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Texas | Columns | Somewhere in the West

Domodora of South Texas

by Linda Kirkpatrick

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Public Works Administration (PWA) in order to create jobs for those that were still suffering from the Great Depression. Out of the PWA the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was born. Thanks to the WPA and the monies paid to writers, we now have a collection of interviews of people whose stories would have been lost in history.

These stories are now found in a public collection known as the WPA Life Histories Collection. One of the writers funded by the WPA is Florence Angermiller of Uvalde, Texas. Her interview with Johanna July of Brackettville, Texas is a story that I have read over and over.

This story will include the words of Johanna July as recorded by Florence Angermiller.

Johanna July was born around 1850 in Mexico. She was the daughter of Elijah July a Black Seminole Scout of Ft. Duncan, Texas. The Black Seminole are descendents of Seminole Indians and runaway slaves from the south. These slaves found refuge in Florida among the Seminole Indian tribe. In the 1830’s the Seminole and Black Seminole were moved to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Many feared capture by the slave hunters and left Oklahoma Territory for the safe confines of Mexico.

At the conclusion of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, the Black Seminole began to cross the Rio Grande back into Texas. Back in Texas, special detachments of Black Seminole helped the troops at Ft. Duncan and Ft. Clark control the hostile Comanche and Apache Indians. The Black Seminole Scouts knew the Indians, knew the language, knew the land and knew the horses.

Elijah July, a Black Seminole, became the domodoro, the breaker of horses. His two children and son and daughter helped with the watering and feeding of the herd of horses. Elijah spent his days breaking the horses for the troops at Ft. Duncan.

After the death of her father, her brother left leaving Johanna with the entire herd to care for and to break. Thus Johanna became the domora of Ft. Duncan.

“I couldn’t ride a hoss like dey do dese days. I couldn’t straddle ‘em. I didn’t use no bridle either, just a rope around deir necks and looped over de nose. We called it a ‘nosin’ same as a half hitch. Old man Adam Wilson learned me how to ride. He was an old scout. Right today I don’t like a saddle an’ I don’t like shoes. I can sure get over the de ground barefooted.”

Mrs. Angermiller wrote that Johanna wore bright homespun dresses, beads and gold earrings. She smoked shuck cigarettes made of Black Horse tobacco a dark tobacco manufactured in Mexico.

“I could break a hoss myself, me and my Lawd. Many a narrow scrape I’ve been through wid hosses and mules. I’ll tell you how I broke my hosses. I would pull off my clothes and get into de clothes I intended to bathe in and I would lead ‘em right into the Rio Grande and keep ‘em in dere til dey got pretty well worried. When dey was wild, wild, I would lead ‘em down to de river and get ‘im out in water where he couldn’t stan’ up and I would swim up and get ‘em by de mane an’ ease up on ‘im. He couldn’t pitch and when I did let ‘em out of dat deep water he didn’t want to pitch. Sometimes dey wasn’t so wore out an’ would take a runnin’ spree wid me when dey got out in shallow water where dey could get deir feet on de ground, and dey would run clear up into de corral. But I was young and I was havin’ a good time.

“I was used to hard ridin’. I’ve been chased by de Indians. One day it was cloudy and I went out to cut hay for de hosses, and as the Lawd should have it, I got so sleepy I said, ‘Suppose I lay down here an’ take myself a nap an’ den finish cuttin’ my hay. But I thought ‘No, I better go on and cut my hay, an’ about den, I seen de hosses getting’ nervous an’ dey had der ears up lookin’ at somethin’ and’ actin’ scared. I had a big bay an’ I could call ‘im up to me so I hollered to ‘im, Come Bill, come Bill! An’ all de hosses come runnin’. I jumped on a little gray hoss named Charley, an’ when I cut my eye aroun’ here come a Indian in full gallop, leanin’ over on his hoss, en’ I started runnin’ an’ run clear by de army post, me and all dem hosses. The post sent the scout out and dey took up de trail. Dey was two Indians an’ dey followed ‘em clear into Mexico and brought ‘em back. But dat didn’t break me. I was always out wid dem hosses. “

Johanna knew the skills of horse husbandry both inside and out however she never developed the skills necessary to become a wife. She married a Scout at age 18 and moved to Ft. Clark. Johanna made attempts to become a dutiful house wife but she missed her horses and missed the outdoors. Try as she might her husband tired of her ways and their marriage became quite stormy. One night Johanna slipped away and rode home to her mother.

“I never did go back to ‘im. He come down dere three or four times to get me but I wouldn’t go. He shot at me two different times but he missed me, den he tried to rope me, but de Lawd fixed it so my head was too low and de rope went over. I got to the brush an’ he never could find me. He would have killed me, an’ I knowed it.

“After he died I married twice mo’. I helped my last husband break hosses an’ mules. I ‘member one bad mule. He was the meanest one I ever had any dealin’s wid. He was ‘hip-shotten.’ I had to tie his good front leg to his good back leg and’, don’t you know. He’d catch me by de clothes and toss me and shake me if he could get hold of me. I never did break ‘im, I got ‘fraid of ‘im. I’ve had some awful scrapes. I hunted and trapped wid my las’ husband and sold many a hide. I could get out and cut a cord and a half of wood, easy. Down here on de Fadillas ranch I’ve had mules run away wid me an’ sometimes tear de wagon to pieces.

“My last husband had been dead eight years now. My first husband was so mean to me I suppose dat was why de Lawd fixed it so I didn’t divo’ce ‘im he didn’t divo’ce me, and’ now what little bread I’m getting, I’m getting’ it right off of him.”

Johanna as you the reader can tell had a very full life and she probably had no idea that one day people would be reading about her life. At the time of her interview with Mrs. Angermiller, she was 77 years old. She never did agree with the way the government treated the Black Seminole Scouts but that is another story.

Johanna died sometime after World War II and is buried in the Seminole Cemetery outside of Brackettville, Texas. If you can use your imagination you can probably vision her barefooted, wearing a brightly colored dress, standing in her garden gate rolling a shuck cigarette of Black Horse tobacco.

© Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West

August 18, 2008 Column

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