The Life of Bad Eagle
In this photo, taken in 1880 or 1881, Bad Eagle sits holding his daughter Oda-beah. On the left, with her hand on Bad Eagle’s shoulder, stands Nauni, a friend of the family. Bad Eagle’s wife Erk-say stands on the right.
WHEN Bad Eagle was born in 1839, the Comanches lived free, roaming the plains on horseback and following the buffalo herds. By the time Bad Eagle died, in 1909, the buffalo were gone and the free life of the plains was over. Bad Eagle lived through these changes. He played a major role in helping the Comanche people survive these difficult and tragic years.
Bad Eagle was born in what is now West Texas, a member of the Quahada or “Antelope” group of the Comanche people. Later he became a band headman among the Quahada.
In the Comanche tongue, he was called Quinni-kish-su-it, which means something like “wild” or “wicked” eagle. In 1889, US government agents wrote “Bad Eagle” and the name stuck.
Bad Eagle acquired additional names in the course of his life. In those days, the Comanches tended to assign extra names to people whenever they did something important, or showed some noteworthy character trait. Thus, in later years, Bad Eagle came to be known as Tu-vi-ah – which means straight (as in honest or trustworthy), and also as Wat-i-bi.
Captured in Mexico
Family tradition holds that Bad Eagle was about 16 years old when the Mexican Army captured him, sometime around 1855. (2)
Every fall, Comanche warriors rode south into Mexico, along the famed “Comanche War Trail“, in order to plunder Mexican villages. On one such raid, Bad Eagle’s war party ran afoul of Mexican troops, and the young brave was captured.
Outlined in red, in the top map, is the area controlled by Comanches at the height of their power, in the mid-19th Century. The bottom map shows the famous “Comanche War Trail” — really a network of many trails which Comanche warriors used in their annual raids on Mexican villages. Mexican troops captured Bad Eagle on one such raid, in 1855.
Bad Eagle’s captor was one Captain Lopez Portillo, an officer in the Mexican Army stationed at a fort called El Conejo in the state of Coahuila. Captain Portillo took a liking to the young Comanche and made him a scout. Later, he adopted Bad Eagle as his own son, baptizing him into the Catholic Church and giving him the Christian name Cruz Portillo.
To the end of his days, Bad Eagle continued using his Christian name Cruz, but pronounced it with a Comanche accent: Ka-dos. Thus, census reports and other documents often identify Bad Eagle as “Ka-Dose” or “Ko-Dose”. It is simply a Comanche enunciation of the Spanish name Cruz.
Bad Eagle Returns
As a scout in the Mexican Army, Bad Eagle often found himself in the uncomfortable position of helping Mexican troops fight Comanche raiders. His knowledge of Comanche war trails often helped the Mexicans outmaneuver Comanche war parties.
At some point, according to the family story, a Comanche war party captured Bad Eagle. They had seen him riding with the Mexican Army and recognized him as one of their own.
Ancient custom forbids Comanches from making war on other Comanches. The warriors threatened to kill Bad Eagle on the spot, unless he joined them and returned to his tribe.
Bad Eagle agreed. He returned to Comanche land, and rejoined his Antelope people. When the raiding season came, Bad Eagle rode with his Antelope kinsmen back into Mexico and resumed his old life as a Comanche raider.
He was a born leader and a fearless fighter. Bad Eagle soon rose to become a band headman of the Antelope clan.
Bad Eagle’s Diplomacy
By 1875, the Comanche empire had fallen. White men from the east had overrun their land. Texas Rangers had hunted down the Comanche warriors, band by band.
Bad Eagle’s Antelope group was the last to surrender. They hid from the Texas Rangers in the Palo Duro Canyon. But Bad Eagle knew they would starve. The buffalo were gone. Even antelope were scarce.
On May 2, 1875, four men rode into the Antelope camp at Palo Duro Canyon. (3) In command was one Dr. Jacob J. Sturm, a white humanitarian who had worked for years among the Indians. In fact, Dr. Sturm had married a Caddo Indian woman and spoke Comanche well enough to have served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army at Fort Sill.
Riding with Dr. Sturm were Bad Eagle and two other Comanche warriors. They came as ambassadors, seeking to persuade their Antelope kinsmen to leave the canyon and return with them to Fort Sill. It was time to make peace, Bad Eagle told his kinsmen. It was time to walk the white man’s path.
The Comanches did not take Bad Eagle’s advice right away. Months passed before hunger took its toll and they finally gave up. But the diplomacy of Bad Eagle and Dr. Sturm had saved many lives. The last of the Antelope Comanche gave up peacefully, walking into Fort Sill of their own accord.
Bad Eagle never again went to war. He died in 1909, at age 70, apparently after eating a can of tainted sardines. Some say that an enemy poisoned him. But that is another story for another time.
1. Norma Portillo Yeagley, in “Born an Eagle“, Oklahoma: Magazine of the Oklahoma Heritage Association, Spring-Summer 2001, 3-5, 7-8
3. William T. Hagan, United States-Comanche Relations; The Reservation Years (Norman, OK; University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 117
Posted by David Yeagley · January 14, 2009 · 12:57 pm CT ·