Babb kids saw the good and the bad.
In mid-September 1866, a band of 40 Noconi Comanches-raided through Wise County, Texas, and struck John Babb’s ranch. Theodore (age 14), called “Dot” by the family, and Bianca (10) were at play when they saw riders approaching their cabin. Mrs. Babb called to Dot and asked him if they were cowboys. “No,” Dot answered, “they are Indians!” In a flash the warriors were upon the isolated cabin. They killed Mrs. Babb and dragged Bianca outside, fighting and kicking all the way. She grabbed a fencepost and held on until she was torn loose, but she said, “I did not cry.”
The Indians rode away with the two children. On the third day, Bianca got a quick lesson in manners when the captives were finally given something to eat. Bianca was so hungry she reached for another piece of meat, but an Indian hacked at her hand with a knife, and she learned not to take any more than she was given.
It took several days to reach the Comanche camp on the Canadian River in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). When she was brought into the village, the Indian children flocked around Bianca; the small boys were naked, the older ones had breechcloths and the girls wore buckskin dresses. They were particularly interested in stroking her long blonde hair, for none of them had seen a white girl before. Bianca was given to the Comanche woman Tekwashana, a young widow with no children. That night there was a great feast, and Bianca watched as the Comanche women dressed. She thought they paid little attention to their hair, some of them hacking it crudely off, but they carefully painted their faces in red and yellow. The band Bianca was with consisted of about 35 people in about eight lodges. She slept beside Tekwashana on a bed of dry grass, blankets and buffalo robes. As it was late fall, the Comanches kept a fire burning in the tepee all night, with a flap open at the top to let the smoke out.
Meals were most always meat, and Bianca easily adjusted to the diet. They seemed to have no fixed hours, but ate anytime they were hungry. “We never sat down to eat,” she said, “just stood around the kettle of meat, and with the stick we would spear a piece of meat from the kettle, hold it to our mouth and bit off as much as we could conveniently chew.”
Tekwashana gave Bianca brass bracelets, silver earrings and an elaborate headdress of cloth and shiny metals to hold back her hair when she went riding. Her hair didn’t stay blonde long, for the women constantly mixed buffalo tallow and charcoal and rubbed it into her hair to darken it and disguise the fact that she was a white girl.
Bianca had many tedious chores to do, but was still young enough to escape some of the backbreaking work the Comanche women had to bear. Bianca’s new “mother” was good to her. From her limited viewpoint, and not knowing the hell of abuse and slavery that other captive children often faced, she came to believe “that my life was to be a regular Indian life, every day seemed to be a holiday, children came to play with me and tried to make me welcome into their kind of life.” Her recollection, written about 60 years later, was obviously focused on a few idyllic memories of her youth. Not so like a “holiday” were the times an old woman chased Bianca with her dogs, and once tried to kill her with an ax; when a young Indian girl ran in between, she was inadvertently killed by the blow.
Dot had a different experience from his sister. Captured by Persummy, he rode near Bianca for a few days until one night when he tried to escape. Dot was beaten and knocked down, but, said Bianca, “he would walk up and toe the mark again.” When they saw he would take a beating without flinching or crying out, they tied him to a tree, placed dead grass and branches around him and commenced to build a fire. Bianca threw a blanket over her head and began wailing, but Dot stoically awaited his fate. The Indians were impressed by his courage and finally cut him free, believing that he would make a fine warrior.
Brother and sister were then separated in different Comanche camps. Seeing Dot’s bravery, Persummy took him under his tutelage and showed him the ways of a warrior. Dot caught on quickly and seemed to be enjoying himself. Dot was taught how to shoot by being given a pistol with live ammunition, and told to fire at Persummy as the chief went galloping by on his horse. Dot fired at him, mostly missing; the few bullets that hit were deflected by Persummy’s thick rawhide shield. While Dot was in training to be a warrior, the Comanche males did not physically abuse him as they had during his initial “breaking in” period. He got to accompany the Indians on two raids into Mexico, and on the last one they killed seven Mexicans and captured two girls and one boy. Dot quickly learned the fate of most female captives. He said, “Occasionally a warrior would capture a white woman for the purpose of adding her to his harem.”
Like his sister, Dot seemed to easily fit into Comanche society. He enjoyed the food. “Whenever a buck killed a buffalo calf,” he said, “the squaw rushed up and split the calf open. She scooped every bit of the milk out of its stomach just as quickly as she could and gave it to the children. It was the sweetest stuff I ever tasted, and was thick like our gelatin.” Dot also enjoyed the beds, made of dried buffalo hides suspended between four poles and covered with robes. “I’ve slept in lots worse beds in white folks’ houses many times,” he said.
Although Dot was in training to become a warrior, the Comanche women tried to use him as a slave, assembling the tepees, carrying wood and water, and cooking. Dot, because he was used to obeying his mother, did what they told him. Finally, other young men chastised him, telling him that he didn’t have to do household chores like a woman. So, one day Dot refused to move when an old woman ordered him to get firewood. “She hit me a devil of a lick across the back,” he said, but after that, the women didn’t bother him. He was independent. From then on, he could enjoy the life of a Comanche warrior, practicing with a bow and arrow, riding horses, hunting deer and buffalo. The women could do all the hard labor.
Although the two children adapted remarkably well to the Comanche lifestyle, their experience was not typical; most captives did anything they could to get back to the white world, and did not want to stay with the Indians. No matter how much the children claimed to have liked the Comanche life, they did not hesitate to return to the white world when opportunity for their recovery arose. Bianca was bought in April 1867. Her Indian “mother” did not want her to go, but Bianca told her she wanted to go home to her father. “Of course,” she said, “I was tickled to death to get back to him.”
A little later, Dot was located on the Canadian River in Chief Horseback’s band. Horseback and others in the camp were sure that the white boy would elect to stay with them. However, Dot said, “in this they were in great error, as my decision was instant and unalterable to return as quickly as possible to my father and kindred.”
The Babbs’ captivity lasted only about six months, but they were already far on their way to acculturation. Both, however, assimilated quickly back into white society, and their time as “Indians” became a fond memory. Through their recollections, we see a brief picture of Comanche lifestyle in the 1860s that has now long since disappeared. Dot died in Dallas, Texas, in 1936. Bianca died in Denton, Texas, on April 13, 1950, the last of Texas’ Indian captives.
Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.