Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Comanche and the Chickasaw, Again

          After their forced removal to Indian Territory in the 1830's, the Chickasaw were not the same strong proud nation they had been in years past. Their treaty had put them under the government of the Choctaw. The people were unable to move onto their own land because of the threat of attack by hostile tribes. For years most of the Chickasaw survived on annuities from the Chickasaw fund, provided by the sale of their homeland in Mississippi. As a result the Chickasaw became disheartened, defeated both mentally and physically by their circumstances.  

          Many changes occurred during the generation following the Removal. The Chickasaw settled their own land; they won independence from the Choctaw and set up their own government, and they fought in the Civil War.  

          As I've mentioned before, the Chickasaw had suffered raids by the plains Indian tribes ever since their removal. These raids differed though from raids on white settlements however. They were less frequent, often two or three years apart, and only stock was taken. Burning of houses and taking of hostages was almost unheard of. 

          Still the Chickasaws had been easy targets. First, they were usually taken by surprise because of the infrequency of the raids. Secondly, the Chickasaws were disorganized and their fighting spirit had been suppressed by the domination of the white man. In my post of March 25, I described the Chickasaws' attempt to pursue the Comanche after their raid on my great great grandfather Smith Paul's farm. The adventure while enthusiastic was too late and was led by the federal Indian agent, not by the Chickasaw themselves.  

          During the Civil War the Chickasaw farms on the western frontier were too far from the fighting to be requisitioned for supplies, and during the War, there had only been one raid by the plains tribes. As a result, these farms were well stocked with grain and cattle, becoming irresistible targets for the Comanche. 

          In June of 1865, after the Chickasaw military units had been disbanded and their members had returned home, about 350 Comanche warriors began an organized raid through the Chickasaw Nation starting just east of Smith and Ellen Paul's farm. They swept through the Sealy settlement just south of present day Ada, and then raided several farms around the home of Luffie Moseley, mother of the future Chickasaw Governor, Palmer Moseley. Finally they attacked the Keel settlement near the Chickasaw capital of Tishomingo. The Comanches then took the stolen livestock past the present town of Duncan, and then up the valley of Cache Creek toward their stronghold in the Arbuckle Mountains.  

          This time the Comanche were not dealing with a nation of scattered, disorganized families, however. They faced a new generation of Chickasaw, united under their own government, their pride restored. These Chickasaw were also experienced soldiers due to their recent participation in the War Between the States. This time the Chickasaw didn't seek help from the US Government or from an Indian agent. Volunteers met together at Mrs. Moseley's house, about 250 of them, quickly organized themselves under experienced leaders, and immediately set out in pursuit of the Comanche. The Chickasaw trackers quickly picked up the Comanche trail and followed them to Cache Creek where the Comanche had split up into several groups.  

          The Chickasaw leaders then made a decision not to divide their men into smaller groups, making each more vulnerable to attack. They instead took their entire force around the edge of the Arbuckle Mountains, reentering Comanche territory from the west in order to catch their enemy by surprise. For the next month the Chickasaw militia moved slowly and carefully, living off the land, sending out scouts, flankers, pickets, and trackers in every direction. Finally Johnson Cohee, a picket stationed four miles from the Chickasaw camp, saw a flash of light in the distance. It came from a silver disk on the necklace of the Comanche chief.  

          Chickasaw scouts soon located the Comanche camp some twelve miles in the distance, and that night the entire Chickasaw force encircled the Comanche village, blocking all escape. At first light the Chickasaw attack began. After the first volley only attacking Comanche warriors were shot. No fire was directed at the dwellings, to avoid harming women and children. The Comanche, who suffered severe losses in the attack, finally surrendered, realizing that their situation was hopeless. The Chickasaw allowed the Comanche to treat their wounded and to bury their dead while they rounded up their livestock.

          No Chickasaws were injured or killed in the fighting. No prisoners or trophies were taken, and no Comanche property was destroyed. Only stock with Chickasaw brands was taken. The Chickasaw told the Comanche that they had only come for their property, and then they drove their cattle and horses home. 

          This story was only told years later, after most of the participants had passed on. The Comanche raids and the Chickasaw pursuit had been kept secret at the time to avoid punishment of the Chickasaws by the US Government for making war on another tribe, but I think the story has lessons to tell.  

          Firstly the Chickasaws had not forgotten the skills of organization, strategy and stealth that had made them respected and feared by other tribes in their past. Also the respect and leniency with which they treated the Comanche stands in stark contrast to the merciless slaughter of Indians by white soldiers throughout our nation's history, for no other reason than to bend them into submission.   

Footnote: Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol 4, 1926. A Nearly Forgotten Fragment of Local History.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Uncle Tom and the Mississippi River

Uncle Tom with his sisters, Cora and Ada 

          Last week I was listening to the news about the flooding of the Mississippi River, and the commentator mentioned that this was the worst flood since 1927. Suddenly I realized that my great uncle Tom was in that flood. He told his sister, my grandmother, all about it.    

          Uncle Tom was an interesting character. His parents, my great grandparents, had left Georgia after the civil war and migrated west. Over the next 20 years they moved from place to place, through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, finally ending up in Indian Territory, the future State of Oklahoma. Tom was the second oldest of eight children, and the only boy to reach maturity, so he bore a big responsibility for the family's welfare, helping his father with the farm and hunting for game to provide meat.    

          When the Cherokee Strip was opened for settlement in 1893, Tom made the land run, and staked a claim for a 160 acre homestead. Tom tried to work his claim but he wasn't happy with the land, so he moved back to Arkansas and started farming near Kelso, on the Mississippi River. Tom grew tobacco and cotton and he was successful, at one time amassing a fortune of $50,000.  

          Life on the Mississippi was hard though. Not only was the work hard, but malaria was endemic, and it wasn't long before Uncle Tom came down with it. Every few months the fever would come, and all Tom could do was go to bed until it broke. One of the treatments for malaria at that time was to have the fever "boiled out" in a sauna, so every year Tom would make a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to sweat out his malaria in the bath houses there.

          One year, as Tom started home from Hot Springs, he had a terrible accident. He got a late start on the day he was to leave, and he arrived late to the train station, just as his train was starting up. Tom ran for the train, but when he leaped for the platform, he lost his grip and fell, sliding under the wheels!  Uncle Tom survived, but his leg was severed just above the knee and he almost bled to death. He spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from his injury, waiting for his stump to heal, and then being fitted for an artificial leg.           

          While Tom was in the hospital he fell in love with his nurse, and he asked her to marry him. The nurse said yes, so while Uncle Tom convalesced, they made plans for their wedding. Tom had a productive farm and plenty of money in the bank so he felt that he would be able to support his wife comfortably, but while they were waiting to get married and return to Kelso, a tragedy of another kind occurred. Tom's bank folded and he was left with nothing. Those were the days before the FDIC, and your money was only as secure as your bank. Tom told his fiancĂ©e that he couldn't ask her to marry him under these new conditions. He would have to return to his farm and recoup his losses. Then, he promised, he would return for her, and they could begin their life together. 

          Then came the flood of 1927. When the Mississippi overflowed its banks Tom refused to leave. He built rafts for himself and for his horses, but his crops and his home were destroyed. Again Uncle Tom was ruined. It took several years to recover. Meanwhile, back in Hot Springs Tom's fiancee was waiting. Years went by but no word from Tom. Finally she wrote to my grandmother, Tom's sister. Another man had asked her to marry him and she wanted to know whether she should wait for Tom. Grandmother hadn't heard from him either.  She told the lady to get married and to go on with her life.  

          Finally Uncle Tom decided that he had recovered enough to support a family, but when he returned to Hot Springs for his bride, he discovered that she had married someone else. Uncle Tom's comment as handed down by the family was, "Damned woman, couldn't wait."     

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Pauls in Texas

Well, I'm back from Texas. I got to see several of my cousins, one whom I haven't seen since he retired to Austin a couple of years ago, one from Arkansas who came down for the rodeo, and two in Del Rio, whom I saw as a child, but before I was old enough to remember.

                                Grandmother's Couch - 1900

I am an only child and I guess my cousins mean more to me because of that. Steve, my cousin in Austin, is more like a brother to me than he is a cousin. I grew up in Oklahoma and he in Texas but we still managed to spend a lot of time together. It was good to visit with him and his wife, their daughter and grandkids. They have another daughter who lives in Dallas. My cousin Steve has my grandmother's living room furniture, and also a clock our grandparents were given as a wedding gift in 1898. Steve's mother, Aunt Oteka, got the clock running again and Steve told me that when he was in high school he had to be in by the time the clock struck 10:00 P.M. He didn't always make it in time.

                              Grandmother's Clock - 1898

After visiting and having some good Texas Bar BQ, we drove over to Del Rio to see the cousins I haven't seen since the late '40's. As I drove to Del Rio through San Antonio, childhood memories of the Alamo and the Buckhorn Saloon came back to me. As we drove through the desert, I remembered Steve showing me the surprising variety of cactus which live there. As we crossed the Nueces River, a major landmark, and at one time the southern border of Texas, I noticed that it was dry, as usual.

Steve had told me that once during a visit with Uncle Bob at his ranch near Bracketville, they passed a car sitting down in the river bed. Uncle Bob hooked a rope to the bumper and pulled it out, so that it wouldn't be in the river bed when the rains came. Steve said that the next time they passed by, the car was back in the river bed. Someone had put it there hoping to collect on the insurance.

I remember visiting my Uncle Bob, father of my Del Rio cousins, in 1954. He was separated from his wife at the time, so I didn't get to meet my cousins then. He was leasing a sheep and goat ranch. His yard was full of goats being treated for "screw worms," maggots which hatch from eggs laid by flies in sores they get from brushing up against the barbed wire. I remember how the goats climbed on our car to reach the tender mesquite leaves growing on the tree above it. They looked like school kids in a play ground sliding down the front windshield of our car as their companions crowded them off the roof. We had to have our car repainted when we got home.

                                      Texas Goats - 1954


                                   John Nance Garner

On the way to Del Rio, we passed through Uvalde, home of "Cactus Jack" Garner, the Vice President under FDR who famously said of his job, "It's not worth a bucket of warm piss." My Uncle Haskell, who came down to Texas about that time to help Uncle Bob negotiate the terms of his divorce - they were both attorneys - visited John Garner. Garner was retired at the time and was just sitting out in his yard when Uncle Haskell came by. According to the story we heard, they had a nice talk until Garner started bragging about Texas pecans. Uncle Haskell couldn't let that pass, and he told Garner that he had documented proof from "experts" that the Oklahoma "Native Pecan" was the most flavorful of nuts. Anyway, the argument ended their conversation. I guess we're lucky that Uncle Haskell didn't get arrested by the Texas Rangers for offending the honor of a Texas icon.

                                          Haskell Paul

Del Rio is a pretty good sized town, compared to when I visited in 1954. It has a college, a truck driver school, and an Air Force Base, not to mention the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding. My cousin Homer was there. He is the manager of recruiting for the U. S. Express Trucking Company, which is a sponsor of the rodeo. He had one of the company's eighteen wheelers parked at the gate to the arena.

                                             U. S. Express

After we checked in at our hotel my cousin Bobby came by. I didn't know him since we haven't seen each other as adults. I was in the Hotel lobby waiting for him to arrive and when he stepped out of his truck he was so buffed that I walked back and sat down, thinking that he was one of the rodeo contestants. When he took off his hat I realized who it was. He looks like his dad. I guess that riding and roping keeps you in shape. Actually he reminded me of his brother George. George's upper body - his arms and shoulders - were really well developed. Anyway there aren't many 65 year old men with bodies like that.

Bobby told us about his family. His younger brother Lee died four years ago of a heart attack. His younger sister Betty is married and lives in Del Rio. His wife suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is pretty much home bound. He has three children who are grown and were in town for the Bull Riding. Apparently the annual memorial to George was Lee's idea, but Bobby now runs it. It has been going on for 34 years!

The George Paul Memorial Bull Riding is about the most important bull riding event in the country, except for the National Finals Rodeo. It attracts riders from all over the U.S.A., Mexico, and even Brazil. There were 40 entrants this year, including four world champions and two former George Paul champions. The event will be televised later this month. Bobby spends most of the year managing the family ranch in Mexico. He told me about the dangers of the Mexican gangs, about how many people are killed each year, and how helpless is law enforcement.

I got to spend quite a bit of time with my cousin Homer. He and his dad and brothers were really good to visit my mother after my dad died. It's been a while since I've seen him. I felt out of place wearing a baseball cap, sneakers and wrinkled jeans. In rodeo country a cowboy hat, boots and pressed jeans is proper attire. Homer, my wife Sarah and I went out to the arena and took some pictures. We met Bobby's daughter Jaqui who was there helping out. We took pictures of the bulls being herded into the pins in preparation for the rodeo, the extra stadium seats set up just for the event, the big screen for instant replay. 


                                    Homer and Jaqui

My wife and I had supper with my cousin Betty and her husband that evening. Betty talked about her dad and how she enjoyed visiting him at his ranch when she was little and how they were all able to get together with him before he died. Divorce is a terrible thing for a family. She talked about how her brother George's death hurt her, and how much it meant to her for the town of Del Rio to support his memorial. The week before the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding are now called "George Paul Days" and are celebrated by a barbeque, a picnic, an art fair and other parties.

                                           Betty and John

I also got to meet Bobby's son Robert and his sister Elizabeth. I told them a little about some of the family history they don't know. Their great grandfather rode in rodeos back in 1898. He was a roper.


                                                 Robert and Me


                               Rodeo Contestants, about 1898.
                 Our Grandfather, W. H. Paul, second from right

The George Paul Memorial Bull Riding was spectacular. Out of the 40 contestants, only 15 stayed on their bull for the required 8 seconds during the first round, and only 4 during the second. It's hard to imagine how George managed to qualify on 79 bulls in a row! The bulls are ferocious. It's incredible how an animal that large can move so quickly. They jump three or four feet in the air, twist one way and then turn back unpredictably. If the rider gets turned to one side or slips back on the bull's rump, he's down, and if he get's thrown forward he can fall against the bull's head or horns - that's how George got thrown off the 80th bull in his string. He was thrown forward and was knocked out against the bull's head. Riders are frequently stepped on, kicked, or gored after they fall, in spite of the efforts of the "bull fighters," who try to distract and to draw the bulls away from them. It's a rough sport.

                            J. W. Harris - Leader after first day

There's a lot more to tell, just mundane stuff. I bought a cowboy hat; I resolved to have my jeans pressed the next time I visit Del Rio; I bought some prickly pear cactus preserves, and I took pictures of the Bull Riding honoring my cousin George. I wish I could have been closer to my cousins over the years. I guess I'm becoming one of these genealogy buffs. When I was younger I was too busy making a living to think about making connections with my family. Maybe it's too late to be close, but I am proud of them; I'm interested in their stories, and I want to make an effort to write things down so my kids and my cousins' kids can know who they are, and where they came from.