Some of this story is taken from the annals of history in the late 1880’s and reflects the documented relationships between the supposedly civilized white people and the supposedly savage Native American tribe of the Comanche. It is important to remember that as has been paraphrased by many over the centuries, that history was written by the victorious and not by the defeated.
The culture of the Comanche was significantly different from the culture of white people in some ways, but very similar in others. That culture was based on a way of life most white people of the time could not comprehend and so they ignored it in the writing of history. In actuality, it was a way of life the Comanche developed over centuries of living in harmony with their environment. It is true that part of that culture involved warring with first other Native American tribes and then with the white settlers who encroached on traditional Comanche hunting grounds. The same can be said for all civilizations, white or other, from antiquity to the present day.
The remainder of the story is what I imagine to be the actual truth about the Comanche in the times before they were relocated to the reservation and afterward. After all is said and done, humans all share the same hopes, dreams, and motivations regardless of their ancestry or location. It is their environment that constructs their culture and not some imagined superiority of certain groups over others.
On the eighteenth of May, 1875, Melody Arens climbed down from the wagon that had brought her to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory from the railroad depot in Caddo, Oklahoma Territory. After retrieving her bag from the wagon, she walked to the building where the office of the Indian Agent was located.
Melody’s purpose for coming to Fort Sill was not a personal preference nor was it something she believed would further her career. Her assignment was to observe the surrender of the last group of Comanche Indians to the US Army and then interview some of them. In her heart she knew she’d been sent by the St. Louis Post Dispatch only to write a story for the newspaper that would attract the women readers of such stories.
Sending her there also gave her editor a little respite from Melody’s constant asking when she would get an important reporting assignment. He wasn’t about to give her an assignment he’d always given a man. He might have to put up with female reporters, but he didn’t have to give them important assignments.
Melody was what was known as a “Sob Sister” by the male reporters of the various newspapers. Several female reporters worked for newspapers, but the articles they wrote concentrated on the emotional toll on the people involved and the sympathy those same people deserved. It was thought by the male reporters that those articles often reduced the female reader to tears, hence the name “Sob Sister”. Melody’s last assignment was covering the funerals of several people who had perished when the boiler of a steamboat blew up when approaching the docs at St. Louis.
Melody had interviewed the few survivors as well as the relations of those who had perished, and then wrote a column about the plight of the widows and orphans of the men killed. Her editor said it was a good article, but Melody already knew that. She was surprised when he said he was going to put it on the front page, at the bottom, of course. She also didn’t know how much of an impact that column would have on the newspaper, the community, and most importantly, on her life.
The effect on the newspaper was immediate. The first edition for that day sold out within two hours and the paper printed a second addition that hit the streets right after noon. It also sold out by five that evening.
The newspaper responded by donating the profits of the first edition to the churches in St. Louis and was to be used to pay the funeral costs for the deceased. Those churches found that once that article appeared in the next day’s edition as well, people from St. Louis were asking if they could donate money toward the cost of the funerals or to a fund to help the widows and orphans.
The newspaper owner was so happy he told her editor to give her a more important assignment. Her editor told her to get herself to Fort Sill to witness the surrender of the last group of Comanche Indians at Fort Sill.
“We’ll run your story as a series over a week on the second page. You know what to write. Just stay away from writing about the Indian men. Everybody already knows they’re savage killers at heart. Concentrate on the women and children. Write how their lives used to be and how they’re now going to change. Our women readers will be waiting at the paper drop to buy the next day’s edition.”
To Melody, this assignment was the same as all the others she’d gotten except this one would be harder to write. The reason was that since the end of the Civil War, most of the stories considered newsworthy by the Chief Editor had to do with the violent resistance of the many Indian tribes against moving to the reservations in Indian Territory and the bloody fighting that took place between those tribes and the US Cavalry.
The attacks by the Indians on settlements that left many white people dead with desecrated bodies had taken the front page many times. So had the several battles between the Indians and the US Cavalry, and the Indians had always been portrayed as bloodthirsty madmen who killed for the sake of killing and then desecrated the bodies. Convincing a reader that the women of those Indian tribes felt the same feelings about losing their husbands and children as white women did would take some skillful writing.
Melody’s plan was to witness the formal surrender and then talk to the Comanches about the past and about what they thought of their future. She wasn’t sure if the Comanche men would talk with her because she knew from reading the newspapers that most Indian man considered women to be useful only for the drudgery of the household and for bearing children. Some Comanche men were known to have married up to six wives in order to have an easier way of life and to sire more sons.
Melody thought if she could speak directly to the Comanche women, she’d learn their real plight and how they felt about their situations. She doubted they would tell any of the male reporters now milling around Fort Sill their innermost secrets, but they might tell another woman.
The surrender ceremony wasn’t what Melody had expected. She’d anticipated there would be speeches by the Commanding General of Fort Sill and speeches by the conquered Indians. This had been the case when several large units of Confederate soldiers had surrendered at the end of the war.
Instead, the Cavalry column rode up to the parade ground where she stood. Behind them were the Comanche men on horseback, and behind them were the women and children on foot and leading horses laden with packs. There were a few words exchanged between Horace Marks, the Indian Agent and one of the Comanche men, and then the column left.
The only remarkable thing to Melody was the look of the Indians. She’d expected to see them be dressed in shoddy clothing and looking downcast and sad. That’s what she’d read in the newspaper descriptions of the defeated Confederate soldiers when they surrendered.
Instead, the Comanche men sat on their horses with the firm faces of pride and dressed in clean, finely cut leather clothing decorated with colorful beadwork and many feathers. The women’s garments were not so rich, but still were clean and sported some decorations of beads and shells. She could not believe these were a defeated people. They looked more to her like people who had resigned themselves to their fate but had refused to surrender their personal pride.
As the column move out, Melody realized she wasn’t going to be able to talk with any Comanche women until they got to wherever the Cavalry was taking them. She walked up to the throng of reporters who surrounded the Indian Agent in hopes of finding out where that would be. It was quickly obvious to her that she had little hope of that happening.
The other reporters, all men, were yelling questions at the Indian Agent about how many Indians had been killed before they surrendered and how many of the Cavalry had been killed. They also would not let her get close enough that the Indian Agent could hear her voice over the yelling.
The men reporters all seemed sad when the Indian Agent said there had been no battle. He and the Commanding General of Fort Sill had just sat down with the leaders of the last band of Comanches still not on the reservation to talk. The General had explained that his orders were to bring all the Comanche to live on the reservation and that if they continued to resist, he would only send more soldiers to kill them.
The Indian Agent had pointed out the fact that the vast herds of buffalo that had been almost the sole resource for the Comanche were nearly gone, so even if they continued to live off the reservation, they would starve. The only way to survive as a people with their own religion and customs would be to live on the reservation where the US Government would provide for their needs.
The tribal elders had a long discussion, and at the end, the war chief of the band, a man named Towahwi, stood and said the band would move to the reservation.
Once the Indian Agent had explained all this, the male reporters all left, most in wagons or buggies, but some on horseback. They were all on their way to the railroad station in Caddo because where there was a railroad station, there was a telegraph, and each wanted to be the first to get their story to their newspaper.
Melody waited patiently until the last one left and then walked into the building. She found the Indian Agent’s office and after she knocked, he let her in and asked her to have a seat.
“Ma’am, I saw you in that crowd of reporters, but thought you were just a bystander. What can I help you with?”
Melody laid her Saint Louis Dispatch press card on the desk in front of the Indian Agent.
“I wish to speak with the Comanche to get information for a newspaper article.”
The Indian Agent looked at it for a second and then handed it back to Melody.
“Miss Arens, what can I tell you that I haven’t already told all the others? There was no battle. Towahwi is a smart man and understood his cause was lost.”
Melody smiled in hopes of putting the Indian Agent at ease.
“I do not wish to write about the surrender as such. I wish to write about the Comanche people. In order to do that, I would ask you to take me there and make the necessary introductions. I will then interview the people. In a day I will be on my way back to Saint Louis.”
The Indian Agent smiled back.
“Ma’am, I can take you to their encampment, but are you certain you wish to go there? Towahwi assured me his band will fight no more and I believe him. I do not know if all the members of his band share that opinion. Should something happen to you, that incident would be serious enough for General Hayward to send troops to arrest the offenders.
“That could possibly cause another battle where more of the Comanche would die and that could stir up another uprising amongst the other groups of Comanche currently on the reservation. I have worked too long and too hard to bring those savages to the reservation for it all to come undone because of one woman reporter.”
Melody was becoming upset. She hadn’t come all this way to be refused access to the Comanche and she didn’t intend to be. She might be a female reporter, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t use the same tactics as a male reporter.
“Mister Marks, if you will not take me to the Comanche, I am certain someone at Fort Sill knows where they are and will be willing to take me for the right price. My newspaper is read all over the United States, including even Washington, D.C. Which would you rather be published in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch – that the agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs graciously assisted me in writing my article, or that you refused to help me and I was forced to pay someone else? I would be sure to include your name in either case.”
Horace Marks was smiling, but he was also thinking about the threat this impudent woman had just made because it was real. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was part of the Department of the Interior and that office was located in Washington, D.C.. Through the Superintendents, the Department of the Interior managed the Bureau of Indian Affairs which included appointments as Indian Agents as well as budgeting.
So far, his relationship with the Superintendent of Oklahoma Territory had been only by mail. At the end of each month, Horace sent a report on his actions and expenses to the superintendent. The Superintendent then sent Horace the money to cover those expenses.
Should his name appear in a newspaper with the statement that he hadn’t helped the reporter, it could cause the Superintendent of Oklahoma Territory to visit him. A visit would probably reveal that while on his monthly reports Horace claimed to have six employees working in the Agency, in truth he only employed his wife as a secretary and his nephew as a driver for his carriage. The wages for the other four went into Horace’ pocket.
A visit by the Superintendent might also reveal that while Horace had been billing the Department of the Interior for prime beef to feed the Indians on the reservation, he’d actually been buying what was known as “cutters and canners”. That beef was usually from either worn out milk cows or from cattle that had suffered injuries or a lack of feed. The weight of each individual carcass was half that of prime beef. Most of the difference between what Horace paid and what he billed the Department of the Interior for went into his pocket. The rest he paid to the suppliers of the substandard beef to keep them quiet.
Of the two options the woman had given him, helping her was the only logical choice. If the Comanche decided to rape her and then cut her to ribbons, he could always say he’d tried to discourage her.
“Well, Miss Arens, since you seem to be determined to risk your life, I will ask the General to have a man drive you to Towhwi’s camp. With a Cavalry soldier along, you will probably be safe enough. After the beating Towhwi’s warriors took at his last battle, he probably won’t try anything. I would assume you wish to leave as soon as possible.”
As Melody rocked back and forth on the hard seat of the Cavalry wagon, she decided that Mister Marks had decided to make her visit to the Comanche as uncomfortable as possible. It wasn’t just the wagon that rocked and shuddered over the rough road. That was uncomfortable but bearable. It was the man driving the wagon that made her more uneasy.
On his shoulders he wore the single stripe of a private, but on his sleeve, he wore three stripes that denoted he’d been in the Cavalry for fifteen years.
Melody knew enough about the military ranks to know he should not have been a private with fifteen years of service if he was a good soldier.
It was easy to tell that he probably wasn’t a good soldier. He was fat enough his uniform had been let out in both the legs and the shirt, and even the effort of climbing into the wagon seemed to have made him gasp for breath.
There was also the way he’d looked at her when she climbed to the seat beside him. It was a look she’d seen before by the men in the rougher parts of St. Louis. It was a leering look made her feel threatened.
Melody had been jostled and jolted for a little over half an hour when she saw the village of partially erected tepees in the distance. Her driver laughed.
“Well, little lady there be it, such as it is. Them savages lives in them buffalo hide tents you see there. It’ll be the womens who put them up. The men’ll be sitting down and watching because that’s what they do. The men do the killing and their womens does ever’thin’ else. Ain’t no killing now, so the men just sit on their backsides until their womens get a bed made for ‘em and git some food fixed.
I ain’t goin’ no farther’n the edge of the camp, an’ I’m keepin’ my Colt in my hand. I seen enough of them redskins an’ I ain’t getting’ closer’n I have to. You’ll have to go interduce yerself an’ see if’n they’ll talk to you. Mister Marks said you should ask for Running Fawn. She can talk English as well as that jabber the Comanche talk. When you git done, jest walk back to the wagon an’ I’ll take you back to Fort Sill.”
When the driver stopped the wagon, Melody took her pad and pen and climbed down from the wagon. After taking a deep breath, she started walking toward the village. Her goal was to reach the first tipi she came to and ask to speak to Running Fawn.
Melody was quickly surrounded by small children who felt her dress and then followed her. She looked at the girl who seemed to be the oldest and said, “Running Fawn”?
The girl smiled and then started to walk away. Melody followed her to a tipi in the center of the village. A woman with white hair was just coming out of the circular entrance. The girl ran up to the woman and said something Melody couldn’t understand. The older woman shielded her eyes from the sun as she looked at Melody, then walked to within a pace.
“Small Dove say you want Running Fawn. I Running Fawn. What want?”
Melody explained that she wanted to talk with the Comanche to hear what had led up to their surrender and agreement to live on the reservation. She told the woman that the Indian Agent, Mr. Marks, had said the woman named Running Fawn spoke both English and Comanche.
Running Fawn frowned.
“Why want this?”
Melody smiled hoping to change Running Fawn’s expression.
“I write articles for a newspaper…that’s a piece of paper that white people buy to read the articles I write. I want to write an article, a story if you will, about the Comanche people.”
“I will write whatever the Comanche tell me.”
Running Fawn was still frowning.
“You write that Comanche kill whites. Go away.”
Melody took a step forward.
“No. I don’t write that kind of story. I write stories for women. I want to tell women in Saint Louis about the Comanche women.”
Running Fawn chuckled then.
“Comanche women not different than white women.”
“Oh, I am sure there are differences. How do you know there aren’t differences?”
Running Fawn finally smiled.
“I white woman. I know.”
Melody looked carefully at Running Fawn then. Her skin was maybe a little paler than the other women she saw, but the big difference she saw was in Running Fawn’s face. Running Fawn’s face wasn’t quite as rounded and her cheekbones weren’t as prominent. Melody had no idea of how old Running Fawn was, but her face had crows feet at her eyes and a few wrinkles around her mouth. She didn't see either on any of the other women.
“You’re a white woman living with the Comanche?”
Running Fawn smiled.
“You come tipi I tell you story.”
Melody didn’t know what to expect when she stepped through the entrance to the tipi. From the outside it looked like just a few hides sewn together and held up by several long poles. Inside it was different.
Inside and attached to the poles was another set of hides stitched together and tied to the poles to line the tipi. The liner was about head high. There were several areas that seemed to have a definite purpose as well.
In the very center was a circle of stones with more stones piled on the outside. Inside the circle were a few slender branches and just inside the entrance was a stack of thicker branches. It was obvious to Melody that the circle of stones was to contain a fire, probably for cooking and warming the tipi. She had no idea what the other stones were for.
On one side to the right of the door was a bed of sorts that appeared to be made of more hides, though these looked thinner and softer and had the fur left on. Another that looked the same was to the left of the entrance. Opposite the entrance were sacks of what Melody assumed to be the possessions of Running Fawn. On the liner at this place hung a shield and leaning against the liner was a long pole with an iron point. It was decorated with several feathers.
Running Fawn sat down on the bed on the left side of the entrance and then said, “You sit, I tell story.”
When Melody sat down, Running Fawn began.
“Comanche mother say husband, Two Horse, raid white man farm. Two Horse bring me back to Comanche mother and say her baby die so he bring me to her. I not woman, just girl, but big enough know white mother and father dead.
“I afraid, but Comanche mother take care of me. She give clothes, give food, teach speak Comanche. She teach me be Comanche girl, be Comanche woman, marry Comanche man. Chief Towhwi my son. Have two son but other son die long time ago. What else want know?”
Melody had anticipated talking to a few Comanche women, finding out what they thought about their life before and what they thought about their life in the future. After what Running Fawn had just told her, she knew she couldn’t just do that now. Running Fawn was the perfect person to give her the stories that the women in St. Louis would read over and over and discuss over afternoon tea.
She smiled at Running Fawn.
“I have much more that I want to learn and I had thought I could learn what the Comanche women do and how they feel in a day, but now, I see that it will take longer. I think I should go back to Fort Sill and make new arrangements to visit with you every day until I finish.”
Running Fawn frowned. She had thought perhaps this white woman could tell the whites the truth about Comanche life and why they had rebelled against the Cavalry. There was only one way Running Fawn knew this woman would learn that truth.
“If want to know Comanche women, must be Comanche woman. You stay in tipi with Running Fawn and Towhwi and be Comanche woman.”
“Towhwi lives with you?”
Running Fawn nodded.
“It is Comanche way. Comanche man stay with mother and father until take wife. When take wife, live with mother and father or in tipi very close. Towhwi not find wife yet, so stay with mother Running Fawn.”
Melody was torn between two things. On the one hand, she was intensely interested in Running Fawn and had a thousand questions she want to ask the woman. On the other hand, how could she explain to her editor, let alone to her family, that she’d stayed in the same tipi with an Indian man? She’d be, at best, considered a traitor to her race. At worst, she’d be considered tainted just because she’d spent time with an Indian man even though nothing had happened between them.
“Running Fawn, I greatly appreciate the offer, but I can’t stay with you.”
Running Fawn frowned. This woman was just like the rest of the whites. Indians were people to be either treated as a curiosity or as savages to be feared, not as other human beings.
“You not want know real Comanche woman. You leave now and not come back.”
Melody sat there and looked at Running Fawn for almost a minute. She had an opportunity that might never come again. To refuse that opportunity would mean she’d have to abandon the reason she’d become a reporter, that being the search for the truth in any set of circumstances. She’d just have to bear the criticism that came along with that search.
“Running Fawn, if I stay, what would you expect of me?”
When Melody walked back to the wagon, she had to shake the driver to wake him up. He yawned, stretched, and then frowned.
“Thought you’d be here longer.”
“Please tell Mister Marks that I’ll be staying with the Comanche for a few days and that I’ll make my own way back to Fort Sill.”
The driver shrugged.
“Suit yourself. Just watch out for them young bucks. They’ll have you spread behind a tipi while each’un takes his turn.”
With that, he picked up the reins he’d looped around the brake handle and spoke to the team. Melody watched him drive away, wondered if she’d made the right decision, and then smiled because she thought she had.
Melody was a little surprised by Running Fawn’s answer to what would be expected of her.
“Not know Comanche woman until be Comanche woman. Take off clothes.”
Melody looked at the open entrance and then back at Running Fawn.
“A man will see me naked.”
Running Fawn chuckled.
“Comanche woman no care. Comanche man look but she know he only be with wife. Take off clothes. I give you dress.”
Melody hadn’t been naked in front of anyone since she was about six. By the time she was naked, she was blushing red all the way down to her breasts.
Running Fawn nodded and handed Melody a bundle made of thin leather.
“Look like Comanche woman only not same color. Sun make almost same color like me. Here Comanche dress. Put on.”
The dress felt as soft as flannel when Melody slipped it over her head, and it settled around her curves without really defining them as had her dress. It felt more like the nightdress she slept in. The feel against her skin was nice. The length of the dress was not. It stopped at Melody’s knees.
Like all women, Melody always kept her legs covered by a long dress except for when she was alone. She felt almost naked with her bare legs showing. She looked at Running Fawn.
“My legs aren’t covered. A woman shouldn’t show her legs to any man except for her husband.”
Running Fawn laughed.
“You think because white woman not show legs white man not know she have legs?”
“Well, no, but a lady would never show hers.”
“What think man do if see woman legs? Think he try make baby with her? White man maybe, Comanche man no. Comanche man only make baby with wife. You see.”
Melody again decided that while people in St. Louis would think poorly of her for showing her legs to all the men in the Comanche camp, unless she told them she had, they’d never know.
She ran her hands down over the leather of the dress again.
“I didn’t know leather could be this soft. How do you do it?”
“You learn make. Then know. Need wood for fire. We go find.”
Melody asked if she could wear her shoes, but Running Fawn shook her head.
“Shoes too hard. Not feel ground like in moccasin. Comanche woman wear moccasin after make. You not make yet.”
As they walked into the trees to gather firewood Melody was full of questions she want to ask Running Fawn. First and foremost, she wanted to understand how the Comanche women felt about moving to the reservation, so she asked Running Fawn. Running Fawn stopped and frowned.
“How you feel if move from home to place you not know?”
Melody had expected an answer, not a question, but as she was to learn, a question was often the answer she received from Running Fawn.
“I suppose I wouldn’t like it, but I was told the Comanche didn’t have a place they called home. They followed the buffalo herds.”
Running Fawn frowned.
“Long time since speak English so not say right words. Home not mean place. Home mean where feel safe. Comanche woman feel safe in place she know. She know where is water and where is berries and where is wood and other things she need for husband and childs. Comanche woman know this where buffalo go. Not know here.
“I not feel safe when Comanche take me. I stay and learn, then feel safe. Comanche woman same. Not feel safe here, but stay and learn. Someday, Comanche woman feel safe here. You not feel safe with Comanche but you stay with Running Fawn and learn. Someday you feel safe with Comanche.”
Running Fawn picked up two more sticks of wood and put them with the rest that Melody was carrying. She then lifted the sack-like piece of what also looked like leather she’d been carrying.
“Now get water then go tipi, make food. Towhwi want eat.”
The making of that meal was Melody’s first real introduction into Comanche life. Changing clothes had been embarrassing and gathering firewood had been something white men did, but it wasn’t odd for a white woman to gather firewood as well. The making of the meal was so different Melody didn’t know if she could live as a Comanche for more than a day or two.
They’d walked to the creek that ran near the Comanche camp. Running Fawn had dipped the leather bag into the water and when it was filled, they started back to the camp.
Once they were back inside the tipi, Running Fawn first built a fire in the circle of stones. As the fire burned down to coals, Running Fawn placed several smooth stones from the pile beside the fire circle right on the coals. Then, she took a tripod made of stout branches from the wall of the tipi and spread the legs beside the fire circle.
She went back to the wall and picked up another bag-like thing, hung it from the tripod, and then half filled it with water. This new bag was almost transparent and looked like something other than leather. She asked Running Fawn what it was made of.
Running Fawn pointed to her stomach and said, “Where buffalo put grass he eat.”
Running Fawn smiled.
“Not remember that word. It buffalo stomach. Good for cook food. You see.”
Melody watched as Running Fawn took three leather bags that hung from the poles of the tipi and brought them to the fire.. From one she took she took two handfuls of what looked to Melody like potatoes only much smaller, ranging from the size of a pea to the size of a walnut. Running Fawn put these into the buffalo stomach and then used two forked sticks to lift two of the stones from the fire. She lowered the stones into the water in the buffalo stomach. As the stones went into the water Melody heard the sizzling sound of water boiling against the surface of the stones.
Running Fawn sat back then and waited. From time to time, she put her finger into the water in the buffalo stomach and then put the finger in her mouth. Melody asked her what she was doing. Running Fawn just said, “Taste water.”
Melody did as Running Fawn had done, and when she put her finger in her mouth, she tasted a bitterness she’d not tasted before.
“Ugh”, she said. “That’s terrible.”
Running Fawn smiled.
“Bad taste in water now. I pour out and put in more water.”
Once Running Fawn had taken the buffalo stomach outside and dumped out the water, she hung it from the tripod again and put in more water. From one of the other two sacks she took a handful of what Melody recognized as dried meat and from the third, a handful of small roots that looked to Melody like very small onions.
Running Fawn broke the dried meat into pieces and dropped it into the buffalo stomach, then put in the small roots. Finally, she added more hot stones from the fire.
About five minutes later, Melody discovered she was hungry and also that whatever Running Fawn was cooking smelled really good. She asked Running Fawn what meat she’d used. Running Fawn smiled.
“Towhwi good hunter. Kill buffalo, deer, antelope every year. I dry meat for winter. This him favorite food, buffalo stew with onions and potatoes I dig from the ground. I use last of dried buffalo because Towhwi need feel better after move to reservation. Towhwi was war chief, now feel like he fail Comanche.”
Melody tried to sympathize.
“Running Fawn, Towhwi didn’t fail the Comanche. He saved them from all being killed by the Cavalry. The President of the United States ordered the Cavalry to stop the war between the Cavalry and the Comanche. If Towhwi hadn’t surrendered, the Cavalry would have kept killing the Comanche until there were no Comanche left.”
Running Fawn nodded.
“Towhwi know, but still feel like fail. No Comanche war chief lose battle before Towhwi.”
Melody was going to explain that the Comanche had no chance of winning because of the number of Cavalry at Fort Sill, but she was stopped when a man entered the tipi. He looked at Melody, frowned, and then said something to Running Fawn. She smiled.
“Towhwi want know who you and why you in tipi.”
She looked up at Towhwi then and Melody could see the love in Running Fawn’s eyes.
“Towhwi, this Melody. She want write about Comanche. I tell her she not know Comanche until she be Comanche woman. She stay here and learn.”
Before Running Fawn could say anything else, Melody interrrupted.
“He speaks English?”
Running Fawn smiled.
“Father and father’s mother teach him speak Comanche. I have dream say he need know English. I teach him speak English.”
Melody looked up at the man standing there and still staring at her. She’d seen him riding his horse at Ft. Sill, but he was too far away for her to see much. Now…
He wasn’t as tall as some white men she knew, but he looked very strong. His bare shoulders were wide and his body rippled with muscles from his shoulders down to the loincloth he wore. Melody had never seen a man’s bare legs before, but she couldn’t imagine many white men she knew had such defined muscles in their legs. Towhwi looked as if he could probably run forever and was strong enough to overpower almost any man.
He noticed her staring and his chiseled face frowned.
“Why you want write about Comanche? You want say Comanche men turn into women and stop fighting?”
Melody shook her head.
“No, not at all. I write stories for white women to read and I thought they might like to understand how Comanche women lived before and how they will live now that the Comanche live on an Indian reservation.”
Towhwi smiled then.
“What you write about Comanche women?”
“Well, I don’t know yet. I just got here today and the only thing I’ve seen is what Running Fawn did. I need to know much more about Comanche women before I can write about them.”
“How long you stay with Running Fawn?”
“I don’t know. I thought maybe two days, but now I think it will take longer than that.”
“You not afraid? All whites afraid of Comanche.”
“Well, yes, a little.”
Towhwi smiled again.
Melody chose her words carefully. She’d read in the newspaper about how the Comanche killed every white man they fought and how they raped and then killed every white woman. Usually they killed the children as well, though sometimes they captured young white girls. Running Fawn was an example of that practice.
“Well, from what I’ve heard and read, Comanche men usually kill white women after they…well after they take advantage of them.”
“That true, but it is Comanche way make war since grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s time. The Comanche not make war now. You safe with Running Fawn…and with me.”
Unlike when Melody ate with her family, there was little conversation while they ate the buffalo stew. The meal was finished quickly. Towhwi left for a while, to talk with the council Running Fawn said. Melody said she thought since Towhwi was the chief, he would decide everything, but Running Fawn shook her head.
“Towhwi is war chief because he is brave warrior and know best way fight, but he not decide what village do. Council of elders talk, then decide. They talk before go to reservation. Towhwi war chief, but not decide. That is Comanche way.”
It was dark outside when Towhwi came back. He didn’t say anything about where he’d been or what he’d been doing. He just stripped off his loin cloth, lay down on his bed and covered himself with another hide.
Melody had gasped when she saw Towhwi’s manhood. It was the first time she’d ever seen a man completely naked. She leaned toward Running Fawn and whispered.
“Does Towhwi always go to bed with no clothes on?”
“Yes, all Comanche sleep with no clothes unless think need clothes when wake up, like when hunting or war. Cooler in summer and warmer in winter. We sleep same and time sleep now. Take off dress and sleep with Running Fawn.
Running Fawn had left the fire burning and though it was just coals it still cast a partial light inside the tipi, enough light Melody knew Towhwi could see her when she took off her clothes.
“Running Fawn, I can’t. Towhwi will see me and it isn’t proper.”
Running Fawn chuckled.
“You see Towhwi. That proper?”
“No, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve…I’ve never seen a naked man’s…I’ve never seen a naked man.”
Running Fawn chuckled again.
“All men same, white or Indian. All women same too. Towhwi see, but just see what see before. Take off dress.”
Running Fawn then pulled her dress over her head and hung it from one of the tipi poles, then turned back to Melody.
“See. I same as you.”
Melody looked at Towhwi. He had turned his head away from where she and Running Fawn stood. She quickly pulled the dress over her head and then walked to another tipi pole, but couldn’t find a way to hang it. Running Fawn walked over then and showed her the twig lashed to the pole next to the one Melody was trying to use. Melody hung her dress then, and when she turned around, she saw that Towhwi was again facing her and his eyes were open and he had a smile on his face.
Melody knew she was probably blushing, but she tried to maintain her composure. She followed Running Fawn to the bed and when Running Fawn pulled back the fur covering, she slipped inside. Running Fawn did the same and then pulled the fur up to their shoulders.
Melody couldn’t see Towhwi because Running Fawn was in the way, but she did wonder if he was still watching her. She also wondered what he was thinking. He’d smiled so he must have liked her but was that a good thing or something she should fear? If they were ever alone together, would he do something to her? Melody decided she couldn’t ever let that happen. She’d stay with Running Fawn every second of every day.
The next two days went by quickly because Running Fawn kept Melody busy learning what Comanche women did every day. During that two days, Melody learned several things about Comanche men and women.
She saw the same interactions between Comanche men and their wives as she’d seen with white people. There wasn’t the open display of affection that she was used to, like holding hands or kissing, but the obvious attraction between a husband and his wife was there. It might be just a touch before the husband left to hunt. It might be a wife yelling at her husband and her husband trying to calm her down. She’d asked Running Fawn about that.
“I was told that Comanche men only marry women to cook for them and to have their babies. I didn’t think a Comanche wife would ever yell at her husband.
Running Fawn smiled.
“Comanche husband hunt and make war. Comanche wife make home. Comanche wife not say how hunt or make war. Comanche husband not say how wife keep home.”
Running Fawn chuckled then.
“If he do, he eat cold food and sleep in cold bed.”
Melody noticed another thing that was the same. There weren’t a lot of young, unmarried men in the group because many had been killed during the battles. There were several young, unmarried women though, and they were actively pursued by the remaining young men.
Running Fawn had explained that a Comanche man could only marry a girl if her father approved, and that the approval was based upon the gifts the young man would give to her father. It might be horses or a deer he had killed. The value of the gift was a reflection of the value the man placed on his proposed wife.
What Melody saw that but also more. When a man decided he wanted to marry a girl, it was obvious that she agreed to the union. She would smile when she saw him, and often would stroke her hair when he was around. Melody had seen that in white women who loved a man. The gifts to the girl’s father were really no different that the dowry white men of some backgrounds paid to the white girl’s family.
She also realized the Comanche attitude toward sex was both the same and different. It was the second night when she lay beside Running Fawn that she heard the woman in the nearest tipi moan and then gasp. She’d asked Running Fawn if the woman was ill. Running Fawn laughed quietly.
“Not sick, just feel good when husband make baby in her. You not make sound when that happen?”
“Well, I’ve never been with a man before, so I don’t know.”
Running Fawn chuckled.
“If man do right, you make same sound.”
By the morning of the third day she’d lived with Running Fawn and Towhwi, Melody knew she’d just barely touched the surface of Comanche life. She also knew that most of what she’d read was wrong.
Comanche women were not slaves to their husbands. They worked hard, harder than most white women she knew, but they did so as part of the partnership between a husband and his wife. The husband provided meat and defended her from any enemies. He also gave her children. She gave her husband a home and bore and raised his children.
Melody had learned that while divorce wasn’t common, it was very easy to accomplish. If a husband didn’t provide for his wife, all she had to do to divorce him was move back to her mother and father. If a wife didn’t keep the home as expected, her husband had only to pick up his things and return to his mother and father. As far as the band was concerned, they were now divorced.
Melody knew she could write about those things, but what she really wanted was to talk with several Comanche women who were wives and mother. Since most Comanche people didn’t speak English, the only way to do that was for Running Fawn to act as an interpreter and that would take a lot longer.
Another conversation she really wanted to have if only to satisfy her own curiosity was why Running Fawn had stayed with the Comanche. In any of the battles between the Comanche and the Cavalry, it would have been easy for her to run up to a Cavalry solder and tell him she’d been captured and wanted to go home to her family. That she hadn’t done so was a mystery that Melody couldn’t get out of her head.
That morning, she told Running Fawn she needed to go back to Ft. Sill.
“I want to stay longer, but I need to telegraph my editor about what I want to do. I don’t know if he’ll agree or not, but either way, I want to come back. I still have a lot I want to learn about the Comanche.”
Running Fawn asked Melody how she would get to Ft. Sill.
“I’ll walk. I’ll put on my other dress and walk there, and then I’ll walk back.”
Running Fawn shook her head.
“Comanche woman do that. You not Comanche woman yet. You not know way and you not know what hurt you on way. I talk to Towhwi.”
An hour later, Melody found herself riding on a horse behind Towhwi and trying not to press her breasts into his back. Between holding on by squeezing her legs together and the movement of the horse, that was a difficult thing to do. It seemed as if with every step the horse made, she was jostled forward into Towhwi’s back.
The other problem was just as embarrassing. She’d changed back into her long, cloth dress and she couldn’t straddle the horse so she’d pulled it up almost to her waist. He knew if Towhwi looked down, he’d see her bare legs. She prayed he’d keep his word and not do anything to her.
Melody could just make out the gate to Ft. Sill in the distance when Towhwi stopped.
“You walk rest of way. Not good if soldier see you ride with Towhwi. I wait until you done, then take back to tipi.”
Towhwi had slipped of the horse, helped her down, and then smiled.
“Not stay until sun down. Maybe get lost.”
Melody had walked to the gate and told the sentry who she was and why she was there. Then, she went to the telegraph office and sent a telegram to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In the telegram, she told her editor that she hadn’t learned enough to write an article he’d print, and would stay at Ft. Sill until she could.
It took almost an hour before the response came back. Her editor said he was fine with her staying at Ft. Sill, but he didn’t have the budget to pay for her room and board. He also couldn’t pay her until she gave him an article he could print.
Melody wasn’t upset by her editor saying he couldn’t pay for her room and board. She didn’t need any money for that because she was going to stay with Running Fawn and Towhwi. It was a little upsetting that her editor wouldn’t give her a salary while she was away, but she knew that was because he didn’t consider her to be a real reporter. Male reporters were expected to work every day and they were paid a salary instead of being paid by the article. She was just a writer who wrote articles for women.
Still, Melody was happy. She now had free rein to do what she came all this way to do, that being to tell the women of St. Louis about the women of the Comanche.
When Melody walked back to the place where Towhwi had stopped, he was there waiting on her. He asked if she was ready to go back to the village and she said she was. Towhwi got on his horse and then offered Melody his hand. When she grasped it, he swung her up behind him, waited a few seconds to make sure she was settled, and then started for the village at a walk.
Just as on the ride to Ft. Sill, Melody found herself constantly bumping her breasts into Towhwi’s back. When Towhwi’s horse stepped into a shallow depression and stumbled a little, Melody was thrown forward. She grabbed the only thing she could grab and that was Towhwi.
He didn’t say anything, and Melody was glad he didn’t. She couldn’t have answered him in an intelligent manner. Towhwi was bare-chested like he usually was, and when her hands touched his chest, she felt a wave of little shocks run up her arms.
It was like holding on to a tree, she thought, except a tree wouldn’t be warm and have muscles that hardened like stone and then relaxed as Towhwi moved with the horse.
The other thing that confused her mind was that in order to hold on to Towhwi, she had to hold herself close enough to him that he had to feel her soft breasts pressing into his back. She was somewhat amazed that feeling her breasts against him wasn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, it made her feel safer than she had felt on the trip from the village to Ft. Sill.
Only when they entered the village did Towhwi say anything. He swung one leg over the horse’s withers and dropped to the ground, then helped Melody down. Once she was on her feet, he smiled.
“Ride horse good for white woman.”
As Towhwi led his horse away, Melody was more confused than ever. She shouldn’t have felt anything, but she did. What she thought she felt was what her mother told her she’d feel some day with a man. Her mother said when that day came, Melody would like being so close to him, but it wouldn’t happen with just any man. It would only happen with a man Melody considered to be special.
Was that what she thought – that Towhwi was special? Was he the man her mother had told her about? Melody shook her head. No, that couldn’t be. She was an educated white woman. Towhwi was an uneducated Indian who up until only weeks before had been killing Cavalry soldiers.
And yet, there was something about Towhwi that made her feel safe. Melody couldn’t explain that even to herself, but the feeling was there.
Melody walked back to Running Fawn’s tipi and went inside. Running Fawn asked her if she was going to stay, and Melody smiled.
“Yes. I want to learn how to be a Comanche woman.”
As the days turned into weeks, and then the weeks turned into months, Melody made the transition from white newspaper reporter to Comanche woman. She learned the skills the Comanche women had developed over the centuries of following the buffalo herds.
She learned how to tan hides, though the hides were few and far between. The buffalo were all but gone, but Towhwi was able to kill several deer though the summer. When Melody sewed her first Comanche dress from two deerhides she’d tanned, she was proud.
She learned how to find and harvest the plants Comanche women used for food and dyes and for everyday medicines, and how to prepare those plants for their intended use.
Melody also learned enough of the Comanche language that she could talk with other women in the village. What she learned from them was that Comanche women had the same hopes and fears as the white women she’d known. They were happy when they became pregnant. They were deeply concerned when their children developed a cough and sought the village healer when their home remedies didn’t work. They were proud when the son they’d born first rode a horse or when the daughter they’d born and taught made her first dress.
In short, what Melody learned was that Comanche women weren’t much different than white women. They worked hard for their families and their families respected and loved them for that effort. The real difference was that Comanche women didn’t have the technology white women used. It became easier to understand that as Melody learned more Comanche and as Running Fawn and Towhwi began to remember more English after listening to Melody.
Food was a constant worry for the Comanche women. Before, when they roamed the plains following the buffalo herds, the women knew where to find the roots and plants they used in cooking. On the reservation, some of those plants were still available, but after a few months of harvesting them, the supply dwindled.
The Comanche women knew if they picked the last plant there would be none for the coming year so they left enough to blossom and seed the next year’s crop. What that meant though, was their meals became smaller.
That situation was made worse by the fact that the buffalo, the primary food source of the Comanche were almost gone due to hunting. Some of that hunting was for food for railroad crews, but much of it was just killing the buffalo to remove the food source of the Indian tribes and force the Comanche and other Indian tribes onto reservations. The husbands of the Comanche women could still hunt, but deer and antelope didn’t furnish enough meat to eat now and still have some left to dry for winter.
The US Government answer to that was to supply beef to the Comanche. Melody knew that and thought it was an acceptable substitute until she saw the first cattle brought to the reservation.
She’d expected to see steers like she’d seen in the stockyards in St. Louis. Instead she saw aged milk cows with hip bones that stuck out and their ribs showing through their skin. There were a few steers and some bulls as well, but both were thin and emaciated looking.
Melody went with Running Fawn when the men of the Comanche slaughtered the cattle. Running Fawn looked at the carcasses and shook her head.
“One buffalo would make four of these cows. We would have a feast and still have meat to dry for winter. The drying racks would sag with all the meat and every wife would have more than enough to last through the winter. With these cattle, we will have to eat all the meat to keep from starving. Our men will have to kill deer and antelope to dry for winter.”
Melody had been with Running Fawn and Towhwi for two months when she asked Running Fawn a question that had been rolling around in her head.
“Running Fawn, why does Towhwi not have a wife? There are several young girls who tell me they would like to be his wife.”
Running Fawn smiled.
“It is up to the girl’s father if she can marry a man. Usually he will agree if he gets enough horses or other gifts, but Towhwi is not just any Comanche man. He is half white. The men of the village made him their war chief because he is very brave and a good war leader, but no father would agree to let his daughter marry Towhwi.”
“Then how did you marry Towhwi’s father?”
Running Fawn shrugged.
“My Comanche father said I could.”
Melody then asked the second question that she so far hadn’t been able to answer.
“Did you love Towhwi’s father?”
Running Fawn put down the dress she was beading.
“What do you mean by love?”
“Well, I mean did he have a special place in your heart? Would you have done anything to be with him? Do you miss him now that he’s not here?”
Running Fawn was looking at Melody, but Melody could tell she wasn’t seeing her. Her eyes looked far away.
“When Two Horse brought me back to the Comanche, I hadn’t had my first moon time. He and my Comanche mother, Topsanna, named me Running Fawn because I’d been running when he caught me, and they treated me like a Comanche girl. I learned how to be a Comanche woman, just like you are learning.
“When my first moon time came I expected to have Comanche boys wanting to marry me because I had learned well. Topsanna told me that Comanche men would not want to marry me because I was white, so I should become a medicine woman. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be a wife and mother. Topsanna told me that would never happen and took me to see Flies With Spirits, the healer, so I could learn to be a healer.
“There was a young man there named Kills Snakes who smiled at me. While Topsanna and Flies With Spirits talked, Kills Snakes told me he thought I was beautiful and that since I was a white Comanche, I would have great power just like the white buffalo.”
Running Fawn chuckled then.
“All the young Comanche men had the same things they’d say to Comanche girls. She was as bright as the sun at noon, or she took his breath away like a strong wind or he would die in battle to protect her. We all knew they talked amongst themselves about what to say to us. We thought it was funny that they all said the same things.
“Still, there was something special about Kills Snakes. He wasn’t a very good warrior, but he didn’t have to be. He was learning how to heal the sick and wounded. The band would provide for him in order to keep him there and able to help them.
“I liked him from that time on. When he asked Two Horse if he could marry me, Two Horse asked me if I could live as a Comanche wife with Kills Snakes. By that time, I could think of doing nothing else, so I said I could.”
“I don’t know if it was what white women call love or not. What I know is I cared a lot about Kills Snakes and that I liked sharing his bed. I was proud to have his babies. When he was killed by the Cavalry soldiers, I grieved like all Comanche women grieve for their dead husbands. It was like a part of me was gone forever.”
Melody asked if all Comanche wives felt the same way about their husbands. Running Fawn smiled.
“A woman takes a husband to help her do things she can not do by herself and to give her children. A woman can always attract a man, but she will look for a man who will do those things because he cares for her. She will do the things he can not do because she cares for him. It is the Comanche way. Isn’t it the same way with white women? I do not remember.”
Melody shook her head.
“No, not always. Some men treat their wives as slaves. Some even beat their wives.”
Running Fawn frowned.
“If a Comanche man beat his wife, he would be told to leave the village. If he didn’t, his wife’s family would see to it that he never hurt another woman again.”
Running Fawn smiled then.
“I know you would never marry a man who would do such a thing. You are too smart. You would marry a man like Towhwi.”
Melody made a little gasp and then frowned.
“I could never…I mean…what would people think?”
Running Fawn grinned.
“White people would think you are a terrible person. Towhwi would think you are a fine woman. He already does, or haven’t you seen how he looks at you?”
For a few seconds, Melody was speechless. Yes, Towhwi always smiled when he saw her and he’d told her she was good at riding a horse. Was that what Running Fawn meant?
“He always smiles, but he barely talks to me.”
Running Fawn put her hand on Melody’s shoulder.
“You have done well to learn as much about Comanche women as you have. You have not learned about Comanche men and you have not learned much about Towhwi.
“Comanche men are brave warriors who will fight many men until they win or die. They are not so brave with Comanche women. Their tongues stop working when they find a woman they like. A Comanche woman knows this and looks for the signs, not what the man says.
“Towhwi likes you and understands how you have tried hard to learn to be a Comanche woman. I think if he knew you had feelings for him, he would be very happy. Do you have feelings for Towhwi?”
Melody considered that question. Did she have feelings for Towhwi? She had felt something when she rode behind him. At the time, she didn’t understand what that feeling was, but it felt safe to be close to him.
She’d secretly enjoyed it when she saw him looking at her. At first, his stares had been embarrassing even when she was wearing a dress. After three months of living with him and Running Fawn and seeing other women in the village walk around half naked, that embarrassment had gone. She wasn’t even embarrassed to take off her clothes at night when he was watching.
Was that because her mind was telling her Towhwi was a man she could live with forever? Melody had expected to feel some sort of thrill when she found the man she wanted to marry, not a desire for him to see her naked before they were married. Well, she thought, being naked in front of Towhwi wasn’t really something she desired. It was just being a normal Comanche woman.
Was that what she’d become, a Comanche woman like Running Fawn had become? Melody thought back about her life in St. Louis. She’d thought it was the perfect life then. She had places to go and people to see and she had her job at the newspaper. After thinking that though, she thought maybe that life hadn’t been lived with much purpose. It seemed like working to make things better for the village had more purpose than writing articles for white women to read. Here in the village, her purpose was to learn to make a home out of what was available, and she had the other Comanche women to talk to.
Melody turned to face Running Fawn.
“I don’t really know. I like Towhwi, but I didn’t know he felt that way about me. How will he know I have feelings for him?”
Running Fawn smiled.
“If you want Towhwi to know, do something special for him, something a Comanche woman would do for a man she likes.”
Running Fawn grinned then.
“Towhwi needs new moccasins. You know how to make moccasins now and you have some deer hide left from your dress. If you make him moccasins, he will know. If you put some beadwork on them, he will know you really like him.”
Running Fawn showed Melody the pattern she used for Towhwi’s moccasins, and Melody worked carefully for a week to make them as good as those Running Fawn made. When she finished them, she spent another week sewing beads onto the toes to make a design that wasn’t a typical Comanche design like she’d often seen on clothing. It was a design of her own invention.
It was a triangle shape with four colors. One section was red to signify Towhwi’s bravery in war. Next to it was a section in white to signify peace. The third section was blue signifying the sky and how it watches over all the earth, and the last was a yellow border around the triangle to symbolize the sun that gives life.
When Melody finished the beadwork, she asked Running Fawn how she should give them to Towhwi.
“I can’t just walk up and give them to him, can I? Maybe you should do it.”
Running Fawn smiled.
“If I give them to him, he’ll think I made them. You should give them to him and tell him you made them because he needed new moccasins. He’ll understand why you made them.”
That night after they finished eating, Melody gathered her courage, retrieved the moccasins from the leather bag where she’d hidden them while she was making them, and then walked up to Towhwi.
“Towhwi, I saw that you need new moccasins so I made you some.”
Towhwi took the moccasins from Melody and looked at the beadwork, then looked up at her.
“They look like fine moccasins, but I don’t recognize the beadwork. This has three sides. What does this mean?”
Melody took a deep breath.
“I used a triangle because you are different from all other Comanche men. The red part is to show everyone that you are brave in war. The white part is to show everyone that you have made peace with the soldiers. The blue square is so everyone will know you are a man looks out for his people like the sky watches out for the land. The yellow border is to show that the sun has respect for you.”
Towhwi turned the moccasins over and over, looked at the beadwork again, and then smiled.
“I will wear these moccasins to the council meeting and tell them who made them for me. They will want to know who made them because they do not have moccasins so nice.”
When Melody walked back to Running Fawn’s bed, Running Fawn was smiling, but she didn’t say anything. Melody took off her dress and slipped under the furs wondering what would happen next.
After Towhwi left the next morning, Running Fawn touched Melody on the arm.
“Melody, Towhwi knows now. I think you will soon have to decide how you really feel about him.”
“Will he tell me?”
“In his own way, he will. You just have to watch what he does.”
That morning, Towhwi came back to the village with a gutted antelope slung across his horse. When he walked up to the tipi, Running Fawn and Melody were returning from gathering firewood. Running Fawn put down the armload of branches she carried and smiled.
“An antelope is hard to kill because they see far away and they run fast. How did you do it?”
“I wore my new moccasins and they made no sound at all so I could sneak up on it.”
Running Fawn looked at Melody and winked, then sighed, “Towhwi, I am too tired to skin out an antelope.”
“Maybe Melody would do it then.”
Melody set about skinning the Antelope and then cutting it into pieces. When she finished, she went to Towhwi.
“I have heard you say that a chief does not eat until the people have eaten. We can not eat all this meat and there is not enough to dry. Who should I give it to?”
Towhwi smiled. This woman was indeed more than she looked. She had remembered what he’d said and wanted to maintain that tradition. He hadn’t expected a white woman to do that, but then, he hadn’t expected a white woman to do most of what Melody had been able to learn and do. She was as much Comanche as any white woman could be, and Towhwi thought she would make a good wife.
“The healer and his helper should get half a back leg. The rest should go to the old people. You know who they are. Divide the rest among them.”
When Melody came back, Running Fawn had the fire lit and was watching it burn down to coals. She looked at Running Fawn and smiled.
“Towhwi has shown you what he thinks of you. You should cook his antelope for him so he will know you have feelings for him. If you do, I think he will talk to you about becoming his wife.”
As Melody sliced the antelope into thick slabs and then hung them over the fire to cook, she was torn between what she perceived as two opposite choices.
One choice was to leave the Comanche, go back to St. Louis, and write her newspaper article. She had enough understanding of the Comanche women to write an article that would gain the sympathy of the women in St. Louis, and she could get on with her life. Maybe she’d find a man who would be willing to let her continue to write while he supported her. Maybe she’d bear his children.
The second choice, assuming that Towhwi did ask her to become his wife, meant giving up her life in St. Louis for a life in a tipi on the reservation and doing the hard work of a Comanche wife for the rest of her life. Towhwi would no doubt want children and she did too, but could she be happy as a Comanche wife and mother to a Comanche man’s children?
Melody was quiet while they ate as were Running Fawn and Towhwi. Running Fawn could imagine the thoughts running through Melody’s head. Towhwi didn’t talk because he was thinking of how to approach Melody. What he was going to ask her would change both their worlds.
Once they finished eating Running Fawn said she was going to see the healer because her elbow was painful. As soon as she left, Towhwi stood up and walked to where Melody sat stirring the coals of the fire to make them burn out. When she looked up at him, he smiled.
“You cook good antelope.”
“Thank you, but I just did what Running Fawn showed me to do.”
Towhwi squatted down beside her then.
“You do many things that Running Fawn showed you, but I think now you do not think about what she taught you. You just do as you think you should. That is what any Comanche woman would do. Her mother would teach her, but she would soon do things the way she wants to do them. I could not marry a woman who always did things the way she was taught by her mother.
“I have watched you go from a timid white woman to a brave women who is as much Comanche as she is white. I know it has not been easy. Running Fawn has told me about how she learned to be a Comanche woman. It was hard for her, but she learned and now would not want to be anything except a Comanche woman. She has had many chances to return to the whites, but never did.
“I need such a woman to be my wife. I have a problem though. The Comanche way would be for me to give that woman’s father a gift and ask his permission. I do not know where your father lives and I do not know what kind of gift he would like.”
Melody smiled to herself. In his own roundabout way, Towhwi had just asked her to marry him. She looked up at his face. It was the face of a man confessing his attraction to a woman, not the face of a fierce war chief. Melody didn’t know if it was love that attracted her to him until that very moment.
She put her hand on Towhwi’s and then lowered her head.
“It is also the way of white people that a man would ask a woman’s father to agree to a marriage, but a white woman is free to marry the man she wants to marry. My father would not stand in my way if I told him I wanted to marry a certain man. He would try to accept him.”
Towhwi put his other hand on Melody’s.
“Would he accept me? I am a Comanche war chief who has killed many, many white men.”
Melody looked up then.
“If I were to talk to him, I could make him understand that you are not that war chief now. If we were to marry, would the Comanche accept me?”
“Melody, I am a war chief who no longer fights wars. It is the council who would decide, but they already have accepted you. If they hadn’t, the council would never have let you stay this long. I would have to tell the council of my plans, but they think too much of me to stop us.”
Melody bowed her head again because she didn’t want to see the look on Towhwi’s face.
“Running Fawn said you would talk to me about this and I have been thinking about it. I can do some things a Comanche woman can do, but I am a writer of newspaper articles and will never be able to do everything as well as a Comanche woman can. I think you might grow tired of me when I can’t do some things.”
Towhwi used a fingertip to lift Melody’s chin.
“I think you can do anything well enough to please me, and you can do something no Comanche woman can do.”
“What could that be? As Running Fawn has told me and I have also discovered, I am no different than a Comanche woman.”
“I have learned from white people we captured in battle and from the soldiers who brought us to Fort Sill that white people believe what they read in the white newspapers. The white newspapers say the Comanche murder men for fun and that Comanche women are slaves to their husbands. What you can do that no Comanche woman can do is tell the people who read your newspaper the truth about the Comanche.”
“I wouldn’t have to stop writing?”
Towhwi shook his head.
“I would help you write how the Comanche lived before the white man and why we fought and why we fight no more. It is important that white people understand the Comanche way. They will never accept us if they do not understand.”
When Running Fawn came back, she found Melody and Towhwi sitting by the dying fire, and Towhwi was holding Melody’s hand.
She asked if they were done talking and Melody answered her.
“Yes. I have agreed to become Towhwi’s wife. I have not seen a Comanche wedding since I got here. How does it work?”
Running Fawn smiled.
“Tonight, leave your dress on Towhwi’s side of the tipi and sleep in his bed. Tomorrow, I will tell the village that you are man and wife. That is the Comanche way.”
“There is no ceremony?”
“No. When a Comanche man and woman marry, it is their words to each other that bind them together, not the words of someone else. If you have both said to each other the words from your hearts, you are married. All that remains is for Towhwi to make you his wife. Do you understand what I mean?”
Melody had nodded that she understood, but that night when Running Fawn put out the fire and then went to bed, Melody was nervous. Her mother had taught her how her wedding night would be, but not much other than it would hurt and she should just endure it.
Towhwi took off his clothes and slipped under the furs, then held them open for Melody. She nervously took off her dress and then lay down beside him. Towhwi pulled the fur blanket up over them both and then put his hand on Melody’s stomach.
“Do you fear me, Melody?”
“A little. I don’t know what to expect.”
“Do not be afraid. Comanche boys are taught to be hunters and warriors, but they are also taught about women.”
That said, Towhwi let his hand slide slowly up to Melody’s breast. Though she’d touched her breasts numerous times when washing and dressing, she’d never felt the tingle that raced through her body then.
The tingles became stronger when Towhwi lightly squeezed her breast, and she had to stop the moan that formed in her throat when he stroked her nipple. Her mother hadn’t told her it would feel like this, so it must be wrong that she liked the feeling.
She thought about stopping Towhwi until he stroked her other breast and she felt the tingles tighten her core. When he stroked that nipple, Melody did let out a little moan.
She thought maybe that was all he’d do before spreading her thighs and entering her, but Towhwi was a long way from doing that. Instead, he covered her nipple with his lips and suckled gently. Melody felt her nipple stiffening and her nipple bed contracting into tight wrinkles. She also felt the little jolt in her core that caused her to moan again.
As Towhwi suckled at first one nipple and then the other, he let his hand move slowly down over Melody’s contracting belly to the patch of hair on her mound. He lightly ran his fingertips through the coarse stands until Melody opened her legs a little, then cupped the soft lips between her thighs.
When Melody felt his fingers gently probing between her lips, she involuntarily jerked a little. It was a strange feeling, both pleasurable and also the most intimate she’d ever experienced. She was wondering if he’d do it then when she felt Towhwi’s finger slip between her lips and begin gently moving up and down. At his first touch, she caught her breath, then gasped again when she felt Towhwi’s finger enter her.
When washing herself, Melody had felt that entrance to her body and it seemed to be small even for one of her fingers. She’d seen Towhwi’s manhood and even when soft, it was much bigger than her finger. That must be why her mother had said it would hurt when a man entered her for the first time.
Towhwi had been taught by his father and grandfather that a woman’s first time would be painful, but that a way to ease that pain was to get her to relax enough her body readied itself for the man. That’s what Towhwi was concentrating on, but not just to make the act easier for Melody. It was because he was fascinated by what he was feeling with his fingers and lips.
It was a common occurrence to see a village woman naked or almost naked, especially in the summer, but he had never touched a woman’s breast or the soft lips between her thighs. He was fascinated by the way Melody’s nipple grew longer and thicker and by the slippery softness he was feeling on his fingertip. The moans and gasps Melody was making in response to his touches were also more than he’d expected.
When Towhwi felt almost no resistance when he slipped one finger into Melody’s entrance, he tried to use two, but stopped when Melody winced. She was not yet ready, but he knew a way to help her. He moved his fingertip up to the top of her lips and found the little nub hiding under a hood of thin soft skin. When he rubbed gently beside it, Melody gasped, grabbed his arm and squeezed.
Towhwi slipped his finger back to Melody’s entrance and inside her, then back up to that little nub. This time, he felt Melody raise her body up a little.
When she rocked her body up every time he touched the little nub, Towhwi tried two fingers again. This time they were still a tight fit, but Melody didn’t tense up. Instead, she opened her thighs wider. Towhwi moved to kneel between Melody’s legs and gently lifted them at the knees, then moved forward until he felt his manhood touching hair.
Melody wasn’t thinking about how it would hurt because the sensations Towhwi was causing took all other thoughts from her mind. Only when she felt the stiff tip of his manhood press against her lips did that thought come back, and then only for a brief moment. That was because Towhwi had bent his head and sucked on her right nipple.
She did feel him press his manhood gently against her soft lips and then move it up and down until he found her entrance. She felt the pressure of his manhood against the portal increase and the feeling of being stretched open. It was at that moment she felt Towhwi move his hand between them and stroke the tip of the little bump between her lips. The sensation was overpowering and cause her to both gasp and to lift her body up. She felt one, quick, stab of pain and then the feeling of being filled by Towhwi’s manhood as he plunged deep inside her body.
When Towhwi began stroking his manhood in and out, Melody felt more discomfort than pain, but she also felt something else. She felt as if she and Towhwi had become one.
That feeling lasted after Towhwi had made half a dozen strokes and then groaned. Melody felt his manhood pulse inside her four times before Towhwi held himself up with his arms and panted for a while. Melody put her hands on his back and pulled him down on top of her. She didn’t know why she did. It was just something her mind told her to do.
Once he was cradled between her thighs with his chest on her breasts, Melody stroked his back and whispered, “Now I am your wife.”
“I did not last long enough for you to feel the pleasures. The next time, I will, and it will be better for you.”
Melody stroked his back again.
“I felt many pleasures this time. If the next time is better, I can hardly wait.”
There was no celebration when Melody and Towhwi walked out of the tipi together the next morning. That was not the Comanche way. Most of the village was happy for Towhwi. A few young girls were disappointed that he hadn’t chosen them, but they understood the reasons why. Most fathers were happy that Towhwi hadn’t chosen their daughter. They had the utmost respect for Towhwi, but he was half white and they thought it was important to keep the Comanche blood lines pure since there were so few Comanche left.
The one thing that indicated to Melody that the village had completely accepted her as a member was when Towhwi smiled at her one night.
“The wife of a Comanche war chief should have a Comanche woman’s name. Running Fawn has taught you to be a Comanche woman. She should give you a Comanche woman’s name. She chose Onyda. It is an old name, older than the Comanche, and means the one who is waited for. She chose that because you are the daughter she wished for but did not have. I like the name because you are the woman I have waited for as well. The village will understand those reasons and will call you by the same name.”
Melody did write her article for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, but her editor replied that he wouldn’t publish it. He said it painted the Comanche as people rather than the savages everyone knew they were. He also said he wouldn’t be needing her as a reporter any longer.
Melody was not a woman to be silenced by one man. She wrote to the anthropology professors in several colleges and enquired if they would be interested in an accurate history of the Comanche people. She said that as a white woman and former newspaper reporter living with the Comanche, she was in a unique position to write such a history. One, a Professor Murray of Columbia University, was working on a study of cultures of the American Indians and agreed to help her.
Melody’s book, the first of several, was titled, “People of the Buffalo”, and she insisted her name be written as Melody Onyda Towhwi Arens. It was a history of the Comanche people up until the intrusion of white settlers into their traditional hunting grounds. It the book, she compared the traditions and beliefs of the Comanche to those of Europeans and pointed out that most were more similar than different. Professor Murray liked her history so much he arranged to have it published. It was well received by anthropologists, not so well received by politicians though it did serve to raise awareness of the plight of Native Americans.
While Melody was proud of these accomplishments, she understood that she could not change public perception of the Comache by herself. Only the Comanche could do that, and to do so they would have to speak English. To that end, she began teaching English to anyone in the village who was interested. Towhwi understood that speaking English was critical to any advancement by the Comanche people and used his influence in the village to help make the people understand. Most sent their children to Melody to learn English and some of those children began teaching their parents and grandparents.
One thing Melody was adamant about was that the Comanche should never forget their own language. She understood that language is a major part of culture. While she knew the Comanche would eventually have to assimilate into the white culture, she didn’t want them to lose their own culture in the process. It was too rich with stories of their past as well as stories intended to teach children the correct way to live.
Towhwi proved to be as good a peacetime chief as a war chief. Rather than be content to live on what the Indian Agent provided, he organized the men of the village to begin raising horses. By breeding the sturdy and fast Comanche horses with a few of the horses raised by the Vaqueros in Texas, they were able to improve the breed of what was then known as just a cow pony. Since the Comanche had favored paint horses, their cow ponies were also paints. Their horses were soon well known as the most colorful horses on the plains as well as being easy keepers and quick to learn, and were in demand by both the Indian tribes and the Texas ranches.
Towhwi did well as a horse breeder, and built an actual house and a ranch on the plot he was granted by the Dawes Act of 1887. When he told Melody about his plan, she said she could be happy living in a tipi but if he wanted a house, he should build a house. Towhwi stroked Melody’s swollen belly and smiled.
“One grandmother and one child in a tipi with us is fine. Two children are bearable. The baby inside you will be too many. My wife needs a house for our children and their grandmother.”
Together, Towhwi and Melody had four children, two boys and two girls. Towhwi taught his sons to be strong, brave men their grandfathers would be proud of. Melody taught her daughters to be good wives and mothers that both her white mother her and her Comanche mother, Running Fawn, would be proud of.
At that point in their lives when girls become women, both Melody’s daughters asked her how they would know when they loved a man, and Melody did what any good Comanche mother would do. She told them the same thing Running Fawn had told her many years ago.
“A woman takes a husband to help her do things she can not do by herself and to give her children. A woman can always attract a man, but she will look for a man who will do those things because he cares for her. She will do the things he can not do because she cares for him. It is the Comanche way.”