9. Comanche Trail of Tears: The Way to Fort Sill

By Bill Neeley

"I know these Indians bid adieu to these their old haunts with many regrets. Some offered stern resistance to going in and I cannot much blame them for it."
— Dr. Jacob Sturm, Messenger from Fort Sill

Quanah's ancestors in New Mexico had entered into a peace treaty with Governor Juan Bautista de Anza in the 1780s, and now another power, the United States was sending an emissary to the young Quahada war leader to literally bury the hatchet. Mackenzie had not defeated Quanah in battle, and the Scottish brevet general respected the young Comanche as a military commander. Beyond that, Quanah had not put his mark on the Treaty of Medicine Lodge and had therefore not agreed to live on the reservation. So, unlike the warriors who took rations from the government while leaving the confines of the reserve to raid in Texas and Mexico, Quanah was not two-faced. Whether or not, as he herded his horses toward Fort Sill, he still had the gray pacer he stole from Mackenzie in Blanco Canyon, is not known.

Dr. Sturm stayed in Isa-tai's lodge throughout the heart- breaking journey as the Quahadas would need written permission to leave the reservation once they became enrolled and could never ride freely through this country again. The men added one wild horse to their herd and killed three since horse meat was a favorite food of the Comanches. The movement of the village as they progressed was directed by Esa-tai.

On May 11,1875, the Quahadas camped on Tepee Creek just south of present Matador, Texas. Sturm wrote in his journal that the Indians had developed a fondness for coffee and sugar and were interested in learning the ways, virtues, and vices of their white brothers. That day Quanah and Black Beard, along with several other Comanches, left the group of about 400 to ride on to Fort Sill with a message from Dr. Sturm, his first to Mackenzie in three weeks.

On May 17 the Quahadas and their white companion camped on a little creek southwest of where the town named after Quanah was to spring to life in less than a decade. The hundreds of buffaloes grazing along its banks would be replaced by the white man's cattle, and Quanah, the war chief, was destined to become a cattleman and entrepreneur in the Gilded Age. But the young war leader didn't know what future awaited him as he rode with Wild Horse, who had left Mackenzie with Sturm as a guide and messenger to his friend and fellow Quahada, toward the Wichita Mountains and Fort Sill.

Behind, the rest of the Quahadas relaxed under Esa-tai's guidance on the running stream where they killed several buffalo and had a feast. It was an opportunity for Esa-tai to bond with Dr. Sturm who, as post interpreter as well as post physician, was close to the sources of power. Esa-tai, having boldly boasted of his power to warriors before the attack on Adobe Walls and to Dr. Sturm en route to Fort Sill, clearly hoped for a prestigious position on the reservation. After the four hundred Quahadas reached Fort Sill, they would choose which leader's village in which to erect their tents. Quanah and Esa-tai each had about a hundred followers and other headmen had smaller numbers.

The Comanches, who had never had a single chief for the whole tribe, were going to have to adapt to having a Chief because the government agent as well as the Army insisted on it. Because they had stayed out the longest and fought the hardest to preserve the old way of life, Quahada chiefs would be given strong consideration by the government. Unfortunately for the democratic Comanches, they were not allowed to vote.

On May 23, Dr. Sturm wrote to Mackenzie that there was "no discontent among the Indians. I have told them the first time I met them that all the warriors would have to go into the Ice House and this they all expect to do." The icehouse had stone walls all around, but the roof had not yet been built. It would be an open-air jail, and all Quahada men must have dreaded being confined and separated from their families. Accustomed to having their women prepare their meals and look after their needs, warriors would be thrown raw meat over the wall every day. One Kiowa warrior later exclaimed, "They fed us like we were lions."

At Otter Creek the Quahadas camped on June 1. It was about twelve miles west of Fort Sill. One can only imagine how the fear of the unknown affected the last free members of the Comanche people. Sturm sent a message to Mackenzie that the Quahadas were "prepared to meet the troops opposite Signal Station to surrender themselves and their arms to the military authorities of the United States." On June 2 at noon the warriors surrendered and were escorted to Fort Sill. "Arriving there they marched to their place of confinement and all the warriors were put under guard. The old men and women proceeded to their appointed camping ground and quietly encamped. Their horses and mules were turned over to the troops." Dr. Sturm's mission was ended.

But Quanah's was just beginning. Rather than sending him to the icehouse, Mackenzie utilized Quanah's leadership skills to assist in bringing in those few Comanches still off the reservation. It was probably helpful that Quanah spoke at least some English when he arrived at Fort Sill. He didn't learn it from his mother as she could not pronounce "Cynthia Ann" correctly, after she was captured by Goodnight. She said, "Me Sincee." Curiously enough, Quanah learned English from a Texas soldier returning from the Civil War in 1865 who was captured by Quanah's warriors. The young chief allowed the man to stay in his camp and had him to teach him English. The man's name was Butterfield, and his son would later be a Methodist missionary on the reservation and a close friend of Quanah.

With Quanah assisting Mackenzie in bringing in the Comanches still living in the wild, he proved himself to be ready to walk the white man's road while maintaining his Comanche identity.

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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