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Essays

Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado

Seminole Indians are an important part of our history
January 29, 2012

Coocoachee rode in front of thirty men up the Palo Duro Canyon in the late fall of 1847. He had been there before, during the U.S. Army peace mission of the winter of 1845-1846. Modern day people know him as "Wildcat," one of the famous leaders of the Seminole Indians during the Seminole Wars in Florida in the 1830s. He was one of the few Indians that ever escaped Fort Marion ( a list that includes the famous Apache Geronimo.)  After years of war, he had finally agreed that the Seminoles would move to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma.)

While on the peace mission he had remembered the visit of Tecumseh to Florida many years before. Tecumseh had sought a pan-Indian allliance, promoting the idea that all of the Indians would fight together against the encroaching United States Army and the hordes of settlers. Tecumseh had died with his goal incomplete. During the peace mission he had spent time alone with the leaders of the bands of Comanche the mission force met, getting to know them personally. He had given small gifts away without expectation of immediate return. He knew he would be returning, to see if he could set up an alliance of the plains tribes. He returned in the summer of 1846 with loads of goods to trade and 250 Seminoles and black Seminoles, and further developed his relationships with the Comanches.

The group of Seminoles and black Seminoles, led by John Horse, were soon spotted by Comanche "wolves," who had spurred out of sight, headed back to the camps to report the approach of the little force. Coocoachee figured the leaders were expecting them, for he had told other Comanches seen earlier of his plans to head to the winter camp. The Comanches would have completed their fall buffalo hunt, laying in their winter supplies. They would have full bellies and be more at ease.

Coocoachee had already talked with the headmen of the other five major bands of the Comanches. The southern leaders of the Penahtaka (honey-eaters), some of whom had been to Washington, were leaning toward peaceable relations with the Texans, and a few had already agreed to move to the new reservation along the Brazos River. Despite Coocoachee's warnings that the gifts of the white were not gifts at all, but cheap pay for their lands, he had not believed they would join his idea of an alliance on the plains. The Kotsoteka, in their camps near the Double Mountains thought his idea was good, but told him to go to see the Yamparikas. These two bands would give rise to the Quahadi, who would continue to fight another 25 years.

He was about to meet Siskotah (Bald Head). Siskotah's band often traded Mexican mules in the Indian Territory. The famous Missouri mules were actually Mexican mules originally, and many of the mules used on the plantations of the deep South were also first Mexican mules stolen by Comanches. During the drought of the early 1840s the trade had numbered in the thousands, as most of the Kotsotekas and many Yamparikas had gone to Mexico, and had stripped many of the northern haciendas of anything worth trading.  Little is known about Siskotah, since he had mostly stayed away from the whites, except to encourage the establishment of Bent's Fort in the 1840s on the Arkansas River in Colorado, as another site to trade.

As Coocoachee visited with Siskotah over the next few days, he was amazed at the multi-ethnic makeup of the band. He had not realized there was an almost constant stream of immigrants from other tribes. He met Cherokees, Shawnees, Pawnees, Caddoes, genizaros from northern New Mexico even a couple of Seminoles and black Seminoles. The Comanches had already done what he was proposing. All of the people that wanted to live free of the rules of the Europeans (the Anglos of the U.S, and the Hispanics of Mexcio) yet gain wealth and prestige from raiding the Europeans had been gathering.  During the discussions he realized his Seminoles and Seminole blacks would be subordinate to the Comanches if they sought a new homeland on the Llano Estacado.

As he visited with some of the Hispanic members of the tribe, he learned that the Mexican Army would accept Indian scouts who fought against not only the Comanche Empire, but the hit and run Apaches. Before he left Palo Duro, he had made up his mind to take his people to Mexico, and so he did, departing Oklahoma in December of 1849 and returning for more people the following summer. Coocoachee died of smallpox  in the late 1850s, a colonel of the Mexican Army scouts. Most of the Seminoles eventually returned to Oklahoma, but the black Seminoles became scouts for the U.s. Army and early west Texas cowboys.

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