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Authors: Don Bendell

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BOOK: Blood Feather
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She was recaptured when Quanah was around ten years old, but she was used to Comanche life and died after supposedly being rescued by the famous cattleman Charles Goodnight. She literally starved herself to death.

Quanah's father died shortly after that from a major infection, so Quanah became an orphan. Because he was a half-breed, Quanah was treated as an outcast among the Comanches, but this fueled his desire to be successful at everything.

Because of being an outcast, he left the other tribes and finally started his own band, the Quahadi, which means “the antelope eaters.” Actually, most mountain men and true frontiersmen considered two types of meat as the most delicious of all game meat—antelope and mountain lion. Quanah was so successful as a chief that he attracted many warriors, and over time the Quahadis became the largest band in the entire Comanche nation. Although, because of being half-white, Quanah was always being tested by men of his tribe. This gave him even greater reason to be the best possible warrior and fighter.

Quanah's first wife was named Weakeah, but he married several more women, too, and had many children. Quanah started leading raiding parties allying his band of Qahadis with his father's band and his father-in-law's band. These were all victories.

Although a number of Comanche chiefs signed the 1867 Treaty at Medicine Lodge, Quanah Parker refused to sign it and had been fighting since. At that point, with brilliant tactics and hard fighting he had been defeating the army commanders that came against him.

Several more days of riding found Chris Colt and Joshua Strongheart in Palo Duro Canyon. At several points each had spotted distant coveys of quails flying, a sage grouse taking off, and at one point when they stopped to look at their backtrail two whitetail does and an older fawn came running not far from them, the large white flags of their tails swinging from side to side like a natural metronome while they bounded off. These were signs normally unnoticed by white men, but which told them clearly they were being watched and followed from the sides by Comanches.

So at lunchtime they rode up on a knoll along the trail and built a small cooking fire and made coffee and something to eat. They sat there laughing and talking, waiting for the Comanches to come to them. This plan worked, because dozens of Comanches suddenly appeared and rode toward them and up onto, and to surround, the knoll.

They looked around, and, smiling, Joshua said, “I wonder if one of them is Quanah Parker.”

Colt said, “Yes, I saw him before at a distance. See the good-looking one with the long braids wrapped in beaver fur on the palomino?”

“Yep,” Joshua replied, “I see him. He looks like a leader.”

Colt says, “Sure does.”

Both men stood, and, again smiling, Strongheart held his hand up to Quanah, saying, “Want some coffee?”

Quanah Parker rode forward and hand-signaled several braves back when they tried to join him. He rode up to the fire circle and dismounted to walk forward. Chris Colt handed him a steaming cup of coffee, and Joshua said, “You want sugar?” Quanah nodded, and he added some. The three sat cross-legged.

Strongheart said, “I am Joshua Strongheart. My friend is Chris Colt.”

Quanah looked at Colt and grinned, saying, “I have looked at you before while you scouted for the Americans.”

Colt grinned. “I saw you. It was in those rocks, and you were off to the side of them in the shadow overlooking the Red River right at the bend. Didn't know it was you though.”

Quanah grinned again. He looked over at Strongheart.

“The Cheyenne,” he said, “told me you are a great warrior. You want to speak with me.”

“Yes, I do.”

Quanah thought a moment and replied, “If I take you to our village circle, will you give me your word you will not tell others where it is?”

Joshua said, “My word.”

Colt said, “I cannot. I work for the army, and if they ask me, I cannot lie, and I cannot say I gave you my word not to tell. I will be in big trouble.” He stood up and said, “I will go back. I just rode with my friend here to keep him company.”

Quanah said, “If they ask you, will you tell them you met me in Palo Duro?”

Colt said, “Yes.”

Quanah grinned again and stuck out his hand and forearm to shake, saying, “They know I am here anyway.”

Colt smiled and shook.

Then he shook hands with Strongheart, saying, “You go with Quanah, and I will take care of the fire. Have a good parlay.” Looking at Parker, he said, “Hear his words. They have iron in them.” Then he turned back to Strongheart. “It was good riding with you, Joshua. Looking forward to riding with you again.”

Strongheart said, “I have a feeling you and I will cover some ground together, my friend. Thank you for coming with me and standing beside me.”

Colt doffed his hat and started putting out the fire.

Strongheart and Quanah Parker mounted up, the chief still drinking his coffee, and rode off toward the east with the band.

They rode for another day and came to a circle of lodges in a grove that was totally surrounded by trees. A small stream ran through the center, and there were several rock outcroppings overlooking it and the surrounding country. Sentries could easily spot anybody coming from any direction.

Quanah Parker took Strongheart to a teepee and said, “You will stay here. Women will bring you food and water. We will smoke later.”

Strongheart knew this meant they would talk. In the custom of his people, he did not say thank you, but smiled and nodded. He lay down on a buffalo robe and went to sleep immediately. He knew he would be safe here, as he had been welcomed as a guest by Quanah Parker.

He awakened an hour later, refreshed, and there was almost immediately a scratching on his teepee. A heavyset pock-faced woman came in with a broad smile and placed a large bowl of porridge before him. She left, and Joshua ate, then went to his saddlebags to retrieve the present for Quanah he'd gotten from Dutch. It was a small steel coffeepot and had a bag of coffee inside it, as well as a bag of sugar.

An hour later, he was in the lodge of Quanah Parker with Quanah and several elders. One, he learned, was Quanah's father-in-law. They passed a well-decorated pipe around the circle, smoking and waving the smoke over themselves. This was an important, spiritual tradition in Plains society.

Strongheart handed the gift to Quanah, who smiled and obviously appreciated it.

Quanah then handed Strongheart a Comanche bow and a quiver of arrows made from mountain lion hide. Both men nodded and set their presents off to the side.

“Why did you want to speak with me?” Quanah asked.

“I was told by my boss to speak with you. I am a Pinkerton agent. Are you familiar with that?” Joshua asked.

“Yes.”

Strongheart continued, “They were asked by the Great White Father in Washington to find out if you will smoke the pipe of peace with them.”

Quanah laughed, saying, “The Great White Father? Remember, you and I had mothers who were white. You do not have to say things like that to me. You can say ‘President.'”

Joshua laughed.

Quanah went on. “I speak the poetic way of the red man, I live in the life of my red side.”

Strongheart replied, “You and I do have that in common. We both have been treated differently in each world.”

Chief Parker said, “No, you have, but I have only been in the red world. Do they treat you differently there?”

“I have learned that both the white and the red have good men and bad men. I have had whites call me ‘half-breed' like it is a bad word, but I have had Lakota call me
okisye-we
in the same way.”

Quanah said, “I have had Comanche say I am of two peoples, so I have no true people. Instead, they should say I have the strength of the American and the strength of the Comanche.”

Unlike many red men, Quanah Parker called the white man “American.”

He continued, “The Comanche would not listen when I tell them the white man is brave and he is smart. Those are the ones who signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty and live on a reservation now, while we live free.”

“I think men are pretty much the same all over. There are different languages, different clothing, looks, and habits,” Joshua replied, “but all men want family, happiness, food, warmth, and friends.”

Quanah smiled and said, “And women.”

Joshua laughed and repeated, “And women.”

“What are your thoughts about a peace treaty?” Quanah asked.

“I am not a chief,” Strongheart responded. “I only have to think of me, not my people. If I was a chief, I would want to do what is best for my people. Is fighting the white man wise, or is making peace with him wise? I cannot answer these questions. Only you can.

“I can tell you this because you and I are almost like brothers in a way, because we have two hearts,” Joshua added. “The red half of you has done very well. If you make peace someday, you should let the white half of you think. I bet you would do well in the white man's world, too.”

Little did Strongheart know that Quanah Parker would smoke the pipe of peace a year later and would end up a few years after that becoming a millionaire businessman in the white man's world.

Quanah stood and said, “I will think about your words. We will speak again in the morning.”

Strongheart went to his teepee.

The next morning at daybreak, Quanah Parker, armed with his hunting bow, and Joshua, armed with his, which he always carried rolled up in his bedroll, and his new quiver of Comanche arrows, went out together to look for a whitetail deer. Tall, rocky spires stood like chimneys throughout Palo Duro Canyon. This was considered low prairie, and there were plenty of grasses that whitetails enjoy.

A male whitetail deer has a route he traverses, usually a couple miles long, and he will stop under a tree and scrape the ground with his front hooves until he has made the whole area barren. Then he stands on his hind legs in the scraped-out spot and rubs his forehead to leave scent on small branches overhead. After this, the buck hunches his four legs together and urinates, with the liquid passing over heavily scented musk glands and running down on the inside of his back legs and into the scrape. These scrapes are signposts, and a good hunter can tell the size of a buck by how large or small the scrape is.

Quanah and Strongheart hunted for these scrapes and each found one, about a half mile apart. The two men separated and took hidden stands, each looking at one of the two scrapes. Within an hour of being in the stands, each man shot a small buck. After field dressing his deer, each carried his buck over his shoulders and they met up with each other. They rested when they met, sitting down on a cedar– and piñon-covered hillside to talk and smoke a pipe.

Quanah said, “It is good when men like us can hunt the buck; we can talk of many things and smoke a good pipe.”

Strongheart said, “You have a good point, Chief.”

The Comanche leader went on. “I have thought on your words. I think someday if I sit at the peace fire, then I will learn the ways of my mother's people.” Smiling broadly, he added, “Maybe I can become a chief there, too.”

Joshua said, “You said someday. Does that mean you will not surrender now?”

“I will fight for now.” Quanah went on. “They send many bad men to kill all the buffalo. The Americans are smart, for this also kills the Comanche. I must fight against this.”

Strongheart said, “I understand this, too. I am glad I do not have to make your decisions.”

“Do I want my people to die like Comanche warriors with a lance or bow in their hand?” Quanah replied, “or do I want them to die of hunger with a wolf growling in their belly?”

He puffed thoughtfully on the pipe and waved the smoke over his handsome countenance. “It is hard to decide what to do, so I must also look in here for the answer,” he said, pointing to his heart.

Strongheart said, “I think the heart always holds the best answers.”

Quanah replied, “I think this is true.”

Joshua thought again about his similarities with this man. He thought back to when he learned about his father's death and about the great love his father and mother had for each other. Prior to that he used to get upset because his mother would get tears when his father came up in conversation.

The day his father died, most of the men had left the tribal circle and gone out on a great hunt after the thousands of buffalo in the great herd spotted a half day south. A large band of Crow approached the circle of lodges, and the warning went up.

Claw Marks, Strongheart's father, a war chief, had been hobbled and was walking with a makeshift crutch, but this day he tossed the crutch aside. With two older warrior volunteers, he faced the charging band after sending the young warriors and children, including
Cate Waste
, Joshua's half brother, down the banks of the Little Big Horn, through the many trees there, until they got to what the warrior called the Badger Coulee and the remnants of the tribe could escape up the coulee, covering their tracks carefully.

Strongheart's pa and the two gray-haired warriors knew they would die, and he was the young, vibrant, albeit wounded, warrior, so he knew it fell on him to keep the Crows at bay as long as possible, to cover the retreat of the family circle. They sang their death songs while firing shots and arrows at the charging Crows. Claw Marks looked up at a pair of red-tailed hawks swirling high overhead in the cloudless, endless Montana sky, and he smiled to the warriors, saying in Lakota, “This is a good day to die.” They nodded and smiled.

Leaving them, he raised his hand to bid them stay back, and ignoring the leg pain, he leapt on his pinto mount and rode toward the reassembling Crows. They had lost several warriors already and were shocked at the ability of these three determined men. They had to admire their perennial enemies.

The Crows were planning a final charge, with the idea to count as many coups as possible, touching the enemy in battle. They were encouraging each other to “Brave up!”

BOOK: Blood Feather
5.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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