Tuesday, November 7, 2017


In the early 1700s Catholic missionaries living in what is now Central Texas noticed that the small bands of nomadic people they called Apache, a name borrowed from a French word meaning ruffian, had suddenly disappeared.  The Apache were fierce warriors, independent and not prone towards taking orders from any foreign power which was precisely what the Europeans represented.  When the Catholics asked other “peaceful Indians” (meaning: They were not warriors.) the passive types said that a new group had moved in and displaced the Apache.  Compared to the new group, the Apache were mild in spirit.

The story of colonization in Deep South Texas goes back to the 1500s when the King of Spain divided sections of land called porciones to be settled by Spanish colonizers.  Mind you that the Spanish king had never been to South Texas but being a fervent “Christian” took it upon himself (as had his English and French cousins) to claim the land for himself and his subjects and in the name of God.  So Europeans occupied the porciones and then began encountering some of the most tenacious Native Americans they had yet to face.  By 1725 the Lipan Apaches had been driven into the mountains and deserts of Coahuila and Chihuahua south of the Big Bend Region, and the Comanche bands occupied most of the lands of Central Texas and the Panhandle.

Throughout the 1800s parts of Texas dealt with attacks and abductions linked to Comanche raids.  There are thousands of people of English, French and Spanish decent who are likewise of Indian blood.  When I lived in the Texas Hill Country I interviewed many longtime residents who were the progeny of Comanche captives.  In fact, I visited with a man a few weeks ago who said he is the great-great grandson of Quanah Parker the half-European, half-Native American who was chief of the Quahadi (antelope) band.  Parker was the son of a Comanche abductee named Cynthia Ann Parker.  Perhaps you’ve heard of her.

My father’s father was born after the end of the Civil War.  He had cousins who fought for the Confederacy and cousins who fought for the Union.  My grandfather was an adventurer of sorts, if not a bit reckless I think.  When the 1910 revolution broke out in Mexico he left his ranch (and a young wife and two little children) in South Texas and went off to fight.  In my way of thinking there was no rhyme or reason in any of this other than what scenarios you might imagine.  After the Mexican Revolution he returned to Texas and in 1921 my father was born.  I have vague recollections of my grandfather, other than his sky-blue eyes, but my dad used to tell me the stories my grandfather told him.  My grandfather said that Comanche raiders would ride into Deep South Texas to plunder and capture people.  South Texas ranchers would hide their families and oftentimes were killed fighting the Comanche.  My mother’s mother told a story about a relative who was kidnapped by the Comanche when he was a boy.  Years later he was able to escape though some time afterward the Comanche came looking for him.  His siblings hid their brother and it’s a heartwarming story indeed.  In my book, The Sand Sheet I tell that story as well as stories of a few other families who lived on isolated ranches along the US/Mexico border.


  1. The 19th century must have been 'adventurous times' living here in south Texas. I wonder what inspired the Commanches to be so aggressive towards their fellow tribes. They had far more in common with them than the European immigrants that wee just moving into Texas.

    Thank you for the post.

    1. Good question. Cultures often see themselves as unique and not part of any genetic lineage. So while we might see all Indians as the same, they saw each different group as distinctly different.

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