7. Mackenzie's Messenger to Quanah

By Bill Neeley

"The Indians are having a big dance tonight and make it to be the last medicine dance they ever expect to have on those broad plains. They say that they will abandon their roving life and try to learn to live as white people do."

Dr. Jacob J. Sturm, physician and post interpreter at Fort Sill, wrote the above in his journal describing the journey to the inner reaches of Comancheria to talk to Quanah about coming into Fort Sill and settling down on the reservation. With the number of buffaloes and other game continuing to decrease at a rapid rate, and with soldiers frequently in pursuit, it was time for the Quahadas to make a decision. Surrender or continue to fight.

On the 24th of April, 1875, Dr. Sturm and three Comanches, Wild Horse, Watebi-with-Kit, and To-vi-ah, camped west of present Altus, Oklahoma on the Salt Fork of Red River where they "found fair grass and plenty of wood and water" and "passed a comfortable night, being only interrupted by the constant howling of Wolves."

Across the main channel of Red River, Sturm and party passed many buffalos in all directions, but the doctor had a poor opinion of the country "between the Red River and Pease River through which we passed. It is a barren waste unfit for habitation of civilized man." Sturm, however, liked the country around middle Pease River near what is now Matador.

Wild Horse, as he led Dr. Sturm into the favorite haunts of the Comanches to deliver Colonel Ranald Mackenzie's message to the Quahadas, must have been saddened by his assignment. He himself had chosen to surrender. Otherwise he, as a Quahada, would have been with Quanah who was still living free. On April 29, the four men rode into Chief Black Beard's camp of fifteen to twenty lodges near today's Roaring Springs, Texas. There they learned that Quanah's and Esa-tai's camp was a two-day ride from Black Beard's little village. After Sturm explained the purpose of his trip, he and his three Comanche companions headed toward the southwest. Eighteen miles north of what is now Post, Texas, the Indians pointed to a butte that they called Wa-we-otir, Blowing Mountain.

On May 1, Dr. Sturm entered Quanah's camp on a small stream near the present town of Gail in Borden County, Texas. He wrote in his journal, "On our arrival in camp the Indians rode up from every direction to see who we were and finding we were peace messengers they invited us to alight from our horses, which were taken care of by the squaws while we were escorted to a large tent by the men. Here we divided our tobacco, coffee, and sugar with them which pleased them immensely, having had none of the luxuries for a long time. After they had drank some coffee, we proceeded to their council house. After the usual preliminary smoking, I delivered the message sent out by Col. Mackenzie, with which they all seemed pleased." Here Dr. Sturm surely exaggerated. To give up their way of life and surrender as a defeated people with an uncertain future could not have "pleased" the Quahadas. Sturm continues. "After the talk was over I was invited to the tent of their great medicine man Isah-titi (Esa-tai) with whom I had a big talk. He told me that he would go with me. And that all his people must go.

The next day they were "again in counsel, and Quanah, a young man of much influence with his people, made a speech in favor of coming in here." All of the Quahadas, knowing of the slaughter of the horses in Tule Canyon, feared losing their horses and asked Dr. Sturm if they could keep some for the use of their families in daily living. Sturm wrote that the Quahadas had treated him "with the utmost kindness for which I must feel grateful and hope that General Mackenzie will treat them as leniently as possible."

Even before Dr. Sturm had reached his camp, Quanah had struggled with the decision of whether to surrender or fight. In search of the answer, Quanah had consulted the world of the spirit. In Comanche society signs from nature were the foundation of spiritual life. Quanah climbed to the top of a bluff overlooking Blanco Canyon. As the Eagle looked for signs, he thought of his mother. She had been white and learned to live the Indian way. Perhaps he could live the white man's way. Down in the valley a rangy wolf turned his head toward Quanah, howled, and trotted in the direction of Fort Sill. Above, an eagle glided lazily and then whipped his wings and flew toward Fort Sill. These were signs from the Great Spirit and Quanah obeyed. He was ready when Dr. Sturm arrived in the Quahada camp.

Though his medicine had been questioned by Cheyenne warriors at Adobe Walls, Esa-tai seemed to have maintained a strong reputation with the Quahadas. Certainly the Wolf Prophet did not hesitate to continue to claim great power. He told Dr. Sturm that though he was not a chief, he had great influence over the people because he treated them kindly and never abused them. There was another Quahada, however, who was destined to challenge Esa-tai as a medicine man, Quanah the war chief.

Peyote would supplant Quanah's Bear medicine once life on the reservation began. In 1868, while on the raid to Mexico with Tohausen, Quanah and his Kiowa and Comanche companions had stopped at a Quahada-Mescalero camp somewhere in southwest Texas. Since Quanah learned the Peyote religion from the Mescaleros and other Apaches with whom he was on good terms, he probably knew the religion and had become a "road man," or peyote priest, before his surrender to Mackenzie. Esa-tai's medicine, on the other hand, seems to have been less relevant on the reservation than before.

The conflict arising between the two young Quahada leaders would reach its climax on the floor of the United States Senate.

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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