He Was White, And Then He Was Red, And Then He Was White Again… And He Struggled To Adjust
I bought the book, Nine Years Among the Indians (1927, edited by J. Marvin Hunter), for Rickey years ago because I found it a fascinating and yet heart wrenching story, just another reminder of the unbelievable price paid by those early settlers of the Texas frontier. And then on a recent visit to Mason, Texas, we were reminded that we were walking in the footsteps where the story began on May 16, 1870.
It started when we visited the Mason Square Museum where we met with Don and Gerry Daniel. It didn’t take long for Rickey and Gerry to pair off on some ramble while Don and I found ourselves going through the museum and joining those German immigrants who first settled the community of Mason, Texas, most particularly Herman Lehmann (11) and his younger brother, Willie, who was 8 on the morning that their mother sent them and at least two sisters into the wheat field to scare away the birds that were eating their crop.
It was while the children were at their task of shooing birds that a party of Apache Indians bore down on them, stealing the two boys. Within a week or so, Willie was able to escape*, but Herman was adopted by Carnoviste, his captor, and he became an Apache, taking part in all things Apache from New Mexico to Mason and beyond.
Of course, as you know, by 1870, time was running out for the Native American in this country. After Carnoviste was killed, Lehmann joined the Comanches and was eventually adopted by Quanah Parker, who eventually negotiated the surrender of the Comanches. Herman Lehmann was forced to return to his white family. Shortly after his capture, he had been told by the Apaches that his family was dead as a way to keep him from trying to escape so when he was ordered to return to his family, I’m sure it was a surprise to him. In fact, from what I’ve read about white boys who became Indian, I’m not even sure what he remembered at first, as crazy as that sounds.
It wasn’t an easy transition; in fact Herman Lehmann didn’t recognize his own mother, didn’t remember his own name, and certainly did not want anything to do with the white man ways.
“I was an Indian, and I did not like them because they were palefaces.”
The young man slipped back and forth between the cultures for the rest of his life, finally finding a way to capitalize on his life with the Indians, becoming something of a one-man Wild West Show, entertaining audiences with the feats he learned while he was an Indian boy. J. Frank Dobie hailed Nine Years Among the Indians a masterpiece among captivity narratives.
*A group of buffalo soldiers was sent out from Fort McKavett to rescue the boys. Sergeant Emanuel Stance became the first Black regular to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery on this mission. It was because of these soldiers that Willie was able to escape from his captors.