30. June 2011 · Comments Off on Comancheria – The Separate Peace · Categories: Uncategorized

But first, before they were welcomed to Ketumsee’s main camp, the interpreter  Lorenzo de Rozas told Meusebach’s party that as a demonstration of their good faith and  confidence, they should empty all their firearms, firing them into the ground, or into the air.

For the forty men of Meusebach’s peace venture, it was a pivotal moment, for they were far beyond the safe frontier, and surrounded by what was estimated to be five or six thousand Comanche, the acknowledged warlords of the Southern plains. They had assembled on a hillside near Ketumsee’s encampment on the San Saba, mounted on their best horses,  in all their finery and carrying their weapons, on either side of a flag on a tall staff; warriors on the right, women and children on the left.  It was a splendid and heart-stopping sight. In the event of Meusebach having entirely miscalculated the Comanche’s desire for a peace treaty there would be no aid, no cavalry pounding to their rescue. About the only thing that would be a certain guarantee in that event… would be that every one of them would die, in as agonizing a manner as the most creative sadist could devise.

Meusebach quietly ordered all his men to empty their firearms. And in response, the Comanche warriors who carried firearms also emptied theirs. Chief Ketumsee and his senior chiefs came forward to greet them with handshakes and with elaborate ceremony; Meusebach and his party  were conducted into the village. They were invited to stay within the Comanche encampment, in their skin lodges, but on the excuse of finding better pasture for their horses, Meusebach graciously declined. They set up their own camp, but might as well have not bothered, because almost all of Ketumsee’s tribe came to visit over the next day or so; men, women, children and all, and mostly on horseback As one of the German visitors later wrote “Horses play an important role in the life of the Comanches… when there is a scarcity of food, horses furnish a supply of meat…from early youth both sexes are taught to ride… we saw children who had been nursed by their mothers until their third year, leave their mothers’ breast, jump on a horse and light a cigarette…”

Ketumsee had sent word to other high-ranking chiefs, namely Mopechucope, known as “Old Owl”, Chief Santanna, one of the important war leaders and Buffalo Hump, who had been bested in the Plum Creek fight after the Linville Raid seven years previously. But it would take time for those leaders and the lesser chiefs to assemble. In the meantime, Meusebach and the other Germans freely visited Ketumsee’s camp freely over the next few days. He earned a certain amount of good-will and respect by going about unarmed, among the Comanche, and showing neither fear nor favor. Both he and the scientist Von Roemer were genuinely interested in their hosts, which also earned further respect. Meusebach earned the nickname among them of “El Sol Colorado”, the Red Sun, on account of the reddish-auburn of his hair and beard.

In order to make good use of the time, and to hunt—replenishing their stocks of food which had been diminished by the many calls made in the name of hospitality to their hosts— Meusebach proposed that the main part of his company continue with surveying and hunting, while he and Von Roemer and some others pressed on to explore the old Spanish Fort on the San Saba River. The fort had been built in part to extend control of Texas into the north, and to protect a mission for Lipan Apache converts, but the mission had been destroyed by the Comanche and the fort abandoned seventy years before. It had been claimed that there were silver mines in the vicinity— which if true, would be of benefit to the near-empty Verein treasury. Meusebach didn’t seem to think there were, but their possible existence was one more illusion to disabuse his far-distant superiors from believing in.

At the end of February, Meusebach rejoined the rest of his party, and they traveled all together to a point on the lower San Saba River, to meet at a great council-fire with fifteen or twenty chiefs, including Old Owl, Santanna and Buffalo Hump. Besides the expected gifts and payments rendered to the Comanche, in return for leaving the German settlements unmolested, Meusebach took the fairly advanced line that as two separate peoples, they could never the less co-exist, to their mutual benefit. He cunningly pointed out that as skilled farmers, his people would always have plenty of food… and when hunting was bad for the Comanche, the Germans would be able to share in trade. He proposed that both the settlers and the Comanche be free to come to each others’ dwellings, that they be allies against outside enemies. He even, daringly, had no objection to intermarriage, although historians are decidedly mixed on exactly how much that was even possible, or welcome in either case.

And the Comanche chiefs were convinced. The treaty was ratified two months later, in Fredericksburg. For a number of years, the Comanche came and went, trading freely with the German settlers there. A number of the settlers developed personal friendships, notably with Chief Santanna, who seemed to be a rather jolly and gregarious sort, and who sincerely believed in the wisdom of making peace. In that breath of time, the gently-rolling limestone and oak-forested hill country of south-centralTexaswas transformed utterly into a district of neat and prosperous farms and well-laid out towns… where for a time, the two peoples did co-exist to their mutual benefit

 Alas, in the end it seemed that Meusebach’s treaty depended very much on the mutual liking and respect that each of the parties involved had for each other, rather than on the strict letter of the treaty itself. And there were Comanche tribes who did not consider themselves bound by it. As men grew old, as men died, so did the peace; but it lasted long enough, and those who signed it took great pride in the fact that they did not break it. Meusebach’s treaty held for about ten years, up to the time of  the Civil War… when much else in Texas headed towards the infernal regions, conveyed in the proverbial hand-held wicker-work container.

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