By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Much has been written about the Indians of Texas, especially the Comanches. No one has given us more information than Dr. Ferdinand Roemer. In the field of research, Dr. Roemer becomes a primary source in which a person is actually present at the event being researched. All other sources are secondary in nature. Dr. Roemer gave us a first-hand account of the Comanches in his book “Texas 1845-1847”, published two years after his sojourn in Texas.
Roemer’s first person account was made possible by Prince Carl who contacted the Berlin Academy of Sciences and requested, on behalf of the Adelsverein, a survey of the geology of Texas. The Berlin Academy responded by sending 27- year- old Ferdinand Roemer on the recommendation of famous scientist, Alexander von Humboldt.
After arriving in Texas in 1845, Roemer made the acquaintance of other scientists in the area such as Ferdinand Lindheimer, Nicholas Zink, Louis Ervendberg, and John Meusebach who took Prince Carl’s place as Colonial Director. All of these men played a major part in the early days of New Braunfels.
It was on the sojourn with Meusebach in 1846, that Roemer made his personal observations of the Comanches. Meusebach was attempting to open up the land on the Llano and San Saba Rivers to emigrants by making a peace treaty with the Comanche chiefs. Roemer was at this important accomplishment by Meusebach and had the opportunity to observe the Comanches first hand.
Meusebach traveled to Fredericksburg, followed by Roemer who had been slightly delayed. Roemer stayed in Fredericksburg a few days before he left with the agent of Indian affairs for the U.S. Government, Major Neighbours. Neighbours was told to warn Meusebach to abandon his plan to meet with the Comanches, but Meusebach had already left Fredricksburg.
Roemer and Neighbours eventually caught up with the Meusebach group on the outskirts of the San Saba valley. They set up a camp and soon after entering the San Saba valley, a group of Comanche warriors visited them and inquired as to their purpose. After mutual greetings were exchanged, a royal reception was accorded the Meusebach group with 80 to 100 Indians, dressed in their festive war attire.
On the other side of the river, Roemer visited the camp village of the Comanches. The tents arranged in an irregular fashion with several hundred horses nearby, were made of 14- foot high poles crossing at the top with an opening to let the smoke out. These poles were covered with buffalo hides and a small door made of bearskin. The nomadic Comanches never settled down in one place because hunting buffalo was their main activity. These tents could be taken down quickly, placed on the poles, and then pulled by horses. Many early roads were made by the dragging of these poles.
Comancheria, as the hunting ground was called, was located generally between the upper course of the Red River and the Rio Grande. These most powerful of Indians at one time, numbered 10,000. The “lords of the prairie”, as they called themselves, used horses brought by the Spaniards for their buffalo hunts and warfare .They mastered the art of hanging on one side of the horse, using it as a shield as they used their bow and arrow and long spear. Keeping control of this large area of Comancheria was their main occupation in order to keep other Indian tribes and whites from infringing on their territory.
Roemer had an opportunity to view the habits of the Comanches. Their clothing was much like that of other Indian tribes – leggings, moccasins, breech clout (curtain), and a buffalo robe. (By the time of Roemer’s visit, many presents of cotton shirts and woolen blankets had been given by the U.S.) The wives were slaves to their chief and their main function was to take care of the children and sew decorations on the costumes for the men. The men wore their hair in a long braid on the back of the head, but the women’s hair was cropped. The Comanches scorned the use of alcohol and believed that the use of it would someday be the inevitable extinction of the “Red Race of North America”.
In his book, Roemer recalls a famous Comanche story from 1840. The small village of Linville was on Lavaca Bay. The inhabitants were few and when they heard that the Indians were coming their way, they abandoned their homes and stores. The Indians seized everything they could get on their pack horses and retreated towards the hills. The news spread and a number of armed settlers pursued them to retake the plunder. As the makeshift army found the Indians, they were wearing the stolen silks, top hats, and umbrellas making quite a comical sight. The Indians were finally overtaken close to San Marcos. Many were killed on both sides and the cotton and silk goods were scattered over the prairie. This became known as the Battle of Plum Creek. Local author, Janet Kaderli, wrote a book about the Battle of Plum Creek in her children’s story, “Patchwork Trail”. This battle was the last large battle of the Comanches in South Texas.
Legend claims that the Comanches were direct descendants of the subjects of Montezuma in Mexico and migrated north when Cortez destroyed the Mexican Empire. Supposedly when they came to the Rio Grande, they looked across the river to the other side and called out “Tehas!”. In the Comanche language, this word means “happy hunting ground, the home of departed spirits”. Thus Texas was their new home. This is one of many legends about the origin of the word.
After Meusebach made the treaty with several Comanche chiefs, he is given credit for opening up this area to settlement. Roemer was sent to give a report of the geology of Texas. He did this, plus a description of the animal and plant life. Most of all, he provides us insight with the Comanches.