Adoption pt 5: The curious case of the trans-racial Indians

Way back in 1870, 11 yr old Herman Lehmann and his little brother were trying to scare the crows away from their family’s wheat when they were kidnapped by a band of Apaches.

A patrol of African-American cavalry men managed to rescue the little brother four days later, but not Herman. The Apaches took him from Texas to New Mexico and told him that they had killed his entire family, so there was no point to trying to escape.

Then, instead of killing him, scalping him, or holding him for ransom, an Apache man named Carnoviste and his wife, Laughing Eyes, adopted him.

Genghis Khan would have approved.

This kind of adoption was, it seems, totally normal. Native Languages of the Americas explains that:

It was common practice throughout the Americas to capture and adopt people from enemy tribes (particularly children, teenagers, and women). In a few tribes this was a traumatic kidnapping, sometimes involving a violent hazing ritual prior to adoption. In other tribes it was a mere formality, with eligible young women going out to a rendezvous point at night to be “carried off” by a neighboring tribe so they could find husbands there. In most tribes, intertribal kidnapping fell somewhere in between those two extremes–a well-established convention of war that simultaneously encouraged exogamy (new blood in the tribe) and ensured the safety of women and children on both sides. Most Indians tried to avoid being captured, but few captives tried to escape and there were few rescue attempts by their kinsmen, who could reasonably expect them to be well-treated and well-cared for. Mistreating someone once he or she had been adopted into a tribe was considered evil (many Indian legends and folktales revolve around some villain who abuses an adoptee and is punished for this misdeed). Adoptees usually also had full social mobility, and often wound up in leadership positions or married to an important person in their new tribe.

Ah, bridenapping! That’ll have to be saved for another day.

According to the Texas State Historical Association,

The practice of captive-taking among North American Indians goes back to prehistoric times. Centuries before white men came to these shores, captives were taken from neighboring tribes to replenish losses suffered in warfare or to obtain victims to torture in the spirit of revenge. When warfare developed between Europeans and Indians, white captives were taken for the same reasons and, in addition, to hold for ransom or to use to gain bargaining power with an allied European government or colony. …

Children who arrived safely at the Indian village, however, usually were adopted as replacements for deceased relatives and thereafter treated as true sons or daughters. Many of these youngsters enjoyed the wild, free life of the Indians and became so completely assimilated that they resisted attempts to redeem them. Some youths became fierce warriors who raided the settlements. Among the most formidable “white Indians” were Clinton and Jeff Smith, Herman Lehmann, Adolph Korn, Rudolph Fischer, and Kiowa Dutch. … Millie Durgan lived happily to old age as the wife of a Kiowa warrior.

While I normally advocate more peaceful means of obtaining wives or children, I suppose this does, indeed, constitute a distinct genetic (and memetic) strategy that might even work. (Though technically, I doubt anyone could prove whether or not kidnapping happened in prehistoric times.)

Mary Jemison, captured by the Senecas in 1753, gives an account of her abduction:

The party that took us consisted of six Indians and four Frenchmen, who immediately commenced plundering … On our march that day, an Indian went behind us with a whip, with which he frequently lashed the children, to make them keep up. In this manner we traveled till dark, without a mouthful of food or a drop of water, although we had not eaten since the night before. Whenever the little children cried for water, the Indians would make them drink urine, or go thirsty. …

My suspicion as to the fate of my parents proved too true; for soon after I left them they were killed and scalped, together with Robert, Matthew, Betsey, and the woman and her two children, and mangled in the most shocking manner.

and her adoption:

They first undressed me and threw my rags into the river; then washed me clean and dressed me in the new suit they had just brought, in complete Indian style; and then led me home and seated me in the center of their wigwam.

I had been in that situation hut a few minutes, before all the squaws in the town came in to see me. I was soon surrounded by them, and they immediately set up a most dismal howling, crying bitterly, and wringing their hands in all the agonies of grief for a deceased relative. … In the course of that ceremony, from mourning they became serene—joy sparkled in their countenances, and they seemed to rejoice over me as over a long-lost child. I was made welcome amongst them as a sister to the two squaws before mentioned, …

I afterwards learned that the ceremony I at that time passed through, was that of adoption. The two squaws had lost a brother in Washington’s war, sometime in the year before, and in consequence of his death went up to Fort Pitt, on the day on which I arrived there, in order to receive a prisoner or an enemy’s scalp, to supply their loss. It is a custom of the Indians, when one of their number is slain or taken prisoner in battle, to give to the nearest relative to the dead or absent, a prisoner, if they have chanced to take one, and if not, to give him the scalp of an enemy. … If they receive a prisoner, it is at their option either to satiate their vengeance by taking his life in the most cruel manner they can conceive of; or, to receive and adopt him into the family, in the place of him whom they have lost.

Mary Jemison later married into the Seneca and remained with them until her death at 90 years old.

Herman spent 6 years with the Apache, becoming thoroughly assimilated and rising to the rank of petty chief, and began fighting on the Apaches’ side against the settlers:

As a young warrior, one of his most memorable battles was a running fight with the Texas Rangers on August 24, 1875, which took place near Fort Concho, about 65 miles west of the site of San Angelo, Texas. Ranger James Gillett nearly shot Lehmann before he realized he was a white “captive”. When the Rangers tried to find Lehmann later, he escaped by crawling through the grass.

After an Apache medicine man killed his adopted father, and Herman killed the medicine man, he left the Apaches and joined the Comanches. He proved himself a loyal warrior:

In the spring of 1877, Lehmann and the Comanches attacked buffalo hunters on the high plains of Texas. Lehmann was wounded by hunters in a surprise attack on the Indian camp at Yellow House Canyon (present-day Lubbock, Texas) on March 18, 1877, the last major fight between Indians and non-Indians in Texas.

In July 1877, Comanche chief Quanah Parker, who had successfully negotiated the surrender of the last fighting Comanches in 1875, was sent in search of the renegades. Herman Lehmann was among the group that Quanah found camped on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. Quanah persuaded them to quit fighting and come to the Indian reservation near Fort Sill, Indian Territory in (present-day Oklahoma).

Quanah Parker then adopted him, even though he was basically an adult. But once on the reservation, the army noticed that Herman didn’t exactly look like all of the other Indians, figured out who he was, and sent him back to his mother. Their reunion was awkward:

Upon his arrival, neither he nor his mother recognized one another. … At first, he was sullen and wanted nothing to do with his mother and siblings. As he put it, “I was an Indian, and I did not like them because they were palefaces.” Lehmann’s readjustment to his original culture was slow and painful.

This would not be remarkable had Herman been adopted as an infant or small child, instead of 11 years old. At this point, he had only lived with the Indians for 7 or 8 years–I would expect him to remember (and be somewhat fond of) his childhood family. On top of that, he transferred his allegiance entirely to the folks who told him they had just murdered his family.

Perhaps his parents were assholes. (Technically, his mom and step-father, because his father had died earlier and his mom had remarried. Step-parents are not always known for being pleasant.)

Or maybe the Apaches’ and Comanches’ lifestyle just really appealed to Herman.

For that matter, I suspect almost every little boy–and many girls–between about 1900 and 1970 fantasized about running off with and joining an Indian tribe. I know I did–small child me longed, almost painfully, to be an Indian. (Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that modern Indians don’t really do the whole traditional lifestyle thing anymore than modern whites live like the Amish.)

The Indians, yes, had been conquered, but there was still a sense in which they were regarded as noble enemies, a respect for the fierceness with which they defended their traditions. This respect was not extended to other enemies–say, the Nazis–who were cast as unmitigated evil. When we played Indians, we wanted to be the Indians; when we played WWII, the Nazis were invisible opponents “out there.” They were not us; we were not them. Even the adults thought it healthy for us to go to summer camps and canoe and fish and learn “Indian ways;” never were we taught to be pretend Imperial Japanese, Red Coats, or German POWs.

Granted, I would not be alive were it not for modern medicine, but I still understand the romanticized appeal of traditional Indian lifestyles: they sound fun.

Since the 80s, Indians have dropped precipitously from the public eye. (This trend has not necessarily in other countries, so you get weird things like the Japanese creators of the game Bravely Second replacing an Indian outfit with a cowboy one for the game’s American version.) Perhaps the Indians prefer it this way–there is a certain conflict that may naturally arise when my mythic past is also your mythic past, only it involves some of my ancestors conquering some of your ancestors, and you might not be all that keen on the idea of constantly celebrating that–but it seems sad to see all the pictures of them just disappear.

But I have noticed, concurrently, a drop in pretty much all forms of celebrating the American mythic past. Gone are the cowboys and pioneers, the Revolutionary heroes and brave Pilgrims.

Children’s media is dominated by European princesses and superheroes, not the mythic characters of our own past, like Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett, or Pecos Bill. And if you hear that story about George Washington and the cheery tree, (how quaint! We used to tell our children stories emphasizing the honesty of our national heroes!) it is recounted simply so the teller can denounce it as a myth.

Yes, biographies of Washington, Lincoln, and MLK still exist–lots of them. But let’s be honest: these biographies are boring and kids only read them because their teachers force them to.

Even the “American Girls” line of historic dolls and books has dropped their Revolutionary War, Pioneer, and WWII dolls–and the name “American Girls,” replacing it with “Be Forever,” which doesn’t even make sense.

Current "Be Forever" lineup
Current “Be Forever” lineup

Look at them! 5/8ths of the current lineup come from the 1900s, and the only notable historical period represented is the Civil War doll (Addy, second from the bottom left), and the other two pre-1900s dolls did not actually live in the US. (They lived in territories that later became part of the US.)

These days, our upper class prides itself on its knowledge of European history and languages (why eat Southern food when you can have French cuisine?) rather than American history and regional cultures. Internationalism, not nationalism, is the name of the game.

We have become allergic to our own past.

Anyway, getting back to our narrative… In 1900, Herman moved back to Oklahoma to be with the Apaches and Comanches. After a case that apparently required Congress’s approval, the government awarded 160 acres of land based on his adoption by Quanah Parker, effectively recognizing his status as a trans-racial Indian.

But wait–what kind of name is Quanah Parker?

It turns out that Quanah Parker, Comanche Indian chief, was himself the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, an English-American girl kidnapped and adopted by the Comanches.

Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Chief Quanah Parker, nursing her daughter, Topsanah, 1861
Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Chief Quanah Parker, nursing her daughter, Topsanah, 1861

Cynthia was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 11 when the Comanches massacred her family and carried her off. Wikipedia gives the following account:

“On May 19, 1836, a force of anywhere from 100 to 600 Indian warriors[6] composed of Comanches accompanied by Kiowa and Kichai allies, attacked the community. John Parker and his men … were caught in the open and unprepared for the ferocity and speed of the Indian warriors in the attack which followed. … The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John, Cynthia, and some others alive. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John. He was castrated, and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed.”

Let me rephrase my previous statement: the Indian lifestyles sound like fun when you are a small child and you aren’t reading about people getting their genitals stuffed into their mouths.

Despite this perhaps inauspicious start to her life among the Comanches, she was soon adopted by a new set of parents, raised in the tribe, and married a chieftain, Peta Nocona, with whom she had 3 children.

24 years later, Cynthia was re-captured by the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team) and returned to what remained of her family.

… the Texans never gave up on finding every last one of the children and women captured during the Great Comanche raid and subsequent ones in the following years. Although hundreds were either ransomed or eventually rescued in Texas Ranger and Scout expeditions, many others remained in the hands of the Comanche. In reprisal, the Texans launched a series of retaliatory attacks on Comanche settlements, finally forcing the war-chiefs to sue for peace. (Wikipedia, Peta Nocona)

Cynthia’s return to her birth family captured the country’s imagination. Tens of thousands of Texan families, and many more throughout the U.S., had suffered the loss of family members, especially children, in Indian raids. She was the granddaughter of a famous American patriot, a Marylander who had met a violent end in far-off Texas. This gained her special attention and gave hope to those who had lost relatives to the Comanche. In 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land and an annual pension of $100 for the next five years,[17] and made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians. (Wikipedia, Cynthia Ann Parker)

Unfortunately, Cynthia never recovered from the loss of her husband, adopted family, and two eldest children. She tried several times to return to the Comanches, but was forcefully returned to her white relatives. After Topsanah died of the flu, she stopped eating and refused to go on living.

Cynthia Ann Parker's son, Comanche chief Quanah Parker
Cynthia Ann Parker’s son, Comanche chief Quanah Parker

The Wikipedia claims that her son, Quanah Parker, was one of the last Comanche chiefs, but obviously the Comanche Nation still exists and still has leaders; the head guy is just called a “chairman” these days. (Which, I admit, is not as awesome a title as “chief.”)

Apparently Quanah didn’t realize his mother was white until after she  was re-captured by the Texas Rangers. You’d think he’d have noticed her funny eye color or she would have mentioned her pre-Comanche childhood, but I guess Cynthia had just become very adept at the Comanche lifestyle.

Half-white, half-Indian Quanah did very well for himself, despite (or perhaps because of) the Comanches losing against the US government and being moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. He spent time with his mother’s family, learning English, farming, and about white culture, all of which probably helped him deal with the US gov’t, which appointed him chief of all the Comanches. He became one of (if not the) richest Indian of his day by leasing his land out to cattle ranchers, went hunting with President Teddy Roosevelt, had a 2-story, 7-room house, married 8 women (at the same time,) and had 25 children (some adopted, obviously.) He also became an important early leader in the Native American Church movement.

Perhaps Quanah adopted Herman because he felt some commonality in their cross-cultural experiences.

It would be unwise to over-generalize, however, from two examples. Most captives taken by the Indians did not get adopted, but were killed; many were enslaved or otherwise cruelly treated. Young women of teenage or childbearing age seem to have fared particularly badly, hence the major efforts undertaken to rescue them.

The Texas State Historical Association gives us some idea of the scale of the abductions:

When the Comanches and Kiowas were driven onto reservations north of the Red River and compelled to release their prisoners, many captives had become so completely assimilated that they chose to remain with their captors. Most of these had married Indians, and it is estimated that 30 percent of Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas had captive blood in their veins.

I don’t know if the adoption strategy worked, but it was certainly a genetic (and memetic) strategy.

 

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5 thoughts on “Adoption pt 5: The curious case of the trans-racial Indians

  1. i thoroughly enjoyed your post, being familiar with the geography of the region. Cynthia Parkers story is a part of local lore, the Mule Creek Battlefield where she was recaptured is within 25 miles of my town.

    I have only recently discovered this blog, and am enthused by the practical idea development displayed, and by the careful manner in which facts are distinguished from speculation. the broad ranges in time and cultures covered have provoked my interest and led to some great study.

    Like

  2. Correction of above:
    Unfortunately, Cynthia never recovered from the loss of her husband, adopted family, and two youngest children. Pecos & Topusana were her youngest son & her daughter. Quana, the oldest one, outlived his mother.

    Like

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