Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997 Page: 18
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Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Research Center, Canyon, Texas
R ~ecollections of
Comanche life on the
Southern Plains during
the 1800s commonly are
thought to be of warfare and brave
acts against enemies. Lesserknown
memories are of shadowed
canyonlands and living landmarks
that included Turning Trees.
My part in search for landmark trees of
the Comanche began during lunch with
Melvin Kerchee Sr., a Comanche tribal
elder, which preceded a purification ceremony
of the museum archaeology lab
where I work. Lunch conversation was
casual, but at the meal's end, Kerchee
asked, "Do you know of any Turning Trees
in this area?" I did not and asked him to
Kerchee learned of Turning Trees from
his grandfather and other elders who spoke
about the times before 1875, when the last
of the Comanches surrendered to the U.S.
military. During those earlier days there
were special meeting places along the plain's
edge, distinguished by good flowing springs
and large or unusual-looking trees known
as Turning Trees.
There, as the tree shadows grew long
and cool in the late day, the Comanches
gathered to discuss what families and groups
planned to do and where they would be.
Unfortunately, the exact 1
many of these places was not
Kerchee observed that the Com
tom of pointing out things or
with one's lips (pointing witr
considered rude) added to this lo!
edge. During later-day auto driv
the Texas Panhandle-Plains,
grandfather showed where certa
Trees were, pointing with his li
Kerchee with a somewhat vag
sion of the place indicated.
Letters and phone calls to pec
edgeable about Comanche an
folklore, history, and anthropc
unsuccessful in finding anyone
of any Turning Trees. Howev
everyone contacted stated it seer
that the nomadic Comanche w
such meeting places. Also, Tun
are similar to other natural feati
to the Comanche, that are promi
marks located near good water. S
were received about possible Tu
locations and of other trees and
cial to the Comanche in Texas.
Despite common belief that
ern Plains region contains few i
of any note, trees of considerabl
noted by its Native American it
and Euro-American explorers. D
17-19, 1852, while heading a m
vey, Captain Randolph B. Ma
seeing cottonwood trees of"enoi
One tree, standing on the creel
South Canadian River, which
sured, was nineteen-and-a-half i
cumference at five feet above th
The Search for
and Other Special Trees
of the Comanche
By A.J. Taylor with Melvin Kerchee Sr.
This tree grew in the eastern Texas Panhandle
between the North Fork of the Red
River and the South Canadian River. A
year later, in 1853, a survey party led by
First Lieutenant A.W. Whipple closely followed
the route taken by Marcy's party
through the Texas Panhandle. Baldwin
Mollhausen, an artist-naturalist member of
ocation of Whipple's party, noted "our road led us past
passed on. a tree that rose solitary on the plain, and
lanche cus- was remarkable both for its gigantic growth,
directions and for its strangely twisted and entangled
i fingers is boughs and branches. It was a cotton-wood
ssofknowl- tree, centuries old, and had a diameter of
'es through twelve feet..." In Greer County of western
Kerchee's Oklahoma, grew Ataway-taiti-pau or Adoin
Turning eeta-de pau, the Kiowa Indian name for a
ps, leaving particularly large cottonwood tree. Its size
ue impres- required "seven men to span around it with
outstretched arms". This tree either burned
)ple knowl- or was cut down.
d regional One possible Turning Tree location,
)logy were Cottonwood Springs, west of present-day
who knew Quitaque was suggested by archaeologist
'er, almost Curtis Tunnell. His father, Curtis O.
ned logical Tunnell, described it as "a good place to
vould have camp and get good drinking water and to
ning Trees water your stock. There was a grove of giant
ures sacred cottonwood trees. The spring flowed out of
nentland- a 30-foot tall sandstone rock and was a
uggestions good place to swim. On the sandstone rock
rning Tree was a place for people to carve their initials,
places spe- and there were dates from 1850 to the
1900s. There were all sorts of drawings and
:he South- signs and dates. Everyone who came through
f any trees this country used to camp there." Unfortue
size were nately, the construction of a small dam
-habitants completely covered Cottonwood Springs.
luringMay Archaeologists Dr. Nancy Kenmotsu
ilitary sur- and Dr. James Bruseth observed that the
ircy noted Quitaque area was a favorite location for
-mous size. Southern Plains tribes. Also, Comanche,
k near the Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache frequently viswe
mea- ited "Red Bluffs", located near the laterFeet
in cir- day town of old Tacosa for 25 years or more,
e ground". beginning at least as early as 1841.
18 HERITAGE *WINTER 1997
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997, periodical, Winter 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45400/m1/18/: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.