of the prettiest places in the Texas
Hill Country is the part of State Highway 173 that twists its
way through Bandera Pass not far from the Bandera-Kerr county line.
The highway basically follows the same route through the hills that
the Apache, Comanche, Spanish, U.S. Army, settlers and outlaws followed
for centuries and where at least two major Indian battles might
(or might not) have been fought.
The first of these battles might (or might not) have given Bandera
its name. In this version of the story, Bandera
was named after Spanish troops from San Antonio de Bexar battled
Apaches in the pass in 1732. Each side suffered heavy losses and
the two sides met in council and agreed on a treaty: the Apaches
would not venture south of the pass and the Spanish agreed to stay
out of the hunting grounds to the north. A red flag – or bandera
in Spanish – was placed on the highest peak to remind each other
of the treaty.
Another version has it that Bandera
is named for a Spanish commander or maybe a citizen with that last
surname, but no records to corroborate the story have ever been
found. That’s true for a lot of the early stories about Bandera
Pass, including a second battle that is believed to have occurred
there in either 1841 or 1843. Or maybe it was 1842.
This battle is believed to have featured legendary Texas Ranger
Hays and his men in a fierce battle, this time with the Comanches.
The rangers were outnumbered but managed to get the best of the
Comanches. The battle might not have happened – not at Bandera Pass
– but other battles, unrecorded by the eventual victors, certainly
of these battles no doubt pitted Comanches against Apaches. Swiss
botanist Jean Louis Berlandier noted the presence of both tribes
in the area in 1828 when he traveled through parts of Texas
as part of a Mexican boundary and scientific expedition. He went
on a bear and buffalo hunt with Comanche leaders Reyuna and El Ronca
as guides and noted that the natives, especially the Comanches,
performed a certain ritual when they entered Bandera Pass.
“Here a Comanche
warrior was buried, and since the natives often pass this way, every
tribe that passes close enough to see the grave of one of their
ancestors makes the customary offerings,” Berlandier wrote. “On
the grave they place arrows, bows, sundry weapons, enemy trophies
and the like, and even sacrifice mules and horses to his shade.
The gorge, which is known for this custom, is strewn with the bones
of animals that have been sacrificed here. The grave itself is surrounded
of the earliest and most influential accounts of the second battle
is found in A.J. Sowell’s book “Texas Indian Fighters.” Sowell relied
on oral accounts from participants like Creed Taylor and others but
the accounts were recorded many years after the actual fight and seem
to incorporate elements from other fights, most notably one at Walker’s
Taylor and another participant, Jim Nichols, placed the site of the
battle as being fought along the banks of the Guadalupe, all the way
over in present day Kendall County. The feeling from contemporary
researchers is that Sowell merged stories from Taylor and others with
of Walker’s Creek.
Judging by many
of the popular versions of the battle taken from Sowell’s account,
this seems to be the case. Most of these accounts have it that Jack
Hays and his men were greatly outnumbered at Bandera Pass but turned
back the Comanches with the aid of the new fangled revolving pistol
invented by an enterprising Yankee by the name of Samuel Colt.
battle, little noted at the time, would eventually change the course
of what had been a dead-end war against the Comanches. Now, with
this new revolving pistol, the rangers and anybody else battling
the Comanches could stay on horseback and fight the enemy with a
gun that fired five times in a row without reloading. A Comanche
who took part in the fight noted that the rangers “had a shot for
every finger on the hand.” In the end, that advantage made all the
battle did not take place at Bandera Pass and it did not happen
in 1841, 1842 or 1843. The battle that changed history – though
the fact was little recognized or noted at that time – was the Battle
of Walker’s Creek and it was fought in June of 1844 in present
day Kendall County.
A battle between Texans and Comanches (and maybe Apaches, too) probably
took place at Bandera Pass at one time or another, but the one most
often recounted wasn’t it.
© Clay Coppedge
3, 2012 Column
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