DOT BABB, INDIAN CAPTIVE PASSES ON
[This fascinating and tragic account is from Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, November, 1936]
ON AUGUST 10, 1936, there passed away at his home in Amarillo, Texas, Theodore Adolphus Babb, better known to early settlers of the Panhandle region as "Dot" Babb, at the advanced age of eighty-four years. Mr. Babb was born in Saurk county, Wisconsin, and when he was two years old his parents moved to Texas, in a two-horse wagon, and finally settled in Wise county. In 1865, the Comanche Indians came in on a raid, killed Dot Babb's mother, and captured Dot and his little sister, and a Mrs. Luster, a young widow, who was living with the Babb family. Dot Babb was at that time a mere lad, thirteen years old. After pillaging the place, the Indians with the three captives hastened out of the country before pursuit could get under way. After several day's travel they reached the Canadian river, where they camped, and during the night Mrs. Luster made her escape by securing a fine stallion from the herd, which she rode bareback, and headed back toward civilization, only to run into a band of Kiowas. A few days later she again managed to escape from these Indians, and finally reached the white settlements. After several years captivity Dot Babb and his sister, Bankuella, were ransomed by his father. The following story of Dot Babb's life, written by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert M. Timmons, was published in the Amarillo Daily News, August 11, 1936:
By Mr. and Mrs. Herbert M. Timmons. T. A. (Uncle Dot) Babb, who died yesterday at his home, 604 Virginia Street, and who was held captive by the Comanches for several years, knew the intimate details of Comanche home life as few white people ever learned them. Held as a member of the tribe through much of the formative period of his boyhood, Mr. Babb retained many of the Indian characteristics through his life. He had the reticence of the red man among strangers, but once his friendship was gained, he talked freely of his life in an Indian village.
"The first meal I ate with the Comanches when they captured me was just after we crossed the Little Wichita Creek, near where Wichita Falls now stands. We had half raw beef cut from a ham-strung steer that the lobos had left alive after eating their fill from the hind quarters," he once told us.
Dot Babb, then 10 years old, and his sister were building a play corral with rocks by the side of their home in Wise county, near the present town of Chico, when the alert farm boy saw a suspicious movement near the barn. Not wanting to scare Bank, he sent her into the house for some string. Knowing his father was not expected home for another day, Dot watched. He said to us once, "I remember to this hour how hollow I felt when I saw the clay smeared face of an Indian peeping around the corner. I started inching toward the house, but when I saw a whole bunch rush out from the wood lot I ran. 'Indians, Mother! They are right here,' I yelled."
Dot barred the door and raced over to the window with its wooden shutter. "I was just dropping the bar across the window when a tomahawk crashed through right by my hand," Uncle Dot related.
While Mrs. Babb gathered her baby to her arms and wrapped Bank in the shelter of her skirts, Mrs. Luster, who lived with them, hid herself in the loft. Dot grabbed up the old gun—his father had the rifle—but it was wrested from his hands as Indians swarmed into the house. Fiendish whoops split the air. Indians were everywhere. They were in the kitchen drinking the milk, jerking the feather beds off and shaking the feathers in the air, but this did not matter, they were trying to drag Bank away from her mother's side. Dot grasped the arm of a sturdy buck and yanked." Don't fight back, Dot, they will kill you," Mrs. Babb admonished, but she forgot her words when Bank was pulled from her side. Dropping the baby on the bed, she fought as only a mother fights when her child is in danger. Dot lunged forward as he saw an arrow shot into his mother's side. A laughing demon caught the boy as his mother fell back onto the bed beside her baby. Another fiend carried Bank from the house as the dying mother gasped," Dot, go with Bank, take care of her." From the loft above came a devil jeer of glee and Mrs. Luster's gurgled cry of terror as she was dragged down the ladder.
"It was all over in a little while,” Dot Babb said. A simple statement, but, oh, how fraught with pathos. All over, home, happiness gone. What a homecoming for a father and husband!
Dragging the boy outside, a young Indian threw Dot on his horse and jumped up in front of him. Mr. Babb explained how they were held. "Comanche pulled my arms around in front of him and held me by pressing his own arms tight against his sides. I thought I could get away, but I soon found out I was being held. I tried to bite the Indian then, but there was no place I could get my teeth into."
Dot saw his little sister and Mrs. Luster thrown onto horses and held as he was held. "Dot, Dot, don't let them hurt me," he heard his sister's cry, but his answer was drowned out in the curdling yell as the Comanche s rounded up his father's fine horses and drove them away with the captives.
It was about dusk of the next day when the raiding party came up to the ham-strung steer on the Little Wichita. "I went back there years later and could easily recognize the place by the clumps of trees," Mr. Babb said to us.
The horses were terribly jaded, enough distance had been covered to remove the danger of pursuers, so a pause of several hours was made. As the young buck who was holding Dot jumped from his horse, the boy was dragged to the ground. "I tried to get up and go over to Bank, but I was too numb. I made a face at them. They slapped their bare legs and laughed louder than ever then."
Indians began striking rocks together. Soon a fire was crackling.
Each Comanche drew his hunting knife and sliced off hunks of the fevered meat, but even the savage Indians were more humane than the wolves. They killed the steer. Holding the hunks over the fire until the outside was seared, the hungry men began tearing the meat apart with their teeth. Some of the almost raw meat was carried over to Mrs. Luster and to Bank who were still too exhausted to rise, but the Comanches motioned for Dot to get some for himself. "I tore the meat apart with my teeth, and then wiped my hands on the grass just like the Indians were doing," Mr. Babb related. "I was so hungry that even the raw meat was good, but hunger was nothing to thirst. It makes my throat parch yet to think of it. The Indiana wouldn't let us have much water for quite a while. They only lapped up a little bit in their palms at first. I still think that water out of the Little Wichita Creek was the best stuff I ever drank in my life, though."
After a few hours' rest, the Indians pushed on night and day until they reached the north fork of the Red River, then far away from all settlements. Relaxing their vigilance, as they thought the white captives would not attempt to escape in the unknown country, the Comanches rested for several days. The horses were almost exhausted, and one of their number was badly wounded. The two children and Mrs. Luster were allowed to move about freely and to talk together during the day, but were still required to lie in the center of a circle at night with Indians sleeping around them.
However the Comanches did not know a white woman's mind. No unknown country held any fate half so grim as the known fate in a Comanche village to the young, attractive Mrs. Luster. For several days she and Dot planned, or rather Mrs. Luster planned, for their escape.
"Bank is a little girl, Dot," Mrs. Luster told the boy. "She is in no danger now with the Indians, and I know we cannot get her away without noise. We will escape and send the soldiers for Bank."
Carefully she planned. Among the horses that the Comanches had stolen from Mr. Babb was a prize stallion. He was still dragging a rope. Mrs. Luster knew that if she were once on that horse's back, the jaded Indian ponies could not overtake her. Mrs. Luster told Dot every detail of the plan. "Go out to the horse about dusk, Dot; you are the only one who can get near the stallion. Pet him awhile, then drop the rope around a bush. Maybe the Indians will not notice it, and if they do not, after they are all asleep we will jump on that horse's back and be gone right down the creek bed."
Speaking of the escape years later, Mr. Babb said, "Seems like I lay there for hours and hours, before I felt Mrs. Luster's arm nudge me. We inched away, moving for a minute and then lying still a while. We reached the horse and I unwound the rope. Mrs. Luster jumped on. I didn't want to go and leave Bank, so when the horse snorted I said, `That will wake somebody sure. You go on and I will make them think it was me making the noise.'"
Going back to the edge of the circle, Dot stood for several moments with his back to an alert buck who had raised up on his elbow. Sleepily, the boy stumbled back into the circle and feigned slumber. So skillful was he that all suspicion was allayed. Holding himself taut by his little sister, Dot lay through the night while a white woman fled down the river bed, fled on to a worse fate, capture by the fiendish Kiowas.
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Early dawn brought a bedlam of horror to the children. When the Indians missed Mrs. Luster, they jumped their fastest horses and spread fan-like over the country, but they soon returned, realizing their fair captive had escaped.
Recalling Dot's actions during the night, the young buck who had wakened grabbed Dot. Venting their wrath, they tried to make him point out the way Mrs. Luster had gone. "I knew they could kill me," Mr. Babb said, "but they couldn't make me tell. They didn't want to kill me though. " Standing Dot up, the Indians circled him, shooting arrows around his head, while one buck held Bank away from her brother. "Finally I got tired of that, and motioned for them to shoot an arrow through my heart."
Seeing this method would not make the boy talk, the maddened fiends dragged him over to a tree and bound him tight against its trunk with buffalo sinews. Fighting free, the terrified Bank threw her arms around Dot as Indians piled dry brush at their feet. Bank was dragged back. Bringing a blazing stick from the fire, the Indians gesticulated for Dot to tell, then pointed to the brush at his feet. "I wouldn't tell what they wanted, but it seemed like I couldn't stand to hear Bank screaming, so I motioned for them to go on and set the fire, and raked some of the dry stuff up with my feet," Dot Babb explained. This apparent indifference to his fate, and his loyalty to Mrs. Luster pleased even the savage Comanches. They saw that here was a boy worth saving. Striding forward, the leader barred out an admonition to the bucks, slashed the sinews and allowed Dot to gather his sister in his arms. From that time on through the years of his captivity, Dot Babb was accepted as a member of the tribe, and was treated as other boys of his age were treated.
The marauding Comanches divided that day, one band taking Bank northward, and the other going on with Dot to the Canadian river, supposedly about where Clinton, Okla., is now located. Here the young boy was placed in a tepee home and learned the tribal customs of the Comanches.
"Do you know what the best thing we ever had to eat was?" Mr. Babb asked with a chuckle. "I'll tell you. Whenever a buck killed a buffalo calf, the squaw rushed out and split the call open. She scooped every bit of the milk out of its stomach as quickly as she could and gave it to the children. It was the sweetest stuff I ever tasted, and was thick about like our gelatine. That was the only sweet I ever tasted in an Indian home."
The Comanches did not fish or even hunt small birds as the dove and quail. Occasionally, very occasionally, a wild turkey or goose varied the buffalo meat menu.
Fruit and vegetables were absolutely unknown. The Indian women did not gather the wild greens, as poke and lambs quarter, or did they pick the wild grapes and plums. Buffalo meat was food.
Dot Babb declared the beds of the Comanches were comfortable.
"Most folks imagine the Indians just threw a pile of dirty skins down and burrowed into them. That isn't right. Four poles were fastened together with buffalo sinews, the end poles were pretty heavy and held the frame, about the size of our beds, off the ground. A dried buffalo hide was stretched tight and laced over the frame. That made pretty good springs. Buffalo robes were then spread over the frame with some on top for covers. I've slept in lots worse beds in white folk's houses many times."
Mr. Babb told a very interesting tale as to how an Indian raid was brewed. The first thing noticed was when two or three braves began holding long pow wows together. Soon they started stalking about and gesturing. Others joined the group and they painted their faces and bodies with yellow, red, and blue clay. Feathers were stuck into their hair—the hair on the left side of an Indian's head was always long so that the feathers would stay in—then the painted bucks got their fastest horses and rode through the village of tepees, giving a long wailing whoop as they rode. Sometimes no other bucks joined in, and after several days of parading, the painted Indians gave up in disgust. But this did not often happen. Usually all the young men painted their bodies and joined the parade on the second day. As the wierd chant grew louder, old men and fat squaws with their babies on their barks, lined in the circling march. When a large enough group of braves to make a marauding party, had plunged their horses into the ranks, the old men, young wives, boys, girls, dogs, everyone in camp took up the march, wailing an eerie undertone. Then, and not till then, did the chief take notice.
That night all the men of the village met round the council fire, where the chief presided in all his savage splendor. Plans were outlined, decisions made as to whether the raid should be made for scalps or for horses and other plunder. A leader was appointed by the chief for the party, and the older men counseled the bucks. The next morning, long before the camp was astir, the party was gone, silently.
During the more than three years that Dot Babb was with the Indians he had no word of Bank, his baby sister, or his father.
The father, however, took up the search for his children as soon as his wife was buried, and the baby girl placed in his sister's home. Weary months dragged on through two years and then word was had of Bank. After much scheming by the Indian commissioner and Mr. Babb, Bank was ransomed by her father, who gave his entire herd of horses for his child.
When the Indian commissioner located Dot there were no horses for ransom, they had all been paid for Bank. With the aid of the United States government, a trade was finally arranged. Bolts of cloth. beads, bright trinkets, camp supplies, pots and knives were paid for Dot Babb, then approaching young manhood.
Dot Babb spoke of his Indian family with affection.
"There was genuine grief when we parted. I loved my Indian brothers and they clung to me, but, oh, I wanted my own father and my sisters."
Dot Babb's Indian brother had one treasure supreme. Placed around his neck by the boy's father as he rode' away on his last raid, the Indian always wore a sinew strung necklace of copper ornaments whose inscription showed Spanish design and bore date s of 150 years ago. A few bright beads, hardened dried berries, a witch's charm tied in a bit of dried skin, some pierced buffalo teeth, and even a bit had been added to the string. The Indian boy wore the necklace constantly; it was the lad's treasure supreme.
Among Dot Babb's possessions was that necklace. Last year we took him to Canyon where he placed the Indian relic in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society Museum. There was a tender light in his eyes as he held the beads for a moment and said, "I knew exactly what it meant when that necklace was placed around my neck. It was a bond of friendship between us. It was his dearest possession. I've kept it all these years. I want you to take care of it."
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