Comanche people were once known as the agnostics of the plains. Our people were like solipsists, the ultimate pragmatists. “Religion” was simply superfluous to actual reality. About the only ‘intervension’ that caught our eye was something called “luck” (in today’s English). The only thing beyond that was po-ha-cut, personal power, or “medicine.” It wasn’t about healing, per se, but about unique, personal validation and influence. Maybe supernatural, maybe not.
Last Comanche Medicine Man: Eschiti, ca. 1880.
The last Comanche who claimed to have supernatural power, and the authority that comes with it, was a young warrior named Eschiti–Comanche for “coyote droppings.” (BadEagle.com has used the spelling “Ishatai.”) Eschiti was also known as White Eagle. It is a fact that examining the droppings of the top carnivore in the fauna gives great insight into weather, water, and the general conditions. It was important knowledge to have for hunters. One could make decisions based on such “readings.” It wasn’t exactly prophecy, but the verdicts long experience.
Eschiti is best known for his role in the infamous encounter of Adobe Walls. He was young in 1874 (around 26), and full of power. He ascended above the clouds and communed with the Great Spirit, it was said. He had brought back the dead. But, most impressively, he predicted that the comet of 1873 (Tempel’s II) would disappear in five days, and a summer drought would follow. There were other unbelievable things he did in front of other Comanches, like swallowing a handful of bullets and then throwing them all back up. He won their confidence, in a terribly depressing time. He was like a last messiah, among a people without faith, who knew only luck.
But most famously, in white history, was Eschiti’s role in the Adobe Walls. He first got braves of all the different Comanche bands together in a way unprecedented. He brought together some other plains Indians. Then he threw together some superficial semblence of a “sun dance,” (pretty much a one time affair among Comanche), and preached a final war. June 27, 1874, Eschiti lead a large group of Indians raided the old trading post, Adobe Walls. (The Indians didn’t know that nearly thirty white men in the house had the new long-range buffalo rifles.)
Eschiti had claimed to be bullet-proof. He had painted his whole body yellow (as the sun, as for victory), and sat on his white horse on a hill and watched the unsuccessful attempt to take Adobe Walls. It was the last of Apocalyptic hopes among the Comanche. Eschiti had promised to annihilate all the whites, then the buffalo would all return, and the old days would come back in glory. It just didn’t happen. No such “luck.” (The Penatuka Comanche didn’t follow Eschitai, but instead took up the Ghost Dance.)
Eschiti, (back, right), and relatives.
Eschiti, interestingly, retained his social influence among Comanche, and was a key figure in treaty negotiations. He was even instrumental in bringing in remaining free bands and runaways into Fort Sill. He has descendents today among Comanche people, some very prominent. Though Bad Eagle was kin (cousin) to Eschiti, our family knowledge of the Eschitis is limited. I know my mother and her generation, as young people, were familiar with “Cripple” Jimmy Eschiti, the second son. He was born with severe physical handicap, and was chauffeured in a long black Cadillac, as my mother remembers. He married a woman named Lena. (Interestingly, Mumsekai, another cousin of Bad Eagle, married the widow of Eschiti.)
How does po-ha-cut fare today among the Comanche? Who knows? I know that our current Chairman, Wallace Coffee, recently urged upon our adult population the necessity of Christian teaching and values among our young Indian population. He said, publicly, “I don’t see these values being taught effectively. They’re not being passed on to our young people.”
Eschiti (Ishatai) in old age, ca. 1910
I wouldn’t call Wallace a medicine man, but, I have learned one thing from him: being a good Comanche is being a good Christian. This is a very deep thing, and hard to believe, I’m sure. But it’s true. Being a better Comanche means being a better Christian. It has to do with getting along with the world’s most relentless egos. To lead abject solipsists–this takes a fully Christian person. That’s our messiah, for now–the idea of working together. I see Wallace as that kind of person, who thinks that way. As a Comanche, I find this a profound thing.