MAJOR NEIGHBORS AND CHIEF BUFFALO HUMP
by Randy Ford
It wasn’t what the congregation expected as they waited with great expectation. Some of them looked around, and while others looked up at the empty pulpit, others were about leave. It was Frau Seffield who stepped forward and in a good voice began to sing. Not bad, but it didn’t satisfy the worshipers. Frau Seffield was not a great singer, though she won the StaatsSangerfest four times. Yes, they were disappointed. After having come to see the new minister, they were disappointed. He wasn’t on time … wasn’t where he was suppose to be. An awful start (he must’ve been involved in an accident. Why else would he not be there?. If not killed, why was he now late?). Many of them didn’t think he could ever recover from this. Very awkward.
Then, eventually, finally, someone started banging on the church door. He did it loud enough to startle everyone … woke everyone up before they knew what the crap was going on. “What’s this?” exclaimed a deacon. It sounded like someone had hit the door with a baseball bat. Actually, he hadn’t: he’d used a board to make an impression, and sure enough had. Then, however, by the time the deacon reacted and opened the door, no one was there; but someone had been there. Everyone had heard it.
It would be the only time he’d ever get everyone’s attention. He said it was worth it even if it upset some of them and even scared some. If it woke them up!
He thought he was a cut above most ministers just out of seminary (thought he knew his business). “First of all, brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said, emerging from the congregation (no one had seen him come in). “Allow me to catch my breath.”
He grinned, as the congregation stared at him. That made them wonder what he was up to and how in the world he could be in two places at once. He was either an illusionist or had an assistant. Oh yes, he had a wife. Those were the two things about him. He had a wife, and he was a showman. You could see that, all right, as he milked the moment for all it was worth.
When some of them started to leave, he said, “Wait!” He didn’t have to raise his voice. With that as an introduction, he plunged into his first sermon.
It was sort of a challenge for them, which he understood. He was never boring … he made sure of it. It was as if he felt like he had to pull off some sort of stunt to keep them coming back. Yet he had to consciously tone it down or risk offending them.
He started out by telling them, “I understand that many of you speak Plattdeutsch. My deutsch, therefore, may be too pure for you and my English not yet good enough. Give me a little time. Give me that much. Yes sir, I’m from Vienna. Well? My wife and I intend to stay here. We’re not interested in becoming transients. I know that most of you came from somewhere else. We’re like many of you in that we left where we came from because it was getting bad over there. I met my wife Louise after I came to America at a Kindermaskenball. But I don’t intend to get into that now.”
“The ‘dramatics.’ The ‘knock at the door’ refers to Matthew, chapter seven, verse seven. ‘Ask, and it will be given you, seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.’ It seems to me that Jesus isn’t asking for much…’knock and it will be opened to you.’ Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You see … He doesn’t require much. Knock. What else? Be open. Receptive. Yes sir. Of course, I need scarcely suggest that to yo’aw. Christ hears you. I can swear to it. He hears each one of you.”
They’d always remember his first message, the stunt actually, his knocking and being in two places at once. They talked about it all week. All the time he was talking about their Plattdeutsch and his imperfect English, they were thinking about it. His message said something, but they weren’t sure what. They also talked about Frau Louise, something they felt that they were required to do. And they felt they knew her after seeing her once. How great a masterstroke (and the symbolism) was the new minister’s knocking at the door? As if it saved him the embarrassment over being late! They still gossiped. Which of course, he knew they would.
Then at home he never had to remind his wife of her place. He had her well trained. She cooked his meals, never neglected the house, swept and was obedient, faithful and wasted naught, nor did any injury. She was the perfect wife, except she was nosy. He wouldn’t call her smart and really felt superior. Her devotion could be summed up in how she approached marriage and in her belief that true happiness was found in children, the church, and the kitchen. “For sure, but…” And he’d get carried away and say, “And let us have children, beautiful children.” And know that he had the means to carry out the threat.
He was always running her down, though it wasn’t what he preached. He clearly had problems, and too often his problems became her problems. Unkind? No, he wasn’t exactly unkind. There were times when he could be helpful. He might put a roast in the oven, but he wouldn’t take it out. She’d get very angry with him, which she hid. She’d say to herself, “Forget those old notions about Kinder, Kirche, und Kuche, or else I’ll let the roast burn.”
Here was another example of challenging what was once considered sacred. Meanwhile older people complained about this, and some of them complained very bitterly. They celebrated the old times and remembered with fondness what they went through. But too often their perception contradicted the way things really were.
The new minister and his wife were part of latest wave of German-speaking immigrants in that part of Texas, and they wouldn’t have come if German settlers hadn’t paved the way. And if it hadn’t been for Major Neighbors and Chief Buffalo Hump there wouldn’t have been room for them. The new minister of course heard about Major Neighbors and Chief Buffalo Hump.
For a long time the German’s situation was tenuous. Publicity had brought them to south central Texas, and it would take a while for it to live up to its promise. For starters the land didn’t belong to them. It belonged to the Indians, and their chief was Chief Buffalo Hump. It was not that they had anything against the Indians, except the Indians owned the land. And it would take someone like Major Neighbors to negotiate a deal. And without someone like Chief Buffalo Hump it wouldn’t have been possible either (though he wasn’t expected to do what he did). It had to happen; it had a kind of inevitability; therefore there must’ve been something to the idea of Manifest Destiny. So the German immigrants were bit players in a much larger drama.
It’s hard to know now who deserved the credit. Major Neighbors extended the handshake, and Chief Buffalo Hump possessed the peace pipe. Until then the Indians hadn’t threatened the German settlers. Both men acted prudent and circumspect.
And all this against the background of the invasion of the white man, which Major Neighbors began to apologize for and the chief dismissed. Chief Buffalo Hump, of course, could see what was happening and knew he couldn’t stop it … he didn’t have to be told. But he seemed determined to profit from it. Major Neighbors couldn’t really tell what the chief was thinking when he tried to read him. Maybe the chief fooled him when he expressed affection for German people, uncommon affection. And Major Neighbors was genuinely fond of Indians, (he felt this way before he met Chief Buffalo Hump) and respected them more than any other people of the world. Could this be true? Nothing ever stopped him from trying to convince people that it was true, but who really knew. It was like he’d become an ambassador, though he couldn’t speak the Indian’s language (not one of the major Native American languages, but one that was about to become extinct). The major tried to learn it and tried his best but never got very far, while the chief excelled in foreign languages. Because the chief knew it, they always communicated in English, and they spent long hours talking… meaningful talk.
By then the Indians had been betrayed time and time again. Which made the chief suspicious of white men … more than suspicious, but that wouldn’t become obvious until later. And imagine how he acted around the ladies, the German ladies, dressed in their stylish European dresses and dressed fit for a ball. With veils over their ribbon-tied hats, they felt agitated when they were introduced to the red man, but they relaxed when they saw how Chief Buffalo Hump and Major Neighbors treated each other. And the chief spent as much time around them as he possibly could. He was always coming up with an excuse to be around them, and they were gracious enough when they got to know him. So when the chief suggested that they have a powwow, the ladies were included.
So precisely at sunset they gathered around a fire. They sat in a circle down by the river and the river, where two streams met, later named Barons Creek and Town Creek, reminded the settlers of the Rhine … oh, the river … it seemed like a picnic, only it wasn’t. And where they’d sit in the circle hadn’t been worked out in advance, so the chief turned to the women for the answers. The women settled the matter. But it was his show. He came self-assured and told the tribe that he’d deal with the Germans alone. He talked a lot and Major Neighbors responded and listened when it was important for him to listen because he knew that they’d have to reach a deal.
Chief Buffalo Hump seemed in the best of health and spirits. Perhaps he was trying too hard. People would later wish that they had had a camera. On taking his place, the chief smiled and bowed to the ladies. Yes, of course, he was trying too hard. He then welcomed everybody. It was his powwow. Overwhelmed by a sense of honor and happiness, the chief acted as if the whole world was watching. And they were getting along as well as temporary friends could.
Now his squaw came forward with a peace pipe and handed it to her husband. It showed her vanity. Handing it to her husband instead of smoking it she in turn was in the spotlight. And in the firelight beside the river, where the two streams met, she was so sure of herself that no one could mistake her for anyone other than the chief’s squaw. But the other thing that was paramount was that everyone could see that the chief delighted in her because his face lit up in a way that showed his pleasure. What a night! There was the chief smiling, when there was something about him that the white women despised. They were prejudice, of course. Prejudiced in spite of the smiling. They were all smiles. But who got the last smile?
Then after the powwow Major Neighbors talked privately with the chief, who finally got to express his dismay (indeed his indignation) over the approach of civilization. He’d been waiting for this opportunity all night. The chief could’ve spoken up sooner. Like he insisted on having a powwow. He said now what he couldn’t say in front of all the other people (they agreed to forget the peace pipe). He didn’t beat around the bush and said what he was thinking. Everything. Said everything that was on his mind, and Major Neighbors was impressed. He said, “Now I see more than ever the necessity for war. The sound of the axe spelled the end of us.” Chief Buffalo Hump then talked about the theft of his land, and even his birthplace, according to him a sacred place.
The major heard what he said and remembered why he left Germany. He wasn’t smiling any longer. He thought about why he came to Texas; and now he was losing a friend over it. He considered the chief a friend. Had since the day they met each other. Without question a friend. Now they were on opposite sides of the fence. Thinking about it he couldn’t sleep a wink that night.
The next day workmen began building the chief a large house when before then he only lived in a teepee. To Major Neighbors it was a slap in the face … he didn’t know but thought perhaps he should say something. And he was there, watching the chief build a house, and it ticked him off.
By this time people throughout the state thought Major Neighbors had gone soft on Chief Buffalo Hump. Rumor had it that he came and went and put his arms round the chief.
As soon, therefore, as it could be arranged, the president and the vice-president of the “Deutscher Verein fuer Texas” (German Society of Texas) came to Fredericksburg to pay their respects to the chief. Their arrival took the major by surprise. It also angered him. But the chief didn’t seem to mind. Flattered, he welcomed the committee into his new home. As a tribute, the chief was inducted into the Sons of Hermann Lodge, a secret German order that up until then had been open only to white men of good character.
It was the best thing that could’ve happened to the chief. These educated men played on his weaknesses, and he congratulated himself for somehow getting on the approved list, something very unusual at the time. Obviously, they were after his land and were looking to double their holdings.
From the beginning, the major questioned the delegation’s motives. What could one deduce today from his reaction? For one thing, he hadn’t received the honors that they bestowed on the chief. He couldn’t help but resent it. And personal interests: he had his eye on some of the tribal land, a section or two, preferably river bottom land to rocky hills (480 acres wouldn’t have been much of a spread in those days.)
A treaty and greed: difficult to separate. It wasn’t something one hurried into. Stalling…tough negotiations was required. Bluffing was not unexpected, and bluffing caused considerable delay. “But pertaining to such matters,” as the good-natured president observed “I have never seen such patience.”
With a treaty finally signed (people seem to forget that there was one signed), a celebration began, days of celebration, an excuse for drunkenness. This was before temperance was a virtue. It must be remembered that men outnumbered women then. Men roamed the streets. And a few women. It was daring for the women. From one end of town to the other, men acted like boys and boys like Indians. There was shouting, yelling, and beating on old washtubs. Cowbells replaced church bells. The tooting of horns part and parcel symbolized everybody’s mood.
It must be remembered that this wasn’t the first treaty that the white man made with the Indians and it wouldn’t be the last callow attempt to steal their land. The truth was that the chief was more experienced. And he was no fool. He knew what was happening, but he didn’t know what to do about it.
First came the town council, with the burgomaster in front. The pecking order was well established. The order in which they spoke indicated their status. The chief’ made promises, which were received with great joy: “We can count on him. His word is gold. His signature shows his friendship. If he can handle his people we can surely control ours.”
All of the settlers also thought that they had to watch their backs. Also thought that the Indians couldn’t be trusted any more than they were trustworthy.
Now council members tended to be verbose. They were honored, each separately. Deep down they knew that they didn’t deserve the adoration, all the fuss they’d grown to expect. Next came the farmers, the carpenters, the stone masons, wagon makers, machinists, blacksmiths, cabinet makers and artisans of all kinds; each with a token of their appreciation, which they each gave to the chief. Each thanked him. They each also made a request. The farmers asked for the most fertile land, near the river, where there was abundant water. The carpenters, with the cabinetmakers, asked for timber. Cobblers leather. Blacksmiths iron ore. Or for something that would benefit everyone. The coifurists were modest, indeed too modest in their demands. They limited their request to asking for business but while making it clear that they weren’t interested in scalps. The clergy were content, but they knew complacency wouldn’t win them many converts.
In an attempt to be accurate and fair it must be said that both sides were trying to profit from the negotiations. They were all far better off than they’d been before there was any contact between them. There were many reasons for them to feel proud of themselves and Fredricksburg. They had also endured many hardships and learned to expect the unexpected such as the rigors of climate. The drought, the fires, the hail and the destruction of crops. But God’s wrath was preferred to an indifferent God. And when there was great adversity, men and women filled the pews when they otherwise wouldn’t.
Perhaps no one asked for more than the bankers did. They would, in fact, usually ask for more dollars to cover their loses than what they could lose. They took consolation from seeing what the money they lent did for the community. It was the cattle barons who had the most to gain and who complained the most and whose overgrazing had been greatly criticized by the local newspaper. It was therefore the cattle barons who called for the censorship of the newspaper, while the editor of the newspaper pleaded for unlimited freedom.
You know what Chief Buffalo Hump was like and how he felt funny about all of the attention. He never acted like a big shot. It was never anything personal with him. There was something about him that everyone liked, and yet he stood in the way of progress. So he had to be reckoned with.
Everyone wanted a piece of the chief. What did dimly occur to him was that he would never regain what he had lost and that white people would never consider him an equal. The idea that he’d ever be happy living in a house in a town was absurd. And he hated it when people mobbed him. The major told the mob that the Indian wasn’t used to it and that he was worn out by all of the attention. But few of them saw it.
So Major Neighbors decided to take things into his own hands. He had an idea that no one thought of. In the midst of the mob, he circulated a rumor that the chief carried smallpox, and that the person that he caught it from had already died. There was no way to then stop the panic. Farewell then to all propriety.
Night came. It was past dinnertime. It had been a huge meal with many interruptions. By then there had been a major shift in everyone’s mood. Gloom set in. And they had hoped … had high hopes. It was a white lie, since Major Neighbors knew that Chief Buffalo Hump didn’t have smallpox. And they all knew how insidious smallpox was and how it had killed off the chief’s tribe and how fast it spread, and they all blamed Major Neighbors. That also led them to conclude that the only good Indian was a dead one. Partly for that reason they watched the chief closely.
Here, then, was food for thought, something for those embroiled in the debate over the Indian problem to think about. Among them, in spite of himself, was Major Neighbors. He felt responsible and to everyone’s astonishment made a public apology. He made no bones about how he felt. His sense of fairness outweighed everything. That was why he chastised them more harshly than he intended to.
Major Neighbors stood up and shouted, “You Germans will pay dearly for this!” This didn’t mean he excluded himself because he also chastised himself. It was he who upset things, while he sincerely wanted to help. But before he had a chance to talk to him, the chief fled the town. The chief had more or less given up trying to pacify everyone and felt that he had to teach the settlers a lesson. That was also when Major Neighbors realized that he couldn’t rely on kindness or old friends. He gave way to his fears and knew the Indians were enraged and that they could expect war.
Shortly after this Waldrip and his gang road into town. There was an element of absurdity in how the gang thought that they wouldn’t be recognized. Then the shooting began almost immediately. Right off Waldrip murdered John Joy and Tom Doss. The Fredericksburger Wochenblatt documented the killings and how this desperate and dangerous gang rode roughshod over the unarmed and defenseless people of Gillespie County. There was a lesson here for all of them to learn. How long had Chief Buffalo Hump lived among them without anything like this happening? Chief Buffalo Hump, and with all of his faults.
By then Major Neighbors had given his allegiance to the Confederacy and was too busy chasing whitewashed Yankees to defend Fredericksburg. “Those poor son-of-a-bitches!” To hear him tell it the whole war was a picnic. Smiling with too much complacency for most people’s liking, the major explained his role by saying; “We ended up chasing the will-o’-the-wisp and nothing more.”
“And nothing more!” exclaimed the town’s burgomaster. “When you left the town to the Waldrip gang….”
“Yes sir, that will-o’-the-wisp didn’t turned out to be Yankees but Mexicans, who on foot resembled bullfrogs. On horseback they looked like a hoard of Sancho Panzas. And there were no Yankees at all. Very distressing. Truly disappointing … to be sent on a wild goose chase.”
“Distressing! Awful! And meanwhile, we’ve suffered! Waldrip and his gang raped, killed and burned at night and hid like varmints in the daytime.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” interrupted the major, frowning sadly, “but you can rest easier now. I’m back.” The major didn’t have to say anymore. There was no cheap dime novel nonsense about him.
Early the next morning they took off after Waldrip and his gang. Their experience then with the gang showed them that there were situations far worse than an encounter with a few Indians. Living with an Indian hadn’t been anything like putting up with Waldrip and his gang. They didn’t have a simple explanation why it hadn’t worked out.
And what ever happened to Chief Buffalo Hump? They never saw him again, and by this time the people of Fredericksburg had more to worry about than him.
A few years back, an immigrant from Vienna, with a little luck and great expectations, came to this town on the Pedernales River. He and his wife formed a strong attachment to the place. Early on he used Chief Buffalo Hump’s story in a sermon. Underneath there was a moral to it, but he didn’t hit them over the head with it. The mayhem that Waldrip brought to the community was never forgotten; neither was Chief Buffalo Hump’s generosity. They didn’t like being told what they should’ve known. What they all knew was that there were no longer any Indians living in that part of Texas. In spite of everything they could still sing Das Deutsche Lied (the German song).
Fredericksburg still talks about Chief Buffalo Hump and his generosity. Ninety-nine-year old Mrs. Feller remembers when the chief came to town, promising everything under the sun in exchange for a peace treaty. Then a white gang came to town and instead of an honest exchange for meat and hides all hell broke loose. “The rascals had a habit of taking whatever wasn’t tied down.” With respect to the various petitioners, the bakers, the carpenters, the hairdressers, etc., they all felt cheated; whereas Mrs. Feller just felt disappointed. .