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Mumsekai and Comanche Peyote

by David Yeagley · March 2, 2009 · 1 Comment ·

A Comanche named Mumsekai (sometimes spelled Mumshukawa), was another relative of Bad Eagle, cousin, we are told. Mumsekai (pronounced mum’-seh-kye’) was alive and active in 1933. My mother remembered him well, and she was born in 1922. He was a friend of the family, and visited the home from time to time. (Interestingly, Mumsekai had married the widow of Ishatai–another relative of Bad Eagle.) Mumsekai’s great grand son Clifford (Tree Top) Seymour, whom I myself remember well, told us that Bad Eagle was cousin to Mumsekai.

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Mumsekai, going strong in 1933

Mumsekai was a spiritual leader, preferring the old ways, even with the new cultural tokens from the Anglos. For instance, for the old Comanche Scalp Dance, he insisted the men and women dance the old way, even though the scalp pole in the center had been replaced with the flag pole–on which hung the American Stars and Stripes. The flag was brought down at sunset, but Mumsekai said only a good warrior could bring it down, and the warrior must tell of a great coup before he brought the flag down. During such a Mumsekai dance in 1933, the famous anthropologist Ralph Linton, a WWI veteran in France, was ceremonially adopted into the Comanche tribe. He was given the name eh-ka-ku-rah, or, Red Buffalo, after the mythical buffalo so powerful that he tossed the Comanche “witch” up onto the moon with a thrust of his horns.

Among the Comanche, there is controversy over who brought peyote, the hallucinating weed, to the people. The Quanah Parker fans of course say Quanah brought it, but, the older traditions deny this. It was originally picked up from the Apache. But after a time, it was dropped, because some medicine men were using it in a bad way, it was said. The second coming of peyote was apparently the work of Mumsekai, in the 1860′s, and even that was fairly limited. Comanche had found the plant where the Apache had told them to search, and brought it to Mumsekai. It was Mumsekai who identified the plant when they showed it to him. The Comanche decided that peyote was to be used for protection against their enemies. That was their concept, anyway, along the lines of “luck”–the only true religion among the old Comanche. Mumsekai tended the fire of the first peyote ceremony of the return. As late as 1933, Mumsekai had preserved a handful of peyote buttons from this first ceremony.


Mumsekai, from a family owned
portrait. This is the profile from the
series from which the more famous
frontal was taken.

Around 1927, when my uncle Ray was about 10 years old, Mumsekai was visiting the family. (My mother remembered the incident vividly.) There was terrible thunderstorm which came that evening. Lighning was one of the few things Comanche ever feared. The children had already gone to bed, but the girls (my mother and four other sisters) were startled by the lightning. “Ray!” they cried. “Turn over!” Comanche believed it was bad luck to lie on your back when lightning struck. Ray didn’t bother to move. He wasn’t afraid at all.

“Leave him alone,” Mumsekai said. “He is not afraid. He is strong. He will grow up and become a great warrior.”

Ray became a great Marine, during World War II, in the Pacific. Mumsekai’s words were true. He was Comanche. He knew the Comanche nature. He knew the signs.

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Raymond C. Portillo, young
Marine officer, ca. 1945.

All I know is, my mother and her sisters were hysterical every time they heard thunder! I remember when four of them were together in our house, visiting here in OKC. A storm came. They were literally screaming, and laughing and the same time. I thought of old Mumsekai, and his words about Ray. I wish there was a family story about brave Comanche women! Well, one of my mother’s sisters, Edna Marie Portillo, became a lieutenant in the Navy.

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Family portrait, Clifford Seymour in the
tan sports jacket. Ca. 1980′s.

Posted by David Yeagley · March 2, 2009 · 12:32 pm CT · ·

Tags: American Indians · Bad Eagle Journal · Religion




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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David Yeagley // Mar 2, 2009 at 2:26 pm   

    It is said (as my mother related to me) that Mumsekai had once had a vision which he early on related to Quanah Parker. Mumsekai had moved from the Ft. Sill area to Beaver Creek (where my mother’s family lived). He told Quanah that Comanches must move from Ft. Sill. The white man would come and take away all that Indian land, and would move all the Indian graves there.

    Mumsekai had a son by the widow of Ishatai (whom Mumsekai married). I don’t have that son’s name at hand, but that son later had a daughter named Helen. She married Burt Tree Top. From this marriage came two sons, Willie and Clifford, and two other children, one of whom I do not know, and the last, Burtie.

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