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  • Two Episodes in Texas Indian History Reconsidered: Getting the Facts Right about the Lafuente Attack and the Fort Parker Raid
  • Daniel J. Gelo (bio)

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Comanche camp, c. 1873, near Fort Sill, Indian Territory. Photograph by William S. Soule. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

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A contract survey of Comanche traditional cultural properties on U.S. Army Fort Hood during 2010–12 conducted by the author was the occasion to investigate several episodes of Texas Indian history often discussed in treatments of the state and the frontier. New analyses of Manuel Lafuente’s 1831 attack on an Indian camp in present Coryell County and of the famous 1836 Indian raid on Fort Parker in present Limestone County were included in the survey technical report, but they are here expanded significantly in order to illuminate how local history can reveal shortcomings in the standard studies of Texas Indians in the 1830s.1 Renewed study of these two episodes also provides a revealing look at the current status of historical studies on the Indians of the Southern Plains.

The dominant tendency in contemporary Texas Indian historiography is the “macro” perspective. In cinematic terms, the scripting is epic and the optics are panoramic. The contemporary literature follows the foundational works in providing sweeping narratives covering decades if not centuries, wide territories, and numerous actors. But in the interest of novelty or innovation, they also labor over thematic constructs emphasizing massive offensive military power, diplomacy, treachery, trade networks, [End Page 441] slavery, conquest, ecological collapse, ethnic cleansing, and empire. The disposition toward accounting for the Native past in dramatic, thematic terms has become pervasive. Two books declaring the Comanche domain an “empire” have appeared in the last seven years.

Some of the effects of the recent agenda are salutary: the Comanches have finally been credited with appropriate levels of sociopolitical sophistication and agency. But the recent agenda also encourages distortions and displays an unwillingness to check into the hoary standard accounts and assumptions that form the building blocks of these wide-scope narratives. Certainly recent historical discussions of the Lafuente attack and the Fort Parker raid, rendered in the service of larger narratives, evince a lack of specificity and reliability about documentary and ethnographic details.2

The first event of interest, Lafuente’s 1831 attack, was prefigured in a decade of Mexican-Indian relations. The Mexican national government that succeeded Spanish rule in the 1820s inherited in Texas a complex and forbidding political environment. Hostilities involving Hispanic colonists and a burgeoning population of Anglo American settlers, the Wacos and Tawakonis occupying zones of new settlement, and Cherokees, Shawnees, and Delawares lately removed to Texas were rampant. Amid this situation the posture of the Comanches—the Penateka division of Central Texas, the Tenewas along the middle Red River, and other divisions to the north and west—was ambiguous. Comanches had formed strong trade and alliance ties with the Wacos and Tawakonis and were implicated in several raids, though officially some Comanche headmen had established a peace with the Mexican government in the provincial capital of San Antonio de Béxar via treaties drawn in 1823 and 1827.3

In October 1830 the government considered an attack on the Wacos and Tawakonis, but found them recently dispersed for winter hunting and perhaps living with Comanches for protection. A year’s-end assessment of Indian relations from San Antonio predicted that, amid the antagonism between the Tawakonis and the colonists, the Comanches would indeed be provoked to go to war against the settlements.4

On January 7, 1831, when the venerable Comanche leader Barbaquista and his retinue showed up for a friendly visit at Béxar, they delivered thirty stolen colonists’ horses that they had seized from a party of Tawakonis [End Page 442] they encountered along the way as a profession of peace. The remainder of the year, however, was characterized by punitive and retaliatory campaigns waged by Mexican regulars along with militia and volunteers and aided by Indian guides. In July some Comanche scouts assisted Sergeant José María Moreno of Béxar in trailing and skirmishing with some Tawakoni...


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