Killing Cynthia Ann

Killing Cynthia Ann

by Charles Brashear


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780875654317
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
Publication date: 02/23/2011
Pages: 215
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

CHARLES BRASHEAR, a retired professor of creative writing, grew up in Comanche country on the south edge of the Llano Estacado in West Texas. He now makes his home in San Diego. Brashear is the author of Contemporary Insanities (a collection of short fiction), The Other Side of Love (two novellas), and several non-fiction books, including works on creative writing, American literature and Native American history.

Read an Excerpt

Killing Cynthia Ann

A Novel

By Charles Brashear

TCU Press

Copyright © 1999 Charles Brashear
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87565-512-3


On The Pease River, 18 Dec. 1860

Náudah paused and looked up from stripping the flesh and striffen from a fresh buffalo hide. A few steps to the east, several women—friends and relatives—bent over buffalo hides pegged out among the tipis in various stages of curing and tanning. The sliced meat hung on drying racks. Nearby, Nobah Joe, subchief in charge of the camp, bent his gray head forward, absorbed in attaching a flint arrowhead to a shaft with a fresh, elastic piece of buffalo sinew that would shrink tight when it dried. His braids, wrapped in ochre and russet ribbons, kept falling forward, obstructing his view of his work.

"Aren't you worried, Nobah?" Náudah called, sitting back on her heels and scanning the flat horizon to the south.

Nobah grunted. A woman's idle chatter was hardly worth an answer, even if she was the favorite wife of Peta Nocona. He glanced around. The sun shone warmly on the camp of some twenty Comanches on the banks of Mule Creek, a tributary to the Pease River. He muttered a little prayer of thanks to the sun; they had already endured two snowstorms this season. It looked like a bad winter approaching. He sniffed the air: a bit too much moisture. A chill that defied the sunshine told him another blizzard was coming.

On all sides, a small grassy rise one could hardly call a hill hid the Comanches from view, but also prevented them from seeing out. A buffalo trail led south up to a low, flat ridge and disappeared.

"Shouldn't we post lookouts?" Náudah continued.

"Thank Gekovak for the warmth," Nobah said aloud and held up his wrinkled arms, as if to embrace the sun. "Snow and ice will hug us too soon." He looked off to the north. He could see a little blue line down close to the horizon.

"You know what I mean, old esa-kwita," she said, letting out a short breath in exasperation. "The Tejanos. The bluecoats. We never know where they are." Her daughter, Toh-Tsee-Ah, carried a flint scraper and toddled around, mimicking her mother's work on the buffalo hide. On the other side of the skin, her adoptive sister, Trades-It, her hand and arm permanently disfigured from a childhood fall from a horse, scraped striffen with a steel trade knife. She smiled in sympathy at Náudah, then went on with her work.

"Tahuh nurhmurh-ne, 'Our People,' is the strongest tribe on the prairies. You know that," said Nobah Joe. "What tribe would dare attack us?"

"The Tonkawa, the Pawnee, our traditional enemies. The Tejanos. The bluecoats," Náudah said, ticking them off on her fingers. "Only the Mexicans at Santa Fe are peaceful, but they have been known to attack others."

"Ha!" Nobah scoffed, not looking away from his work. "Not even the Tonkawa would attack a camp of women. What tribe would have the courage to attack a camp of women?"

"I don't know why I even talk to you," said Náudah, standing up and adjusting her medicine bag so that it hung at her side inside her dress. Her hands trembling, she walked over to the horses, thinking she had better make sure that everything was ready for the unforeseen. She wore a loose velvety deerskin garment tied with soft straps across her shoulders. A ring of pearly cowrie shells sewn to the leather formed a low yoke on her breast and identified her as the wife of an important leader, and a hem of leather fringes swished below the knees of her leggings.

She ran her hand over the muscled rump of her dappled gray mare, which Peta Nocona had named Wind because she was so fast. The surcingle was a bit loose, but she didn't tighten it—the poor animal needed some respite from a constant girdle. The bridle thong was a different matter; that had to be ready to ride at a moment's notice. A rabbit-skin bag tied to the surcingle contained enough pemmican for one day, a small amount of fire starter, a few Mexican matches and a small flint knife. She touched it to assure herself that all was ready. Then she walked back to her buffalo hide. To steady her breathing, she tried humming a little Comanche song about prairie flowers to her daughter.

Nobah finished his arrow and started another, considering the possibility that she was right. Maybe Náudah was just too anxious. She had spent her whole time with Our People hiding from the white men, the tosi-taivo. She had been taught to seclude herself when any of them came around, to run into the bushes if they spoke to her, to make invisibility her best defense. That had made her edgy and suspicious. She saw danger when there was none. Like a rabbit, she dodged the shadows of limbs when there were no Eagles in the sky.

"Nobah, have you seen Quanah and Pecos?" Náudah asked.

"Your sons are out fighting the rabbit wars. They can take care of themselves." Nobah inspected the bindings on the arrowhead; it would make a fine weapon for his sister's grandson who was just approaching warrior age. A little pine pitch from the mountains near Santa Fe, a week's journey to the west, would help—if he only had some. He would ask Peta Nocona to trade for some of the glue next time he went west to a Comanchero gathering.

"I've heard that bears curl up in safe, warm holes in the western mountains and sleep as long as the ice and snow lasts," Náudah went on, wiping her cheek with a forearm covered with dried buffalo blood. She tried to wrap her arms around Toh-Tsee-Ah to imitate a bear robe, but the baby squirmed out of her grasp and dropped the flint scraper on the buffalo hide.

"I've heard that," said Nobah, glancing at her.

Strange, he thought, that she should almost read his mind. Many people said she had special powers—puha, strong medicine. Maybe those blue eyes saw into other people's heads. Maybe that's why Peta Nocona was so devoted to her, though everyone knew she was one of the best workers in the camp, one of the best at curing buffalo robes.

"I'd like to live a while that way," Náudah went on. "Curled up in a bearskin, warm and well-fed. And not wake up till the prairie is in bloom."

"That's for bears," Nobah answered.

"I know," she sighed. "Still, I'll be happy to get to winter camp and set up my tipi."

"Three days more and we can pack the meat and skins," Nobah countered. "Then we can move." He glanced at the northern horizon; the little blue line, a coming blizzard, was getting bigger slowly.

"Ha!" scoffed Náudah. "The hunters will bring more fresh meat and hides to cure. They always do."

"Be glad that we have food to eat. With the Tejanos and bluecoats killing so many of Our People...."

"Oh, I am. I am glad." She wiped sweat from her upper lip. "I just wish we were safe on the Washita with a hill to stop some of the wind. Or I wish we were all bears in some safe cave in Palo Duro Canyon. I wish we were home."

* * *

As a Texas Ranger patrol came upon a buffalo trail that led to a slight rise overlooking the Pease River and the surrounding plain, Captain Lawrence "Sul" Ross spotted an Indian encampment clustered tightly on the flat right in front of a stream flowing in from the southwest to the Pease. He motioned his troop to take cover behind the flat ridge, then called his orderly: "Ride back and tell Cureton where we are and that he should come on up." He waited until the messenger was out of ear-shot, then turned to his men: "Get ready for a fight, boys. You twelve over here, go east a little ways. Get around behind 'em downstream and cut 'em off. The rest of you, let's charge right through 'em. Shoot everythang that moves. I got a nice Colt six-shooter for the first man that kills and scalps a Indan." He held it up at arm's length, turning it right and left, so all could see.

Ross really wanted to find some Comanches to kill. He had been out to the Llano Estacado and the canyons along its eastern escarpment in the summer of 1859 and got in a couple of Indian fights, but they weren't very satisfying. Not only were the wily redskins hard to catch, but he'd taken a bullet in the fleshy part of his left leg. He really wanted revenge for that wound. He especially wanted to catch that damned Peta Nocona; that'd make his reputation.

Of course, it was not just for his reputation. The land had to be made safe for women and children. The abominable Indians weren't using the land anyway. Why didn't they just move on and leave it to someone who would, someone who would create a peaceful and prosperous community?

In 1860, Ross had persuaded Texas Governor Sam Houston that another troop of Texas Rangers was needed to protect the settlers in Parker, Palo Pinto, and Jack Counties, as well as the sparsely populated regions along the upper Brazos River. Peta Nocona and his warriors had killed 168 people on the Texas frontier in the last year alone. Reluctantly, Houston gave Ross a commission as captain of Rangers and the charge to raise a volunteer regiment to punish Peta Nocona.

Sul hardly had a regiment. He had convinced forty volunteers to follow him, and he had twenty regulars on loan from Captain Nathan Evans of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry at Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Many of his men had been meat hunters in Kentucky before the game was thinned out. They'd shoot at anything wild, just because it was wild and just because they could shoot. Vaguely, Sul knew they hunted and killed Indians in the same spirit—for the sheer fun of it. As much as he might disapprove of their motives, the results were right: the savages had to be cleared out.

And then there was that snotty-nosed upstart, Captain Jack Cureton, with his ninety volunteers from Bosque County. Who needed him? You practically had to tell him where the ground was before he could hit it apissing. Like now, they were stringing along two miles behind. How could they get in a fight by hanging back?

Sul felt confident at the head of a twenty-five-man advance scouting party. He had an excellent lieutenant in Tom Kelliher and the best guide that Texas had to offer in Charles Goodnight, who had been on the frontier since the age of nine. And his men were willing to ride hard, even when their horses were almost worn out, like now. The last thing he needed was some pussy-foot to take care of.

He judged the other twelve were in position by now, then glanced around to see that everyone was ready. He raised his six-gun like a sword and gave the signal to charge.

* * *

With a lurch in her heart, Náudah saw the Ranger skirmish line before she heard the first shot. "Enemies! Tejanos!" she screamed, sweeping Toh-Tsee-Ah into her arms and running for cover behind one of the tipis. She saw her sister, Loves-Horses, look up in surprise at the sound of charging horses and gunshots, drop the meat she was carrying and run for her horse. Trades-It stumbled on a pegged-out buffalo hide, caught herself with her crippled hand, then scrambled to her feet.

Two war women owned trade guns. With two warriors, they came out of the remuda, using their horses as shields, and quickly formed a half-ring around a group of women and young girls in the middle of the camp. They fired impulsively, then didn't have time to reload. Their bows and arrows, or even war axes, would not be of much use against the Rangers' six-shooters.

Nobah had mounted his bay horse and was riding along the defense line. Somehow, he had found his lance, which had a blade made from a Mexican bayonet. He lifted it like a scepter, screaming at the warriors, "Don't shoot too soon!" He was too late.

In panic, Náudah pulled Toh-Tsee-Ah against her body and raced for Wind. No time to tighten the surcingle. She leaped on the dappled gray mare and reined Wind downstream. In front of her, frightened horses kicked up dust that mixed with the smoke and stench of the gunpowder. She heard screams. Her way was blocked forty steps away by women and teen-agers in the open, jerking when bullets hit them, little fountains of their blood spurting toward the river. She saw another group of Rangers in a little clump galloping behind the Comanches, getting ready to race around and around them, as if they had caught a herd of buffalo in a surround and could take their time in killing every last one.

One of the war women screamed in Comanche, "Prisa. Run!"

Women dashed toward the river, not knowing in the dust and smoke that they were running right into the second body of Rangers. They fell in a volley of bullets. People near horses grabbed hold of a mane and swung up, then tore off.

Náudah saw Nobah racing toward his teenaged granddaughter, Tena. He grabbed Tena's arm at the same time as she seized his, and he swung her up behind him at full gallop. They sprinted upstream to the west, while most of the other horsemen were galloping downstream. Náudah kicked her dappled gray and headed upstream.

She and Wind quickly caught up with Nobah and Tena on the big bay horse. They crossed the little stream, and, as soon as they were in the open, Náudah turned her pony slightly to the right, thinking it was best to scatter. There was no time to wave goodbye.

* * *

As Captain Ross rode through the Comanche camp at full speed, he noticed buffalo hides pegged out for drying, meat hanging on racks, women lying dead with their scrapers still in hand; but no bucks. Hell, it was a damned squaw camp, not a war party at all.

Still, he could hardly contain his excitement—nothing like a charge to get a man's heart pumping.

Ross already knew what he would report to General Houston: "The Indians, unconscious of our presence, had gotten out on a level plane and were never apprised of our approach until we were within 200 yards of them, in full charge; consequently many of them were killed before they could make any preparations for defense."

Sul and Tom Kelliher saw the two riders cross the creek to the west and spurred their horses in pursuit. "I wanta get one by hand," yelled Kelliher. Sul smiled to himself. He had complete confidence in Tom Kelliher in hand-to-hand combat. When the rider on the dappled gray veered off to the right, Kelliher followed.

Sul followed the bay. When he was close enough, he fired. The Comanche at the back jerked with the hit, then fell, dragging the lead rider off. Sul saw at once that the dead one was a teenaged girl. Damn! he didn't like killing squaws, even if they were Comanches. You couldn't hardly tell the men from the women in their winter hunting shirts and leggings.

The lead rider was an elderly man. He was shaken up by the fall, but quickly got to his feet and lifted his lance to fight. Ross shot him in the right arm, breaking the bone. The man fell over, then got up, his useless arm dangling.

"Quien esta?" asked Sul when the dust had settled. He'd like to know who it was he was about to kill.

But the man did not seem to understand Sul's Spanish. He just glared at the Ranger in defiance. He held his lance in his left hand, feinted threateningly toward Sul, and howled challenges.

Sul stood up in his stirrups and looked around, spotted Antonio Martinez, his Mexican servant who spoke Comanche, and yelled, "Tonio! Over here!"

As Martinez rode up, Sul swung around. "See if you can tell who this feller is."

Antonio asked the man in halting Comanche, then in Spanish, what his name was: "¿Cómo se llama?"

The man fired back a rapid string of Comanche, his throat growling with the hatred.

"What's he say?" asked Sul. He rested his hands casually on the wide saddle horn.

Antonio was having trouble getting his horse to stand quietly after so much excitement. "He say something Nocona, I think."

"Nocona? Peta Nocona?" cried Ross, swinging down to confront his foe directly. "Have we caught Peta Nocona?"

Again Martinez spoke to the man. Again, the man answered rapidly.

"What's he say now?" Sul did not take his eyes off the Comanche.

"Gekovak. His word for the God. He say the God give the sign if he no do his job as jefe, I think."

"Chief?" asked Sul, astonished. "You mean, we've caught Chief Nocona?"

Antonio just shrugged. "I dunno. He say Nocona."

"Well, I'll be damned! Ask him to surrender, Antonio."

Martinez again spoke.

The man responded by screaming a war whoop, rushing forward, and thrusting his lance at Sul.

Sul jumped back, but did not parry. Damn! the man had spunk. To be as gray and withered as he was, to have a broken arm, and still be willing to fight. You really ought to respect a man like that.

Sul looked around, trying to figure out what to do next.

"Capitán," said Antonio. "The Noconis, they kill my family long time 'go. They keep me the slave. That is how I learn el lingo Comanchero. My familia no get the revenge. Quiero la venganza now."

Sul studied Antonio for a moment. He could see and understand the hatred in the man's face. He understood a man's need to retaliate. He glanced at the Comanche; there was no surrender in his eyes, nothing but defiance. "All right, Antonio," said Ross. "You can take your revenge."

Antonio pulled out his pistol and, without hesitation, shot the old man in the head. One of his braids and part of his skull flew two yards away. Nobah was dead before he hit the ground.


Excerpted from Killing Cynthia Ann by Charles Brashear. Copyright © 1999 Charles Brashear. Excerpted by permission of TCU Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. On The Pease River, 18 Dec. 1860,
2. At Camp Cooper,
3. Lost in the Snow,
4. Victory Dance at Birdville,
5. Ceremonies,
6. At the Secession Convention: Austin,
7. House of No Escape,
8. The Cowrie-Shell Dress,
9. Preloch, The Queen,
10. Fighting Amelia, Winter 1861,
11. Gathering At The River, Summer 1862,
12. With Serena and Billy Parker, Fall 1862,
13. Peta Nocona At Fort Cobb,
14. Run Away With Billy,
15. Courting Coho Smith,
16. Sunday School, Spring 1863,
17. Tecks Ann,
18. A Parker Thanksgiving, November 1863,
19. Has-No-Name,
20. "She's Getting Better",
21. Goes-Blank,
22. Looking At Walls, 1867,
23. The Death of Cynthia Ann,
Historical and Bibliographic Notes,

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