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11. August 2014 · Comments Off on Two White Comanches – Part 1 · Categories: Old West

As I have often noted before, the past is a vastly more complicated and more human place than the watered down history textbooks would have us believe. Yes, complicated and curious, and not nearly as bigoted as those who foment pop culture would think. Kipling might have been more right than he’s been given credit for in the late 20th century when he wrote, “…But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
A pair of men from 1840s Texas – the time of the Republic of Texas illustrates this point obliquely, although I don’t have any evidence that they ever met face to face. They possibly might have – Texas was a small place then – and practically everyone knew each other.

Late in October of 1837, a Comanche war party descended on a small farm near modern-day Schulenburg, Texas, owned by a recent arrival in Texas, one James Lyons, who worked the farm with the aid of his wife, four sons, a married daughter and her husband. The youngest son was Warren, then about eleven or twelve years old. James Lyons and Warren were milking cows in the early morning when the Comanches came; the other family members hastily barred the windows and doors and escaped harm. But the raiders killed and scalped James, snatched Warren and half a dozen horses and vanished with the boy and livestock into the vast hunting grounds to the north and west. His mother never gave up hope for her son, although the other members of the family sorrowfully resigned themselves that he was gone – since all efforts at locating and ransoming him were unsuccessful.

Warren was spotted several times over the next ten years, first by another captive who was later ransomed – he was at least thirteen or fourteen by then, and had already made his preference plain. He was, she said, in and out of the camp where she was held – participating in raids, although probably not as a full-fledged warrior, but rather as an auxiliary, minding the horses. An Indian agent met with a camp of Yamparika Apache on the upper Washita in 1846, and tried to convince Warren to return with him. But Warren did not want to return, apparently believing that the rest of his family had also been killed. The next year, a party of surveyors working near present-day Mason encountered a band of Comanche whom they were certain were about to kill them all. But one of the warriors was Warren, who overheard the surveyors discussing their apprehensions and told them they weren’t in danger. They would be let go the next day. The surveyors – one of whom was an acquaintance of Warren Lyons’ mother – tried to convince him to come with them. Again – he refused to leave the Comanche. But the next year, a party of Comanche came to either Fredericksburg or to San Antonio to do some peaceful trading. The story varies in several sources. Since this occurred during the period of a truce brokered by John Meusebach on behalf of the German settlers in the Hill Country, the Fredericksburg version sounds likelier – but San Antonio was a larger and more cosmopolitan place, the economic hub of the region and not on the edge of the far frontier at the time. By coincidence, two neighbors of the Lyon family were there, recognized Warren, and approached him, pleading that he should return – at least, visit his mother. The third time was the charm, apparently – even though he claimed that he had two wives among the Comanche and did not wish to leave them. But the friend of his mother presented him with a pair of fine red blankets, and Warren gave each wife a blanket, telling them that he would return.
If he did, the stay was brief, for upon returning to the Lyons farmstead, Warren was overcome with emotion on seeing his mother again, although she did not at first recognize him. His family and the little community which had grown up nearby – now called Lyonville – welcomed him back, joyful and generous.

One of his older brothers convinced him to stay in the white world, by talking him into serving as a Ranger, in the contentious borderlands between Texas and Mexico. Doubtless this served two purposes by allowing him to fight another party than the Comanche who had lately been his comrades, and to provide a substitute for the free-roving and untrammeled life he had become accustomed to. Some time later, though, Warren was in a Ranger company led by Edward Burleson and did participate in a bitter skirmish against the Comanche, so hard-fought that the Rangers were certain they were about to be overrun. No, said Warren – who had been listening to the Comanche warriors shouting to each other – the Comanche were giving it up, and withdrawing. Relieved, the Rangers packed up their dead and wounded. Doubtless, having gotten this out of his system, Warren Lyons resigned from the Rangers, and settled down in Johnson County. He married one Lucy Boatwright in 1848, raised a family of children and prospered quietly, although he did retain certain eccentricities of behavior – as in preferring moccasins to boots when it came to a fight, during his Ranger service. Warren Lyons died at a relatively young age in 1870.

As for the second of the white Comanches – he was never a captive, but came along willingly …

To be Continued

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