By ERIK J. WRIGHT
Just southwest of Weatherford lies a small stream known as Sanchez Creek. Nearby, Interstate 20 roars west like Manifest Destiny and east to the heart of Dixie.
One hundred and forty-seven years ago, however, in 1866, the quiet stream rambled on with small farms along its banks quiet with anticipation of the next raid by the Comanches. Parker County at that time lay in the heart of Comancheria, but increasing settlements encouraged the Comanches to make more daring and desperate forays into the settled areas of the Texas frontier.
March 2, 1866, marked 30 years after Texas had declared its independence from Mexico. Still, the Texas frontier was a wildly violent expanse largely under the control of the Comanches. As Bolin Savage plowed his small field along Sanchez Creek, three of his boys – Marion, James and Sam – came to help in the day’s duties. However, as the boys approached the field, a band of nine mounted Comanches rode up and instantly killed the Bolin Savage. As the boys fled for safety, James and Sam (ages 6 and 5, respectively) were taken into captivity as shots rang from the Savage cabin from Bolin’s wife, Elizabeth, who had witnessed the death of her husband and abduction of her children.
In an ironic twist of fate, the band of Comanches next raided the farm of Bolin Savage’s brother, James, on Patrick Creek, west of the first attack. Two of James Savage’s children, Jennie, 5, and Jim, 2, were taken into captivity. The captivity of the four Savage children was, unfortunately, a common occurrence on the Indian frontier.
The Comanches trekked west through Palo Pinto County, eventually making their way to the Arbuckle Mountains in present-day Oklahoma, approximately 150 miles north of Weatherford. Discovered by a Texan trader named John Fields that November, the Savage children had, at this point, been completely “Indianized.” With sun-tanned skins and traditional Comanche paints on their arms and faces, the Savage children were soon traded at nearby Fort Arbuckle for a bridle and a saddle, a pony and $414 in cash (almost $6,400 in today’s money).
The Savage children’s adjustment back to White society is typical of many of the captivity narratives found by historians of the frontier west. In 1886, after surrender negotiations with Geronimo in Mexico failed to apprehend the renegade Apache, a captive boy named Santiago McKinn was turned over to the U.S. Army at Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory.
A correspondent for the Los Angeles Times reporting on the Geronimo campaign noted the boy’s emotional reaction to being taken away from his Apache captors: “He has had to share their long marches, their scanty and uninviting fare, and all the hardships of such a life … but he has not been maltreated. The Apaches are kind to their children, and are kind to him. The sorrow of it is that he has become so absolutely Indianized … When told that he was to be taken back to his father and mother, Santiago began boo-hooing with great vigor. He said in Apache – for the little rascal has already become rather fluent in that language – that he didn’t want to go back, he wanted always to stay with the Indians.”
The boys, apparently hesitant to discard their Comanche trappings, took months before feeling socially comfortable in the company of friends and family. The brothers, James and Sam, lived well into the 20th century. After marrying Arizona Pierce in 1881, Sam Savage reunited with his rescuer, John Fields, in Dallas in 1911 and was later hailed as a champion fiddle player. Sam Savage died in 1951 at the age of 90 and is buried at Staggs Prairie Cemetery in Palo Pinto County.
A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities in the West, 1830-1885 by Gregory Michno (Caxton Press, 2007).
A Cry Unheard: Indian Attacks In and Around Parker County, Texas 1858-1872 by Doyle Marshall (Annetta Valley Farm Press, 1990).
Dateline Fort Bowie: Charles Fletcher Lummis Reports on the Apache War by Charles F. Lummis, ed. Dan L. Thrapp (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1979).