THE UNEXPECTED GUEST
In the Fall of 1865 I had gone up into the hill country to find a tribe that was going on a buffalo hunt. While riding north from Bandera, I saw neither white nor red man; I was very careful to avoid contact with anyone that could be a potential enemy. Sometimes even Comanche tribes made war on one another over some supposed grievance.
Somewhere near present day Brady I found a village of Yap-eaters, and quickly allied myself with a widow who was glad to get help. Her name was Watonk, which roughly translates at "tipi too big", referring to her being the only one living in her tipi. Her husband and son had died in some of the constant warfare, and she had no one to help her.
For the first two days, we tanned skins to make clothing. This was fairly easy work; all we had to do was acquire deerskin which I could do by hunting them. Yes, some Comanche women used bow and arrow, but not often. If we had no man to bring us the prizes of the hunt, we had to do it ourselves. I did not carry a firearm.
The next day the entire village moved north, looking for buffalo. We were probably, at that time, too far south as the bison had been thinned out over the years in this part of Texas.
We set up our next site near Lake Brownwood. The weather was pleasant and game was plentiful. The white man had not yet driven off all the game. Being sharp eyed and paying attention to everything around you was essential for survival as we were surrounded by enemies. I noticed that most of the young men were gone: no doubt on a raid. It's true that I lived with white people, but when I was with my people, the Comanches, I could just as easily be shot by a soldier as anyone else in the village. I did not dress in my white woman clothing as it was not durable and would not last very long outdoors. Being bi-cultural had its benefits and downsides: I lived with my white family in the winter but I enjoyed going on a buffalo hunt in the Fall.
Late that night, after I had gone to bed, the warriors returned, bringing booty and… a white woman captive. I got up and went outside to see the people celebrating. It made me ill to see a white captive, as this was just asking for trouble. Stealing horses was one thing but stealing women and children meant that there were men out there who would never stop hunting for their loved ones. Now, the raiders had brought trouble to the village.
The captive woman was standing by a fire, moaning and crying. Her hands were still tied so she could not wipe the tears away. I walked up to her and slapped her, saying "Stop crying! They have no respect for those who fear them. Stop it now, if you want to live. I'll help you any way I can, but, stop crying. Show no fear." The woman looked at me and I slowly saw resolve coming over her as she straightened up and stared at her captor with undisguised hate. I went and got my blanket for her and put it over her shoulders. She smiled and said "Thank you." I told her I'd visit with her tomorrow and for her to try and get some sleep. Her captor, Howling Coyote, asked me what I said to her. My response was "This is new for her; I'm comforting her and telling her to not to try and run away." That seemed to satisfy him. The crowd began thinning out as each tipi took their loot. I went back to the tipi I shared with Watonk.
Next morning, I arose and began my morning chores: gathering firewood, feeding my horse Bluebonnet and Watonk's only horse, and gathering berries and roots. If one wanted to eat right away, there was only cold stew available. Perhaps I should look in on the unexpected guest from last night, so I went to Howling Coyote's tipi and saw one of his squaws gesturing and talking gruffly to the white woman. The squaw saw me and said "Tell this pest that she must gather firewood first thing in the mornings." I did and the woman, whose hands were now untied, said "Look, I have to go to the outhouse really bad." So I explained it to the squaw who muttered and pointed the captive towards the edge of the village. I decided to accompany them.
"What's your name?" I queried of the captive. "Jane Montserrat; I'm from near San Saba! Please, help me to escape; I'll pay you money or horses or anything!" "Look, Mrs. Montserrat, I'll do what I can but I'm not in much of a position to do much. For now, you have to go along with them. Often a tribe will accept a ransom but that would be a few weeks before you might hear of any offers."
"Are you a captive too?"
"No, I'm Comanche." Her face went pale. "… but I live with white people. I'm just visiting with this tribe. In a few days, when we find buffalo, I'll get what I want then return home."
The old squaw told me to tell Montserrat to hurry up; there was a lot to do. I did and added "I'm here if you need me but if I help you run away, they'll torture me to death, blaming me, you see. I have pleaded with many of the tribes to not hurt white people but my entreaties often fall on deaf ears. Many simply will not change their ways, even if it hurries the destruction of their way of life. The white man never gives up looking for a kidnapped family member. I don't know if Howling Coyote would listen to me; women have virtually no status in Comanche culture. "
We walked back to the village and I said more to Montserrat, "Just do what they say and I'll work on a couple of ideas, but! – I promise nothing. I can't just sneak you out of here; we could not outrun them and then we would both die when they caught us." Her answer was "You're not much help."
I felt bad the rest of the day but I knew I was right. I could leave, and I would, soon, as I did not want to miss too much school. Just what I could do for her I had not come to a conclusion about. I could leave camp early and ride to the closest fragment of white civilization and bring men back with me, which was not as simple as it might seem: IF the village didn't move far, and IF the whites would even believe me, and IF we could gather enough men in a day or two, and IF we could surprise the camp, there was always the serious possibility that Montserrat would already have been killed at the whim of Howling Coyote. No, I decided it was best to do nothing, keep observing, and assist in her survival under the present situation.
The next day we found the buffalo! We moved camp close and Watonk and I prepared drying racks. Most of our work would be drying the meat for the winter. Since I was the younger, I rode Bluebonnet to the carcasses and carried as much meat back to the village as I could. I made 3 trips the first day and 5 trips the second day. Montserrat was kept busy learning to slice and dry meat on the racks as Howling Coyote's squaw taught her.
On the third day, I arose and stoked the fire to warm up some meat for breakfast. All the hunters and some of the squaws had already departed for more buffalo. I planned to ride out and get some meat shortly. Bluebonnet was nearby, eating her breakfast by the marsh at the edge of the village.
In the space of less than one second, as I was checking the drying meat we had on the racks, I noticed that, from the East, there were no birds chirping. There is one thing Comanches are taught and that is to take note of anything out of the ordinary: if you hear a sound where there should be no sound, or if you don't hear one where there should be, that can mean an enemy is nearby. Move, move quickly. I did: I whistled for Bluebonnet as I yelled out "Danger!" I got the bridle and put it on my horse, then the saddle, and I was ready to go. Watonk came outside and I pointed to the rise on the East and the clump of closest trees, about 400 yards away: "It's too quiet; that's not right. No birds flying around." I walked over to Montserrat's tent just as the old squaw and she came outside. Most of those still left in the village had not heard me. I pointed to the clump of trees and said to the squaw, "I think someone's over there." Then I said to Montserrat in English, "If anyone attacks, run for the other side of the marsh and hide. If it's soldiers, they're liable to shoot you, not realizing you are—"
Bam! Bang! Pop!were the next sounds we heard as, sure enough, soldiers came out of the Eastern tree line, on horseback, shooting at us. "Run!" "Soldiers!" A bullet does not have a brain and would strike a friend as easily as an enemy, and cannot be pulled back once fired.
I jumped on Bluebonnet and dashed West, across the marsh, not looking back, but I yelled at Montserrat: "Hide! I'll come back for you!" as I did not want to delay my flight to safety.
Dashing and dancing, to avoid being hit by a bullet, Bluebonnet and I got across the swollen creek and turned Northwest, to put the greatest distance between myself and the soldiers. Oh no! More soldiers were pouring out of the woodline to the North. I saw their strategy: use a small number of men to start the attack from the East. Use the larger body to get around back and come in from that direction. Smart move.
They saw me and had me cut off from any further escape to the Northwest. So, I abruptly changed to going South. A couple of bullets struck the ground near me but I wasn't hit. This would be terrible: a young girl living with whites, trying to bring peace to the frontier, struck down during an attack by the Army. If I were killed, they would just throw my corpse in a grave and my white parents would never learn what had happened to me. Yes I was worried.
I looked back at the village and saw Montserrat and a couple of squaws and children with their hands up, standing by a tree, as three soldiers leveled their guns at them. Then I suddenly had an idea: I could ride to these soldiers and convince them to let me take Montserrat home. Now, I had to make a choice quickly: either gallop back towards Montserrat or continue as I was going, to a good chance of escaping an unpleasant death.
So, concern for my fellow man getting the better of me, I turned Bluebonnet towards the small party. Only one soldier was there now: he had his pistol drawn, and Montserrat was standing, talking to him. The others were sitting on the ground. I was coming up behind the soldier when Montserrat saw me and pointed to me. He turned his horse and leveled his pistol in my direction. I threw up my hands and yelled "Don't shoot! Don't shoot. I'm a friend. I mean no harm."
I heard Montserrat tell him: "She helped me while I was here and was plotting an escape."
He lowered the revolver but kept it ready.
I glanced at the camp and saw a number of dead women and children, which sickened me. I always wondered why the U.S. government policy was extermination of the native Americans, rather than honoring treaties. I would not allow them to put me on a reservation and lose my self- respect, and that is one reason I lived with whites.
This, I thought, was a good time to vacate the area. "Montserrat, let's go get one of the horses and saddle it for you. We don't want to be here when the men return. We're not fighters."
The soldier looked alarmed and asked "There are more Indians?"
"Lots more and heavily armed, and headed this way, right now." I said, again, for Montserrat to get a horse and be quick about it. I went with her and we quickly found a sorrel perfect for her.
Two soldiers saw us and rode up, guns drawn. "Oh NOOOOO, you redskins get over there" (indicating the area we had just come from). "You're not about to ride out of here."
Montserrat said "I'm a captive, or was. We have to get out of here. More warriors are coming."
"Who told you that?" a sergeant with a thick moustache said.
I chimed in:" Look around. How many dead men do you see? NONE, but old men. The others are out hunting buffalo."
"Who are you two?" the moustache man queried.
"We're white women, being held captive," I lied. "You better get away or set up a defense. We'd rather ride for home, now."
Montserrat said "She's right. The men are all out hunting buffalo."
"You're safe with us" the other soldier offered.
My answer was "I don't think so. There are about double the number of warriors over the number of your men. Come on, Montserrat, let's go."
The moustached one told us "You two stay here. The Captain will decide what to do next."
"For you, maybe, but not for us. We're civilians and we are leaving. Are you going to shoot us in the back?" was my final rebut. With that, we two ladies started riding away.
"Come back here!" I heard the moustached one yell. We kept going. The other soldier raised his rifle at us but the sergeant pulled it down and told him to go get the captain.
"Let's move!" I said to Montserrat, urging her to put distance between us and anyone else.
I'm no fool so, as soon as we were out of sight, we tracked due South and kept trees between us and any followers. If the Army chased after us, we never knew it. "That was a smart move", Montserrat offered. "You survive by outsmarting your opponents". I almost said "enemies" but the Army, stubborn as it was, was not likely to murder me.
In two days, we were on the outskirts of San Saba and we approached Montserrat's cabin. She went ahead of me so anyone would see her first and not shoot her. I followed about ten yards behind.
Her family was overjoyed when we arrived and I was made to feel welcome. Although Montserrat had lost a sister and a brother when she was kidnapped, there was still joy in being back with her family.
The next day I arose early, swallowed some biscuits and bacon, took leave of everyone and headed back to my home in Bandera. I had no further encounters with danger.
In Mason County, I encountered Big Foot Wallace. We had already met at another time and place. I saw him first and when I rode towards him, he rode towards me. "I knew it must be you, Nowena, cuz no other Comanche would ride towards me. They always ride the other way."
I gave him a short history of the last week and how Montserrat and I had escaped, her: from Comanches, and me from the Cavalry. He laughed then scolded me: " Nowena, one of these days, those Comanches are gonna lift yer scalp or something. No good will come of you going off by yourself. Yer darn lucky ya didn't get shot by one of them soldiers."
"I know, Bigfoot. I love my freedom, though. Sometimes, I just want to stay out on the prairie."
"Won't be a prairie much longer."
With that, we departed, he was heading Northeast and I continued South.
Years later, I encountered Montserrat. It was about 1873 when I had my dress shop in Austin. She came in with her daughter, a little 6 year old. I didn't recognize Montserrat at first but I knew that her face was familiar.
"I'm looking for a dress for my daughter's church festival." That was when I recognized her voice. "Certainly. We can make a very nice outfit for her and another just as nice for you", I said.
"Oh, not for me; thank you. I can barely afford one for Annie", smiling at her daughter.
So I used that moment to surprise Montserrat: " No charge, Mrs. Montserrat. I will do both for free, for you."
Her eyes widened and she looked at me and asked "How did you know my name? I don't live near here."
I walked up closer to her and said " Well, the first time we met, I slapped you…" as I chuckled, "… and later, we made our escape from that Comanche village."
Her jaw dropped and she nearly fainted. I had to grab her and set her in a chair. "Oh, Montserrat; I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to stun you like that. It just took me a few moments to remember exactly who you were."
Little Annie was mystified and looked from her mother back to me.
"Oh, oh, I remember you now…. I thought you were a Comanche?"
"I was, back then. I don't go on buffalo hunts anymore; no more buffalo."
As Montserrat regained her composure, Annie stared at me with big brown eyes that hinted at a touch of fear. I smiled at the child and told her "I will make you the most beautiful dress you've ever seen, child." She didn't smile back.
Anyway, we had tea there in the dress shop, but Annie never took her eyes off me and never smiled. I filled in my history, and Montserrat told me that after being reunited with her family, they moved to Harrisburg, over in East Texas, where her family had a freight business. Then she took leave, explaining she was only in Austin for two days and could not wait for a dress to be made but wanted one from stock.
I never saw Montserrat again and I never visited Harrisburg. Sometimes one wants to visit old friends but I suggest that you don't wait until you are old to look them up. Memories fade and people move. Also, people die and their memories with them. Even legal records may deteriorate until they are no longer legible. Then our bodies become old and we are unable to go anywhere. Do it now, while you can, while someone still remembers you.