Double Life

Herman Lehmann spent nearly nine years living as an Indian before returning to his family.
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Herman Lehmann spent nearly nine years living as an Indian before returning to his family.
Credit: Haley Memorial Library and History Center

Credit: Haley Memorial Library and History Center

Had it not been for telling scar on his arm, the young Comanche warrior might never have been identified as Hermann Lehman, the 11-year-old boy who had been captured by Indians some nine years prior.

On May 16, 1870, Herman and his younger siblings—the children of German immigrants who had settled near Mason, Texas—were scaring birds out of the wheat fields when they were set upon by an Apache raiding party. Herman and his 8-year-old brother, Willie, were captured. Though Willie escaped a few days later, Herman was unable to flee from his captors.

By Apache custom, he became the adopted son of Carnoviste, the war chief who taken him, and was initiated into Indian life. He was given the name En Da, meaning “white boy.” In his 1927 autobiography, Nine Years Among the Indians, Herman recounted the rigors of assimilating into tribal life. Frequently, it could be brutal, filled with abuse, fear and torture. He writes of being burned, beaten, whipped, and forced to do tasks that were “not decent to put in this book.”

However, there were also moments of joy, warmth, and acceptance. He was especially fond of his adopted mother, Laughing Eyes, writing “she was very good to me and treated me as one of her own…she lavished affection upon me.” He made friends among the tribe’s youth, and in this way learned their games, customs, and language.

Like any young Apache, Herman was taught to hunt, ride, raid, and fight, eventually becoming a battle tested warrior in expeditions against Texas Rangers, Mexicans, and white settlers. He remained with his tribe for six years, before his murder of a medicine man to avenge the killing of Carnoviste forced his exile. He spent a year in hiding, surviving the harsh land between the Pecos and Rio Grande Rivers. Eventually, loneliness and necessity drove him to find a Comanche tribe. When Herman explained his situation to them, they accepted him, giving him the name Montechena.

In 1877, while living with the Comanche, Herman partook in the Buffalo Hunter’s War, the last major fight between Indians and non-Indians in Texas. The skirmish took place two years after Comanche Chief Quanah Parker had negotiated the surrender of the last fighting Comanche, and he set out to find the renegades, Herman among them. Quanah convinced them to end their fighting and relocate to the Indian reservation near Fort Sill.

Throughout his captivity, Herman’s mother had never given up looking for her lost son. When word came that a blue-eyed young man was at the reservation, she knew she must see him. Upon arrival, though, neither Herman nor his mother recognized each other. For nearly a decade, Herman had believed his family to be dead. His sister, however, found a memorable scar on his arm, and the family knew they had been reunited.

Herman’s reentry to Anglo society was not without its hardships. He had to relearn German and English, tried to steal the neighbor’s horses and eat their pets, and had to reconcile the customs and habits of the two cultures he lived in.

In one humorous anecdote, he recounts is attendance at a Methodist revival: “It was a sure-enough old fashion Methodist shouting meeting, but of course I did not know this. I thought it must be a new kind of a war dance, rain dance or some kind of a religious ceremony, so I rushed in, gave the Comanche yell, cleared several benches and landed in the midst of the revival. My manner of worship did not suit those white people… My people never permitted me to go to another Methodist revival until I could understand English and knew how to behave myself.”

Unlike many unhappy stories of white captives being returned to Anglo settlements Herman was able to parlay his past into a relatively happy readjustment. He was popular at fairs and rodeos, married, and had children. He died on February 2, 1932, and was buried in Loyal Valley.