As the Adelsverein was populating central Texas with German immigrant families, almost 150 years ago, large groups of Apache and Comanche natives also called these lands home. For decades, relations between settlers and natives ranged between peaceful coexistence and violence. On May 16, 1870, Herman Lehmann, a son of German immigrants, was taken captive by an Apache raiding party, forever changing his life and the lives of his family.[1]

Undated photo of Herman Lehmann from his autobiography, Nine Years Among the Indians, 1870–1879

Herman Lehmann was the son of Moritz and Augusta Johanna Lehmann, who arrived in Texas as part of the German immigration movement and married there in 1849. GLO records indicate that Moritz Lehmann received a certificate for land in the Fisher-Miller Colony, and later settled the family on a Preemption grant in southeastern Mason County, near Fredericksburg.

The residents of Fredericksburg had coexisted in relative peace with the Comanches as a result of a treaty established on May 9, 1847.[2] The Apaches, on the other hand, remained a source of fear as they were known to attack settlements, kill or steal livestock, and capture settlers.

The Lehmann family homestead, indicated by the arrow, was located in southeast Mason County, about 25 miles from Fredericksburg. Map of Mason County, St. Louis: August Gast and Company, 1879, GLO Map #3839, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

On the day of his capture, Herman Lehmann was working the fields near his family’s home with his brother and two sisters. A group of eight or ten Apaches captured Herman and his brother Willie, while his sisters managed to escape and tell the story of what happened. The captured brothers were beaten and forced to eat raw meat during a five-day march away from the Lehmanns’ property. During a skirmish between the Apaches and a mounted patrol of Buffalo Soldiers near San Angelo, Willie managed to escape. Herman, however, remained with his captors.[3]

After another raid, Lehmann’s captors displayed bloodstained clothing in order to convince him that his entire family had been killed. At that point, thinking he had no family to return to, Lehmann began the difficult, painful process of assimilating into Apache culture and the lifestyle that came with it. In the early days of his captivity, Lehmann became the ward of Carnoviste, the leader, who beat and tortured him, drilling fear and submission, and breaking the young boy’s spirits.

For six years, Lehmann lived among the Apache, ranging from central Texas to eastern New Mexico. He learned the skills of the Apache warrior, hunter, and horsemen. He hunted buffalo, and participated in raids on white settlements “to get more horses, and to kill as many of the palefaces as we could.”[4] On August 24, 1875, he fought in a battle against the Texas Rangers near Fort Concho.

In the spring of 1876, Lehmann’s life was once again turned upside down. Carnoviste, the closest thing he had to a father during his captivity, was killed during a melee between rival Apaches. Lehmann avenged the death by killing a rival Apache medicine man. Fearing for his life, he fled.

Lehmann wandered the frontier for a year, utilizing the survival skills that he had learned during his time with the Apaches, until he encountered a Comanche camp. He observed the camp before entering under cover of night. At first, the Comanches rejected him and threatened to kill him; however, Lehmann’s story of killing the Apache medicine man was verified by another brave, and he was accepted.

During his time with the Comanches, Lehmann was involved in several skirmishes, including attacks against buffalo hunters on the high plains of Texas, and an attack on his camp at Yellow House Canyon near present day Lubbock. He participated in raids against the Tonkawas and even the United States Cavalry, and was among the last Comanche group to surrender and accept relocation to a reservation at Fort Sill, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Lehmann later remarked “that was the end of Indian ways, our free, roving times which we loved.”[5]

Certificate #107 and field notes for Moritz Lehmann, 18 August 1851, BEX 3–5945, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

While at Fort Sill, Lehmann became acquainted with the legendary Comanche leader Quanah Parker, who treated him as his adopted son. It was eventually discovered that Lehmann was a white captive, and his family had survived, despite being told otherwise. In 1878 he was taken from the reservation and returned to his family in Texas.

Lehmann’s reintroduction to Anglo society was difficult, and slow — at first, he and his family members didn’t even recognize each other. Lehmann’s adjustment to eating, dressing, sleeping, and behaving like a typical frontiersman was problematic. Although he relearned German and learned English, he never fully adapted. He eventually settled in Loyal Valley, Texas, where he was married, and he helped raise a family of five children. He was well-liked in the community and achieved a level of celebrity due to his time with the Apaches and Comanches.

Later in life, Lehmann received 160 acres of land in the Indian Territory from the United States government on account of his being “adopted” by the Comanche and Quanah Parker. He moved there with his family, but eventually returned to Loyal Valley, Texas, where he died on February 2, 1932.

[1] Handbook of Texas Online, A. C. Greene, “Lehmann, Herman,” accessed April 19, 2016, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] Glen E. Lich, The German Texans. Denton: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1981. p. 54

[3] Herman Lehmann, A New Look at Nine Years Among the Indians, 1870–1879. Ed. J. Marvin Hunter. San Antonio: Lebco Graphics, 1985. p. 24–27

[4] Lehmann, p. 29

[5] Lich, 96.

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Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program

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Save Texas History

Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program

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