time you fry a stack of pancakes, imagine what it would be like if your life and
the well-being of your children depended on it.|
In the spring of 1874,
Kate Polly and her husband Ephraim lived with their young daughters, two-year-old
Katie and four-year-old Annie, in a dugout at the headwaters of Morgan Creek in
what is now Hemphill County. They had been among the first Anglo families to settle
on the High Plains.
Back then, the Panhandle
had yet to see a plow, its sweeping, treeless plains covered in luxuriant native
grasses and vast herds of buffalo
and antelope. A person could see for miles in any direction.
And one morning
early that summer, bad trouble loomed on the horizon.
Home alone with
the children, Kate busied herself with her daily chores. Her husband, who had
been a hospital steward in the Army, had left to tend to a sick buffalo hunter
and then gather forage to sell to the military at Camp Supply in Oklahoma. At
some point Kate happened to look outside and saw something not everyone lived
to describe: Hundreds of horseback Indians, all armed with either bows or rifles,
quietly encircling their dugout.
With gestures underscored by bruising
pinches, the Indian’s headman communicated that he and the other Indians wanted
food. Sizing up their number, Kate decided the easiest meal would be pancakes.
After lighting a fire in her wood-burning stove, she donned her apron and started
One by one, the warriors filed through the Polly home,
grabbing handfuls of steaming pancakes straight off the top of the hot stove and
wolfing them down with great delight. (The Indians apparently did not need melted
butter and maple syrup to enhance their enjoyment of Kate’s hotcakes.)
Whenever Kate had to stop and mix more batter, the next Indian in line would pinch
her and motion for her to start cooking again. Finally, near sundown, the family’s
192-pound flour barrel ran empty. Exhausted, Kate picked up her youngest child
and went outside, plopping down on a cottonwood log. Oblivious to the watching
Indians, she opened her blouse and began nursing her daughter.
that their meal service had stopped, several of the Indians came up and pinched
her again, pointing toward their stomachs and the dugout. They wanted more pancakes.
tired, Kate shook her head and ran her finger across her throat in a universally
understood gesture. She had been standing over a hot stove all day long, flipping
hotcakes for hundreds of hostile Indians. If they wanted to kill her now, fine.
At least she wouldn’t have to wash the dishes.
Impressed by her pluck
as well as with her cooking, the Indians mounted their horses, rounded up the
Polly family’s milk cows and rode off through a canyon to the northwest. The cows
later wandered back, but not the Indians.
map showing Adobe Walls
in Hutchinson County
(Above "S" in "H-U-T-C-H-I-N-S-O-N")
Texas General Land Office
Morgan Creek, the war party rode on to a buffalo hunter’s camp at a place called
Adobe Walls in what
is now Hutchinson County. At dawn on June 27, they attacked. Aided by Billy Dixon’s
famous mile-long shot that toppled the Indian’s medicine man from his horse, the
buffalo hunters managed to hold off the warriors and all but two of the defenders
lived to tell about it. The incident triggered the Red River War, the last stand
of the Plains Indians in the Panhandle.
Ephraim returned from his trip, he found the dugout surrounded by unshod pony
tracks and estimated as many as 700 Indians had descended on the place in his
absence. He reckoned them to have been a mix of Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne.
When the U.S. cavalry marched into the Panhandle
to deal with the hostile Indians, the Pollys moved back to Fort Hays in Kansas,
which is where they had come from. They returned to Texas
in at the end of the war in 1876 and operated a stagecoach stop on Commission
Creek (in present Lipscomb County south of what would become Higgins) along the
road from Dodge City, Ks. to newly established Fort Elliott near Mobeetie
in Wheeler County. The Pollys stayed there until 1885, when they returned to Hemphill
County. When that county was organized two years later, Ephraim got elected as
the first county judge.
Hemphill County is where the couple stayed for
the rest of their lives. Kate died at 57 on May 2, 1899 and was buried in Canadian.
Her husband joined her in the same cemetery after his death on April 21, 1905.
He had made it to 63.
Fortunately, the story of Kate’s 1874 pancake dinner
did not die with the pioneer couple. Kate’s oldest daughter, by then Mrs. D.M.
Hargrave, had been just old enough to remember the incident and passed the tale
on to her daughter, the future Mrs. E.R. Cloyd. Mrs. Cloyd, in turn, put the story
on paper for inclusion in a history of Lipscomb County published in 1976.
Kate Polly could ever stomach cooking pancakes again is not recorded, but given
her grit, she probably did. After all, flapjacks saved her scalp and probably
averted a life of captivity for her children.
© Mike Cox
3, 2010 column
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