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EVOLUTION OF A STATE


CHAPTER XIII



Camping with Comanches; Comanche language; Social and domestic customs; Indian song; Political affairs; Amusements.

I have often regretted that I did not preserve the notes I made of the Comanche tongue, very little of which I now recall. I do not think they followed the rule adopted by the northern tribes in their nomenclature, few of their names seeming to have English equivalents. Of the six chiefs, Mugua-ra, Quin-a-se-i-co, Pote-se-na-qua-hip, Ca-ta-ni-a-pa, Pa-ha-u-co and E-sa-nap, only the second and third appeared interpretable - Quin-a-se-i-co (eagle) and Pote-se-na-qua-hip (buffalo hump). My adopted name, Juaqua or Wah-qua, had no special significance that I knew of. One of the Spanish boys who, though having lost all other traces of his identity, still remembered that his name was Juan, was called by the Indians Un-ar-o-caddy, but whether it was considered the Indian equivalent of John or merely like Juaqua, the name by which he was adopted into the tribe, I could not determine. I presume the squaws had names suggestive or otherwise, but I failed to catch them. About the only common nouns that I remember were tuhaya (horse), ait (bow), pock (arrow), wood-ah (bear) and quasack (a coat or covering for the body). The last word I am inclined to think an adaptation from the Spanish.

The study of the Indian tongue was fraught with many difficulties. Many of their nouns bore so strong a resemblance to the Spanish as to suggest a common origin. This, however, may have been but a natural sequence to the long intercourse between the Mexicans and Indians, the latter having adapted the Spanish to their peculiar vocalization. But even on this hypothesis it was sometimes difficult to account for the remarkable resemblance. One striking example was found in the Indian word beesone (buffalo), which is the Spanish pronunciation of bison; the Mexicans, however, using the word "cibola" in speaking of the American buffalo. There were also many words used in common by Mexicans and Indians, which, while certainly not Spanish, were possibly relics of the Aztec tongue; "wah-ho-lo-te" (turkey) for instance, the Spanish for which is "pavo." "Tuhuya" and "woodah" were presumably pure Indian, being totally unlike anything in any civilized language. Their numerical system, perhaps, offered the most promising field for philological research. My achievements in that line were limited to the first ten numbers, the last four of which are all I remember: mammiwassett, seven; semimamiwassett, eight; seminot, nine, and samot, ten.

I could never discover anything analogous to written language; the nearest approach to it being diagrams, or more properly maps, which they sometimes marked out on the ground to convey an idea of locality. They were peculiarly expert in sign language, however. Some idea of drawing they had acquired, their work at times evincing a remarkable degree of skill. Any smooth surface - a board, a flat stone, or smooth-bark tree, served for canvas, while charcoal furnished pencils. Colored chalks were sometimes substituted, but, whatever the material used, the subject was always the same - Indians chasing buffalo. When on a scout, out to the old Tumlinson block house, we found the walls covered with these Indian drawings; every loose board being similarly ornamented. The block house was burned by the Indians shortly after. Whether there may have been some special significance attached to the drawings, or whether they were but the expression of a vague longing after the ideal, I could not even conjecture.

Nor did they seem to possess any method of computing time; and though there were some very ancient looking people in the tribe, I could form no idea of their age.

I have known several deaf mutes among the Indians, but never a blind one. It is quite likely, however, that if a babe were born blind it would be put out of the way. And, really, aside from deafness, I never knew of any natural physical defect in an Indian. Nor were there any maimed or lamed in battle, though, like warriors of all times, they were very proud of battle scars, particularly those made by bullets, bringing them out more conspicuously by tattooing lines around them.

The utmost harmony prevailed among the various divisions of the polygamous families. The oldest wife seemed to be the mistress of the harem. There was one large central lodge used in common by all the families, each squaw having a smaller one for herself and children, the latter never numerous.

The family meals, consisting of meat alone, generally roasted on sticks, were all served together on the flesh side of a dried skin, each fellow helping himself. Their drinking vessels were made of buffalo horns and terrapin shells, and some had even become possessed of a tin cup.

The vessels for carrying water were made of deer skins "cased" - stripped off whole - the legs and necks tied up tightly with sinews. Sometimes the smaller stomach pouch of a buffalo was used.

Not wishing to give the least occasion for offense, I ate with them, but I laid in a supply of coffee before I went out, which I boiled myself, drinking it from the cup in which it was prepared. In order to be sociable, I offered old Chief Muguara some coffee, for which he soon contracted quite a liking, thus cutting my supply short. The Indian mode of cooking meat - roasting it on sticks - was excellent, but they had become so far civilized as to possess a pot in which, perhaps out of deference to me, they sometimes boiled their meat; but I much preferred the roasted, that seeming a little less filthy.

So far as my observation went, the Texas Indians were unlike those of any other section of the country, subsisting entirely on meat. The northern tribes raised corn, beans and several kinds of vegetables. Those of Arizona and New Mexico raised wheat and beans, and the California Indians in their primitive state gathered vast quantities of acorns, pine nuts, and grass nuts, which constituted their staple food.

Perhaps, though, it was owing to the unfailing supply of game that the Comanche eschewed vegetable food, which required more labor than did the meat. Another peculiarity of the Comanche was his abstinence from whisky, few of them even venturing to taste it; old Muguara alone showing signs of dawning civilization by occasionally indulging.

On one of our several visits into Bastrop, when we were about starting on our return, he said to me:

"Juaqua, hadn't we better get a bottle of fool's water? We might meet hostile Indians on the road and it would make us brave."

Chief Muguara was also bald-headed, the only instance of the kind I ever knew; that may also have been attributable to his over-civilization.

There were some of the dishes set before me that my stomach absolutely declined to do honor to; for instance the curdled milk taken from the stomachs of suckling fawns and buffalo calves, which they esteemed a rare delicacy.

They were also very fond of tripe, which they broiled without even taking the trouble to wash it, merely dragging it over grass to wipe off the thickest of the filth.

They had some kind of religious belief which seemed akin to sun worship. Judging from outward manifestations there was some power which it was necessary to propitiate by offerings. When out on a hunt as soon as game was killed they struck fire and roasted meat, and always before eating a bite the chief would cut off a morsel and bury it; the first fruit of the chase, I suppose.

A similar ceremony was observed when the chief lit his pipe; the first puff of smoke was blown toward the sun and the second to the earth after the manner of incense offering; the substance used for the purpose being a mixture of tobacco and dried sumach leaves. The pipes were made of soft stone generally, though sometimes hard wood was substituted. They were not seemingly anxious to make proselytes to their religion, therefore were reticent about their tenets, all I gathered concerning which being from observation. They evidently believed in a hereafter, but whether the conditions thereof depended on their conduct in this life was uncertain. One thing I know, that though they would fight desperately to rescue the body of a fallen comrade so long as his scalp was intact, the moment he lost it he was abandoned; they would not touch the body, even to bury it. Whether, like the Chinamen, the cue was considered a necessary passport to the other world, or perhaps only because they thought that the enemy having secured the coveted scalp there was no use in hiding the body in the ground, remains a mystery to me. Another point on which they seemed to be superstitious was in never touching the heart of an animal. They would strip off every particle of flesh, leaving the skeleton entire and the heart untouched inside.

Although it was customary for the first fellow who woke in the morning to announce the fact in song, the act seemed rather a spontaneous outpouring akin to that of the feathered songsters than a religious rite; the song itself resembling the lay of the birds in that it was wordless save for the syllables, ha ah ha, which furnished the vehicle on which the carol rode forth to the world; the performance ending in a keen yell.

Theories and conjectures are not evidence. I therefore spare the reader mine, simply stating facts, from which all are at liberty to draw conclusions. Perhaps some of the old Comanches in the Indian territory might be prevailed on to throw some light on the subject.

But taking them all around they were the most peaceable community I ever lived in. Their criminal laws were as inexorable as those of the Medes and Persians, and the code was so simply worded there was no excuse for ignorance. It was simply the old Mosaic law, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

In cases of dispute, a council of the old men decided it, and from their decision there was no appeal. And when one died, all his belongings were destroyed, precluding all possibility of a family quarrel over the estate.

During the whole period of my sojourn among the tribe -- three months -- I did not hear a single wrangle among the adult members. The youngsters had an occasional scrimmage, which they were allowed to fight out to the amusement of the onlookers.

Notwithstanding their inhuman treatment of the helpless prisoners that fell into their hands, I never saw a woman or child abused. The women, as in all savage tribes, were abject slaves, but their inferiority was their protection from the chastisement which "civilized" husbands sometimes visit on their wives.


COMANCHE SONG
Hay ah ha, hay ah ha, hay ah, hay ah, hay ah, hay ah h ay h
Hay ah ha, hay ah ha, hay ah, hay ah, hay ah ha .... wooh!

An Indian brave would have felt it a burning disgrace to strike a woman. I don't think they ever resorted to corporal punishment within the tribe. Like the ancient Jews, however, tribal law didn't apply to "the stranger Without the gates," nor within, either, when the stranger was a captive.

There was a distinct line dividing the provinces of men and women, the mother having complete control of the children.

When an Indian girl arrived at a marriageable age, it was the mother who arranged the match; the suitor generally winning her favor by gifts, or barter of skins, and sometimes horses, if the girl was a belle.

The women, of course, performed all the labor, aside from killing and bringing in the game; stripping the skins from the animals, dressing and ornamenting them with beads or paint, a process which interested me very much. The skins were first staked down to the ground, flesh side up. With a sharp bone the squaw then scraped off every particle of flesh; next the scraped surface was spread with lime to absorb the grease, after which the surface was spread with the brains of the animal, rubbing it in and working it over till the skin became soft and pliable, the process requiring days and days of hard work.

Then with paint, which they manufactured from colored chalks, and brushes made of tufts of hair, the artist, with the earth for an easel, beginning in the center, drew symbolic designs, the most conspicuous of which was the sun, executed with a skill truly remarkable.

A multitude of different colored rays commingling in a common center and radiating out in finely drawn lines, the spaces made by the divergence again and again filled in, taking as much time as a work by the old masters. Time was no object, life leaving nothing to offer beyond the gratification of this single vanity.

These painted robes were worn over the shoulders like shawls, the fur side underneath.

The old people of both sexes were treated with deference, another sign of their benighted state. Little notice was taken of the female children by either parent, all their pride and affection being centered on the embryo warriors, fitting them out with bows and lances, with which they fought imaginary foes and "mimic frays," much after the fashion of the old school days commemorated in the lines-

"O were you ne'er a school boy,

And did you never train;

And feel that swelling of the heart

You ne'er can feel again?"

The little Indian girls, brought up in the way they should go, played at dressing skills, setting up lodges, etc. Yes, and they played with dolls, too. I was never allowed to inspect those Indian doll babies, so I can't tell how they were made; but the little Indian maids bound them on pieces of bark, setting them up against trees, swinging them in hammocks or carrying them on their backs just as their mothers had done with them.

The small boys went entirely nude, but the girls always wore some covering. When not hunting, the bucks whiled away the time in telling marvelous stories of the fight and chase - the former for my benefit, I presume - running races, sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot. I sometimes ran with them, and in a 50-yard dash could beat most of them, that distance only serving to limber them up. They always insisted on running at least a quarter of a mile, in which case they could have distanced me, so I declined to run over my limit.

They were inveterate gamblers and would sit out in the broiling sun for half a day with the perspiration streaming down their faces intent on a game, the merits of which I failed to penetrate, though I watched them by the hour. The game, which seemed a combination of dice throwing, five corns, marbles and all other games pretty much, was played on the skin side of a buffalo robe, marked into sections with chalk lines. The implements with which it was played were two smooth sticks, about four inches long, flat on one side and oval on the other, an inch or so in width on the flat side. These they placed face to face, and, holding them between the thumb and forefinger, struck them endwise on a flat stone in the center of the chalk lines, at the same time releasing them, when the rebound threw them in various directions, the points scored depending on the position in which they fell, both as to the sticks and the marks on the robe. They would bet their last deerskin on the game, and of course some one had to lose; still, I never knew of anything even approaching to a quarrel over the outcome.

Occasionally they had visitors from other tribes with whom they swapped lies, sometimes conversing entirely by signs, not seeming to understand each others language at all, though it all sounded the same to me.

Among other things they told how on one occasion they had been down to Gonzales and collected a fine drove of horses and mules - they didn't hint that the animals were stolen - with which they were returning to their camp, when they were surprised by cowardly white men who stole upon them while they slept and chased them into the cedarbrake, wounding three of their warriors, one of whom died before they got home - a piece of information gratifying to me, as we didn't know we killed any of them - capturing all their horses and camp equipage. I didn't chirp about my part of the raid.

I often accompanied the bucks on their hunts, and rarely saw an animal killed in wanton sport, old buffalo bulls then being the victims. Having killed what they wanted for meat, they sometimes singled out an old bull, shooting arrows into his hump until he became irritated to the fighting pitch; then as he charged one of his tormentors, another would run up beside him and jerk an arrow from its position in his hump. The pain thus produced would impel the now thoroughly angered brute to turn on his daring foe, and I have seen them, clumsy as they look, wheel so quickly that it would be all the Indian's pony could do to get out of the way of his horns; but then another Indian would create a diversion by running up and snatching an arrow. And so they kept it up till the bull was too much fatigued to make the sport interesting; when they would dispatch him to recover their arrows. This sport was doubtless an adaptation from the Spanish bull fight.

Another one of their sports, though in this case combined with business, was the lassoing of turkeys, deer, mustangs, and buffalo calves.

When a drove of turkeys ranged out on the prairie in pursuit of grasshoppers, the Indian would follow at a distance until the birds were a mile or more from timber; then he should dash upon them, causing them to rise. Putting spurs to his horse he would then keep right under the flock, keeping them on the wing until they fell to the ground from exhaustion, when he ran among them and lassoed all he wanted.

When he wanted venison the Indian secreted himself near a watering place till the deer came in to drink, after which they become stupid and any good mustang could run upon them with ease. The same tactics were pursued in the capture of mustangs which often fed away ten or twelve miles from water, remaining until thirsty, when they would start on a run, keeping it up till water was reached, by which time they were tired and thirsty, imbibing such quantities of water as to render them incapable of exertion, thus falling easy prey to the Indian's lasso. If veal was his desire, the Indian would start a band of buffalo, crowding them so closely that the calves could not keep up, and, falling behind, were cut off and lassoed.

One of the Indian's principal grievances against the white men was the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo, which the Indians claimed were their cattle, placed there for them by the Great Spirit. White men would run upon a band of buffalo and shoot them down in wanton sport, sometimes not even taking the hides, though they were a marketable commodity.

Some years later Michael Ziller, in Austin, contracted with Captain Merrill to furnish him a flatboat load of buffalo skins. Merrill came to me to fix his gun. This contract called for a boatload regardless of number, and his aim, therefore, was to secure as many bulls as possible, they being so much larger than the cows, and it was a sheer waste of time and ammunition to shoot at them with an ordinary rifle. So he bought the largest bore rifle he could find, and, not finding it effective, wanted it bored out till twenty of its bullets would weigh a pound. I bored it out and fixed him a splendid gun, with which he was well satisfied till some one told him that old Bobby Mitchell had one that carried ten balls to the pound. Determined to have the biggest gun in the country he brought it back and wanted it enlarged to the capacity of eight balls to the pound. I bored it anew, the tremendous charge causing a rebound that almost dislocated his shoulder. Nothing daunted, he padded the butt and created consternation among the buffalo with his artillery. He hired two men to take care of the hides and shot down hundreds of the animals, leaving the bodies for the wolves; but the Indians came upon then over on Little river and took revenge on them, just as white men would have done had they caught Indians killing their stock. Two of the men, Dr. Kinney and __. Castleberry, were killed, and Merrill narrowly escaped by having a good horse.

He filled his contract, however, and Ziller started the boat down the Colorado, but at Rabb's shoals, just above LaGrange, it was swamped, and the cargo, which had directly cost two men their lives and goodness knows how many indirectly, was a total loss.



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