Captured by Comanches at eight years old, Fritz Vogel came of age more Comanche than White. At sixteen, he is returned to the remnants of his White family.
Fritz Vogel had been "rescued" by a treaty provision that required the return of all captives to the US Army. General Sherman had been insistent that all captives be handed over. There were, however, those few captives who wished not to be returned. His old Comanche father, Two Rabbits, had a tremble in his hands when he explained to Fritz that he had to be returned to the Whites, that without the promised treaty rations, his people would starve.
"I am a warrior, father."
"Still you must go, my son."
Upon his return to the Whites, Fritz spent two months at Fort Spall in Kansas awaiting transport to Texas, eventually being delivered by an Army freight wagon to Wasserplatz, the tiny German settlement in Texas near where Fritz had been captured. His father's cousin Matias accepted the boy into his household. The family lived in the rooms behind the trading post that Matias ran. For the first two weeks farmers and ranchers for miles around came to gawk at the returned youth, aggravating his natural shyness. Naturally taciturn, Fritz seldom spoke and then only few words. His original family, as many settlers in Texas, had spoken German. His language now was Comanche and what remained of the German he had mostly forgotten and, there was a smattering of English. Matias's family viewed him as a foreigner, a savage, and with fear and disgust. He was spoken to and treated much as a bad dog would have been. How he hated living in the stinking house. He disliked shoes. He disliked the clothes. He disliked the food. He disliked the bed that reeked of sweat and piss. He hated the loss of his long hair by the haircut they had forced. At the table they laughed when he used his hands to eat. He was scorned for sleeping on the floor. This disquiet he kept to himself. He was a Comanche warrior, now a captive of the Whites. The Army had allowed him to keep the beautiful pink blanket that Sunflower, his Indian mother, had tenderly with tears presented him on the day he departed; within this he kept his moccasins, breech cloth, buckskin leggings and his bow with 17 arrows. His years with the Comanche had erased the greater part of his earlier memory. His white skin belied the Comanche beneath it. Early on he resolved to escape the Whites to find and to rejoin his people. There were warrior bands that refused the lure of the reservation; he'd find them and regain his proper place as a warrior with his people.
One night during the third week with Matias' family, Fritz tied his pink blanket bundle onto Matias' pinto filly, then rode north for Kansas. By noon the following day a posse of farmers and ranchers had tracked him and brought him back. Matias explained that to him that if he filed a charge of horse theft, Fritz would be hanged, and if he were to try to escape again that's exactly what Matias would do. Not clearly understanding this he believed Matias intended to hang him. This fear of hanging had burdened him since his return. He well knew that if the Whites ever learned that as a young warrior he had ridden on war parties that had burned cabins and stolen horses and guns, he would be hanged. Now old Matias closely watched Fritz, assigning him chores nearby within the trading post during the day and making him sleep with a chamber pot in a windowless corner at night. He was forbidden to get near the horses. After a month Matias softened a little and put Fritz to work plowing a corn field behind the post. The mule that pulled the plow would never serve for an escape. It happened that Matias had to travel to the county seat one day; the trip required an overnight away from the post. That night Fritz once again stole the pinto. Again, he planned to ride to the plains of Kansas to find his people. However, this time he spent a night and a day laying tracks for Mexico, then doubling back behind a cattle drive to Dodge which obscured his tracks. Days later he'd hired on with this drive as a rider, telling the trail boss his name was Frank and that he was from Kansas. He knew horses well. The trail boss McClain hired the quiet boy because he liked the way he sat his pinto, like an Indian. He kept an eye on the boy who was quiet as a mute and who kept his distance from the other hands.
Fritz knew the routine of a cattle drive. Three times on hunting parties they'd encountered drives and had studied them secretly, stealing calves when night riders were sleepy or distracted. On occasion they had even begged a calf, sugar and coffee.
McClain, two years earlier, had delivered 2000 head, treaty cattle, to the Hunkpapa Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. An early blizzard had stranded him there for three weeks during which he lived in the warm and accepting teepee of a Sioux family. With the advent of spring he decided to stay another month. During his stay, McClain gained great admiration for Indians and the simplicity of their daily lives. He had fallen in love, and when he left for Texas, he took with him a young Sioux wife. He had been moved by the Sioux's generosity to a stranger, especially a White stranger. Against strict Army regulations, upon leaving McClain presented the group's patriarch with his rifle and a promise to return one day with a son. Perhaps this experience enabled him to sense something Indian about the strange wrangler. On Fritz's second night he rode alongside him and asked him point blank, "Son, are you Indian?"
The question took Fritz aback, but he affected not to show it.
"You one of them returned captives from Fort Spall last winter, ain't you?"
He nodded yes.
"Well, let's keep that our secret, you savvy?"
While Fritz was on a night riding shift, a cowhand named Clapp remarked to his pal Carlos that the dumb kid's pink injun blanket was prettier than a pair of titties. "What you reckon he got in that bundle? Let's me and you have us a look see." Unwrapping Fritz's bed roll they saw his moccasins, leggings and bow and arrows. "By Jesus, Carlos, this is pure injun shit. He shore don't look Injun.
"He is maybe a breed," the Mexican replied.
"Yeah, you're probably right, a red-bellied damned breed."
From then on, his time in camp became a hell of Clapp's constant baiting to which Fritz refused to rise, although within he seethed, quietly deciding to kill the big-mouth White. Despite McClain's warning to Clapp to lay off the kid, Clapp continued throwing slurs at the boy whenever near. "Whassamatter breed, them Comanches cut out your tongue? Tell you what, dummy, when I was ridin' for Phil Sheridan we cut off more than tongues ever when we rode down your heathen brothers. Ha."
McClain sensed that the boy was near the boiling point and opted to defuse the situation by getting the boy out of camp for a spell to let things cool. That night McClain told Fritz to fix a bedroll and to draw rations from cook, then leave before dawn and ride two days ahead to scout for water. He knew the boy had taken his limit of abuse from Clapp and was ready to explode. McClain wanted him out of camp before Clapp awoke. He felt protective of the 16 year-old who, at the age of eight, had been through the hell of watching his family slaughtered, and then years of capture by Comanche.
Clapp had stayed drunk for the two days as the herd grazed at Turkey Creek watering and resting, and McClain reckoned the cowboy would wake up mean and was likely to ride hard on Fritz. McClain had wanted to sack the loud mouth bully, but he needed every hand. Although a top-notch cowboy, a hot-tempered demon would surface at the least provocation making Clapp dangerous. McClain had told him that if he ever caught him beating his horse again, he was to pick up his pay and clear out. He knew that Clapp hated Indians and Negroes, but that he particularly hated Fritz. Quiet Fritz who seldom spoke.
Two hours before dawn he woke. He cinched his bed roll onto the pinto in the moonless night, then crept to where Clapp snored through his open mouth in his drunken stupor. The man reeked of sour whiskey sweat. Fritz crammed a clod of horseshit into Clapp's mouth, then plunged his knife through Clapp's back into his kidney as the waking, writhing man tried to scream. His struggle was brief, and when he was dead Fritz relieved the dead man of his hat, a .44 revolver and his rifle. Had Clapp not been totally bald he would have scalped him. Mounting the pinto, he trotted south, avoiding the herd's night rider.
He knew their search for him would be brief as the herd must be kept moving north. Riding swiftly and backtracking over the herd's trail to cover his tracks he continued until mid- afternoon then took shelter in a copse of willows by a tiny spring, resting the horse and filling the canteens. At dark he resumed riding hard westward the rest of the night. An hour before dawn he climbed a rocky hill where in a thicket of pines he hobbled the mare and then slept for a few hours. In the afternoon he climbed to the top of the hill from where he could see a lone house and corral in the distance. Late that night he rode close to the little house and inspected the three horses in the little corral, choosing a chestnut gelding which he mounted bareback. With the pinto in tow he rode west for hours then stopped to rest, transferring the saddle and bed roll from the pinto to the gelding then setting the worn-out pinto free. He knew that the stolen pinto could easily mark him if the Whites had riders out looking for him. They would hang him sure and if they could, they would hang him multiple times, as a Comanche warrior, as a murderer, and as a horse thief three times over-he laughed to himself.
In Abilene, McClain reported Clapp's murder and the theft of his guns to the U.S. Marshal who questioned him for details. The Marshal then issued a circular offering $100 reward dead or alive for the "Pink Blanket Desperado," a 5'8" brown-hair youth of 16 riding a pinto mare or a chestnut gelding, and he put this information on the telegraph wires. He soon received information from Texas of the theft of a horse there by the same Pink Blanket Desperado who he further learned was a returned Comanche captive, a wild and dangerous renegade. The reward was upped to $500 and circulars spread in a thousand-mile radius.
Fritz confined his riding to the night necessarily to avoid Whites. He swung northward eventually entering the grass plains as the last of his food gave out. With the rifle he took down an antelope in the twilight, then gorged himself while he smoked the thin cut strips in chipped oak and sage by the soft glow of embers. Into his second week of flight he recognized the Kansas prairie as familiar ground.
Once he had his bearings, he rode northwest for a meeting place his people called Second Grass. He knew only the distance of this place from the river they called Dead Fish. But the description was fixed in his mind, a copse of sycamores in the shade of a tall hill of red rock. Searching, he encountered wagons loaded with buffalo bones being driven east. He met a lone old Cheyenne heading to a reservation. The Cheyenne told him that he knew that the Whites sent the bones of the buffalo to the Great Father in Washington who used them for magic. The old man did not know of Second Grass. Was it not enough that the Whites had slaughtered our buffalo? Now they must steal even their bones. Did they also steal the spirits of the Tonka? This greatly puzzled Fritz. He knew the Whites to have so much of everything, food, guns, horses, wagons, many implements of iron. Was it not enough that they must even possess the bones and spirits of the buffalo they had so completely conquered? Two Rabbits was right, Whites were devils, and even worse, there were so many of them. On they came like grasshoppers. An old medicine man had said that they were limitless, and that far to the east they came out of the ground like ants. It was known, yet not fully realized, that the Indians' day was over, and a belief commonly feared was that his people would go the way of the buffalo. At Second Grass he knew he would find signs indicating where those not on the reservation could be found.
The next day he spotted wagons in the distance with a crew of five men just out of Abilene who were scouring the prairie for bones. His heart quickened as beyond the wagons Fritz spotted a promising stand of sycamores and a tall hill. He would have to cross the path of the wagons.
The wagon boss, an ex-cavalryman named Daniel Denmark trained his binoculars on the lone rider, quickly discerning the pink bedroll. "Whoa, there, whoa, damnit!" he commanded the mule team. "Turner, gimme that Sharps, quick now." The shooter got down from the wagon, steadied the rifle barrel on the wagon's edge and with a single shot downed the last Comanche warrior to be killed in Kansas.