England's Queen Victoria was busy marrying Prince Albert, Russian
composer Tchaikovsky was busy being born, and China was busy fighting
its First Opium War, the Republic
of Texas was busy with the bloody Council
House conflict. Any time, dear reader, you feel your lot in life
is not quite what you had in mind, compare it to that of Miss Matilda
Lockhart, whose painful story follows.
House Fight between officials of the Republic of Texas, led by
First Adjutant General Hugh McLeod, and a Comanche peace delegation
of 12 chiefs, took place in San
Antonio on March 19, 1840, under a truce. It followed two bloody
and failed prior attempts at negotiation. The Comanches wanted recognition
of their boundaries as a sovereign land and the Texans wanted the
release of hostages held by the Comanches. It must've been a meeting
similar to the U.S. Congressional talks between Republicans and Democrats.
Unfortunately, it ended with the deaths of many Comanche leaders who
wrongly believed that the flag of truce would protect them from harm.
Texans died there, too.
|The Plaza and
the Council House in San Antonio
McLeod didn't understand as much as Sam
Houston did about Comanches: that they were comprised of roughly
12 tribes, with 35 independent roaming bands, each operating separately.
Not having one big, unified tribe, independent divisions were allowed
to take captives, without honoring agreements to return them. Chiefs
Buffalo Hump and Peta
Nocona never agreed to return any captives. But the Comanche chiefs
who went in good faith to the Council House did not listen to Buffalo
Hump's warning that whites could not be trusted. And so they went
expecting the kind of treaty they had with the Spanish, allowing peaceful
trade in exchange for the return of a couple of captives. Since Texans
thought of Comanches as vicious savages, what the chiefs got instead
were military troops standing by for possible trouble.
addition to the chiefs, painted-faced warriors, children and squaws
squatting outside the Council House, the Comanches brought with them
one white captive, Miss Matilda Lockhart, aged 16. Miss Lockhart had
been held by them for over a year and a half.
The release of the Lockhart girl to the Texans was a "terrible blunder,"
according to the book, "Comanches: The Destruction of a People," by
T.R. Fehrenbach. "It would have been far better had the chiefs brought
in no captives at all. For Matilda Lockhart had been hideously abused
in her captivity, and her very appearance was to turn this day, as
Mary Maverick, one of the ladies of the town wrote, into a 'day of
was one of the women who cared for Miss Lockhart after her release.
She described the girl's condition: "Her head, arms, and face were
full of bruises, and sores, and her nose was actually burnt off to
the bone. Both nostrils were wide open and denuded of flesh." Safe
now with Mrs. Maverick, the girl broke into tears and said she was
"utterly degraded, and could not hold up [my] head again." She described
the horrors she had endured. Beyond her sexual humiliations, she had
been tortured terribly by the women, who had held torches to her face
to make her scream. Her whole thin body bore scars from fire. An extremely
intelligent girl, she had learned the Comanche tongue and had actually
overhead discussions of their council strategy. She told of some 15
additional white captives in the same camp.
seeing Miss Lockhart's condition, the Texas officials were "seething
with barely suppressed fury. [To them] the treatment of the Lockhart
girl was in no way unusual, and the Comanches were oblivious of its
stunning effect on the Texans."
When the Texans demanded to know exactly where the other 15 prisoners
were, they were told by Chief Muguara that they were with different
bands of Comanches, and that they would make an exchange of prisoners
for ammunition. Muguara reportedly ended his proposal with, "How do
you like that answer?"
His statement that the captives were held in different camps may or
may not be true, as it differs from Miss Lockhart's version. In the
end though, the Comanches underestimated the Texans. Soldiers were
ordered to enter the room, prepared to back up the officials' forthcoming
deal proposal (or threat) that the chiefs would be held hostage until
all white captives were released. The frightened interpreter, himself
a former Comanche prisoner, turned pale, and warned the officials
that, if he delivered that message, it would force the Comanches into
a fight. "Relay the warning," commanded the Texas officials. The interpreter
obeyed, fleeing the room immediately after. He had been right, and
the Comanche chiefs got really, really mad. They began to shoot arrows,
and slash out with their knives to get out of the room. They always
hated places of confinement for this very reason.
In turn, Texas soldiers opened fire, killing everyone in sight, including
whites. It was a bloodbath, taking a death toll on both sides. In
a report by McLeod dated March 20th, Comanche deaths were 30 adult
males, 3 women, and 2 children, with 27 women and 2 old men taken
prisoner. Seven Texans died, including a judge, a sheriff, and an
Army lieutenant, and 10 wounded. Texans later offered to exchange
their prisoners for the captives, but the Comanches were so outraged
at the breaking of a truce, they tortured their captives to death
instead. "One by one, the children and young women were pegged out
naked beside the camp fire. They were skinned, sliced, and horribly
mutilated, and finally burned alive by vengeful women determined to
wring the last shriek and convulsion from their agonized bodies. Matilda
Lockhart's six-year-old sister was among these unfortunates who died
screaming under the high plains moon."
may live in the greatest country in the world, but it took a lot
of violence to make it that way. Just ask the ghost of Miss Lockhart.
"A Balloon In Cactus"
February 16, 2009 column