New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Part Four: An Unlikely Ally

Pictograph, Jeff Davis County, Texas, photographed 2011.
While these pictographs predate the expedition (and likely the Mescalero Apache),
they are part of the historic landscape of the Davis Mountains of Texas.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Today one can hop in a car in San Antonio, head west, drive an incredibly long time, and arrive (as a weary husk of your former self) in El Paso del Norte in less than a day.
In 1849, however, there was no known practical route from San Antonio to El Paso. Two young U. S. Army lieutenants, W. H. C. Whitig and William Farrar Smith, were ordered to find a route for wagons to travel between the two cities, and to scout for sites for army forts along the way. They chose 15 men to go with them, including José Policarpo Rodriguez, who tells about the journey in his autobiography, “The Old Scout,” published in 1898.
The Rockpile, site of
prehistoric pictographs
near Fort Davis
Today travel between San Antonio and El Paso is a journey. In 1849, it was an expedition.
Near present-day Fort Davis, in far west Texas, the expedition unexpectedly encountered a vulnerable group of Native Americans: an old man, three or four women, and a young boy. There were some strong words expressed by the old man and at least one member of the expedition; some members of the expedition were in favor of killing the Indians and proceeding.
“Don’t be afraid,” Policarpo said in Spanish to the old man, “we will not hurt you.”
After a few tense moment the two groups separated in peace, and the expedition continued westward. In only a few hours they were surrounded by hundreds of Indian warriors – from a group which overtook them from behind, and a separate group which confronted them from ahead.
Another pictograph there
The group which overtook them was led by Chino Huero, which translates to ‘Blonde Curls.’ It turned out the old man the expedition spared was his father; one of the women, his wife; and the boy was his son.
The group which confronted them was led by Gomez, a chief with the Mescalero Apache, who controlled the area of the Davis Mountains. The group he led was called Tsebekinéndé, the Limpia Mescaleros. Later in life Gomez was known as Negoyani – “Old Man of Wisdom.”
Hand stencils, on the ceiling
Chief Gomez was not happy to find an expedition crossing his territory, and his warriors surrounded the expedition men, careful to stay just out of range.
The expedition men were surrounded, out-numbered, and far from help.
“This is no place to talk,” Gomez called out in Spanish, “these men must go to my camp.”
Policarpo translated this to the Whitig, adding, “if we do, they will kill us.”
“We will not go,” Whitig replied. “We will do our talking here.”
Hearing this translated, Gomez said “Not go? We’ll make you go; we’ll drag you there!”
Rodriguez writes: “The words shot from him like an arrow. His whole bearing changed instantly; his eyes flashed, and he wheeled toward his men and in Indian dialect began to issue his commands. They rushed towards us and formed a circle around us just beyond Chino Huero’s men. Then another circle outside of that was formed, and we were soon surrounded by three circles of Indians, every one eager to pounce upon us. The Indians all dismounted from their ponies, some of them stripped almost naked, and were pressing upon us. Some were piling up rocks before them to shoot.”
The Davis Mountains 
near Ft. Davis
Just then Chino Huero rushed to Gomez, and began talking to him very “energetically and earnestly. He looked as if he was pleading a case with the greatest of earnestness.
“He was repeating the story of our meeting his father in the morning and sparing the whole party when they were in our power. He declared his purpose to defend those who had spared his father, wife, and child. He told Gomez he had always been his friend, but if he harmed these people their friendship would not only end, but Gomez would have to pass over his dead body, and those of his men, to reach his victims.
“Gomez appeared morose and unmoved. Chino Huero began again. The spirit and energy of his every movement were most admirable. He was tall and lithe, and he pleaded his cause with skill and force.”
In March, 1849, in a valley deep in the Davis Mountains, several hundred heavily armed men waited for Gomez to answer, and the men in the innermost circle, an expedition of 17 men seeking a route from San Antonio to El Paso, understood least of all what was happening.
The expedition had been guided to that spot by a compass and sextant, and orders written on a piece of paper; others there that day were guided by honor; and still others by power and tradition. One man, Gomez, the leader of the Tsebekinéndé, would decide the fate of them all.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has used a chainsaw a lot this week. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 30, 2020.

I have two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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