November 30, 2011
Native American Heritage Month
Claude, Texas is home. Well, maybe better said, there is a piece of farmland about twenty miles south of Claude that has been home to my folk for a few generations. No one lives on the farm any longer. After uncle Howard died, no family member figured it possible to raise a family on this windswept dry-land farm in the Texas panhandle. Once there was a section of land in the Palo Duro. It may have made modern-day farming feasible, but that was too far from the main farm and was let go years ago. The farm, like many family farms and ranches exists more in memory today than actuality. It was where children and animals and plants were raised. It was where children and animals and plants died. The kids in the family attended school about five miles from the farm until they reached high school, then they were driven into Claude. That was the case until a number of decades ago when school consolidation took place and the district found it was cheaper to have school bus routes than teachers and school buildings spread across the countryside—then, from day one through graduation, schooling took place in Claude. Claude has the distinction of being the county seat of Armstrong County, once home of the JA Ranch whom Charles Goodnight was co-owner, and where a few of Paul Newman’s movies, The Sundowners and Hud, were filmed.
Like every other landscape in America an ancient people resided in the area before my folks. Paleo-Indians were the landscape’s first created people (Some folk—mostly White folk from my observation—say no American Tribal People are originally from the American landscape, but rather they traveled to these lands from Siberia and other non-American lands. Seems few American Indian spiritual leaders agree, but then their arguments require a consideration that our public school textbooks have flawed information (at least a bit) and the interpretation of science is flowing rather than absolute. Isn’t it interesting people discount the ancient voice of the landscape in which they reside because it does not fit their western education, but then turns around and buys into a chosen people story arising in a landscape on which most of their ancestors never resided? Well, well, that is a conversation for another day.). The flat, canyoned, windswept landscape raised up the Apache people and culture who understood and lived with the land for thousands of years. Then Comanche moved south into the landscape in the late 1600’s warring with Apaches and forcing most out of the Paleo land by the early 1700’s. The1874 Red River War between the U.S. Army and the Comanche forced the relocation of the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho to reservations in Indian Territory. Two battles, Adobe Wells led by Comanche chief Quanah Parker and Palo Duro, define the Red River War. Adobe Wells reflected the reality the Comanche were “out gunned.” Palo Duro revealed food supplies and horses were limited for the Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne, as opposed to the U.S. Army’s continuous supply line. The Red River War ended in June of 1875 when Quanah Parker surrendered at Fort Sill (Oklahoma). With the landscape’s ancient people moved to reservations and Indian Territory, White farmers and ranchers settled the Texas panhandle (The word settled is problematic in that it implies the land and its ancient people were somehow immature, imperfect, or unfinished…again, a story for another day).
What I remember most about Claude, as a child, is the Dairy Queen. More times than not, when we were in Claude, we would stop at the Dairy Queen and have something to eat. Mamma told stories of the men playing checkers in front of the county courthouse, the women at the assessor’s office, and piano lessons at the jail. The Dairy Queen mattered enough to me that as an adult and parent, whenever we visited the farm we stopped in Claude, sat in the same Dairy Queen of my youth and told our girls the same stories (the best I could remember).
Today the landscape is the same and different from ancient times. Embedded in the land are ancient peoples stories…yet lingering in the top soil are new ones. Like the ancient, new stories talk of days of hurt and happiness. Like the ancient, these speak of hope and joy, love and peace, and family. There is a difference though between the ancient and new. The ancient stories—the ancient people—know what and who they are in light of the new. They have watched and felt new footsteps and new names upon the landscape. Unlike the ancient, the new have yet to know what and who they are in light of the ancient. Wholeness comes with conversing with old, old campfires, wind that caressed ancient faces, and feet tough as leather.
Today is the last day of Native American Heritage Month for 2011. I hope you had many a chance this month to hear stories, sing songs, and walk the path of the ancients in your landscape. If not, well, there is tomorrow, for the stories and the songs are not confined to a month or a time, but rather reside in the ground beneath your feet and the wind of your breath.
© David B. Bell 2011
BARBARA’S LAND—MAY, 1974
Driving across your people’s homeland
I pull into Claude, Texas
2 o’clock in the afternoon
Hottern the hinges of hell
as they say here.
Dry panhandle wind
sifts through the red land
Buffalo clouds in the distance
herd up in the afternoon heat.
A chocolate milkshake at the tastee-freeze:
—Are there Comanche people here anymore?
—Huh? Naw, Naw.
The taste-freeze lady’s eyes
describe a suspicion
as if to say:
Another one of them damned
The wind shifts the heat
around in circles and
dust-devils dance along the interstate.
The historical marker
on the outskirts of town
said something about Comanches
in the year 1874
Adobe Wells Quanah Parker Palo Duro
I celebrate the Comanche centennial
with the milkshake
(a piss-pore substitute)
and think of those days
of winter camps, blood, plains,
horses, wind, raids, scalps, and hardships.
This land is your bones.
You are stronger than concrete.
You are stronger than steel.
Amazing, this short article was just what I needed. Many thanks for publishing it.