Friday, August 21, 2009
General Sam and the Indians Part II
Most of what I relate here, and in the previous entry, has been stolen from Dr. John Lockhart's published letters. Just a lad, He was an early day resident of Washington on the Brazos and "knew how to cipher"... and this made him an official scribe for the Republic. His complete writings can be found in Sixty Years on the Brazos.
The Waco crybaby Red Bear was not gone long when President Houston decided to send some emmisaries to the Comanches. He picked some capable men, accompanied by Aquaquash, the trusted Waco Chief and a Mexican who could speak the lingua franca of the West, and they disappeared into the Texas plains. Soon a rumor came that they were bringing the Comanches in... to Torrey's Trading Post one hundred miles north near the Waco village. Houston sent another group there to meet and officially receive them, and now considered invaluable, Young Lockhart was taken along.
But the group sent to fetch the Comanches had a little setback. They had not been in camp with the "Lord's of the Plains" long when they were beginning to perceive that they were about to be tortured and executed. But thankfully Chief Aquaquash intervened and threatened that if the Texans were harmed, he and his Wacos would go down fighting. The Comanches reconsidered, but were not real excited about a trip across the plains to meet the Great White Father. He would only ask for what they could not give.
Meanwhile the second party made their way north. John W. Lockhart's virgin eyes saw amazing things. An equally virgin wilderness. He saw a veritable petrified forest, laying down in the ground, as if some ancient atomic blast had decimated and flattened a prehistoric woodland of trees greater in diameter than any alive. Everywhere, he looked and wondered if any White man had ever seen that thing before.
It was Nature with a capital N, in its purest existence. He mused: "If these rocks, trees and shrubs were endowed with the power of sight, speech and reason, would they say, 'Welcome here,' or 'Depart thou destroyer of nature's beauty. By thy cunning hand thy destroyeth the forest and upturneth the rocks. Our solitude and quietude are gone forever. No more will the wild beast roam at will, nor will nature's flowers ornament and bedeck the bosom of Mother Earth, but rather will the White man bring the ax and plow, the reaper and the rifle, and all will be changed...'"
Interesting that young Lockhart would ascribe to the voice of Nature an Old English vocabulary. But still, his meditations are as haunting today to me as it was to him.
Finally, after days of that kind of gentle heartbreak, the little presidential peace commission straggled into Torrey's Trading Post. Old Torrey had set up an Indian kingdom, trading with the Wacos and Caddoes and Wichitas and even the Comanches, the only source for highly desired American goods near the northern plains. It was a Texas version of the Heart of Darkness. The village had no real law, or legal autority, and Torrey was the closest thing to a sheriff. No doubt Native American traditions weighed heavily on the frontier, in such a place as this, where they were the overwhelming majority. Young Lockhart, anxious to see his new Indian associates, arrived with the rest of the government delegation to find no Comanches, and the ornamented grave of Chief Red Bear, buried near the Post.
Someone, perhaps Torrey, had labeled the grave so that no one would have doubts about who laid there. A little crude fence post rail had been erected around the grave, and a curiously notched and painted timber had been planted to mark Red Bear's final bed. One wonders if he was wrapped in his favorite buffalo robe, that had given him so much security in life. A great bit of trouble had been expended to give the old cranky Waco a fit burial. There was no mention however about the great new percussion rifle President Houston had given him, nor the way he had met his demise. It is not hard to imagine that his new rifle made him a target for those who had more sinister uses for it. Young Lockhart was deeply touched by the unexpected death of the old Indian. Somehow his faults made him more lovable and his death more tragic.
After several days of swatting mosquitoes and gambling and losing with the trading post sharks, the Houston delegation gave up, and went home. Lockhart began to see a very different land before him. He suddenly realized that the buffalo they were nibbling on would soon be exterminated, and the other Indians would go the way of Red Bear. The land had already warned him, as he had passed through it.
It's nice to know, after so much senseless tragedy in the making of our country,that there were young people like young John Lockhart, feeling so much poetic anxiety over the inevitable changes and sacrifices that were to come. I hope what we have done, was worth it.