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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
"Texas Tales"

Two Braids
by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
More Texans owned horses than automobiles in 1910, but when the middle-aged man rode into Eagle Pass that summer, people noticed. Something about the way he sat on his horse attracted attention.

His dress alone caused second looks. He wore buckskin, not store-bought clothes. Even more noticeable was the multi-colored streaks of paint slashed across his leather-skinned face.

The man made it known that he would be putting on a trick-8uriding performance in the vacant lots across the street from the Rio Grande Hotel. He did not advertise in the local weekly, depending on word of mouth to draw a crowd.

"His feats were clever," the Eagle Pass News-Guide reported on Aug. 19, about three weeks after his one-man "Wild West" show. "His 'life' would make refreshing reading-a few facts only are here given."

That the newspaper only provided those few facts is a shame, because this man had quite a story. Unfortunately, much of it has been lost with the passage of time, but the skeleton remains, along with some interesting questions.

On Sept. 28, 1870, rancher Thomas Wesley Stringfield, his wife Sarah Jane and their three children - a girl and two boys - were traveling in their wagon. About 15 miles from their home in McMullen County, a party of 21 Indians and Mexicans surrounded them. The Stringfields bailed out of the wagon and ran to a nearby stand of trees.

The twenty-eight-year-old father used his rifle to defend his family until a bullet hit him in his arm. Gathering his family, Stringfield tried to get them to a nearby house where he assumed the occupants would come to their aid.

But the raiders encircled them, shooting Stringfield a second time and then moving in on the rest of the family with knives and lances.

"About that time I saw them stab my mother in the heart," Ida Alice Stringfield wrote years later. "I...screamed and started to my mother, but one of the men jumped between me and my mother. At that time another man picked me up before him on his horse and started to carry me away."

Ida Alice was only eight years old, but she was not going to be captured without a fight. "While I was on his horse," she continued, "I bit the hand he was holding me with. Then he cursed me in Spanish and told me...that he was going to kill me. I understood what he said."

The raider hurled the girl to the ground, apparently assuming it would crush her skull. But the little girl caught herself with her hands and was not hurt. Then another rider swooped her up.

Ida Alice grabbed the brush trying to pull herself off the horse. Again, her would-be captor said he would kill her if she did not stop.

"I told him I would rather die than to go with them," she said. "He then said, 'All right, I will kill you then."

He threw her down and several of them ran their horses over her. Another Indian thrust his lance into her seven times.

"The last one of the men who rode his horse over me, stopped and caught hold of my hair, raised my head by my hair, and said something I could not understand, as it was not in English or Spanish. That was the last I knew for some time."

Eventually, a Mexican family who lived nearby came to the scene of the attack and took Ida Alice to their house. They cared for her until relatives came for her.

Her parents and six-year-old brother Adolphus were dead. The namesake of Ida Alice's dead father, four-year-old Thomas, was more fortunate, at least to the extent that his life was spared. Too young to resist to the extent that his sister had, he was taken into captivity. Eventually, after harsh treatment, he assimilated into the tribe of his captives. (Whether they were Apaches, Comanches, or Kickapoo is unclear, though the Eagle Pass account says they were Apaches.)

Somehow, Ida Alice never learned what had become of her youngest brother. "I and my relatives and friends have tried every way possible to locate the two brothers (the Eagle Pass account says Adolphus was killed)...but they have never been seen or heard of since they were carried away," she said in a sworn statement in 1925, part of the paperwork that led to a $25,000 settlement from Mexico.

But it was Stringfield who had ridden into Eagle Pass fifteen years before to make a little money off the riding abilities he acquired as a white Indian.

As the Eagle Pass newspaper explained it, "Just before Gernonimo died he told 'Two Braids" (that was his Indian name) that he would find his people 100 miles west of Corpus Christi....Last year [1909] he obtained a permit through the commanding officer at Fort Sill to go in quest of his people, and being partly successful he was granted complete liberty by President Taft."

The newspaper continued that "Two Braids" Stringfield "finds himself a free man without any clear notion of what to do with his liberty now that he has it, for, needless to say, the Apaches never taught any man a trade, nothing but hunting, theft and murder."

What Stringfield did with the rest of his life, and how long it lasted, is a mystery.

July 2003
Published with author's permission
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