The Narrative of Marston Walsh

A while back I was picking through the library and pulled a copy of From White Into Red: Captivity Narratives as Alchemies of Race and Citizenship by Audra Simpson from the shelf, when a few loose pages fell from it. They were clearly older than the rest of the book, and hand-written, telling a fantastic story from the early days of the Texas frontier. I have no idea how it ended up in that book. No date was attached to it, but the letter ended with the writer’s name: Marston Walsh. I read it and realized I had something special, and tried to transcribe it as best I could. I cannot speak to its authenticity, other than to say that all stories are true to some extent. If you’re familiar with primary sources, you’ll forgive any errors I’ve made in trying to interpret Mr. Walsh’s words. Here is what he wrote.

I must be forgiven for any minor lapses in memory regarding the following events, as it happened so long ago and during a period of such extended duress that rarely did my reduced faculties think of little more than returning home. I do remember most things clearly, though, and feel compelled now to describe the events surrounding my kidnapping and the fate of my younger brother while my age still permits me. May God and the Great Spirit bear witness to my words.

Jeff, three years my junior, and I grew up in Texas as the youngest of six children [during my absence our mother gave birth to more children, a son and a daughter]. Our father, a small-time rancher who dealt a little with horses, and our eldest brother were gone to Presidio on some business when the Comanches descended upon our home. I was feeding cattle; Jeff tending to our few hens. To this day the savages’ war-cry instills me with such dread that I can hardly stand it; but it was this sound that was our first alarm. They charged down from a small bluff overlooking our homestead on their horses, grabbed my younger brother in mid-stride, then struck me with a blow to the back as I fled. Startled and in pain, I did not resist as another brave hauled me by my shirttails across the back of his horse.

Of my three other siblings I did not know their fate [I was later to learn that my sisters and brother, through some miracle, would survive this brutality]. The savages killed a number of cattle and drove the rest off. When they attempted to gain entry into our home my mother, a fair hand with a rifle, shot one of their braves and killed him. Having met with some resistance they fled, carrying my brother and I with them.

Upon reaching their encampment I was in a sorry state. The brave that had captured me handed me over to his squaw, who looked after me for a fortnight while I recovered from the thrashing I had taken. She was the most kind of the savages that I had met in the time I spent among them, singing to me in her native tongue and brushing my wounds with fragrant sagebrush; though she also attempted to feed me with the most noxious concoction of prairie roots, much to my disdain. In this period of confinement I had no contact with my younger brother, though I later learned he was taken in by the chief while I recovered. His squaw and two children took pity on my brother due to his youth, keeping him well fed and teaching him some words in their language. Jeff seemed in good spirits the time I saw him next, relatively unconcerned over my extended absence, as he learned enough from our captors to know that I was alive and being cared for, not recognizing that it was the nature of his new friends that left me in such condition.

After my recovery we were removed from our familial houses and placed together in a separate tipi with two other boys, the elder Thomas who formerly lived along the Red River, and a Mexican who spoke no English and could not tell us where he was from. They kept us isolated for several days, in which time we discussed our fate. I was convinced we were to be killed, Thomas less so as he felt we would be sold for ransom first. Jeff remained unconcerned with our situation, a state of mind that I credited to his youth and immaturity.

On the morning of the fourth day of our isolation the brave that captured me came to us and signaled that we were to follow him to the central place in the village where all manner of men, women, and children had turned out to see us. From here they carried out a ritual performed upon all their captives and that which I will now describe: the men and older women formed two columns, and between them was only enough space for a single man to pass; and the brave then led us, one by one, to the head of the two columns, and pushed us between them; and the men and women, carrying sticks and thongs of leather, made all sorts of terrible sounds and wailing while striking each captive with their weapons; and as they did so others pushed us forward, or patted us on the back, and in this manner we continued between the two columns until we emerged at the other end where our bare skin was bright red with welts. After this the Comanches seemed more welcoming to us, as this was our indoctrination into their tribe and the symbolic dispossession of our former Christian lives. When I learned that this was the true purpose of the ritual I was rather appalled, and thereafter I made it my practice to recite Psalms at every opportunity in defiance of their ways.

We then learned—through hand signals, their meager knowledge of English, and what little of theirs that Jeff knew—that each of us were to be adopted by a family who had their child or sibling killed unnaturally through disease or war. The brave again took possession of me, and the chief my brother; of who Thomas and the Mexican belonged I do not know. When I returned to the braves’ house his squaw undressed me and offered me clothing typical of their style, including an ornately decorated pair of moccasins, and then painted my chest and face. She wailed for a night, singing songs of a lost son, and then prayed to the Great Spirit for the new son that it brought her and the good fortune that my arrival foretold. After this I was treated as her son, and a member of the tribe, though in truth I was still nothing more than a captive in my mind and had no notions of equality, nor desires of remaining long among them.

They attempted to learn me their ways. Of these I only took to their language and developed aversions to the rest. I was a crack shot with a rifle—owing to my mother– but they would not outfit me with a gun, and I was a poor student of the bow and arrow. I cannot say much of their religion; but my routine recitations of Pslams and the Lord’s Prayer, the upkeep of whatever Christian traditions I could muster on my own, earned me my first name: He Who Prays. Most contemptible to them was my refusal to be complicit in their wanton slaughter of settlers or their fellow Indians which they carried out with startling regularity. It was my dissent in these acts which they saw most righteous and the best measure of a man that led to the branding with my second name: Little Boy. I would carry this name with me for the rest of my captivity.

My brother Jeff was similarly indoctrinated. He became proficient with the bow and arrow, and learned the language well. He took much pleasure in the lack of responsibility afforded him at his age. One Sunday morning I caught him rough housing with his adoptive siblings, and wrestled him away from these childish games and sat him down in the shade of a linden tree.

“It’s time for prayer,” I told him.

“We ain’t got to pray,” he said.

“Of course we do!” I said. My cheeks flushed with anger. “It’s a Sunday, and if we were home with Daddy then we’d be prayin’ right now.”

“I never much liked to, even when we had to,” he replied. His words were matter-of-fact. “Daddy made me or he’d whip me.”

“Don’t think I won’t,” I threatened.

“I didn’t much like none of what he made me do,” he said, “and we ain’t got to do none of that here.”

“You will soon as we get outta here, so it’s best you keep in practice.”

“We ain’t never getting’ outta here because I ain’t never gonna leave. I never want to go back!”

At that I struck him across his cheek. He sat there a moment, stunned. Then he stood up.

“I’m going back to play now,” he said simply, and he left me to my prayers.

One morning the brave– who by now I knew as Crawling Creek– woke me before dawn and insisted I be painted on the face in the colors of war. I was not in a position to protest, though I did so reluctantly, knowing that such an act was made only if the tribe were preparing for another attack on their enemies. I was told that, due to my cowardice, I was not expected to fight; instead I was be to their interpreter. My brother and Thomas were also outfitted. We left camp at dawn and rode much of the morning. Our destination was a ranch outside the town of St. Jeans, on the Pecos River. As we approached the homestead we were met by six or seven men on horseback, nearly equal to our own war party.

I was told what to say to these men: that the Comanches wanted two horses and a feeder cattle as a payment of tribute for settling on tribal lands. Crawling Creek was confident that the war paint would hide my Christian heritage from these ranchers. I rode my horse out to meet the settlers, each of whom carried distrust in their eyes and a rifle in their arms.

The eldest man addressed me. “What do you want, Injun?”

I hesitated. I thought this was my best chance at freedom.

“I am not Injun!” I exclaimed. “My name is Marston Walsh and I was captured by these savages with my brother. They want to kill you and take your animals!”

This outburst seemed to startle the ranchers.

“Boy, if you’re saying the truth, then come with us,” the elder said, and went to grab my arm to take me into custody.

The Comanches, not understanding what I said and taking the ranchers kindness as a hostile act, immediately issued their terrible war cries and assaulted the settlers. The elder rancher was the first killed. The Comanches dispatched them without casualty. Several men were wounded at first, or had their horses shot from them, and attempted to escape. My brother chased one of the wounded men down, striking him in the hip with an arrow; and as the wounded man writhed on the ground, begging for his life, my brother leap from his horse and brained him with a hatchet.

My brother looked down upon the body, the color draining from his face. The chief encouraged him to take a scalp, but my brother, visibly shaken, declined; the chief took it for himself.

The ranchers dead, the war party was satisfied with stealing several of their horses for compensation, and we returned to the camp by nightfall. Soon after we broke camp and headed north, driven by rumors that the men of St. Jeans were planning a counterattack on us for the horror we committed.

After the attack Crawling Creek took me aside and beat me savagely. He learned what I told the ranchers. I knew that only my brother could have heard what I told them. I approached him the following Sunday.

“You need to come to prayers,” I said.

“I told you I ain’t doing that no more.”

“You have sinned against me. You have sinned against your fellow man. You murdered that rancher. You are going to Hell.”

I moved to strike him. He caught my hand, then overpowered me and took me to the ground. He beat me like he was Crawling Creek.

My brother stood up. “You will not touch me again. Do not ask me for prayers no more.”

He left me in shock.

It was soon after these two humiliations, and the lingering thoughts of freedom that were stirred by my encounter with the elder rancher, that I began to make serious considerations of escaping the Comanche. Now this was nearly two years since my initial capture, and I had managed to accumulate a fair amount of knowledge of their customs and routines. Soon would come the time of a great buffalo hunt, and after their success the warriors would return to camp and celebrate with a night full of dances and much liquor procured from what little fair trading they did with white merchants. In the morning they would be considerably indisposed to track an escaped prisoner. It was this morning I chose to make my escape, following the river to the nearest white settlement I could find.

Despite my brother’s urgings I knew it was best to take him with me; at the same time I knew he would not go willingly if I divulged the whole of my intentions. Thus I convinced him that I wished to hone my skills with the bow-and-arrow by hunting some small game along the river. In this way I gained his trust and was able to take him from the village in the early hours of the morning, ‘tracking’ a small animal that I imagined for much of the day, leading him further and further from the camp over the course of the afternoon. Only when evening began to set in was my deception revealed to him, and his anger was considerable, but ineffective, in changing my mind. He was only able to convince me to take shelter for the evening, as it was be difficult to travel unfamiliar ground at night.

This, of course, was the weakness in my plan. In the night the Comanches gained considerable ground, and managed to catch up to us not long after sun up. We, on foot, were no match for their party, on horseback, and were summarily re-captured. I again was beaten by Crawling Creek and warned against another such attempt; Jeff informed me he was similarly treated by the chief, but the lack of evidence on his body suggested otherwise; I suspect his quick tongue tempered the chieftain’s hands.

Whatever the results of our escape attempt, the chief decided our continued proximity to one another would only exacerbate my troubling behaviors. Soon my brother was sold to the neighboring Kiowa. Crawling Creek let it be known to me that it was a difficult decision of the chief, for whom Jeff was considered truly like his own blood son; and that he would have much ridden the tribe of my presence, except that he feared the Kiowa would return to kill him for the trick of taking me.

From here on, life with the Comanche became unbearable and escape was never far from my mind. Crawling Creek still decided to make me interpreter, though he kept me under greater scrutiny; and much to my credit I did not dare repeat the same stunt again for fear of my life. I gained some middling respect for my role, though it did more discredit for my soul being complicit in such activities than could ever be repaid by a savage’s words. For some more years I persisted in such a low condition, without so much as a word from my brother or the scant knowledge if he still survived.

One day– I cannot be certain exactly, but by my count it was nearly seven years since my capture– a band of Kiowa came into camp. By this time Crawling Creek had been elected as chief, and the men came to see him regarding some thing. I was there when they met Crawling Creek to smoke with him. One of their braves was very young, dressed in the finest clothing that they knew of and wearing numerous accoutrements that signaled his prowess as a warrior. His face was painted in a meticulous fashion, and his hair done in the savage way, but even after these many years between us I could recognize the face of my brother, Jeff. I immediately approached him to embrace him. He kept his distance, putting off my advances.

“Jeff! You act like I’m stranger!” I said.

He did not respond. His brow furrowed in some confusion.

“What is wrong with you, Jeff? Has it been that many years?”

The warrior parted his lips, and struggled to find his voice. His English was broken, as if he was only speaking it for the first time. “I am not Jeff.”

“Jeff, I….”

“I do not know Jeff. I am Adoeete of the Kiowa. I do not know you.”

I was so thoroughly convinced by his words that I did not try to speak to him again. I came to learn through Crawling Creek that Adoeete was a well-respected brave among the Kiowa, and feared among the white settlements. This further convinced me that this savage was not my brother, as I first suspected, as I still remembered the look of horror and disgust on Jeff’s face the only time I saw him take a life during the attack near St. Jean.

Crawling Creek told me that the he agreed with the Kiowa to join them in attacking a nearby settlement, and that again I would be used as his interpreter. It was at this moment, so totally disgusted with these activities, that I resolved to attempt another escape. This nearby settlement, I knew if I reached it, would be able to harbor me from the Comanche forever more.

I knew that Thomas and the Mexican also desired release from the Comanches; and so over several days, as Crawling Creek prepared for the attack, the three of us planned our flight. So caught up in their thirst for war the Comanches would not realize our absences until we were safely away from their influence; and as a mark of revenge we would arrive at the settlement with sufficient time to alert the local militia to repel the Indian attack. Our plans made, we waited until the night before the attack to slip away, and much to my delight this occurred without incident.

The settlement was only a few hours travel from the camp, and by sun up I knew we would be safe from retribution. It was true that the Comanches never had any chance of catching us; but it was to my great miscalculation regarding the nature of the Kiowa, for that morning Adoeete was leading a scouting party to the settlement. As we approached the outskirts of the town one of the Adoeete’s braves spotted us as they stood upon a nearby hill. Adoeete, seeing who we were and likely deducing our intentions, ordered the two braves with him to chase us down. We had no chance to outrun them.

We still chose to run, as is the nature of any man who is facing down a charging horse with a war-readied Indian for a rider. The Mexican was the first to be caught; the Kiowa were immediate in their response to our betrayal, braining the Mexican repeatedly until he was dead.

The second brave then descended upon Thomas, who attempted a meager defense with a knife; but the brave, much more adept in combat, disarmed Thomas and swiftly killed him.

I continued to run. It was Adoeete who caught me. He leapt from his horse and pinned me to the ground, pressing me into the earth with incredible force and muffling my screams in the dirt. He turned me over unto my back, and then beat me mercilessly. I wanted for him to strike a killing blow– to scalp as was his right as the victor– but once he was satisfied with my state, he removed himself from me. Grabbing me by my shirttails he threw me over the back of his horse. Without delay he rode off, past the two Kiowa braves and away from the settlement. He rode for many miles, too many for me to count; and when we were far enough away from the settlement to satisfy him, he halted his horse and threw me to the ground.

I stood up. I was unsure of what he intended to do with me way out here; his reputation did instill some fear in me.

He stared back at me, and in his face I saw understanding.

“Do not go to the settlement. You will be killed,” he said in his broken English. “Follow the river north; some white men live not far beyond here.”

What he said was true; and soon I would be in the company of these good men, and reunited with my family not long after.

Adoeete then turned his horse and began to leave. He stopped, and turned to me.

“If you find your mother,” he said, “tell mother that her son Jeff is dead.”

I could not find the words to respond. I watched him ride off at a quick pace, past the far hill, back toward the settlement to rejoin the Kiowa.

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Author: chesleyfan

I work, I fish, I write.

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