In the American borderland regions, few things in life were constant. With no hegemon in the region, territories, power, and resources all were subject to change. Shifting political and economic power made for a setting that was entirely unpredictable, but longtime settlers of the locale understood that feature of the borderlands was always present: war. This harsh environment developed two of the most fierce and storied warrior tribes in Native American history: The Apache and the Comanche. This paper will examine the social structure of the Comanche nation, focusing on the famed warrior-caste. Set in 1741, the tale will be told from the eyes of a young Comanche fighter. In order to understand the scale and significance of the battles fought between these two tribes, observers must be able to understand the distinct motivations and overarching goals of both nations as the conflict raged on. For this reason, it is often beneficial to experience a historical event from the imagined perspective of a participant, as a way to truly comprehend what was at stake at the time. The context for this third-person narrative will be drawn primarily from William Ambrose’s Plains Indian Wars, in order to fully capture a realistic glimpse of the time period.
Chayton: The young Comanche warrior at the center of this tale, famed for his spectacular horseback riding.
Natan: A slave boy, captured from his Apache village and taken to the Comanche campsite.
Peekwi: A rival Comanche warrior, angry in his demeanor, and roughly Chayton’s age.
Tadewi: Chayton’s pony.
Keme: A Comanche hunter, and friend of Chayton.
Chapter One: The Hawk
Chayton rose from his dreamless sleep, shedding off the worn deer skin draped over his body. At only sixteen years old, the young Comanche stood a head above the other warriors. The countless hours he had spent hunting buffalo and training with older braves out on the plains had left him with a lean frame and a tan complexion. Behind his long, raven hair, was Chayton’s unmistakably somber visage. Ever serious, the boy’s dark eyes carried a piercing stare that seemed to bore into the subject of his gaze. Donning his traditional brown tunic, Chayton pulled back the hide that covered the entrance to his tipi, and stepped out into the pale morning light. Shielding his eyes from the sun’s unforgiving rays, the young warrior began to pace through the camp, his steps treading softly over the dew-covered grass. Taking long strides toward the edge of the campground, he continued to make his way to his morning exercise. He would ride east of the river, and join the other Comanche warriors for a morning comprised of sparring, wrestling-games, and calisthenics.
Young Comanche boys were not expected to engage in trade with other tribes, or to learn religious rituals, and they certainly were not taught to weave baskets. The Comanche youth were hunters, riders, and warriors. Practically born into the saddle, their skills on horseback were unrivaled. As adults, this equestrian expertise allowed them to dominate the battlefield, and devastate opposing forces with swift, decisive cavalry attacks. Though other tribes eventually gained access to herds of horses, none would master the riding and taming of these beasts quite like the Comanche. Comanche horsemen could perform feats in the saddle that other Native American and European riders could only dream of. Their dexterity on horseback, their ability to control a mount deftly in the heat of battle, the ferocious nature of their charging attacks, all placed the Comanche cavalry in a league of their own. When the adolescents weren’t training in war games, they were hunting buffalo on horseback, nourishing the Comanche state through their primary source of sustenance.
Chayton did not possess the same strength and physicality that many of the tribe’s young warriors exhibited, he was not an accomplished marksman with a bow in his hands, and his martial skills were middling at best. He was not as precise in movements as Quochata, or as talented with a tomahawk as Keme, but nonetheless, Chayton was gifted in other ways. Among the contingent of elite horseback riders in his Comanche tribe, he was the most spectacular of them all. The young boy had formed an unshakable bond of trust with his steed, Tadewi, frequently referring to the jet-black pony as his “little brother.” Tadewi’s name roughly translated to “wind,” and a single glance at the animal mid-gallop confirmed that this namesake was justified. Chayton and Tadewi developed a relationship that could nearly be described as symbiotic, acting in perfect harmony as they raced, hunted, and eventually battled their way across the borderlands. Comanche elders would eventually describe seeing the pair bolt across open fields in but a few blinks of an eye, re-counting them to have moved in the same way that “a stone skips across water.”
Despite his accomplished horsemanship, Chayton’s greatest asset was his mind. The boy was unusually perceptive and possessed the keen ability to anticipate his opponent’s movements in the midst of a skirmish. Time and time again, Chayton proved his combat acumen in the unarmed mock-battles held at the practice grounds. With nothing more than a glance, he could immediately assess his enemy, noting the deficiencies in their attacks, and analyzing the gaps in their defense. With this, Chayton compensated for any lapses in his strength, quickness, or technique. His style was that of an opportunistic hunter, closing on his prey when they were most vulnerable. Among Chayton’s compatriots, there was no mystery as to why his name translated to “hawk” in the Comanche language. Though the boy had yet to see a real battle, his time was soon approaching. The years he spent hunting buffalo and sparring with the Comanche youth had served to sharpen his resolve, and intensify his strategic insight. The young warrior would soon be considered a man, and he desperately longed to fight in his first clash with another tribe. With each passing day, Chayton grew increasingly restless, constantly eavesdropping near the elders’ tipis, listening for any signs of an upcoming conflict.
Chapter Two: The Stranger
As he reached the edge of the campsite, Chayton clicked his tongue, beckoning Tadewi over to him. The pony hesitantly glanced up from its morning graze, and reluctantly trotted to Chayton’s side. The boy clambered onto his mount and set off toward the training grounds, cantering through the open pasture. As he reached the Comanche practice site, a wave of anxiety washed over him. Tadewi began to snort and bristle, almost as if he sensed his rider’s discomfort. Chayton’s eyes swept through the practice fields, and eventually landed on the sand pit used for wrestling games. As usual, the pit was surrounded by Comanche warriors, cheering and taunting the two embattled competitors at the center. Less usual, was the unfamiliar face engaged in the match, jostling with Peekwi for the dominant position.
Despite his diminutive height, Peekwi was regarded as one of the best wrestlers in the tribe. Named after a small fish that inhabited the nearby rivers, the warrior in training had a knack for slipping past unwary opponents and pinning them into the ground in a single, fluid motion. The young Comanche was built like tree stump, with a short but powerful frame. His nose was crooked from being broken in the past, and a red stripe of war-paint ran under his eyes. Chayton dismounted his horse and joined the other warrior at the sand pit, watching intently as the nameless combatant struggled mightily under Peekwi’s weight. The stranger’s breath grew ragged as Peekwi sat on his chest in a straddled position, crushing down on his sternum with the full gravity of his backside. In desperation, the unnamed boy at the bottom of the scrum threw a wild punch at Peekwi. With a resounding crack, Peekwi was knocked from his top position, clutching his bleeding lip as he tumbled over. The spectating warriors grew increasingly primal in their cheers and cries, whooping louder as both boys rose to their feet. An infuriated Peekwi glared menacingly at the exhausted stranger, roaring as he stepped in and aimed a feral swing at his opponent’s head. The Comanche’s strike connected with his opponent’s jaw, Chayton grimaced as the anonymous combatant stumbled backward. “You can’t have your planted feet in the sand, you need to keep moving,” Chayton thought to himself, mildly annoyed. The unnamed boy collected his footing and remained rooted in place, raising his forearms to shield his face. Peekwi advanced toward him a final time, slipping to the left side of the boy’s body, and delivering a crushing blow to his ribs, before following up with a ferocious elbow to the stranger’s temple. The outsider folded, collapsing to the ground as if he was a tipi in the middle of a thunderstorm. Peekwi stared down at his fallen adversary with contempt, “sarrie,” he spat.
“Who is he?” Chayton inquired, glancing at an older Comanche brave. The onlooking warrior paused for a moment, watching silently as the stranger was dragged roughly out of the pit. “A slave, taken from the Apache on one of our latest raids,” said the brave. Chayton couldn’t hide his surprise, scanning the foreigner with wide eyes as he lay in a crumpled heap. The boy was a pitiful sight, broken and bleeding, groaning inaudibly in a patch of wild grass. “Why have you brought him to our training grounds?” Chayton asked. The weathered corners of the old Comanche’s mouth began to crease into a half smile, “We thought it’d make for good sport,” he chortled. Chayton scoffed in disgust, and strode over to the bested Apache. Slavery was a reality of war in the borderlands, it was integral to maintaining strength in numbers across the various Comanche states, Chayton knew all of this. It still however, made him uneasy, and he did his best to avoid the captured slaves that arrived in the camp. Veteran warriors sneered as they passed the injured boy, occasionally offering insults, or a swift kick to the stomach. Chayton approached the foreigner, eyeing him with disdain. “Move your feet next time,” Chayton muttered. The boy stirred slightly, as if to show that he had heard the advice. At the time, Chayton was unsure of what exactly compelled him to help the boy, perhaps he felt sorry for him, or perhaps he was simply curious to see if the Apache could survive the tribe’s rigorous training sessions. Regardless of the reason, Chayton had no way of knowing how this enigmatic Apache boy would shape the next sequence of his life.
Chapter Three: Settling In
Chayton finished his training for the day, and signaled for Tadewi. Vaulting into the saddle, he spurred his horse into the pasture and struck out toward home. The sun was setting by the time he had arrived back in Comanche territory, painting the camp with great swaths of amber colored light. Immediately, Chayton was greeted with the familiar sounds of the campsite, the cacophony of noises comprised of children playing, elders chanting, dogs barking, all ringing at once throughout the camp. Even more identifiable than the noises, were the smells of the campsite. The fragrance of ceremonial herbs wafting from the elders’ gathering, the smoky perfume of fresh game being roasted over the open flame, the earthy scent of pine sod and wild flowers drifting into the wind, all working at once to grant a brief rush of nostalgia in Chayton’s subconscious. The young warrior’s stomach grumbled, it had been several hours since his last meal. He weaved quietly through the camp, following the tantalizing scent to the cooking circle. To his delight, he was greeted with an enormous leg of buffalo, crackling over a fire. Keme, one of the hunters tending to the roast turned to Chayton, greeting him with a nod before carving off an enormous slab of meat. Chayton’s namesake may have been that of the hawk, but he ate like a wolf, devouring his meal in mere seconds. Feeling refreshed, he began to roam through the campsite, slowly winding his way back to his tipi. Looking out at the edge of camp, he saw a figure on the horizon. The young Apache had finally finished the walk back from the training grounds, still limping as he made his way into the settlement.
Chayton was unsure how to feel about the captive. On one hand, he pitied the boy, he had been taken from his home, beaten, and pressed into service by a more powerful tribe. One the other hand, this was war. The Apaches and Comanche had been at each other’s throats for decades, with the former nation standing in the way of the latter nation’s goal of control. With both of these enormous, sovereign tribes staking their claim to the same territory, bad blood was inevitable. Though the two nations had once been allies generations ago, peace seemed unthinkable now. The Apaches despised the Comanche, and the Comanche loathed the Apache. The Apache tribes had begun to lose ground as of late, falling victim to savage raids by Comanche war parties. These small forces would rampage through Apache villages at nightfall, destroying crops, ransacking tipis, and abducting potential slaves. These guerilla attacks decimated the Apache economy, depleting their workforce, and greatly diminishing their ability to grow food for their troops. The boy was a recent product of one of these attacks. Though Chayton had no love for the Apache state, it still pained him to see such a pathetic sight. He took his knife from his belt and returned to the cooking circle, carving off another piece of meat, before grabbing a nearby gourd full of water. The Apache boy lay on the ground near the entrance to the camp, nursing his bruised ribs. Chayton made his way to the slave, and then silently tossed the food and drink at his feet. The finest portions of the meat were reserved for elders and warriors, meaning that the slave’s dinner mainly consisted of fat, sinew, and bone, but the boy was too hungry to care. Chayton watched intently as the captive polished off the last of the buffalo and started on the water jug. “What is your name?” Chayton said, questioning the foreigner. Though the slave spoke in a different tongue, the language was close enough for the two adolescents to understand one another. The boy gave pause, staring back at Chayton, before wiping water away from his mouth with the back of his hand. “I am Natan,” he muttered quietly. “Unless I’m mistaken, you do not look like a child or a woman,” Chayton responded. “Why were you taken as a slave? Did you not fight alongside your fellow warriors?”
“I was not trained to fight,” Natan retorted angrily, “I work under the shaman of my tribe.” Chayton could see the Apache’s face deepening in hue, he was ashamed. The boy was ashamed that he failed to defend his village, ashamed that he was alive, a captive in enemy territory, when the warriors of his tribe had been slain. “Someone as feeble as you are can barely be considered a man,” thought Chayton. But, he reasoned, it wasn’t entirely the boy’s fault. You couldn’t blame him entirely for being woefully inept in combat, that was the responsibility of his elder warriors. Moreover, Chayton couldn’t fault him being at the receiving end of the Comanche’s wrath. Dozens of Apache settlements had been raided in the past few months, the nomadic Comanche warriors roamed the plains like packs of tseena, devouring everything in their path. Natan’s home was not the first to fall, and it would not be the last.
Perhaps the boy could be of use. It was not unheard of for slaves to be integrated over time, made loyal to the tribe and eventually welcomed as a quasi-member of Comanche society. For that to occur, Natan would first have to survive these next few weeks. A Comanche camp, preparing to go out on the warpath was not an easy place to be a prisoner. Abductees from rival tribes were often whipped, beaten, tattooed, or starved upon arrival, the Comanche put their prisoners through a trial by fire, ensuring that only the strongest captives emerged on the other side. Through this intense bout of hardship and suffering, Comanche slaves were incentivized to leave their old identity behind, conforming to the will of their captors. Chayton understood that before the start of the dry season, Natan would either assimilate to his new culture, living his life as the Comanche do, or he would die as an Apache. Despite the recent success of Chayton’s fellow warriors, the war effort could always make use of additional bodies. If Natan’s labor could aid the Comanche state, it could be worth Chayton’s time to secure his survival. “Be prepared, you and I will train at the practice fields early tomorrow morning,” instructed Chayton.
Chapter Four: Sharpening the Blade
As instructed, Natan was ready at the break of dawn. Chayton met him at the edge of camp, and whistled for Tadewi. It would take too long for Natan to walk to the training grounds, but a slave would never be permitted to use one of the warriors’ horses. The young Comanche trotted toward the tribe’s herd, perusing over the horses as they grazed in the pasture. Picking out an older nag, he led the animal over to Natan. “Follow me,” he commanded. The slave inspected the hazel-colored mare, and then mounted it. The Apache captive was a shaky rider, but to Chayton’s relief, he managed to ride the entirety of the journey without falling. By the time they reached the practice fields, the sun’s rays had begun to illuminate the forest clearing. As Chayton expected, the area was empty. A herd of elk had been spotted south of the settlement a few days ago and the Comanche warriors had forgone their daily exercise in order to pursue the nearby game. After hitching their horses, the boys strode over to the sand pit and then faced one another. Chayton studied the slave for a few seconds, examining him from head to toe. The Apache was a few inches shorter than him, and wore his hair down to his shoulders. He had a medium frame, but his body lacked muscularity, and worst of all, his hands were noticeably soft. “Some of the nʉʉmʉ women are better suited for battle,” Chayton scoffed. Not a single scar or callous had been grooved into the slave’s palms, clearly the boy had not spent much time holding a lance, or gripping the reins of horses. There was much work to be done.
“Why are you helping me?” Natan asked suspiciously. “I grow tired of watching our people bury foreign slaves, I will teach you how to survive your initiation into Comanche servitude,” Chayton replied. “And in return,” he continued, “you will be adopted into the our village, and prove your loyalty to the tribe.” The Apache grimaced, the thought of helping the Comanche made him sick to his stomach. The idea of swearing loyalty to the very people that tore him from his home was nearly unthinkable, but he knew he had no choice. If he wished to see his village again, or what remained of it, he would need to survive these next few weeks. The slave nodded his head in hesitant agreement. “What would you have me do?” Natan murmured. “When the braves return in a few days, they will force you to fight in the pit again,” Chayton responded. “In your current state, you are too weak and too slow to survive against them. Should you lose too many bouts, they will find other ways to amuse themselves,” he said, eyeing the scalping knife laying nearby. Natan glanced at the weapon and tried to appear indifferent. Chayton went on, “Your physicality and constitution are pitiful, and your combat training appears to be nonexistent. We will need to improve your quickness if you are to survive in practice fields.” The Comanche took a thin piece of twine with a bead at the end, and tied the trinket loosely around his neck. He pointed at the necklace, “This will be the first exercise today, take this from me, and you win.”
“What?” Natan asked, utterly bewildered. “You and I will both be unarmed, do whatever you can to pull the necklace off me” the young warrior explained. “I have no use for such games,” the captive thought to himself. Swallowing his desire to protest, the Apache readied himself, staring ahead at his makeshift instructor. He charged forward and swiped at the dangling trinket, Chayton slapped his hand away effortlessly and then swiftly stepped to the side, tripping the slave. Natan tumbled to the ground, grunting as he picked himself up. “Again,” Chayton commanded. This time, Natan feigned with his left hand, before diving at the Comanche’s neck with his right. Chayton caught his outstretched hand around the wrist, and twisted it behind his back, straining Natan’s shoulder. With a rough shove, he released him from the hold and slammed him into the sand. “Again,” Chayton repeated. For the third time, Natan stood across from his opponent. Drenched in sweat, the captive was visibly frustrated. This time, the Apache lashed out with a clumsy haymaker, Chayton ducked it immediately and countered with a vicious blow to the liver. “Again.” This continued until the noon sun glared overhead, Natan lost count of how many rounds had passed. His body ached as he was thrown, flipped, punched, and kneed around the sand pit. Lying on the ground, he glared up at the Comanche, his mind desperately searching for a way to get to him.
Finally, in the slave’s state of defeat, a light began to flicker in his mind. The game was not about quickness; it was about deception. The Apache struggled to his feet and faced Chayton, circling him slowly. Yet again, the slave’s hand extended as if to reach for the necklace, but as Chayton moved to deflect his attack, the slave connected with a sweeping kick to the back of his legs. As the Comanche’s stance faltered, Natan’s hand shot for Chayton’s throat, brushing the cord of the necklace. At the last second, the Comanche weaved his head out of the way and pulled the Apache toward him, carrying his weight and flipping him over his shoulder. Chayton cracked a smile, perhaps the outsider could be taught after all. “One last time,” he instructed. Staggering to the center of the ring, Natan clutched a handful of sand. Upon facing his adversary, he hurled the sand at Chayton’s eyes. The Comanche shielded his eyes with his hands, but was momentarily stunned. Taking advantage of his disoriented opponent, Natan wrapped him in a bear hug and tackled him to the ground. Natan had successfully locked the warrior’s arms in place, but he wouldn’t be able to grab the trinket without releasing him from the hold. His palms shaking, Natan’s grip loosened as Chayton fought to break free. Without thinking, he bit through the twine and tore the trinket off from around Chayton’s neck. Gripping the necklace in his teeth, the Apache stumbled to his feet, exhausted but victorious. Chayton’s face was inscrutable as he stared back at him, rubbing grains of sand out of his eyes. A half smile formed on the Comanche’s face, “Finally, you’re beginning to think like a warrior.”
Chapter Five: Growing Pains
By the time the pair had mounted their horses and started back toward the campsite, the afternoon light had started to fade from the sky. In silence, they galloped back to the settlement, leaving their horses in the pasture and then going their separate ways. Natan was deeply conflicted after having been aided by an enemy of the Apache people. One of his nation’s most bitter rivals had just finished teaching him a lesson in combat, what would the elders think if they were to see him accepting assistance from a Comanche? The boy who trained him today was partially responsible for the destruction of his home. In time, his teacher would become a full-fledged Comanche brave, no different from the ones who overran his village and burned his fields. Dozens of Natan’s countrymen lay dead in the ground, women and children had been forced into slavery, hauled off to the various Comanche bands. A pang of guilt struck his heart, wincing as he recalled the war cries of the enemy raiders as they stormed through ancestral home, burning and looting whatever they could find. A cold feeling formed at the pit of his stomach.
On the other hand, the help offered by the young warrior could be his only way to survive these next few weeks. The elders were not here to pass their judgement on him, and the Apache warriors had neglected to teach him the skills needed to survive in a hostile environment. His mind was still racing as he reached the tipis that had been designated as the slave quarters. He had considered escaping on several occasions, but any plan that he conceived seemed destined to fail. Natan would never make it far on foot, and stealing a puuku would prove to be difficult. The Comanche way of life depended on their ability to access quality steeds, and thus, guards were assigned to keep a watchful eye over the herd at all hours. Even if he somehow managed to slip out of the camp on horseback, the warriors would track him down in a day’s time. His head start would be meaningless, the braves would follow his scent with dogs, and then apprehend him with their superior riding ability. If Natan was to ever make it back to the Apache nation, he would need to wait until the time was opportune. He would need to make it through the Comanche camp’s brutal initiation.
Chayton continued to train Natan over the next several weeks, meeting him at the crack of dawn each day. The outsider progressed slowly but surely, and Chayton’s curiosity had gotten the better of him. He began to push the boundaries of what the Apache boy could accomplish. In the same way that sculptor carves a wooden figurine, Chayton was shaping Natan into something that was beginning to resemble a warrior. As the young warrior devoted more time to training the captive, a mutual understanding began to form between the two boys. The Apache developed a deeper respect for his tutor, recognizing the breadth of his knowledge, and in return, the Comanche began to recognize the potential in his pupil. In the face of Natan’s recent growth, there was still much work to be done, and the boy’s training would test the limits of his endurance. His Comanche instructor held nothing back, holding him to a gruesome exercise regimen. On some days, Natan would have to begin his morning at the stream, and after taking a gulp of water, Natan would be commanded to run five miles up to the top of the nearest hillside, holding the water in his mouth the entire time. The exercise forced the captive to breathe out of his nose, strengthening his respiratory system. Other days, Natan found himself swimming for hundreds of yards upstream, or pulling wooden sleds laden with heavy stones. Coupled with the incessant hazing from the tribe members, the foreigner’s body was constantly under duress. It was not uncommon for a grueling day full of sparring and calisthenics, to be followed by ruthless beating at the hands of Peekwi and the other trainee warriors.
Gone was the wide-eyed boy who spent his days collecting herbs, or reciting tales, gone were the unblemished hands, and softened torso. The captive had been forcibly immersed in Comanche culture, and had emerged a new man. Natan soon learned that the Comanche social structure was not a complex one. Little time was spent performing chants, practicing religion, or creating art. Craft, trade, and agriculture were viewed to be unnecessary distractions. The nʉʉmʉ were feared by all people in the border regions, because they focused almost solely on warfare. As Natan’s training continued, he began to fare much better in the warrior’s wrestling games. He soon realized that the Comanche only respected strength, and were quick to recognize prowess in combat. The beatings became fewer and farther between, and the nʉʉmʉ community began to welcome him in small ways. Outside of the time he spent in the pit, and working menial tasks for the village, he was given more leash. The boy could wander farther from camp, he was given better food, and was allowed to travel on horseback at times. Despite this slight bump in social status, and growing friendship with Chayton, escape was always at the back of Natan’s mind. Unlike a female slave, he would never be considered fully Comanche. Where an outsider woman would be allowed to marry into a Comanche family, gaining recognition as an equal member of society, foreign men had no such opportunity. Instead, Natan’s continued loyalty to the tribe would lead to him being “bound” to a warrior. He would become a shield-bearer of sorts- responsible for protection and arming of that Comanche. In all likelihood, the Comanche in question would be Chayton. The adolescent fighter was expected to venture out on his first raid in a few short days and would soon be considered a true member of the tribe’s warrior caste, a fellow among the ranks of the older braves. Chayton had been kinder to him recently, the two often shared meals, and traded jokes or insults on their rides back from the practice fields. Whenever possible the Comanche would intervene on his behalf, deterring Peekwi’s attacks whenever he was nearby. In spite of this, Natan couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that he and Chayton would never be equals.
Chapter Six: The Hunt
The dry season had arrived. Herds of wild buffalo roamed through the plains, kicking up dust as they stampeded across the grasslands. To the Comanche, the tasiwóo were more than another beast of the land. Second to only the stallion, the bison were the life-blood of the Comanche nation. With no interest in farming, nomadic people tended remain in an area until the pastures were depleted, and the hunt was exhausted, before migrating to another region of the borderlands. “The buffalo sustains the tribe,” Chayton explained to Natan. The young warrior strapped a quiver of arrows into Tademi’s saddle, “The meat nourishes our armies, the fur clothes our people, and the hide forms our shields,” he continued. He passed Natan a hunting bow and small skinning knife, the only weapons that slaves were allowed to wield. The camp’s food stores were running low, and most of the men had been sent out to scout for the upcoming raid. In response to this, Natan, Chayton, Peekwi and two of the other boys were instructed to form a hunting party and pursue the wandering herd of buffalo spotted south of encampment. Natan glared silently as he watched Peekwi climb onto his pinto- mare. After seeing the outcast hold his own in the wrestling games, most of the boys had heeded Chayton’s instruction and left Natan alone. Peekwi was the exception, intensifying his random attacks on the slave, and making a point to routinely humiliate him in sparring sessions. He sneered and Natan as he sat atop the brown and white horse, lazily twirling his war-lance.
The party rode a half-hour south, galloping through barren trees and brush. Chayton led the way, effortlessly outpacing the other hunters. After spending the morning patrolling the scrubland, the group eventually encountered hoof-prints and droppings. The herd was near. The boys scanned the horizon and finally spotted a straggler buffalo on edge of a forest, a few hundred yards away. Peekwi pulled to the front of the pack, spurring his horse onward, “I won’t let an Apache coward rob me of my kill.” Hooves pounding the dry grass, he and his mount bolted off toward the tree line. Chayton rolled his eyes, and signaled the other hunters. The pack followed Peekwi, but by the time they managed to reach the tree line, he had disappeared into the forest and was nowhere to be found. Examining the tall tree cover around them, the hunters pulled on their reins and began a slow trot through the woodland, combing through the area in search of game. “There!” Natan cried out, doing his best to keep his voice hushed. The others turned to the direction he was facing, and locked eyes with an enormous herd of buffalo, numbering close to a hundred and fifty. A chilling war cry rang through the forest, Peekwi and his horse launched out of a thick patch of brush, flanking the buffalo herd from the left side. Riding toward a smaller bison at the edge of the pack, he turned about, and taking his war lance, he impaled the animal through the breast plate. The Comanche hunter let loose a victorious roar. The holler was almost immediately drowned out by a far louder sound, and suddenly, Peekwi realized his mistake. The herd was mainly comprised of male bulls, and not female cows. When a member of group was killed, the buffalo didn’t scatter as Peekwi assumed they would, instead, they charged. The impact of their hooves on the forest floor was deafening, rolling toward them like thunder. “RUN!” Shouted Chayton. He spurred the his to no avail, desperately trying to calm the pony, but Tadewi would not settle down. The beast whinnied, and reared up on its hind legs, paying no mind Chayton’s commands. The pony had never disobeyed him before, but it also had never encountered anything like this. Peekwi had turned tail and was barreling toward the group of hunters, with the pursuing herd close behind. His eyes were wide with fear as he coaxed his steed toward the group. In his rush to escape, Peekwi’s horse jostled past Chayton’s, knocking him onto the ground. Chayton scrambled to his feet in time to see Tadewi and the two other hunters sprinting out of the woods, the buffalo were now less than stone’s throw away. He began sprinting to the tree line, but he knew the herd would run him down in seconds.
To his confusion, Chayton felt a hard jerk on the scruff of his neck. Natan had rode back for him, but was struggling to pull him onto the mare. Chayton sprinted forward to keep in stride with the horse, and managed to swing his leg onto the animal as Natan gripped his tunic in one hand. With a massive groan, one of the beasts tripped behind them, crashing down to the red dirt below. A near miss. Natan’s grip on the reins loosened, struggling to keep the horse on its path. Faltering in its step, the nervous animal began to lose speed. With the enraged buffalo drawing nearer and nearer, Chayton reached from behind ripped the reins away from the skittish Apache rider. Calmly, Chayton coaxed the horse into a full gallop, building speed with every stride, working to put distance between them and the stampeding herd. Natan stared in wonder as the young Comanche guided them swiftly through the trees, slipping past obstacles in the blink of an eye. Approaching the edge of the woods, he spurred the mare forward, leading her toward a small ledge. Vaulting them off of the rocky ledge, the trio dropped six feet down, and landed on the forest floor without breaking pace. Hastening the horse toward the tree line, Chayton quickly settled the jumpy mount, uttering quiet but firm commands.
Breaking through foliage, the boys galloped out of forest and swerved off to one side, desperately trying to get out of the herd’s path. Yanking the horse to the right, Chayton guided the them well out of harm’s way. Safe at last, the two young hunters watched in awe as the enraged bison charged out into the plains. Chayton glanced around, Peekwi and the other hunters had made it to safety, and Tadewi had managed to canter out of the fray in time. Natan glanced back at him, his heart slamming against his chest. Natan cracked a nervous grin as the boys broke into nervous laughter, wiping off cold sweat as they celebrated their improbable feat.
Chapter Seven: Retribution
Still chuckling, Chayton stepped off the horse and whistled for Tadewi. Expecting his black pony, he looked to Peekwi’s pinto storming toward him, with its fuming rider in the saddle. He pulled on the reins at the last minute, halting the horse before it struck Chayton. The taller Comanche stared back at him without flinching. Snarling in anger, Peekwi descended from horseback and rounded on Natan. “You two almost killed me! Stay out of my way!” he bellowed. He advanced toward the Apache but Chayton stepped in first. Peekwi was strong, but entirely predictable. As always, Peekwi lowered himself onto his haunches and shot forward at Chayton’s legs, looking to tackle him to the ground. Chayton kept his distance, then threw a knee at his aggressor as he closed in. The brunt of the attack caught Peekwi directly on the chin, causing him to hobble backwards. Chayton slipped in and followed up with a swift cross aimed at Peekwi’s weakened jaw. The strike landed perfectly, sending the shorter warrior spinning to the ground. “That’s enough,” he said calmly, standing over Peekwi. The wounded fighter spat blood onto the grass, and leered back at Chayton, “I’ll have your slave-friend lashed for this,” he retorted.
Natan could wait no longer. The other two hunters had returned to the forest to examine the downed bison, and the older Comanche warriors were a few days’ ride away. He would not have this opportunity again. His freedom sat immediately in front of him, and if he wished to grasp it, he would need to act now. His hands shaking, he took the hunting knife from his belt, lurched forward, and then buried it in Peekwi’s chest. A horrible chill ran through Chayton’s spine. Natan had learned to think like a warrior, and just like on that fateful day in the sand pit, he had learned to catch is opponents off guard. “I’m sorry,” the Apache whispered, releasing the knife quickly and turning to mount his horse. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Chayton cried, pulling Natan off the horse, and wrapping his hand around his throat. Squeezing the captive’s windpipe, Chayton heard a feeble cough from behind him. Peekwi was still alive. Chayton released Natan, and turned around to see scarlet blood blossoming across the wounded boy’s tunic. He would not be able to both pursue the Apache and save the young warrior. Natan wasted no time, gasping to catch his breath, he vaulted onto the mare and galloped off into the distance. There was certainly no love lost between Chayton and Peekwi, but the boy was Comanche, and Natan’s deception was unforgivable. Chayton tried desperately to bind the wound, but to no avail. As Natan disappeared over the horizon, Peekwi exhaled his last breath.
Two Weeks Later
After several days of searching, Comanche scouts had finally tracked Natan down to the edge of Apache territory, reporting that the boy had made camp in a settlement three days away. Contrary to youthful beliefs, Chayton’s first raid would not be full of adventure and glory. His desire for vengeance gnawed away at his soul, and his lapse of judgement haunted him. The young warrior was kept awake long into the night, plagued by guilt. Chayton took his thumb, and dragged a stripe of red war paint across his face. The warrior mounted his pony, gripping his tomahawk in one hand, he faced the war party. “A foreign invader has slain our brother. Ride south with me tonight, and remind these outsiders the consequences of crossing the Comanche. We are the lords of the southern plains, conquerors of grasslands and we will tear through the Apache like wildfire, until they recognize us as such.” Turning toward the open prairie, the Comanche cavalry galloped off into the fading light. His eyes burning with hatred, and his heart full of regret, Chayton stared back at nʉʉmʉ braves riding behind him. “This time,” he whispered “leave no one to enslave.”
Ambrose, William, Ronald C. Meyer, Mark Reeder, Shirlee Silversmith, Tyler Christopher, Alphonse Keasley, and Jane S. Roche. Plains Indian Wars. New York, NY: Ambrose Video Publishing, 2008. Internet resource.
Hamalainen, Pekka K. The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press, 2009.