Parker County Today October 2016 - Page 19

S to the center of the twirling mass of humps and hooves and ran parallel to the yipping horsemen, pitching their horned heads and bellowing their great distress. The boy rode alongside one of the wild-eyed beasts, ducking flying clods of sod and rocks wrenched from the ground by pounding hooves. Suddenly, almost magically, the man in front of him disappeared into the fray, his horse’s foreleg having snapped like a drought-dried twig as it dropped into a prairie dog hole. His own mount instinctively bolted high and wide to clear the tumbling horse and rider, catching the boy off guard so that his head bounced off the flying pony’s rump. Panicked, he thrust forward his upper body and clutched double handfuls of his spotted mount’s flowing mane. At the same moment his eyes met those of his father whose red and black striped face revealed PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY nothing; but he knew he’d seen the terror, the unbridled fear that had possessed him during flight. In his chagrin the boy screamed up courage and whipped his pony into position just off the right side and a half-length behind one of the bounding bulls whose massive hump jerked to and fro with his stride. Fluttering streams of slobber flew from the animal’s mouth as he tossed his huge head in an effort to gore the spotted horse the boy would not allow to drift, commanding it with pressure from his knees to stay the course. The boy, who’d quickly moved from embarrassment to fierce determination, felt his father’s words and a primal knowing rise within him and reaching over his shoulder he brought forth an arrow, placed it upon the bowstring and in one fluid motion pulled and released it into the brute’s low-hanging heart. The arrow passed through the organ and ricocheted off a stone to skid along the ground like a straight snake. With a calamitous thud the half-ton mountain of bone, muscle and hide collapsed and plowed a broad furrow into the prairie and the boy wheeled his horse around, his heart full of his first kill and the knowledge that when the warriors next rode out in battle he would be among them. Joining the men as they rode out to hunt buffalo was one of the rites of manhood for a Comanche boy. Before becoming a warrior at age 15 or 16 he had to kill his first buffalo. From the 18th century this had been done on horseback. It was not until the coming of the horse, or the “God-dog,” as the Comanches called the animal, that the Plains hunter conceived of running buffalo down. Speed, once the massive animal’s most effective defense, was removed from the equation. From atop well-trained horses that could match the buffalo’s speed of 30-40 mph, the Comanches developed hunting techniques that quite literally transformed their world. In the buffalo The People, as they referred to themselves, had everything they needed to thrive. “The buffalo was as indispensable to the Comanche as the horse,” wrote Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel in their 1952 book The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains. “No part of the slaughtered animal was wasted except the rump, spine and skull. Hair, skin, flesh, blood, bones, entrails, horns, sinews, kidneys, liver, paunch, and the dried excrement were all utilized. The Indian ate its flesh, the marrow of its bones, the contents of the gall bladder on raw liver, and even at times its entrails. … Of the edible parts, only the heart was unconsumed; it was left for magical perpetuation of the herds. When the Comanche was thirsty and water was not available, there was the blood of the buffalo. Its paunch, after the inner lining was removed, was used as a water bag and also as a container in which to cook stoneboiled soup. The dried excrement (chips) of the buffalo burned slowly and made a hot and lasting fire for OCTOBER 2016 tretching his arms and half-stifling an unexpected yawn, the boy, thoughtfully, and just as his father and grandfather had taught him, wound one last loose coil of rope around his mount’s body just behind the forelegs. This done, he shoved his knees under the rope and wriggled into a secure position, leaving his hands free to make certain his quiver was within easy reach and that his bowstring was taut. He looked up and down the line of faintly glowing horsemen and could just make out the wide semicircle they formed and see the lighter-colored horses — the grays, whites and buckskins — fidgeting in place, shuddering with anticipation. Giddy n ow, he turned his eyes windward along the narrow, almost imperceptible valley that lay before them shrouded in darkness and squinted at the inky blotches beginning to materialize against the lightening backdrop of the cloudless sky. Snorts and groans and an indistinct shuffling sound eddied in on the gusts, and as the sun glinted red on the tips of the great beasts’ hair the riders began their stealthy approach, slowly spreading out until on all but the downwind side of the herd stood surrounded, the buffalos’ keen sense of smell thwarted by a hunter’s tactic, their less acute sight and hearing useless. They milled about oblivious to the murderous noose closing around them. The hunters, naked but for their breechcloths, eased so close they could hear the bulls snatching up mouthfuls of bluestem and switch grass and the sound of calves bucking in play and cows finding their feet, rising from their dusty halfslumbers to greet the day. Presently, the small herd of some emerged from the gloom and at the sound of the agreed upon signal, the riders closed the circle. As the sun vaporized last shadows the hunting party whipped their ponies into a whirling loop around the panicked animals that immediately began to run. The riders held the line, forcing the buffalo to emulate their circular motion. The bulls bristled and drove the cows and calves 17