasons: the victims were Indians, and Texas was on the verge of seceding from the Union over the issue of slavery. Texans cared little for federal laws, and Quanah would find in them the greatest enemies of his life.

When Captain Lawrence Sullivan Ross and scout Charles Goodnight led the attack on the women packing meat after a buffalo kill, they had hoped for a victory over the Comanche leader so feared and despised by Texans: Peta Nocona. Believing that only white Christians were entitled to the land claimed by Comanches, Texans, with the exception of Sam Houston and German colonists, could not and would not view the Comanches as fighting to protect their hunting lands instead of attacking whites for no reason. Settlers in Texas saw the Comanches as heathens and barbarians, and most agreed with Elder Daniel Parker of the Pilgrim Church that the Indians could not see the light, so why not kill them and get them out of the way.

John R. Baylor, inveterate Indian hater, led the settlers' efforts to remove all Comanches from Texas soil. Baylor was part owner of the White Man, published in Weatherford, Texas, just west of Fort Worth. A journalist named Hamner, Baylor's partner, wrote an inflammatory article in the September 3, 1860 issue, only weeks before Nadua's capture and forced return to her white family. Hamner wrote, "The present condition of the frontier is truly alarming. Not a week passes that we do not hear of fresh depredations by Indians. The road is lined with movers from the different frontier counties, who have at last so determined to quit the country and seek protection in the older states. For three years past the frontier people have begged, prayed and supplicated both State and Federal governments for protection, and the Federal government has displayed a cold-blooded indifference to our condition that would do credit to the Czar of Russia."

In the midst of this racial tinder box, a small band of Comanches entered the home of the Sherman family in Parker County west of Weatherford. Mr. Sherman had brought his pregnant wife and two small children to a log cabin on Stag's Prairie, an area of frequent raids from the Comanches who resented the presence of settlers because their cabins were sure to repel the bison.

Sherman did not even own a gun. Most Texans living on the frontier hunted to supplement their diet. How Sherman planned to function in his new environment without a weapon is truly a puzzle. Tragically he could not protect his wife when Comanches entered the Shermans' cabin. The Indians wanted food, it seemed from their gestures. Mrs. Sherman shook her head "no" and motioned for the Comanches to leave. At that point the Shermans were driven outside in a driving rain where Mr. Sherman and the children were set free. Mrs. Sherman, tragically, was not so fortunate. She was brutally raped and murdered, her fetus dying with her.

That raid created so much outrage that a group of frontiersmen gathered to pursue the raiders. Led by Charles Goodnight, the Parker County cowboys followed the path of the killers that led to Pease River where Nadua and other Comanche women were later attacked while butchering and packing bison meat. That would be Nadua's last day as a free Comanche. She was to leave behind a grieving husband and an emerging Comanche warrior with blue eyes.

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

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