Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
The camp of the seven Comanche women in the 1850s
May 28, 2008
The women with Sanaco included Santa Annas widow, who still mourned her loss, always dressing in black. She formed a band of seven women, widows like herself, and separated from the tribe. A haughty woman, she owned a large herd of horses and was a most successful hunter. This quote (paraphrased) from Thomas Kavanaughs Comanche Political History captured my imagination.
Santa Anna was one of three Panetekha Comanche chiefs (along with Old Owl and Buffalo Hump) during the 1830s and 1840s who all died from smallpox in 1849. Sanaco and Ketumsee then became the Panetekha leaders through the early 1860s. By the late 1860s the Panetekha people either settled on the reservation in Oklahoma or had become Quahadis living in the breaks and canyons of the Llano Estacado.
I like the image of seven women (with kids) roaming about West Texas on their own. As a result, I had to make up a story!
Summer Sun always awoke before the dawn. Every morning she relieved the night herder as the sky began to brighten in the east. It was her favorite time of day. Morning brought possibility and hope after a night of sad dreams after which she would awaken and reach for her husband and find only emptiness. Mornings were beautiful. The horses would begin to stir and graze. The youngest horses would play, cantering and galloping, their manes and tales flowing behind them with youthful and unconscious grace.
The night herder was her youngest son, the only son left of three. He was old enough to join raiding parties against the Tejanos to the east or the Mexicanos far to the south. He did not feel the need to earn honor byer joining the raiders, for everyone already knew of his valor. The previous summer he had acted as a decoy and led a column of soldiers from Camp Cooper (led by Robert E. Lee, but the name meant nothing to him) away from his mothers camp. The soldiers had suddenly entered the watershed of the Double Mountain river from the south, but they came from the plains between the head of the Colorado and the hills to the east, dropping down into the hidden valley that Summer Sun favored for a summer camp. The soldiers had almost caught him. It took months for him to heal from the five bullet wounds that he had collected.
The hidden valley had only a few groves of hackberries and soapberries not far from a series of low rock cliffs. Below the rock were a few large pools of water that never dried in the hottest of summers. Downstream at the confluence with another draw another pool never dried, but no other water could be found for over fifteen miles, not until the major course of the Double Mountain river. The soldiers and Texas Rangers normally never came to the hidden valley for their Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches scouts had never been told of the valleys existence. Her son had prevented the soldiers from learning of its existence by his brave actions.
One morning Summer Sun was troubled. Sanaco had promised that he would send a supply of gunpowder and bullets to her. She had held her end of the bargain and had supplied two dozen horse-packs of medicinal herbs. Her sister had returned with only Sanacos promises, and now he was more than a month overdue. The other six women of the camp were angry. None of them could use the bow and arrow like Summer Sun. They were decent hunters when using a rifle, but had never learned the methods of stalking needed for archery.
Sanaco has not lived up to his promise. We should go to his camp and shame him. As a leader, it is his fault. We will never receive what we have been promised. They will keep it for their own needs, or they wish to force us to return to their camp. We should leave right now! He has to pay. He has to do as he said, and he has to do it now! Summer Sun had heard the same refrain for days but she had refused to break camp.
The others believe we are being disrespected, she mused. Is respect only earned by being angry? Is that truly our only course of action? Or, if we react and let our feelings be known, will we lose the respect of Sanaco and the rest of the Panetekhas? If we stormed into his camp, he might find reason to not share what he has promised. That might happen. What do I do? She paced along the ridge above the horse herd, deeply troubled, not watching where she stepped.
We banded together out of grief. We wanted to be left alone, but we have grown beyond that. We are raising the younger children out of harms way. We are away from the politics of dealing with the Tejanos or the soldiers. We are living a good life. We will join with the others of our tribe when the oldest girl is of age to marry and make sure she is wise in her choice. Maybe my son will wish to marry her, so we can stay separate even longer. The soldiers have built forts along the wagon road, and they chase the young men when they raid the travelers on the road. Sanaco thinks he can fool the soldiers and Tejanos by acting friendly and saying he can not control the young men, but someday he will pay the price. Summer Sun stopped her pacing and stared at the horse herd.
Our primary job is our children. I can teach the methods of stalking. We can eat horseflesh. Gunpowder and bullets makes our job easier, but our job is not reliant on them. This summer we are hosting four girls from our relatives in other camps and we have taken in five orphans in the last two years. We even have a Kotsoketa Comanche child from far to the north. All Comanches respect how we honor our ancestors and teach our stories to the young.
If you were Summer Sun, what would you do? Is it best to react with anger? Or is it best to keep doing the job one is called upon to do, and trust that promises will be fulfilled?