Thursday, March 21, 2013

Native Americans: The Comanche

By Kristy McCaffrey

            The Comanche Indians likely originated somewhere north of the headwaters of the Arkansas River in the mountainous country of what is now Colorado and Wyoming, but it was in Texas that this most feared Plains tribe made their mark. Until 1875 they were the most difficult adversary the Texans dealt with, carrying off what loot they could and burning the rest, and frequently killing or capturing men, women, and children.
            Warfare was a major component of Comanche life. Raids into the Mexican state of Chihuahua for horses, captives, and weapons were usually done during a full moon, when the Comanche could see to ride, and this led to the term “Comanche Moon.”
            Comanche ate buffalo, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and deer. During scarce times they ate wild mustangs, their own ponies, or raided ranches for longhorn cattle. Because they constantly travelled, they didn’t use pottery that could easily break. They made nearly everything from the buffalo, crafting tools, household goods, and weapons from the animal’s horns, hide and bones.

Quanah Parker

            The most famous Comanche was Quanah Parker. Born around 1850, he was the son of a Comanche Chief named Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white girl who’d been taken captive in 1836. In 1860 Cynthia Ann was recaptured along with her daughter, but after living with the Comanche for 24 years she was unable to adjust to life among white people. She died four years later following the death of her daughter.
            Quanah led his tribe of Kwahadi Comanche in a bloody war against the U.S. government, refusing to surrender from 1867-1875. Finally, with his people weary and starving, he acquiesced, leading the last free band of Comanche to Fort Sill, a reservation in Oklahoma. Although Quanah refused to become like the white men, he had the foresight to understand them. He learned English, became a reservation judge, and lobbied Congress for the cause of the Comanche Nation. He died in 1911 and was buried beside his mother, whose body had been reinterred at Ft. Sill Military Cemetery. Quanah Parker had become a true Texas hero.
            Today the headquarters for the Comanche Nation is in Lawton, Oklahoma and operates many businesses and a college.

In my first book, The Wren, I feature a heroine returning to her Texas home after living as a Comanche captive for ten years with the Kwahadi tribe.

Works Cited

Kavanagh, Thomas W. The Comanches: A History 1706-1875. University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Neeley, Bill. The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hiking Grandview Trail in Grand Canyon

By Kristy McCaffrey

View from Grandview Trail

            Grand Canyon offers several access routes   from rim to river. Grandview Trail, from the South Rim, is one that’s been in use since 1890 when miner Pete Berry began working the Last Chance Mine. However, Hopi Indians gathered mineral paints in the area (Horseshoe Mesa) long before Berry arrived.

My dad on the icy switchbacks

            On a sunny and somewhat chilly March morning I set off to hike the trail with my dad and my husband. Day hikes in Grand Canyon don’t require a permit so we plan to trek as far as we can and turn around before the sun sets. Although I’ve hiked one of the main corridor trails—Bright Angel (during July no less and yes, it whipped my butt)—I’ve learned to never underestimate the Grand Canyon and Grandview Trail didn’t disappoint. The uppermost sections are steep, grueling switchbacks, and because long stretches were covered with ice and snow, very dangerous. One slip could lead to a tumble over the side. And it was a long way down. But my dad made sure we were well prepared with microspikes. Regrettably I left my walking poles in the car. They were missed.

Me on the trail

            We spend the next three hours dropping about 2500 feet in elevation. The scenery is breathtaking. I'm dumbfounded staring at the sheer cliff we descend, the trail all but invisible above us. We cling to the rocks like mountain goats, offering a strange satisfaction of having met the canyon on its own terms. But this sense of accomplishment will be short-lived.

My dad and I close to Horseshoe Mesa

My husband and I

            We make it as far as Horseshoe Mesa, a total of 3.2 miles. Several old copper mines are located in the area and the paths are fairly well-marked, along with signs warning of radiation. From my research I learn that excessive amounts of radon are present, so no spelunking inside the dark corridors. We hoped to continue out onto the Mesa and enjoy a view of the Colorado River, but it was now 1 p.m.—our designated turnaround time. We rest, eat lunch, and use the facilities (yes, there’s a toilet here). I remove as much clothing as I can since it’s much warmer than on the rim, but I still sweat more than anticipated for a winter hike.

Me hugging the cliffside

            The return traverse follows a fairly flat route until the switchbacks reappear like an annoying friend you wish to avoid. For over two hours I shuffle along with tiny steps, and though I exaggerate, I feel certain I’m going straight up the cliff. It doesn’t help that near the end, while at my most exhausted, the trail narrows with nothing but blue sky to offer a buffer. This is when I become afraid. The next 30-40 minutes are an exercise in controlling a panic that I would slip off the side and die. (I should mention that I suffer from vertigo.) I hunch over the trail, trying to counter the weight of my pack lest it throw me off balance. Tears threaten. My husband offers to carry my pack but I refuse. He’d done as much on that Bright Angel trek years before and I was determined to prove my mettle this time.

The end of our hike

            Staying focused on one step, then the next, and then the next, I hold the tight grip of panic at bay, desperate to get to the top and the hell out of here.
            Finally we’re done, back among the land of tourists snapping photos. I sink to the ground to remove my microspikes while silently paying homage to Grand Canyon. It always kicks butt. It’s silly to think it won’t. But this time I persevered, keeping my burgeoning fears at bay long enough to finish the hike. Perhaps Grand Canyon and I can become friends after all.