Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
The saga of Herman Lehmann
February 2, 2005
Can you imagine being Herman Lehmann? The ten-year-old Lehmann was captured by Apaches in 1870 and by 1871 had become a warrior in training and by 1875 a leader of a small group of Apache raiders. His captor had been Carnoviste, whom he had grown to accept as a father figure. Carnovistes much younger sister, Ete, had nursed him through sickness and injury. Carnoviste was killed in a drunken brawl, and Lehmann killed Carnovistes murderer and fled for his life. He begged Ete to go with him, but she would not. He did not return to the civilized way of life as she urged, for he considered himself an Indian once he had been told (early in his captivity) that his white family was dead. (They werent.)
He spent the next year alone, traveling back and forth from the head to the mouth of the Pecos River and two hundred miles east, over the Llano Estacado to the headwaters of the Concho, Colorado, Brazos, and Red Rivers. In 1877 he joined the last group of Comanches to reject reservation life. Quanah Parker finally convinced him and most of the group to give up after the Forlorn Hope and Captain Nolans troopers chased them that summer. He was finally returned to his family in 1878.
An Midland Reporter-Telegram subscriber visited the Sibley Nature Center and loaned me Scott Zeschs The Captured. Zeschs kin Adolph Korn had been a captive of the Comanches. Korn never readjusted to society, dying in his early forties, after living as a hermit in a cave in central Texas. Zesch became fascinated with the stories of other Indian captives, seeking to understand how German and Anglo captive children survived their captivity. The ones that he investigated were people caught between cultures, retaining respect for their captors people and ways. Some, including Lehmann, sought recognition as being Comanche at the Fort Sill Reservation, so they could receive headrights on reservation land. Several, as did Lehmann, often told stories of their experiences and demonstrated the skills learned during their captivity.
After reading Zeschs book, I dug out the Sibley Nature Centers copy of A.C. Greenes The Last Captive. It is a third version of Lehmanns autobiography, a comparative study of the previous two recitations given by the illiterate Lehmann in 1899 and 1927. (These previous publishers recorded his words in a more erudite fashion than he could have used.) Upon a review of it, I was drawn to the time he spent alone, at age 17. When he left the Apaches he had 28 cartridges for his rifle. Each bullet brought down a deer, antelope, or buffalo. His ammunition supply lasted three months. When he had no more ammunition, he hid the rifle in a cave near the lower canyons of the Pecos, and turned to using bow and arrows. His story of solitary survival is mindboggling. I have edited his story of that lonely experience, distilling its essence, still using the language of the originally published versions.
I regarded all men as my enemies. After a few weeks I became reconciled to my lonely life. There was a sense of dread weighing on my mind, a presentiment of evil to come, a racking fear that I would attract the attention of my enemies and that I should be discovered and slain. I was a wanderer upon the face of the earth. At the least rustling sound, I would crawl away and hide, or seek refuge on the gray (his horse.)
The area had recently been visited by Mexicans, Apaches, Texas Rangers, and even army soldiers. Drought had struck the country and the visitors chased the game away. I turned to cactus apples, sotol, and other vegetation, along with insects. These I fried in a frying pan left at a campsite by hunters. I headed north. I went without food for seven days and four without water. I was about to lie down and die, when a skunk ran at me and threw musk on me. But I killed and ate him for his trouble. I didnt cook him; I just cut him open and sucked what warm blood I could get, and then devoured him. I did not waste any part of him. Then I found a puddle of muddy water and felt much refreshed.
Later I found some buffalo and selected a calf to rope. As I was out of arrows, I drug him until the hide was worn off his side, and he finally was so near dead that I could get down and finish him. I cut the calf open, and as usual ate the warm liver, and from his paunch drank the sour milk that I found there. I then skinned and dressed this calf, eating more of the entrails.
When I cut the meat I was cautious not to offend the Great Spirit. I adhered to all the superstitions, for I believed in them. I could hear the night birds whistling, the coyotes yelping, the wolves howling, and thought of how we used to make those sounds when we scattered after a fight with enemies, and I wondered if they were real wolves and birds. I would lie at night spending hours watching the great celestial panorama. I would look at the great starry vault and then at my shield and I would see that the larger stars occupied the same position on my shield. My shield served as compass as well as a protector.
I rode on the plains, visiting all the old buffalo hunter camps I could find. I picked up all the pieces of iron they happened to leave, sharpening them with a file I had found to make arrows. I regained my strength and my horse fared sumptuously. I made jackets, quirts, leggings, lariats, and anything I could think of from the buffalo hides. I worked all the time, for that was the only way I had to keep from getting too lonely. My horse was my consort and companion. In daytime we were inseparable. We would play hide-and-seek. I would slip off from him and hide in tall grass, but he would trail me up and nicker when he found me. He was a fine sentinel. I could tell when someone, or a wild beast, was around. I could lie down and sleep soundly, sure of his vigilance. He would gently bite my arm if an enemy were around.
Finally, after a year had passed, I could no longer drive my melancholy spirits away. They seemed to have come to stay. Somehow nothing was of interest to me. Finally the thought occurred to me to join the Comanches. Eventually I located a party of Indians and discerned, by the split in the horses ears, that they were Comanches. After dark I crept up to the campfire and listened. After thirty minutes I mustered up enough courage to walk right in among them unannounced. I made signs for peace and tried to tell them I was a poor lone Indian without a friend and hungry. One said he had seen me with the Apaches and that I had raced horses with him and won, and that he had known Carnoviste. They told me I was welcome to stay.
Can you imagine being Herman Lehmann? His story is one of our stories, a story of the Llano Estacado.