By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The story of the capture of children in 1800s Texas is told through the research of Scott Zesch in his book “The Captured”. Many children were captured by the Plains Indians. In his book, he studies in depth the life and eventual release of nine children, mostly boys under 14, who were captured in the Hill Country by Comanche and Apache tribes.
Remember that the original land grant that the emigrants had with the Adelsverein was that they were granted 320 acres for a family and 160 acres for a single male in the three-million-acre Fisher-Miller grant between the Llano and Colorado rivers known as the San Saba. Now remember that Prince Carl found out from Ranger Jack Hayes that this piece of land was way too far from the coast and it was dangerous because it was the prime hunting grounds of the Comanche.
Prince Carl decided that he needed to make arrangements for a stopping place. New Braunfels was chosen but instead of just a stopping place, it became the final destination. Here the emigrants were given a half-acre lot and 10 acre farm lot. This decision led to the unhappiness of the settlers due to the discrepancy of the number of acres that they were promised.
John Meusebach who took Prince Carl’s place as commissioner general, lead a group to what would become Fredericksburg. Many more emigrants had landed at the coast and he had to find a place for them.
Fredericksburg was located south of the San Saba grant. To open up this territory, Meusebach called for a treaty between the Comanche chiefs and the Germans. Meusebach was the one qualified to do this – smart, charismatic and persuasive. He was successful with these 20 chiefs. The problem was that the treaty was only with a small number of chiefs and not all of them. In other words, each chief was autonomous for his tribe only and there was no “big chief” for all of the Comanches. Around the Civil War and immediately after, the Hill Country faced many Indian atrocities.
In New Braunfels and Comal County, there were Lipan, Tonkawa, Karankawa, Waco, and occasional visits from the Comanche. A few killings were recorded, but locals found most of the behavior more frightening and annoying than dangerous.
Hermann Seele witnessed a gruesome scene as he was traveling from the coast to New Braunfels in 1845. Right outside of Seguin, he experienced a Texas rainstorm which broke up a cannibalistic orgy by Tonkawa Indians in the Guadalupe River bottom. They had boiled and fried flesh and feasted on a Waco warrior. The squaws said that by eating this delicious meat of a warrior, their own offspring would be as brave as the Waco.
Lt. Oscar von Claren who was later murdered by Comanches on his way back from Austin writes to his sister of visiting the encampment of the Tonkawa, some 500 men, women, and children. Witnessing a ceremony inside a tent brought a menacing feeling to von Claren – the monotonous lamentations, the dull hollow drum, the senseless rattle of gourds and the earnest faces of the Indians brought on this foreboding. He went outside only to witness happy children playing around a tall pole on which hung the arm and leg of a Waco warrior.
Ferdinand Lindheimer tells of a Tonkawa camp on the Guadalupe above New Braunfels. One day the Tonkawa were celebrating because they had killed an enemy warrior and they cooked the flesh.
In spite of these cannibalistic practices, most of the relations with the Indian tribes in Comal County were tolerable, but not so in the Hill Country.
Zesch’s book tells of the captivity of children in the Hill Country, some for only months, and most for years. In spite of the terrible lives these children endured,all had a hard time readjusting to their family life once they were returned. Some even voluntarily reunited with their Indian captives.
Zesch tells the story of Rudolph Fischer (13), Banc Babb (10), Dot Babb (14), Minnie Caudle, released after five months, Temple Friend (7), Adolph Korn (10), Hermann Lehmann (11) brothers Clinton (10), and Jeff Smith (8). He covers subjects such as where and when they were captured, their individual lives in captivity, readjustment to white society, religious views, and more.
Understanding the “Indianization” of the captives has long been a subject of study. One reason that seems feasible is that the captive liked the freedom and adventure of the Indian culture. Their life on the frontier was monotonous labor. Zesch says, “The Comanche and Apache not only received the child captives warmly and without prejudice, they also spent much time training them, making them feel significant in tribal society”. Anyone who has a child who played “Cowboys and Indians” would understand this fascination of Indian life over frontier life.
These captives had mostly good things to say about the Indians who became their adopted families. They seemed to understand the motives and superstitions of the Indians. They admired the Comanche character and tribal laws.
Zesch tells the captives’ stories in a straightforward way and makes no judgment. Read the book and see what you think.