Open main menu


March from Texas to El Paso.—The Lipans.—Their Personal Appearance.—Sait-jah and the Picture.

In the year 1849, I was prevailed upon by Dr. Thomas H. Webb, Secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, to forego my position on the Boston Herald, and accept an appointment on the United States Boundary Commission, then being re-organized under the Hon. John R. Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett selected some thirty of the Commission, and determined to proceed by way of the Northern Route, which, up to that period, had been traveled only three times, and was, consequently, but little known. The most valuable information relative to the route was received from Judge Ankrim—a brave, courteous and handsome gentleman. In accordance with the directions pricked out on Mr. Bartlett's traveling chart by Judge Ankrim, one portion of the Commission directed their way, leaving the great body, under Col. John McClellan, U. S. Topographical Engineers, to come on by what is known as the Southern Route, a well beaten and frequently used road. Many portions of the way selected by Mr. Bartlett had never before been gone over by white men. There was no trail to direct our course, nor did we possess any satisfactory knowledge of its ability to afford wood, water and grass. The maps, however, showed that it was crossed by certain streams at stated distances, and the venture was boldly undertaken.

On arriving within a short distance of the South Concho river, we camped on a small stream named the Antelope creek, situated in the Lipan country. Early next morning, as the party were about to resume the march, an Indian was seen advancing at full speed. A halt was ordered, and in a few minutes he was among us asking, in Spanish, for the commander. I at once took him to Mr. Bartlett, and, on approaching the Commissioner, our red visitant commenced fumbling among his clothes, from which he extracted a dirty piece of handkerchief, which, being unrolled, disclosed another dirty rag, and the unwrapping continued until five pieces of cotton fragments had been unrolled, displaying a handsome leopard skin pouch, in which were a number of recommendations, signed by well-known Americans, and setting forth that the bearer, Chipota, a Lipan chief, had, a short time before, celebrated a treaty of peace with the United States, and was entitled to the consideration and kindness of all American travelers over those wastes. During the interview, I attentively watched the Indian, who gave slight indications of uneasiness as to the manner in which his overtures would be received; but these were soon dissipated by the frank and amicable deportment of Mr. Bartlett, who invited his visitor to take a seat in his carriage and proceed with him to the next camp, which was about twelve miles further. Chipota appeared to be about sixty years of age. He was short, stout and sinewy, with an uncommonly high and expansive forehead, and so singularly like the celebrated Lewis Cass in appearance, that the fact was immediately remarked by all the party who had ever seen Mr. Cass or his portrait.

The Commissioner traveled in a close carriage, drawn by four fleet and powerful mules. His compagnon de voyage was invariably Dr. Webb, who could never be induced to mount a horse. The inside of the carriage was well supplied with Colt's and Sharp's rifles, Colt's pistols, a double-barreled shot gun, lots of ammunition, a spy glass, and a number of small but useful tools. Upon entering this traveling arsenal, old Chipota looked around him with ill-concealed astonishment, which was greatly heightened by Mr. Bartlett preparing the spy-glass, and permitting him to take a good look through it at a distant object. The Indian could hardly credit that the thing he saw so distinctly through the glass was the same object he beheld so dimly with his naked eye. Not until we arrived in camp, however, were his senses brought to the full stand-point of admiration by the rapid discharges and terrific effects of the fire from our repeating rifles and pistols. Looking around with un-dissembled amazement, he said in his own language, as if soliloquizing: "Inday pindah lickoyee schlango poohacante." It was not until years had passed that I became aware of the meaning of these words: but I noted them at the time by asking him to repeat them, and took a memorandum of their sounds. Since then I have discovered that they mean—"These people of the white eyes are wonderful medicine men."

About two hours after camping, we were joined by four more Lipans, the leader being named Chiquito, a Spanish term, signifying "the little one." He was tall, thin, sinewy, and had the appearance of having been possessed of more than ordinary powers of endurance. The likeness of this chief to General Jackson was quite as remarkable and striking as that of Chipota to General Cass, and was a general subject of remark. The most prominent member of Chiquito's escort was a tall, strong, well-made and handsome young Lipan dandy, who rejoiced in the name of Sait-jah, disdaining to be known by any Spanish term. This fellow evidently believed himself of some consequence, and strutted about with a very decided aristocratic bearing. After a short time passed in displaying his colossal proportions, his splendid leopard skin saddle, quiver, leggins, etc., Chipota quietly beckoned to him and the others, and, I suppose, gave them a short account of the wonders he had beheld. His warnings were received with trust by all but Sait-jah, who, like most inexperienced and flattered young men, savage or civilized, preferred to rely on his own experiences. Our party being small, and offering many temptations, I kept a strict but unobserved watch over the Indians, and suspected the tenor of Chipota's discourse, from his gesticulations. In a few minutes Sait-jah came toward me in a swaggering manner, and said, in broken Spanish: "Our chief says you great medicine; he says your pistol fires six times without reloading; he says you bring the trees which are afar off close to the eye, so you can count the leaves; he says your guns reach a great way, and never miss; he says a great many other wonderful things, which I cannot believe. You have bewitched him." Drawing a six-shooter from my belt, I pointed out a tree about seventy-five yards distant, and commenced firing rapidly. Each shot struck the tree, and blazed off large fragments of the bark. Sait-jah was astonished at the power of the weapon, and made no attempt to conceal his surprise; but his admiration broke out into emphatic expression when he witnessed the precision and reach of our Sharp's rifles, and the rapidity with which they could be loaded and fired. His pride had evidently received a heavy fall, and his lofty bearing was toned down to the level of his white visitors.

In my possession was the miniature of a young lady, whose many graces of person, cultivated mind and amiable disposition, rendered her one of the most lovable of Boston's fairest daughters. Sait-jah happened to see this picture, and asked permission to take a good look at the pleasant features. The miniature was placed in his hand, and his eyes seemed to devour its expressive lineaments. Throughout the remainder of that day this Indian bored me with frequent requests for another look, and the next morning, so soon as the camp was astir, he offered me his bow, arrows and splendid leopard skin for the picture. These offers being refused, he then added his horse, and whatever other property he might have, for its possession; but, finding me deaf to his entreaties, he took one long, last look, vaulted on his horse, set off at full speed and rapidly disappeared in the distance.

The Lipans are a numerous and warlike tribe, roaming over a vast extent of country, and perpetually at war with the Comanches, Kaddos, and other tribes of Western Texas. Since acquiring the Apache language, I have discovered that they are a branch of that great tribe—speaking identically the same language, with the exception of a few terms and names of things existing in their region and not generally known to those branches which inhabit Arizona and New Mexico. The Mescalero Apaches, in their search for buffaloes, frequently meet the Lipans, and always on the best of terms. No conflicts are known to have ever occurred between them; but they act in concert against the Comanches, and all other tribes. All the remarks on the Apache race, which will be found in the succeeding pages of this work, apply with equal force to the Lipans, with the exception of their tribal organization, the Lipans having regular chiefs, whom they obey on all occasions, and whose acts are final; while the Apaches are pure democrats, each warrior being his own master, and submitting only to the temporary control of a chief elected for the occasion.

As no other Indians were encountered until after our arrival at Paso del Norte, the remainder of our journey with its many incidents, sufferings and dangers, will not be expatiated upon in this work, which is solely dedicated to descriptions of Indian life.